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I live in a region where pancakes are considered traditional food and it's typical to cook them on some special occasions.

For example, right now someone has decided to throw a party in the office and is baking pancakes on another level of the building. I know this because I feel the smell of burnt oil with a slight addition of normal smell of just-baked pancakes. From my experience just about every time someone tries to cook pancakes there's this horrible smell of burnt oil dominating over the smell of actual pancakes.

I'm sure that's not the normal way of cooking pancakes but I don't know how to resolve this in a positive way.

What are exact steps and key factors to cooking pancakes in such way that there's mostly smell of pancakes, not smell of burnt oil?

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Buy them a big jug of peanut oil. It has a neutral flavor, a nice high smoke point, and even if it does get too hot it's (IMHO) a much less offensive smell than your typical "vegetable oil". –  Shog9 Mar 5 '11 at 16:57

2 Answers 2

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Very simple: don't burn the oil.

Different fats start to burn at different temperatures (called "smoke point"). This can be as low as ~100°C for unrefined vegetable oils. Butter is also low, at around ~150°C, which is below frying temperatures. Refined vegetable oils have very differentn smoke points depending on the plant they were made from, some starting as low as butter, and going up to around ~250°C (safflower oil, rice bran oil). Fats meant for deep frying (palm fat, clarified butter) are also around ~250°C.

So the two things you have to do is 1.Choose the right fat, and 2. don't let the pan get too hot.

From a nutritional point of view, deep-frying fats are not so good, so I'd recommend using a vegetable oil with a high smoke point. If you can find refined safflower, it's perfect, but if not, canola is also a good choice.

About the temperature, the easiest way is to measure it so you will know how hot the pan gets at any given moment. I use an infrared thermometer when frying, and make crepes at 200°C. If you don't have one handy, you could try heating a pan with oil on a middle setting for a long time (20-30 min), look if it smokes. If yes, let it cool down, and start again with a lower setting. If not, increase the setting and wait again. When you have found out the setting where your oil doesn't smoke, you can use it, or you can try one setting above (the first where the pan starts to smoke) because the room-temperature batter cools the oil. It is time-consuming, but you only have to do it one to find out the correct temperature.

You could use a nonstick pan, but the typical PTFE coated ones lose their nonstick layer at about 250°C, and a pan used for frying quickly heats much more than that. It is safe when used at lower temperatures, but you cannot fry crepes at 150°C. So unless you have a ceramic-coated nonstick pan (but not the type which disintegrates from hot starch in oil!) or you are controlling the temperature of the pan closely with a thermometer, it is better to use a noncoated pan.

If you want your crepes to taste like butter, don't fry them in butter. Instead, keep a cup with melted butter in a water bath near the pancakes. As soon as one is ready, take it out of the pan and use a glazing brush to brush it lightly with butter on both sides.

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This is a good answer, though I hasten to add that, health aside, pancakes fried in bacon grease (with little bits of burned bacon stuck to them) taste fantastic... As for the buttery crepes, you can also use a couple tablespoons of browned butter in the crepe batter to get that wonderful flavor. –  Shog9 Mar 5 '11 at 16:53

With a non-stick pan, you only need very little oil (any oil will do), one or two drops, spread it evenly with a spatula. Ladle the pancake mix on the pan, when you see a fair amount of bubbles popping out, then you can flip and fry the other side.

The key to perfect color and spongy texture is the temperature of the pan, use very low heat to fry the pancake. When you finish the first one, use a wet kitchen towel to wipe and cool down the pan a bit before you fry the second one. Because if the pan is too hot, the pancake will burn easily with the center not cooked at all.

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Be careful! Heating a dry non-stick pan is dangerous. Above 250°C (~500°F) the non-stick coating will break down and release toxic fumes. The temperature of a dry pan can get away from you quickly. This is why it's always a good idea to add some oil, since the oil will smoke before the pan gets too hot. rumtscho's answer discusses alternatives. (I know you said to add a little oil and use low heat--I'm emphasizing the importance of that) –  eater Mar 5 '11 at 15:49

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