Food

Taste Test: What’s the Best Pancake Mix?

Taste Test: What's the Best Pancake Mix

I’ve been impressed with home cooks over the past few quarantined months. Look at all of them, whipping up a Dutch baby on a random Tuesday morning, or prepping batter after dinner for overnight yeasted waffles, or making sourdough pancakes using their very own starters! But what about people who — how do we say this — aren’t so into the fact that cooking has now become a three-times-a-day affair? What about parents whose kids cry “Pancakes!” while they cry…tears? This Pancake Mix Taste Test goes out to those home cooks…

…To the people who just want to have a solid pancake breakfast without doing much more than cracking an egg or whisking water into a pre-made mix. For them, I wanted to find out: How do the major brands stack up?

To answer this question, over the past few weeks, I’ve been collecting box mixes from various grocery stores. Whenever possible, I looked for the ones labeled Buttermilk, but inventories were sporadic and low which made this somewhat difficult.

Just this past weekend, though, I was able to secure the last of the major brands I was looking for, with the exception of Bob’s Red Mill. (Sorry, Bob fans!) I wound up with the boxes above, which includes the brand I made my kids approximately 50% of weekday mornings when they were little (Trader Joe’s) and nothing made them happier than a stack of cakes dripping with butter and syrup. I had zero sentimental attachment to the other four: King Arthur, Bisquick, Hungry Jack, and Krusteaz.

Even though some mixes required the addition of an egg or a little milk or oil (and some nothing but water), each batch of pancakes were cooked the same way — in my favorite nonstick skillet with a tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium heat. And just to be completely fair, I discarded the first batch of pancakes entirely (ok, fine, I gave them to the dogs) because we all know what they say about the first batch of pancakes.

As much as I would’ve loved to invite the entire block over for breakfast, circumstances limited me to just the four residents of my house: me, my husband, Andy, and our two teenager daughters, Phoebe and Abby. As with all of the taste tests we’ve conducted, this one was blind — I made four pancakes per box, then wrapped them in aluminum foil packets; each of those packets were labeled with a number that corresponded to its box and kept warm in a 200°F oven while I fried and flipped my way through all the brands. For serving, in spite of my 16-year-old protesting the absence of Nutella, I made sure each pancake was tasted by each tester the exact same way: dipped in maple syrup. In between bites, they were instructed to sip ice water, while I typed out their reviews sitting across from them at the kitchen table. They were asked to comment on texture, flavor, and fluffiness, and, finally, give each one a grade from one to five, five being the highest.

It turned out, my lab rats had a lot to say about a food I thought would’ve had a rather narrow range of descriptive words. Pancake number 2, Hungry Jack, was deemed “pathetic,” “dense,” and “absolutely no fluff whatsoever,” according to Abby. I thought Trader Joe’s, which the girls grew up on, would have some sort of nostalgic advantage, but their reviews ran the gamut from “This is pretty, is it homemade?” to “Eh”  to “tastes like a rubber pancake.” Sadly, the only mix with 100% pronounceable ingredients (King Arthur) garnered the lowest score. But I blame that on the fact that one of those ingredients was white whole wheat flour, which presented a visual barrier (“That looks like a horrible pancake”) that was difficult to overcome. The two brands that scored the highest surprised me…

The Winner: Krusteaz Light & Fluffy Complete Buttermilk Pancake Mix
Score: 14 points out of 20
Price: Approximately $3.75 for a 32-ounce box

Especially our winner! The mix called only for the addition of water — no eggs, no milk, no melted butter or oil. “That’s the best one,” declared Andy. Separately, Abby said the exact same thing, and appreciated the fluffy moistness. Phoebe was a fan of the consistency (“Not too thick and bready it’s a little lighter”) and the flavor (“kinda sweet, which is good.”) Perhaps the highest praise was offered the next morning when I was out for a walk and Abby texted me Where is the Krusteaz? I need some. 

The Runner-up: Bisquick Original Pancake & Baking Mix
Score: 13.5 points out of 20
Price: Approximately $3.25 for a 20-ounce box

Only a half point behind the winner, Bisquick (“that’s a solid cake right there” — Andy) scored high due to its perfect fluffiness, and “real pancake flavor.” There was a genuine enthusiasm about these that separated them from the others. Almost all of us immediately said “Mmmm” after our first bite, a review that needs no quantification or elaboration.

What do you guys think? Do you agree?

P.S. More taste tests (including ice-cream sandwiches). And green pancakes for kids.

  1. Johanna says...

    None of these are even remotely as good as Kodiak Cakes!

  2. Emily M. says...

    Aretha Frankenstein’s pancake mix straight outta Chattanooga, TN is the BEST pancakes I have ever eaten. And I’ve had many a banana, whole wheat, sourdough, buttermilk, and box pancake in my life.

  3. Peony says...

    The taste test is a great resource for those who buy mixes. I prefer homemade and always use this recipe (it’s easy to mix up the dry ingredients beforehand, often sub yogurt in for buttermilk because I always have that on hand). We make dozens and the keep the extras in the fridge or freezer so they just require a few minutes in the toaster oven for an easy breakfast. I’ve even made for huge groups (30 to 100) and use the make-ahead fridge or freezer strategy.

    https://imalwayshungry.net/bettes-buttermilk-pancakes/

    • Oh hi there! I’m Lauren, that’s my blog, and those are indeed our absolute favorite pancakes (though I can’t take credit: the recipe is from our favorite diner in Berkeley). Such a great idea to mix up a ton of the dry ingredients and use it as a “mix.” Don’t know you but glad to hear Bette’s pancakes have become part of your routine, too! :-)

  4. Jo says...

    Even if the recipe says just add water, I go ahead and do milk and maybe an extra egg for more protein. Love adding vanilla and lemon zest too! Recently found Kodiak Cakes high protein mix and it’s really good.

  5. Rachel says...

    We’ve made the Ambitious Kitchen “Healthy Banana Oatmeal Pancakes” three times in the past week. No shame, they are so good! And, just as quick as a mix from a box since you throw everything in the blender and it’s only a few ingredients. My only tip is to cook them on a bit lower heat, and wait for those bubbles before you flip, because oats – and maybe add some chocolate chips and blueberries. https://www.ambitiouskitchen.com/banana-oatmeal-pancakes/

  6. shannon says...

    Now I make pancakes from scratch using the recipe from Grace and Good Eats (with the addition of a splash of vanilla), but I grew up on Jiffy mix!

  7. Jillian Manesh says...

    that’s my parents favorite pancake mix too! i love that it doesn’t require a ton of extra ingredients (especially now when it’s hard to get to the grocery store!)

  8. Kelly P says...

    I grew up on my dad making Aunt Jemima pancakes in the red box. It was the best. My dad didn’t put any oil in the pan though, just cooked them in a nonstick. He always insisted on real maple syrup though and to this day I can’t tolerate anything but that.

  9. Gaby says...

    Aldi’s gluten free pancake mix is better than any conventional mix. Mmmm…

  10. Lauren E. says...

    My parents raised us as pancake purists – a family favorite recipe from an old church cookbook (aren’t those the best??) and pure maple syrup. So of course, that meant when we went to grandma’s and had Bisquick with Aunt Jemima syrup, we were in HEAVEN.

    That said, as an adult, I’m back to being a pancake purist and make them from scratch. I truly cannot eat any other pancakes, and won’t risk ordering them out at restaurants. #snob

    The recipe:
    1 1/3 cup flour
    3 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 Tbsp sugar
    1 egg
    1 1/4 cup milk
    3 Tbsp melted butter

    • Lee says...

      I’m going to try this

    • Chelsea says...

      Lauren! As a pregnant woman who was sick for her entire first trimester but can now finally eat, I thank you a 1000x over for this recipe! I was browsing this comment thread at 9PM last night and after reading your recipe, I HAD to have pancakes. After eating four last night, I’m now treating myself to four more this morning–this time with bananas and chocolate chips. I’m the happiest preggo lady alive thanks to these pancakes lol. Thank you!! <3

  11. Heidi Benson says...

    Yes! I agree and they sell this brand at Costco.

  12. Alex says...

    I grew up on Bisquick and never realized how easy they are to make from scratch. Now I make them 3+ mornings per week for my kids: 1.5 cups flour, 1 cup milk, 1 egg, 3 tsps baking powder, 1 tb sugar, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 cup melted butter…stir it all up, throw in any fruit you have on hand and cook them. IMO they’re a completely different species from the mix version. Do it! :)

  13. Molly says...

    Krusteaz forever! I grew up on Bisquick, I think that brand was more common to New England – where I’m from. But the first time I had Krusteaz, I immediately noticed the difference! I don’t even have pancakes all that often – but the taste and quality was that noticeable!

  14. Jen says...

    Bob’s Red Mill – hands down.

  15. E E Deere says...

    This is an inspired moment for pancake mix. Having something in the cupboard that does not require eggs, milk, etc. is peace of mind for “in a pinch”.
    I had part of a can of coconut cream on hand (mostly the watery part). I used that for the liquid, and put thinly sliced banana on the “top” side of the pancakes in the frying pan. So the bananas cooked and caramelized when it was side b’s turn.
    Success!

  16. Lynne says...

    I have the winner & runner-up in our cabinet right now. We far prefer Bisquick. :) I use it for pancakes & biscuits both, all the time. Love it. I often add a splash of vanilla & a pinch of sugar. Can’t get away with a bit of cinnamon tho, as my youngest son will detect it & make a face. ;) I make the batter first & let it rest while I prepare everything else. The pancakes turn out better that way. The Krusteaz is a bit too fluffy & has a slight baking soda tang I don’t care for…plus, they seem tough to cut with the side of a fork. :-\

  17. Ana says...

    Stonewall Kitchen mix is amazing! You may want to consider including it in your next taste-test – I mean who would not want to taste-test more pancakes! :)

  18. Megan says...

    Friday is pancake day at our house, and we always go with Bisuick. I’ve tried others but we always end up back with the original! Lots of butter and Vermont maple syrup, everyone is a fan!

  19. JB says...

    You guys are adorable! As a Brit this is so weird for me – you guys use box mix pancakes? But, like, they’re just eggs, milk and flour – they’re super easy to make from scratch?! <3

    • Deb says...

      Same. A bit weird, but also nostalgic. Anything in a box mix is fascinating to me because box mixes weren’t really a thing when I was growing up; the supermarkets seem to have more now. I remember the excitement when a friend or relative would go on holiday to the US and bring back things we couldn’t really get here, Bisquick being one of them. It’s bloody delicious. On the subject of American food I wish we could get Nilla Wafers over here. And soft shredded coconut. And funfetti (we don’t really have them in disc shapes). And those crunchy pretzel things with peanut butter in that you can get from Trader Joes. Old Bay seasoning. America, when you’re bad you’re also very good!

  20. Shelly Weber says...

    I grew up in Montana and we’d take a 10 day camping vacation to pick huckleberries every summer and play in the lake in NW Montana. It was always Krusteaz pancake mix with fresh huckleberries mixed in and topped with hot huckleberry compote and fresh whipped cream. So glad to see we had the best pancakes to go with our prized huckleberries and my most cherished memories.

  21. April says...

    Yay Bisquick, it’s what I grew up on!! Easy, and we loved that it had the suggestions for how to fluff it up!

  22. Hilary says...

    Bisquick! This was always our go to in my childhood and we always made the supreme version with Lemon juice, sugar, vanilla. I still use it as well.

    • cait says...

      yep, this is totally the way to go! I am also a huge fan of the Bisquick shortcake recipe for strawberry shortcake, it is super easy and delicious!