How to Cook Perfect Pancakes in a Cast Iron Skillet: The Ultimate Temperature Guide

Pancakes are among the most popular breakfast foods in the U.S. for a couple of reasons: They’re oh-so-yummy, and their fluffy texture creates a delightful mouthfeel. Making these flapjacks at home, however, isn’t as easy as recipes often claim. Home cooks may struggle with some of the nuances of the cooking process, even just preheating the cast iron skillet. For example, how do you know when your skillet is too hot to cook pancakes? The easiest way is to use the water-sprinkle test.

Start by putting some water in a bowl. Dip your (clean) fingers into the water, flick the water onto the pan, and observe how the droplets react. If they bubble for a bit before evaporating, then the pan is sufficiently hot. On the other hand, if the drops immediately evaporate, then your cast iron skillet is too hot. In that case, remove it from the stove, give it a few minutes to cool, and then return it to the fire to resume the preheating process.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for the most accurate way of knowing how hot your pan is, use an infrared thermometer. Point the thermometer at the bottom of the pan and pull the trigger to read its temperature. For pancakes, your skillet should ideally be 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you reach this temperature, turn your stove down and let the pan reach 370 to 360 degrees Fahrenheit before you start cooking.

Don’t rush the preheating process

Cast iron skillet on stove

Inexperienced pancake chefs may be tempted to raise the stove’s heat to speed up the preheating process. Don’t. One of the most crucial tips for cooking with a cast iron skillet is that it needs to preheat slowly so the heat has enough time to distribute evenly across the pan’s surface. Rushing this step may lead to a skillet that’s too hot in some spots (especially the parts directly above the burner) and not hot enough in others. If you pour batter onto an unevenly heated skillet, some areas of the pancake will burn before other areas can even start cooking.

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Additionally, avoid letting your skillet get too hot. High heat will cause the outside of your pancake to start burning before the middle even gets a chance to warm up. For proper preheating, set your stove to medium heat, place your well-seasoned cast iron skillet on top, and leave it for three to five minutes. Next, check if it’s sufficiently hot using either the water-sprinkle method or an infrared thermometer. Once it’s ready, turn down the heat to medium-low before pouring in your batter.

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