The truth about IHOP's famous pancakes

As much as IHOP wants its customers to see the chain as a big-time burger-slinging lunch and dinner joint (clearly evidenced by the IHOb marketing campaign), it's hard to stray from its breakfast menu, and more specifically from the restaurants' namesake — it wouldn't be called the International House of Pancakes if those pancakes weren't something special, right?

But for as many stacks of those pancakes as you've shoveled into your mouth all those (probably hungover) mornings over the years, what do you really know about them? Aside from the fact that they're delicious, obviously, and also the fact that saying "Rooty Tooty Fresh 'N Fruity" will never not make you giggle like a 5-year-old, you probably haven't stopped to consider IHOP's morning staple much. It turns out there are some fun facts to learn, some secrets to uncover, and maybe most importantly, there's an insider's advice to consider when it comes to whether or not you should partake in that syrup on the table. (Spoiler alert: You probably shouldn't.) And speaking of the syrup... what is it, actually? Is there any real maple in there? Let's find out the answers to all that and more, as we dive into the untold truth of IHOP's pancakes.

The secret is in the griddle

If there's one thing you can count on, it's that your plate of IHOP pancakes will contain nothing but perfectly cooked, evenly golden brown disks of impossibly fluffy flapjacks. No, there's not some complicated piece of machinery in the kitchen cranking out those pancakes, and it's not done by robots, either. There's a line cook back there manning the griddle, just like you'd do in your own kitchen. So how are IHOP's pancakes perfect every time?

For starters, that griddle is set to a very specific temperature — 350 degrees to be exact — and, believe it or not, it is not slicked with oil or butter, or any other fat, for that matter. These pancake-making techniques come courtesy of Marie Grimm, IHOP's vice president of culinary innovation, who spilled the company's secrets to Delish. We can only assume that a griddle that requires absolutely zero fat but remains a surface that pancakes don't stick like glue to must be highly seasoned from years of use. If you don't have that confidence in your own griddle, there's still hope. According to Grimm, if you need a little help to create a slick surface, use a paper towel to rub a small amount of Crisco on your cold pan. Using butter, she explained, might produce a pancake with "that webbed, lacy look, instead of a uniformly golden brown" surface we've come to expect from IHOP.

And there's one more pancake-making secret

One more thing you've probably noticed about a stack of IHOP pancakes — they're all the same size. Whether it's a short stack or a full stack, there's a uniformity there that you can never seem to achieve with your ladles full of batter at home. Maybe one ends up a silver dollar, and the next takes over the whole pan, but they're certainly never all the same size. 

How do they manage to churn out such perfect pancakes every time? One Redditor wondered if they were "made on a timer and the batter poured into a mold on the stove." It would make sense, but it's not the secret behind those evenly-sized stacks. It turns out that the cooks just get a little help from a handy batter dispenser. A former IHOP waitress explained, "There's actually a little tool (kinda like this) that they put the batter in. The cooks pour the batter into the open end, and there's a lever they push down (2-3 times for a regular pancake, more for one of the huge kid ones) that dispenses the pancake onto the grill in a circular form. I guess after making a million of them in a shift, the cooks know when to flip them over and all that."

The batter isn't just used for pancakes

If you've ever managed to break away from your standard buttermilk pancake order and branched out to IHOP's omelette selections, you may have been struck by how different the egg dish is compared to typical diner fare. While omelettes can sometimes be dense and heavy, IHOP's version never is. And apparently, that's thanks to a secret ingredient: Pancake batter. 

IHOP notes this right on their website — under a slew of other disclaimers for each of their omelettes is the statement: "Made with a splash of our famous buttermilk and wheat pancake batter!"

The Daily Meal explains that the addition of this secret ingredients means that IHOP's omelettes are going to be fluffier, and that's due to the additional moisture lended to the situation by the batter. It's also going to give the eggs a bit more structure, meaning it's going to fill you up. And last but not least, that batter will provide just a hint of sweetness to the overall flavor of the dish. Omelette purists might turn up their noses, but there's no denying that IHOP's pancake batter makes their iteration of another breakfast staple unique.

A staggering amount are sold each year

It probably shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that the International House of Pancakes' most popular menu item is... pancakes. But according to The Daily Meal, who surveyed America's top restaurant chains to get the skinny on what's ordered the most, it's not the flashier pancake options like Italian Cannoli or Mexican Churro or even Cupcake that lure diners in — it's the chain's Original Buttermilk Pancakes. It's hard to beat a classic...

How many of the most popular menu item does IHOP serve in a year? Brace yourself for this — it's been reported that IHOP serves a whopping 700 million pancakes per year, along with 1.5 million gallons of syrup. Of course, you can't have pancakes and syrup without something to wash it down, and that translates to 100 million cups of coffee and 14 million gallons of orange juice that get served along with the breakfast staple. What might help pad those stats just a bit? Most of the breakfasts on the menu come with a side of those famous flapjacks, meaning that just about every order counts towards that huge yearly tally.

Free Pancake Day has raised a ton of money

Each year in March, IHOP celebrates National Pancake Day in their own way — for the breakfast-centric chain, that means calling it Free Pancake Day. But it's not just about giving away free flapjacks, though they do plenty of that, too. It's really about raising money for charity.

See, IHOP knows a thing or two about getting customers to fork over some cash. First, they lure them in with the promise of a free short stack of buttermilk pancakes. Then, they suggest that those customers with bellies full of free pancakes pay it forward, or flip it forward... get it?... to help those in need. "Doing good never tasted so good," they say. How could you not?

Since the annual fundraiser's inception in 2005, IHOP and its customers have done plenty of good. In fact, as of Free Pancake Day's 10th anniversary in 2015, the company had raised nearly $20 million for charity, benefiting organizations like Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, Shriners Hospitals for Children, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

The pancakes were turned into beer

When your company name is IHOP, it really only makes sense that you would branch out into beer sooner or later. Because beer is made with hops... IHOPS? Genius.

In September 2018, IHOP officially joined the beer-makers club (with a little help from brewer Keegan Ales in New York) when they debuted their IHOPS brew. And just like with the chain's omelettes, their famous buttermilk pancake batter was actually infused into the beer — but this wasn't just a plain ol' buttermilk pancake beer. This was Pumpkin Pancake Stout, inspired by IHOP's oh-so-popular pumpkin spice pancakes, and along with the batter, the stout was also infused with pure maple syrup and other fall flavors.

Today reports that the beer's (now-defunct) website promised "to blow your mouth's mind by bottling that warm-and-fuzzy feeling of pancakes just in time for fall."

Unfortunately, the IHOPS stout wasn't mass-marketed, and only 20 barrels were brewed, so there was no chance of it gracing IHOP menus — the only way to taste it was at a handful of New York bars and beer festivals. Here's the hoping IHOPS made a big enough splash that we'll get another chance to taste it in all its pumpkin spice pancake glory.

The syrup is definitely not real… except at one location

Quick — name your favorite thing to top a stack of hot-off-the-griddle IHOP buttermilk pancakes with. Is it the impossibly light and fluffy scoop of whipped butter that melts effortlessly into the golden brown surface? Or is it the lake of that sweet "old fashioned" syrup you pour generously over the top? It's probably the syrup, right? After all, we are hopelessly addicted to sugar.

The thing is, if you think IHOP's syrup is so good because it's real maple syrup, we have bad news for you: Unless you're dining at IHOP in Vermont, that syrup definitely didn't come from a tree.

The chain's Vermont location is the only one to serve real maple syrup. All the other locations? It's genuine corn syrup. Sam Handy Jr., the restaurant's general manager and whose family owns the franchise, told The New York Times, "You can't open up a Vermont pancake shop without Vermont maple syrup." The catch? It'll cost you extra. But good news for those of you who just can't get enough of IHOP's not-from-nature syrup — it's available, too... you just might disappoint your fellow diners when you reach for it.

You might want to avoid the syrup for another reason

Let's say you're fine with IHOP's "old fashioned" syrup, and you couldn't care less that it's not the real deal tapped from the trees of Vermont. In fact, you prefer their not-so-real syrup, even though its ingredient list boasts only two items you can firmly stand behind, and they happen to be water and salt. Never mind that corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup are the first and second ingredients...

You can let all that slide because, hey, it just tastes good. But one supposed in-the-know Redditor has a piece of advice for you when it comes to that syrup on the table, and it may just be too much for you to overlook.

According to the IHOP employee, "Always ask for 'to go' syrups at IHOP. That s*** on the table has probably been there for years, with just a bit added to it to fill it up. The warm stuff they bring you goes back, gets dumped back in the pot, then re-served. Little kids suck on that s*** and god knows what else goes on. Yuck." Indeed.

They're ridiculously high in sodium

You're probably not pulling up to IHOP with any delusion that you're going to be ordering a superfood kale salad with a side of quinoa and a tall glass of freshly pressed green juice. And that's fine. There's nothing wrong with a good old fashioned diner breakfast — you do you, we say. But while you're aware of the fact that a stack of IHOP's pancakes probably won't ever be considered health food, one thing that might surprise you is just how much sodium they contain.

The FDA recommends that you limit your sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams per day. Take down a full stack of Original Buttermilk Pancakes though (that's five flapjacks), and you're already at 2,260 milligrams for the day — and that's not considering anything else you might eat while you're there. Add two slices of bacon on the side and you're officially over your sodium limit for the entire day. 

Need a visual to comprehend how much salt that full stack has? 2,300 milligrams of sodium is about 1 teaspoon of salt. It's hard to imagine that in your pancakes, but it's in there. 

They don't always win in taste tests

Evangelists of IHOP's buttermilk pancakes are going to have a hard time believing this, but it's true — the one and only International House of, you know, Pancakes doesn't always come out in front when theirs are put to the test against other popular breakfast joints' pancakes.

Spoon University conducted a very thorough and extremely scientific taste test of the pancakes from both Denny's and IHOP to determine who reigned supreme, basing their rating on scores in categories for taste, fluff and chew balance, syrup complementary, golden brownness, and pizazz. Though it wasn't a routing, Denny's did edge out IHOP by two points overall. Writer Carolyn Ho explained, "Every bite of Denny's pancake had the girth of chew and fluff that reminded us why this griddle-cooked treat is a classic. Though IHOP was straight up cake-like, both had great flavors with a hint of vanilla and not overly sweet." For what it's worth, Spoon University did rank IHOP's sweeter treats over Denny's, with the chain's Mexican Tres Leches and English Sticky Toffee pancakes besting Denny's versions. 

Consumer Reports also sampled buttermilk pancakes from IHOP, Denny's, Cracker Barrel, Country Kitchen, and Perkins. Unfortunately for IHOP, their famous stack didn't win here, either. "The IHOP pancakes looked better than they tasted," CR's Tod Marks said (via abc7NY). "As the pancakes cooled, they became kind of tough." The winners? Cracker Barrel and Perkins. But hey, to each his own, right?

A stack of pancakes ruffled a lot of feathers on Mother's Day

But a towering stack of light, fluffy pancakes couldn't possibly be offensive, you say? Well, the social media team at IHOP managed to offend plenty of people with their 2019 Mother's Day tweet which featured — you guessed it — a stack of pancakes.

But it wasn't just a stack of pancakes — it was a mock-up of a sonogram image, and in the place where you would typically see a fetus in the uterus, instead you saw pancakes, complete with a scoop of whipped butter on top. "If you have pancakes in your tum tum, does that make you a pancake mum mum? Happy Mother's Day to ALL the moms out there!" the tweet read.

The backlash was swift. Social media users were quick to point out that insinuating babies grow in the "tum tum" was ignorant, and that the pancake-to-baby comparison was insensitive, especially considering the timing amidst the country's conversation over reproductive rights. Replies on Twitter included snark like, "I feel comfortable enough in my medical training thus far to confirm that the uterus is NOT in fact connected to the GI tract," and "...@IHOP weighs into the most controversial space in American politics in the last 50 years," proving that this particular post missed the mark — big time.

How to score free pancakes every year

IHOP wants to know, "What's better than pancakes?" "Free pancakes," they say, and it's hard to argue with that logic. All food tastes better when it's free, doesn't it? The good news is you can get your hands on free pancakes, courtesy of IHOP, several times a year.

All you have to do is sign up for MyHOP to get your pancake perks, and not only will you get a freebie just for enrolling, but you'll also get a free stack on the anniversary of your enrollment each year, as well as on your birthday. Surely you're willing to put up with a little IHOP email spam throughout the year to indulge in twice yearly (at least) free pancakes, not to mention the "members-only news" you'll receive, which we can only assume is scintillating stuff. 

But hey, hot-off-the-presses IHOP news notwithstanding, depending on where you live, you're looking at a savings of around $8 per meal, so why not take advantage?