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Right Off the Box: How to make the best biscuits from scratch

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

A plate of biscuits next to a swirly foamy latte.

While on a family Thanksgiving trip to Louisville last weekend, I showed my brother-in-law Mike how to make biscuits.

I had told the family that I would make the Thanksgiving meal. All they had to do was get out of the way. I was excited. I had planned out the meal in my brain. I had reserved a fresh turkey. I was about to leave to pick up the bird – who we had already named Jerry – and to purchase all the groceries from Kroger. I was asking if they had a cast iron skillet. I didn’t have to have it, but if it existed, I wanted it for the cornbread that would go into the dressing.

Mike looked all over the house for it and could only find a small one. “If you need one, I will go out and get one.”

We went back and forth on whether it was necessary and him saying they probably needed one anyway.

So I suggested that if he bought one, I would make him a batch of biscuits.

He left immediately to buy one.

Later when I had finished making the cornbread and the oven was still hot, I told him to hang around and I would show him how to make biscuits himself. It was a “teach a man to fish” moment.

He said, “Nah. I’m a Grands guy.”

For those uninitiated, Grands are from Pillsbury. Anyone can buy a frozen bag of Grands and have a batch of biscuits for breakfast in about 10 minutes. They’re fast, not messy and taste pretty good. We kept a bag of them in my Maw’s freezer when she realized making biscuits from scratch might be more trouble than she was willing to deal with.

Grands are good, but they’re not fresh.

I told him, “Sure, you’re a Grand’s guy now. Wait until you taste these.”

He placated me. I went full into my teacher mode. I displayed all the ingredients. I showed him how I was rubbing the pieces of butter between my fingers. I explained how the butter will melt and steam in the oven, which is what makes biscuits tender and rise.

And in the middle of my teacher mode, reality kicked in. This wasn’t my kitchen. I had none of my regular biscuit tools. I did not know this oven. I had pulled a glass from the cabinet to use as a biscuit cutter. They could turn out awful.

I told him, “All of this should work, but I have been talking big sh*t about how good these are going to be, so let’s call these a practice run.”

He laughed, but I really was nervous the whole thing would all fall apart.

Do not be fooled. No matter how easy your mom, dad, grandma, or TV chef makes it look, biscuits from scratch are not easy to make.

Learning how to make from scratch biscuits was a stress-baking journey for me in 2019. Every batch came out of the oven like these hard little bricks. I followed every recipe and trick the internet had to offer. I melted the butter. Next time I chilled the butter. The next time I frozen the butter and grated it like cheese. I used a food processor, a Kitchen Aid mixer, and eventually my own hands. I placed liquids in the bowl first, then added dry. I started with dry, then added wet. I even used a technique that was supposed to be from the Tennessee mountains called cat heads. None of these techniques worked for me.

A plate of round biscuits.
The early attempt at catheads

Eventually, following the suggestion of a writer who was convinced the perfect biscuit could only be obtained by using White Lily flour – only available for purchase in the southeastern states – I bought a bag and just followed the recipe from the back of the bag.

How to make the best biscuits from scratch? Follow the recipe is the one on the back of the White Lily flour package.

I do not always use White Lily flour because I can’t always keep it on hand. But the recipe is solid.

What I had also learned in my multiple batch biscuit journey was that I was smooshing out all the air from my dough. My friend L had suggested I was over kneading it one day when I was complaining that I couldn’t make it work. She’s a straight up Bisquick gal and suggested I was overworking my dough. Armed with the White Lily recipe and a gentler hand, I actually remembered something from watching my Maw make biscuits. She would never actually explain to me how to do it, but she would let me hang around and watch her do things. I remembered how I never saw her use a rolling pin. She always patted everything down with her hands. With the dough the right consistency, the patting of the dough made sense. It was already puffing up a bit from the baking powder and the milk. The patting kept me from squishing it.

I explained this to Mike when we were in his kitchen. I told him, “You just need to smack it around a little.”

I used the glass from the cabinet to cut the dough into circles, worried because I could only get six biscuits out of the batch. I told him, “They’re too big.”

“No such thing.”

Hubs walked into the kitchen. I told him I was making a test batch of biscuits.

“Of course you are.”

I also told him that I was worried they were too big. He also claimed, “That’s not a thing.”

They baked and I cleaned up after myself. We’d driven to their house as soon as we’d stepped off the plane. I’d purchased all the groceries and spent the day prepping for the next day’s Thanksgiving meal. I’d prepped the turkey, made cornbread, soaked greens, cleaned green beans, and now made biscuits. And while this might sound stressful and overwhelming to many people, I was really happy.

When the biscuits were done, I cracked open one of the biggest ones to make sure they weren’t doughy in the middle. They were cooked all the way through. I dished up a few. Suddenly the kitchen became crowded with people pulling butter and jelly from the fridge.

Later Mike flipped through my Holiday Handbook – my recipe book for all my holiday events – and took a photo of a greens recipe I planned to make for the next day’s meal. He also took a photo of my biscuit recipe, but I told him he didn’t need it. I showed him the back of the flour bag, “It’s right here on the back.”

Read Books. Wear Boots.




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