Are you making pancakes or French toast? Are you plagued by nasty-looking, burny-smelling butter after just one round? The diagnosis is a simple one: You, my friend, are using too much butter. And your heat is too high. If your pan is too hot—and this is true specifically if you’re frying with butter—the milk solids in your butter will burn, and fast. A little brown butter is a good thing, but too hot and the solids will start to blacken and then you’ll be in trouble. They’ll be bitter, the pan will smoke, and your pancakes will take on the blackened solids. No good.

Keep it on the down low

One way to prevent this is to turn down the heat a little. If you’re on a stovetop, this requires a close eye. (This is one of the few circumstances where I think an electric something, whether a griddle or a frying pan, is actually better. You have a lot of control over the temperature, and it stays steady where you set it.) You may need to noodle the flame up or down a bit while you cook to accommodate for the amount of food in the pan, or the way the pan heats up. 

Less is best

The other way to get a little bit of insurance against blackened, embittered butter: Use less of it. Use just a tiny bit, as little as you need to coat the pan—less than you think you need. You’ll have to keep buttering the pan every batch or every other batch, but the burny bits, between the butter and whatever you’re cooking, will be more likely to stick to the pan (better!) and less likely to float about in the butter (worse).

Opt for oil

One final way around all this mess: Use oil instead of butter. What a drag, you might be thinking. Honestly, I’m with you. Vegetable or canola oil has a much higher smoke point than butter—so no burning—but it just doesn’t taste like, well, butter. Big sigh. (It does, however, fry pancakes and the like to a perfect, even golden brown—whereas butter can be sort of spotty.) To get the benefits of flavor and even frying, you can: Use equal amounts of butter and oil, getting the benefits of both; use a oil-based buttery spread; or use a flavorful oil like coconut.