Homemade pancakes aren’t exactly a feat of dazzling culinary wizardry, but for a simple breakfast staple, they are surprisingly easy to mess up. Plus, it’s totally understandable not to want to fumble with measuring cups in the morning. Enter: boxed pancake mix.
We’re talking your Krusteaz, your Aunt Jemima (though it now has a new name), your Betty Crocker Bisquick, your Snoqualmie Falls Lodge, your Arrowhead Mills, and others of that ilk. Most of these mixes contain the same basic ingredients and only ask you to add water. But while they produce perfectly serviceable pancakes that way, with just a little extra work, you can make them even better. Methods include adding smart secret ingredients, improving your toppings, and paying attention to pancake cooking technique.
These easy boxed pancake mix upgrades are all worth a try, and still, barely require you to be conscious. So next Saturday morning, break out the boxed mix and try one of these brilliant tricks — or combine a few — for breakfast nirvana.
1. Add eggs to boxed pancake mix
Simply mixing in a whole egg enriches the boxed pancake batter, but there’s an additional step that will make extra fluffy pancakes, and that’s whipping the egg white. According to cookbook author Stacie Billis for The Kitchn, this trick makes for "ethereally fluffy cakes" and it only adds three minutes to the whole process.
You’ll need one egg for each cup of pancake mix. After separating your yolk, whip the white until stiff peaks form. Billis advises that adding ⅛ teaspoon of cream of tartar to the white before whipping makes it more stable, but don’t worry if you don’t have any. The most important part is how you combine the whipped white with the rest of the ingredients.
Once you’ve whipped up an airy cloud of egg white, be sure to fold it into the batter gently so you don’t deflate it. If you like, you can mix the yolk in too, but it will inhibit the rise a bit and make the texture denser and richer, so feel free to save it for another purpose.
2. Add melted butter to boxed pancake mix
Adding a bit more fat in the form of melted butter not only makes for a more tender, richer pancake with a moister crumb, but amps up the flavor too. Per Rick Martinez for Bon Appetit, adding too much melted butter (or any other fat) will make your pancakes "more like pound cake" — they’ll be richer but also denser and flatter. One tablespoon of melted butter per cup of pancake mix is all you need. Bonus points for browning your butter; it adds a deliciously nutty dimension — but in this small of an amount, it’s not a deal-breaker to skip that step.
Where butter isn’t better is in the pan itself. Unlike many cooking oils, including common canola, butter has a relatively low smoke point and is apt to burn, so if you use it to grease your pancake pan or griddle, you may end up with bitter, blackened edges. Hence, adding that little bit of melted butter to the batter itself is the easiest way to enhance the pancakes’ buttery flavor (besides adding a pat to the top of the stack along with your syrup, of course).
3. Use milk instead of water in boxed pancake mix
"Just add water" is the order of the day for most boxed pancake mixes, but replacing the H20 with milk — whether cow, coconut, almond, oat, or any other alternative dairy option — instantly improves the taste and texture of the finished product. You can also use buttermilk in place of the suggested water if you have it, or want to make it.
Some boxed pancake mix brands (like Pearl Milling Company) already contain powdered milk, but swapping in a richer liquid for the water still results in an even more luxurious pancake on your plate.
Two things to note: Skim milk and some plant-based milks that are lower in fat and thinner in consistency may not make as noticeable a difference as fuller fat milks will when it comes to plusher pancakes. And strongly flavored substitutes like coconut milk will impart their own subtle taste to the pancakes, but that might work beautifully if you’re going for a tropical brunch. If you just want to stick with water, Krusteaz suggests making sure it’s cold for optimum fluff.
4. Use sparkling water or another fizzy liquid
While this is along the same lines as swapping in milk for regular water, it probably sounds a whole lot stranger. But the truth is that carbonated water and similar substances can not only introduce a bit more flavor (if you want it) but can make your pancakes fluffier thanks to the power of fizz. Plain seltzer will work, but anything fizzy is fair game. Still skeptical? Check out this Insider video in which Herrine Ro tried mixing ginger ale into the batter. The verdict? Pancakes that are "a lot more porous and bubbly and fluffy" with a hint of additional sweetness too.
One Reddit user related that their dad often used 7Up in pancakes, and another suggested beer. Try sparkling apple cider for an autumnal touch, or a berry-flavored seltzer for a fruity boost. Not only is using a carbonated liquid an easier way to get extra fluffy pancakes without having to whip egg whites, it’s vegan-friendly to boot (provided you check your box ingredients to be sure there’s no powdered milk or buttermilk in there already).
5. Add baking powder to boxed pancake mix
All boxed pancake mixes contain a leavening agent to begin with. Usually, it’s baking soda, but you can give your flapjacks a little more fluff by adding a bit of baking powder to the bowl. One teaspoon of baking powder per cup of dry pancake mix is all you need (add too much and you may end up with bitter-tasting pancakes). This can be a particularly handy tip if your pancake mix has been sitting in the cupboard for quite a while, as the baking soda can become less powerful over time.
Of course, you should also be sure your baking powder is still good, lest your pancakes still fall flat. Luckily, all you need to do that is hot water. If it doesn’t make a pinch of your baking powder fizz when you drop it in, fear not. Search your fridge for something bubbly or get ready to whisk some egg whites.
6. Add vanilla extract to boxed pancake mix
Vanilla is a baking staple for good reason. According to The Kitchn, vanilla is a flavor enhancer, much like salt. You might not be able to taste it as a distinct top note, but without it, the flavor of your cakes, cookies, and pancakes can be pretty blah. You only need one teaspoon of vanilla extract per cup of pancake mix to make your finished flapjacks taste better.
If you prefer, you can use one teaspoon of vanilla paste in place of extract, or one teaspoon of vanilla powder, though in that case, you should blend the powder with the dry mix before adding the wet ingredients to make sure it’s evenly dispersed without overmixing. If you’re feeling really fancy, feel free to scrape in some vanilla bean seeds instead. In any case, doubling the amount of vanilla is also a worthy option.
That said, if vanilla seems too, well, you know … try using up to a teaspoon of another extract instead, like almond extract or even peppermint. Just be aware that these will add a much more aggressive flavor than vanilla, so start small and taste the batter before adding more.
7. Add spices and seasonings to your pancakes
While vanilla will mostly fade into the background as a base note in service of bumping up all the other flavors of your flapjacks, aromatic spices will make their presence known more prominently. A simple sprinkle of cinnamon, mace, or allspice can make a big difference, but try spice blends like chai or gingerbread spice too. Pumpkin spice is perfect. Even less common a.m. options like Chinese five-spice can work wonderfully.
Whatever you go with, aim for about one teaspoon total per cup of dry pancake mix, but don’t sweat exact measurements if you’re more of a pinch-of-this, dash-of-that kind of cook. Any warm, aromatic spices like ginger and cloves are no-brainers, but citrusy cardamom is another great option. Speaking of citrus, a little bit of orange or lemon zest is another eye-opening addition.
You could even try a couple grinds of black pepper or a dash of cayenne to add some heat to your sweet, without changing the flavor to something overtly savory (but use a lighter hand with these).
8. Add more substantial pancake mix-ins
Chocolate chip pancakes taste just as fantastic now as they did when you were a kid, but there’s a whole world of mix-ins that will level up your boxed pancakes. Try butterscotch chips or cinnamon chips for a change, or stir in some shredded zucchini or carrots for a flavor, color, and nutrition boost (just beware of adding too much moisture to the batter and squeeze them out first if they seem soggy).
Fruit is another obvious — but no less delicious — contender, from a handful of fresh or frozen blueberries to sliced ripe bananas (bonus point for caramelizing them first). Toasted and chopped nuts or shredded coconut are not to be overlooked. Perhaps mixing in Lucky Charms marshmallows sounds intriguing? Or, if you like bacon strips with your pancakes, why not crisp bacon bits inside them? Even a swirl of raspberry preserves ribboning the batter imparts an instant oomph.
Whatever add-ins you opt for, the key is not to mix in too many, as this will weigh down your batter. Alternatively, you can opt to add a filling of something thin enough to pour in between two layers of batter, as in these Nutella-stuffed pancakes. Warming the Nutella, cream cheese, jam, or whatever else you want to use as a filling beforehand can help make it easier to distribute evenly without compromising your pancakes’ integrity.
9. Don’t overmix the pancake batter
No matter what else you add to your pancake batter, it’s critical that you never overmix it, unless you like flat, chewy, gummy pancakes. King Arthur Baking declares that overmixing is the number one pancake mistake, and explains that its effects are twofold. Going overboard with your whisk deflates the tiny air bubbles in the batter created by leavening agents (like baking soda, whipped egg whites, and/or club soda), so your pancakes won’t rise properly, and it also promotes gluten development. The latter is a good thing in appropriate measure, but too much gluten means chewy baked goods — and also hinders the leavening agents’ work.
If your dry pancake mix looks clumpy before you add the wet ingredients, by all means, break it up with a balloon whisk. But once you (gently) mix in the wet ingredients, don’t try to beat out every little lump that’s left. A self-identified biochemist on Reddit echoes King Arthur’s advice and promises "that small lumps of dry unincorporated pancake mix will cook out."
Just mix until you don’t see big pockets and streaks of dry mixture on the bottom and sides of the bowl. Gently folding the wet and dry ingredients together with a flat spatula will do the trick nicely.
10. Give the pancake batter a rest
In pursuit of fluffier pancakes, try giving yourself — and your batter — a break. Rest the prepared batter in the mixing bowl for at least five minutes, and up to a couple hours (though in that case, put it in the fridge to stay safe).
According to The Kitchn, this makes flapjacks "rise a little higher and taste a little better" primarily because it fully hydrates the flour and will aid in releasing the starches and proteins. This resting step is especially helpful if you couldn’t resist the temptation to fully incorporate those tiny lumps of floury mix we advised you not to whisk into oblivion.
The only downside to resting your batter is that it can dull the effects of the leavening agents and (ironically) lead to less fluffy pancakes. If you’re concerned about that, try the beaten egg whites trick and add them just before you’re ready to cook your pancakes.
11. Use a cast iron skillet to cook your pancakes
So you’ve spiced up your basic pancake mix and tried one or two little tricks to improve their texture too — but now it’s time to get cooking, and that means there’s still an opportunity for things to go very wrong. Your trusty nonstick pan will work just fine, but is likely to produce less consistent pancakes.
A griddle is a step in the right direction, but for those without the space to store yet another piece of kitchen equipment, a good old cast iron skillet is a fantastic tool for this job, in part because it retains heat so evenly. In a pancake cooking method test conducted by The Kitchn, using a skillet greased with oil ensured even browning and "a thin, crisp outer edge with lacy bits of batter" without any need to wipe out the skillet between batches, and no burnt spots — but it didn’t add any extra flavor.
The ideal formula, they found, is a cast iron skillet slicked with clarified butter, which gives you all the non-burning benefits of oil plus a richer flavor. The good news is, you can make clarified butter ahead of time and store it in the fridge for when you need it. Or, try cooking pancakes in bacon grease.
12. Turn your boxed pancake mix into waffles
As good as pancakes are (and they can certainly be great), waffles may be inherently better. They have a more interesting, crispy-outside airy-inside texture and so many places for butter and syrup or other toppings to pool and puddle. If you want to break out the waffle iron but only have boxed pancake mix, you just need to make a few minor tweaks to make it work.
Compared to pancake batter, waffle batter tends to have a bit more sugar and more fat. While your boxed pancake mix is probably plenty sweet enough already, you’ll definitely want to add butter or oil to enrich it. Adding eggs will also thicken the batter so it doesn’t run out the sides of your waffle maker before it can set.
For each cup of dry pancake mix, you’ll add one whole egg, ¾ cup of milk, and 2 tablespoons of liquid fat. This can be melted butter if you like, but in this case, oil may be better because it results in a crisper waffle exterior. Whisk all those extras together in a separate bowl first, then gently incorporate the dry mixture and let the batter rest for about five minutes before getting your waffle on. You can add a pinch or two of sugar to the dry mix too, if you want a slightly sweeter taste and a bit more browning action.
13. Top those pancakes off with something special
Even if you don’t deviate from the basic "just add water" instructions on the back of the box, you can still elevate your plate of pancakes by topping them off with something beyond the usual suspects of syrup and butter.
For an easy twist, try infusing your maple syrup with some fresh fruit, vanilla, and lemon juice over low heat while you’re cooking your pancakes. Or pile on something completely different, like cinnamon apples or lemon curd and whipped cream. A drizzle or dollop of cream cheese frosting is particularly great for cinnamon-scented pancakes. You could even warm up cookie butter to pour over top.
Any kind of fruit compote or jam works just as well on flapjacks as on toast. The classic combo of peanut butter and jelly is The Rock’s pick for pancake topping. Try other proven pairings too, like roasted bananas and toasted coconut, or strawberries and Nutella. Or take inspiration from an ice cream sundae and sweeten up your stack with caramel sauce and hot fudge (heck, add a scoop of ice cream if you want).
14. Turn pancake mix into something savory
If you’re craving something truly different, don’t feel like you have to stick with sweet flavors, whether in the a.m. or when having breakfast for dinner. There are many savory pancakes in the world already, but your classic diner-style flapjacks can take well to savory flavors too.
It can be as easy as adding some non-sweet spices to the batter, but can extend to stirring in savory extras as well. Think a sprinkle of chili powder plus some sliced scallions and shredded cheese for a Southwest stack, or even gochujang, chopped kimchi, and shrimp for a totally non-traditional but super tasty Korean spin.
As long as you remember not to overdo the mix-ins, you can experiment with all sorts of savory things, including the odds and ends inevitably lurking in your fridge from past meals. Chop any large ingredients into smaller, bite-size pieces, and blot anything that’s high in moisture with paper towels so it doesn’t make the batter too wet, and you should be golden.
15. Use cookie cutters to make fun shapes
You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy novelty foods, nor do you have to be relegated to dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets. Pancake batter is the perfect consistency for piping into intricate designs if you have that kind of skill (and time). But an easier trick that anyone can pull off is to pour your batter into cookie cutters to make miniature works of edible art. The shape of your breakfast carbs is only limited by the extent of your cookie cutter collection. You can make snowflakes and reindeer during the holiday season, bunnies for Easter, ghosts and witches for Halloween, hearts for Valentine’s day (and any time you’re feeling extra sweet) — or, yes, dinosaurs for any and every occasion, because who wouldn’t love that?
Melt-proof metal cookie cutters are necessary here. If they get too hot, use tongs to grab them when you’re ready to free your pancakes. To prevent spillage, be sure your cutters sit flush against the surface of your pan before you begin, and don’t lift them up before the bottom side of the pancake has firmly set.
No matter what shape you go for, these will automatically be more fun to eat, even if you’re working with plain Jane boxed pancake mix.