I have a great pancake recipe in my collection — one that's so good my kids' friends beg for sleepovers at our house so they can have their fix. Who could blame them? The pancakes cook up incredibly tender, fluffy, and light, with a flavor that's rich with butter and the slight tang of buttermilk. They're everything you want in a pancake.
But every time I give in to those imploring eyes, I know I'm in for an early morning, a grocery run for buttermilk, and a sink full of dirty measuring cups and batter-slicked mixing bowls. Sometimes I'm up for the challenge; then there are other mornings (say, after a good Netflix binge) when I think to myself, "Why am I not using a mix?"
Of course I already know why. These kids have gotten used to the good stuff. Could a boxed mix even compare? The only way to find out would be to try every pancake mix I could get my hands on.
And so I did.
How I Picked and Tested the Mixes
I heated up three griddles, poured an extra cup of coffee to power through the impending carb coma, and flipped my way through 11 brands of pancake mix in a quest to find one that had the tender fluffiness and rich flavor I get when I make them from scratch. I only sampled standard buttermilk mixes, not multi-grain, although a few brands automatically add whole-wheat flour to their buttermilk mixes, so I ranked them in a separate category.
Sampled on their own, most pancakes were just fine, but when sampled side-by-side, my kids and I could really taste the differences. Could any replace the pancakes I make from scratch? Probably not, but I found a few that would happily do in a pinch.
Grocery Store Taste Test: Buttermilk Pancakes
1. 365 Organic Buttermilk Pancake & Waffle Mix, $4 for 32 ounces
Technically the recipe says an egg is optional, but adding an egg made this mix my favorite overall, so for me it's required. I actually tried this mix all three ways the recipe suggested. Mixing in just water and oil resulted in an almost gummy mouthfeel and uneven browning. Using milk instead of water resulted in much better browning, got rid of the gumminess, and added a hint of sweetness. The addition of an egg created a richer flavor and truly tender yet still fluffy texture.
There's a little added sugar but it's subtle, and the flavor is "basic buttermilk," but in a good way. This is a great go-to mix made with ingredients you'd have in your pantry. If I used melted butter instead of oil, I could probably swap this in for my from-scratch pancakes when I'm feeling lazy.
2. Birch Benders Pancake & Waffle Mix, $4.50 for 16 ounces
The super-thick batter has a lumpy homemade look, and the resulting pancakes were the tallest and fluffiest of the bunch, slightly sweet with just a bit of chewy elasticity. A complete mix with no questionable additives, it only required water to be delicious, which is why this one is going to have a permanent spot in our camping box. The packaging is adorable, but small; if you're feeding a crowd, get two. Look for it at Target and natural food stores.
3. Bisquick Pancake & Baking Mix, $4.50 for 40 ounces
I used to blame Bisquick for why I didn't like pancakes as a kid. A pancake-hating kid is weird, I know, but I really loathed their thick, dry, biscuit-y texture. I have literally kept this bias for decades — until now. Bisquick must have reformulated its recipe or ingredients somewhere along the line because these pancakes cooked up rather thin and tender, not super cakey, with a deliciously rich and buttery flavor.
4. Trader Joe's Buttermilk Pancake & All Purpose Baking Mix, $2 for 32 ounces
Similar to Bisquik, this is a multi-purpose baking mix that can be used to make biscuits and scones. However, that's where the similarities end. Based on flavor and texture alone, TJ's ranks second because I like my pancakes rich and flavorful, but not too thick and cakey (see childhood issues above). But if you're a hefty hotcake fan, and you like a simple blank canvas, you'll like these. However, if I was choosing between the two on ingredients alone, TJ's would win because it eschews industrial additives like DATEM and palm oil.
5. Hungry Jack Complete, $2 for 32 ounces
Of the standard mixes that can be found at nearly every supermarket in the country, Hungry Jack is the best option. The pancakes are sweet (but not too sweet, like Aunt Jemima and Kroger's brand) and they're tender and fluffy. Best of all, there's no weird chemical aftertaste.
6. Krusteaz Buttermilk Pancake Mix, $4.50 for 56 ounces
These taste like the pancakes you get at a motel's free breakfast buffet. Not great, but not terrible. Their biggest problem is their rubbery texture.
7. Aunt Jemima Pancake & Waffle Mix, $5 for 80 ounces
These tall and fluffy pancakes seemed promising at first, but they were really sweet and the aftertaste had us scowling, bringing back memories of chewing paper as kids (don't ask). That's when I remembered this mix was the only one packaged directly in the cardboard box, not in a plastic bag first. Sadly, it was a difference we could truly taste.
8. Kroger Complete Pancake and Waffle Mix, $2.50 for 32 ounces
The store brand for a wide range of Kroger-owned grocery stores, this was our least favorite in the bunch. Yes, we liked it even less than the cardboard-tasting Aunt Jemima. Even the kids could discern the overt chemical flavor that unfolds after the too-sweet flavor fades. Texture-wise, though, they were just as fluffy as the others in this group.
Grocery Store Taste Test: Pancakes with Whole Wheat
1. Arrowhead Mills Buttermilk Pancake & Waffle Mix, $34 for six 26-ounce pouches
All too often whole-grain pancakes simply taste virtuous, which is irritating because if I wanted to be virtuous I'd eat a bowl of oatmeal. However, these whole-grain hotcakes made with just water and oil were downright delicious. They were definitely thinner than most of the other pancakes, but they had a tender texture and buttery taste that went well with the flavor of the wheat.
2. Kodiak Cakes, $5 for 18 ounces
With added whey powder, these flapjacks promise to pack in the protein (at least 14 grams compared to 3 grams in standard mixes). You get even more if you mix in milk and/or an egg. I tried the mix all three ways: just water, just milk, and then milk and egg. Surprisingly, the flavor differences were negligible, but they were thinner and less fluffy when both egg and milk were added. Although the taste veered into "too healthy" territory even though the mix includes brown sugar, I definitely appreciated their added nutrition. So I mixed up one more batch and added melted butter. With that one extra step to add richness, I wouldn't hesitate to make these again, especially if I wanted to pre-load a little extra protein into our day.
3. Bob's Red Mill Buttermilk Pancake & Waffle Mix, $28 for three, 26-ounce pouches
This mix required egg, milk, and oil, which is what I used for the 365 brand I liked so much. I assumed they'd be just as good, but they weren't. They were tasty enough, with a hint of whole-grain "goodness," but they were too dry and cake-y for me. The ratio of mix to liquid was on par with other mixes I tried (in fact, it had more liquid than what was required by the 365 brand) so I'm not sure why they seemed so dry.
Do you agree? What's your favorite pancake mix when you don't have time ot make them from scratch?