Food & Drink

Tips and Tricks for Making Perfect Biscuits

Use this chef-approved know-how to nail beautiful, buttery biscuits every time

Photo: Peter Frank Edwards

The idea of making biscuits can be intimidating; not because the process is difficult—really, it’s not—but because we want them to meet our own lofty, buttery expectations. To make sure you rise to the occasion, apply this wisdom from some venerable biscuit pros.

Rule #1:
Use Quality Ingredients

“I swear by White Lily Self-Rising Flour. It’s our not-so-secret weapon and makes a great biscuit,” says Carrie Morey, founder of Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit in Charleston, South Carolina. “We also try to use whole buttermilk whenever possible.”

“My advice to anyone that asks me for a biscuit recipe: 1. You can’t have mine; 2. Go to the store, get a bag if White Lily Self-Rising Flour, and follow the biscuit recipes on the back,” says Hunter Evans, the executive chef at Elvie’s in Jackson, Mississippi.

“You don’t want to use flour with too high of a protein content—the higher the protein content, the denser and tougher the dough will be,” says Kaley Laird, the executive pastry chef at Rhubarb, the Rhu, and Benne on Eagle in Asheville, North Carolina. “We use all-purpose flour that’s about 11 percent protein, and find it is toothsome enough—strong but not too strong for our recipe. Specifically, I use King Arthur and will only change it up when I want a different flavor profile.”

“For the most delicate biscuits, I like using a blend of cake flour and all-purpose flour,” says Olivia Hirsch, the pastry chef at Palm & Pine in New Orleans, Louisiana. “The less glutinous cake flour helps prevent overworking and keeps things from getting too tough and weighed down.”

“I always use self-rising flour, preferably White Lily because it contains leavener,” says Katie Coss, the executive chef at Husk in Nashville, Tennessee. “As far as buttermilk is concerned, I love using Cruze because it has a high percent of fat. Typically, you want to use buttermilk that has a fat content of 2 percent.” 

Erika Council, the founder of Bomb Biscuit Co. in Atlanta, Georgia, agrees: “I would ride my bicycle to Tennessee to get [Cruze] buttermilk,” she told G&G earlier this year. “It’s phenomenal. It’s the only buttermilk that tastes like the buttermilk my granddaddy used to drink with his cornbread.” 

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Rule #2:
Keep Your Cool

“Temperature matters a lot,” says Graham Dodds, executive chef at Elm & Good in Dallas, Texas. “The dough needs to be very cold and the oven needs to be hot to get the lift that biscuits deserve. They are similar to cookies; you want to get the dough very cold before baking. We actually chill them overnight, so they keep their shape and puff up nicely.”

“The biggest mistake biscuit makers make is not using cold product—even the flour needs to be as cold as possible,” says Mee McCormick, the founder and executive chef at Pinewood Kitchen & Mercantile in Nunnelly, Tennessee. “I put all of my dry ingredients into my mixing bowl and store it in the freezer for as long as possible.” 

“Once I cut the biscuits out, I freeze them before I bake them—for about thirty minutes,” Council told G&G. “It just makes the butter even more solidified and then it gives off that steam you want. Where cold butter is used, the steam from the melting butter expands between the layers of dough, creating pockets of air, yielding a flaky end product. Also, biscuits can last for a month or more in the freezer. Then all you have to do is pop them into the oven when you’re ready to bake.”

Rule #3:
Don’t Overwork (or Underwork) Your Dough

“One of the most common mistakes when making biscuits is overworking the dough; dough shouldn’t take long to bring together,” Morey says. “Biscuits are simple and forgiving and there is almost always a way to ‘fix’ them—add more flour to wet dough, or more liquid to dry dough—except when you overwork it. Overworked dough makes for a tough biscuit, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be used in a casserole or as croutons!”

“The trick is to be gentle,” Evans says. I can still hear one instructor from culinary school in the voice of Sean Connery say, ‘Gently work the dough until a shaggy mass forms.’ It’s true. Work the wet ingredients into the flour until it comes together a little, then pour onto a floured surface and gently work a little more.”

“One can absolutely underwork a biscuit dough,” too, warns Rob McDaniel, the co-owner and executive chef of Helen in Birmingham, Alabama, “which will result in a crumbly biscuit that may taste OK but won’t hold together for stuffing [it] full of delicious bacon.” 

Rule #4:
Cut, Don’t Twist!

“Get a thin and sharp cutter and go straight down,” Evans says. “No twisting. Instead of cutting, it crimps the dough together, which inhibits loft.”

“I don’t need to twist the cutter, because I dip my cutter in a little flour before each cut,” Coss says. 

“We train our bakers to stamp straight down and pull right back up, as twisting seals the edges and prevents that high heat from going in and helping them to rise high high high!” Morey says. “And make sure not to press them or fuss with them once you’ve stamped them out. We also make sure our biscuits touch on the tray. They rise taller when they are next to each other.”

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A post shared by Carrie Morey (@carriebaileymorey)

“Twisting not only inhibits how the item can rise but also the shape it takes on,” Laird says. “Twisting can take an item from perfectly round to an awkward oblong circle shape.”

Rule #5:
Go for Golden

“Biscuits should be baked at 450 to 500 degrees,” Coss says. “The high amount of heat helps the rise.” 

“I typically brush with buttermilk and place my tray higher in the oven,” Hirsch says. “Convection ovens help a lot by moving the hot air around more evenly. If they’re really done and just pale on top, sticking them under a low-temp broiler for a few moments will help, but keep a close eye on them!”

“You want a hot oven, 400 to 450 degrees, to create steam from the buttermilk and butter if using,” McDaniel says. “I prefer to brush the tops of the biscuits with butter just before the last five minutes of baking.”

“I like to cook them on the top shelf of the oven, so they brown that way and use an egg wash to get nice color on top,” Dodds says.  

Rule #6:
Save the Scrap (a.k.a. “The Leavings”)

At Elvie’s, we bake them off and make a brunch bread pudding,” Evans says. 

“After the second rollout, we use our scraps as ‘snakes’ to hold up our biscuits on the edge of the pan,” Morey says. “It’s also our snack to reward us for all our hard work. I like to turn my snake into a Southern churro by slathering it in butter and rolling it in cinnamon sugar. It’ll melt in your mouth! We also use scraps to make biscuit bowls and crackers.” 

“We make sure to cut our biscuits in a way that there is never waste or leftover,” Laird says. “But if there were leftovers, I’d either bake it to use as a crumble or use it to top a cobbler.”

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A post shared by Kaley Laird (@klaird5)

“We use the leavings for pot pies,” McCormick says. “I gather them up and freeze them. Once I have enough left over, I make biscuit pot pies. We save leftover biscuits and make bread pudding.”

Council leaves her edges on when she bakes, a no-waste trick she learned from her great-grandmother. The curved scrap pieces make sopping up the last of the sausage gravy that much easier. “The adults would get the actual biscuits and the kids would get the scraps, which was fine with us,” she told G&G, when she shared more about technique here

Rule #7:
Cover, Slather, Smother, and More with These Chef Recs

Evans’s top five: “Butter, Honey, Butter, Honey, and Sorghum” 

Coss’s top five: “Parsley and garlic butter, peach jam, apple butter, pepper jelly, and, of course, gravy.” 

McDaniel’s top five: “Golden Eagle syrup, Poirier’s cane syrup, homemade fig preserves, strawberry jam, or honey.”

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A post shared by Rob McDaniel (@robmcdaniel1)

Morey’s top five: “Salted butter, pimento cheese, compound butter (my favorite is savory thyme butter), maple syrup, and my new favorite, molasses butter, which my friend Deborah VanTrece taught me about.”

Laird’s top five: “1. Butter, 2. Butter, 3. Butter, 4. Benton’s ham, 5. Jam.” 

Dodds’s top five: “My mom’s raspberry jam, honey, honey butter, pimento cheese, and…my mom’s raspberry jam!” 

Hirsch’s top five: “Salted cultured butter, local wildflower honey, homemade strawberry jam, runny egg yolks, or hot sausage gravy.”

Rule #8:
Don’t Expect Any Leftovers, But on the Off-Chance…

“Keep leftovers wrapped really well and put in the fridge,” Evans says. “But to reheat, you have to use a toaster oven or an oven. The microwave just isn’t going to cut it.”

“Once biscuits cool after baking, I wrap them in aluminum foil and place them in the freezer,” Morey says. “The night before I am going to serve them, I put them on the counter, then reheat the next day with the foil wrapping still in place.”

And from McDaniel, “I’ve never experienced a leftover biscuit phenomenon.” Touché.

Ready to bake? Try this recipe for the easiest, most delicious biscuits you’ll ever make.