Camping and pancakes just seem to go together. Sitting at the picnic table with a stack of fluffy round pillows, drizzled in maple syrup. If you serve them with a couple strips of bacon and a cup of coffee, it’s breakfast heaven.
Whenever our troop goes camping, there is always at least one patrol that serves pancakes for breakfast. And, while pancakes are relatively simple to make, there are a few tricks to attaining those light, fluffy pillows we all dream about. Come on, admit it. I know you dream about pancakes, too.
On my Outdoor Cooking Skill Progression Chart, I put pancakes a couple steps up for the following reasons: You have to measure your ingredients because, technically, you’re baking and there is some chemistry involved. It is hard not to over mix them. Skillet and griddle work is a little more challenging because you have to manage your heat better. And, then there is the whole flipping the pancake that takes a bit of skill and coordination, and practice.
So, let’s dive into the principles of pancakes and I’ll share best practices and common mistakes.
When prepping the pancakes, you want to divide the ingredients into two categories: dry and wet.
Dry ingredients include flour (AP, whole wheat, rice, almond, etc.), sugar (granulated or brown), baking powder (to make them light and fluffy), and salt (balances and enhances the flavors). Your dry ingredients can be prepped at home and loaded into a container or resealable bag. Just be sure you are making enough because you won’t be able to prep more in camp.
Wet ingredients include milk (buttermilk, milk or non-dairy milk), fat (butter or vegetable oil), eggs (for structure and adds to the light and fluffiness), and extract (vanilla, almond, etc.). Your wet ingredients can also be prepped at home and poured into a tightly sealed plastic bottle for the ride to camp in your cooler.
Prepping and Mixing
In two separate bowls mix together all your dry ingredients and all your wet ingredients. When you are ready to combine, make a little well in your dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Gently stir together just until combined. DO NOT OVERMIX. Resist the urge to stir out every single lump until it’s totally smooth. Trust me, a few lumps are okay.
If you over mix the batter you will end up with stacks of tough and chewy pancakes instead of the light and fluffy ones you were probably dreaming about. Tough and chewy pancakes are only good for one thing: Frisbee.
So, mix the batter just until the wet and dry ingredients are combined, and there are no more visible wisps of flour. The batter will be lumpy and, again, that’s okay.
Resting the Batter
I usually mix my pancake batter and then turn my stove, which allows my batter to rest while the griddle heats. Resting the batter anywhere from 5-15 minutes allows the glutens that were activated during mixing to rest and relax. Also, the starch molecules in the flour have a chance to fully absorb the liquid. This will give the batter a thicker consistency.
It’s important to allow time for the griddle to get good and hot evenly. You want medium heat or about 375°F. Too low and your pancakes just won’t cook. Too high and they will be burnt on the outside and raw on the inside. We’re going for the Goldilocks heat: Just right. And, you may need to adjust along the way so don’t be afraid to do that.
A good way to test your griddle is to wet your fingers with water and flick it onto the surface of the griddle. The griddle is ready if the water droplets sizzle and dance before they eventually evaporate. Medium heat will give us pancakes that are golden-brown on the outside with slightly crispy edges, and soft but cooked through on the inside. Pancake perfection!
Greasing the Griddle
I can’t count how often my young chefs don’t do this and it always leads to disaster and pancake tragedy. Always pack extra vegetable oil when you plan to make pancakes.
When the griddle is up to temp, add a light coating of oil. We prefer vegetable oil, which tends to have a higher smoke point than butter and won’t add any flavor to the pancakes like olive oil.
After your oil has a moment to warm, you can begin adding batter to the griddle. Try to control your excitement. We’re not out of the woods just yet.
I prefer to use a ¼-cup measuring cup. It makes for a nice-sized pancake that is easy to flip. Depending on the size of your griddle, you could also get 6-8 pancakes per batch. This is important because once the pancakes start going down, the vultures will start circling.
If you have the griddle real estate and you are a more experienced pancake flipper, you could bump up to a ½-cup to 1-cup measuring cup for bigger pancakes. You can also use a smaller measuring scoop to make little silver dollar pancakes. Those are always fun.
Lightly coat the griddle with vegetable oil about every other batch of pancakes. Keep it light! Don’t let oil accumulate on your griddle or let your griddle run dry. If you see oil accumulating on the griddle, just use your spatula to redistribute it around the griddle. Remember to adjust the heat if you need to.
Pancakes should be flipped once, and only once, during cooking. And as long as you didn’t flip them too soon, you won’t need to flip them any more than that. Flipping pancakes too many times causes them to deflate, losing some of that wonderful fluffy texture.
As the pancake cooks, bubbles will start to form on the surface. Do not be tempted to pop them. I know, it’s fun, but when you pop the bubbles, you are releasing air from the neighboring chambers, essentially “flattening” the finished cake by vacating the air that was giving it some of its rise and fluff.
The pancake is ready to flip when the bubbles start to pop on their own and your edges are lightly browned and a little crispy, and the pancake is looking dry around the outer edges. If you’re still a little unsure, it’s okay to gently lift an edge and sneak a peek underneath. Generally, it will take about 2 minutes for the first side and 1-2 minutes for the second side. The most important thing is for the middle to be cooked.
If you are adding extras like fruit to the pancakes, add after you pour the batter onto the griddle. Blueberries are a classic add on, but you could also add sliced bananas, chocolate chips, nuts, or whatever you like.
When you’re ready to serve the pancakes, you can serve with butter and maple syrup; however, you can also add flavored syrups, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, peanut butter, cream cheese, fruits, nuts, whipping cream, and sprinkles. Just to name a few.
Serve your pancakes immediately or keep them warm by wrapping them in foil. If I’m making pancakes for a crowd and I want us to all eat together, I’ll warm up one of my large Dutch ovens to about 200°F and line it with foil. As I off load each batch, I add them to the Dutch oven to keep them warm.
It’s no fun to put stone-cold syrup on warm pancakes. If it’s a cold morning, you should warm your syrup. Your campers will love you for it.
Here are a few of our favorite pancake recipes (and we’re always adding more) because pancakes are something we dream about:
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