Depending on your generation, electric skillets may have played differing roles in the cooking you grew up with. First hitting the market in 1953, Sunbeam was setting the trend in the electric kitchen. The most notable feature of the electric skillet is that it offers a thermostatically controlled hot cooking surface.
To this day, most ranges and cooking surfaces have levels of being on, low-medium-high, period. Very few will stop adding heat when the target temperature has been reached. Which is kind of interesting since we have had thermostatically controlled ovens for over 100 years. The electric skillet is therefore kind of unique in that it offers the temperature control lacking in many kitchen cooking surfaces.
Easy Easy Easy
There’s nothing to dislike about electric skillets. Easy set and forget the temperature, it heats and stays. Very simple operation with a dial showing the temperature, they even used to have a guide for what temps to what style of cooking; frying, braising, etc. And finally clean-up is easy. Detach the electric controller and the whole unit is submersible.
Many of them come with a high dome lid which will make it easy to cook a variety of foods. You get the flat surface for browning, grilling, frying. The lid allows for slower moist cooking processes, even accommodating taller roasts or such. Flat glass lids are the other common top out there, which allows you to see the progress of your food as it cooks.
For us the electric skillet was the automatic go to for almost all breakfast food. From cooking bacon, to pancakes, French toast and eggs; it covered all the bases. For lunch it was the perfect surface for grilled cheese sandwiches or a quick burger.
Bigger meals saw everything from pork chops to Salisbury steak. A couple inches of water and you can simmer vegetables from asparagus to carrots to whole green beans. One college roommate cooked up meatloaf, roasting the taters and carrots like a pot roast in the same skillet with the cover creating a great braising environment.
As a young adult I yearned to learn southern style pan fried chicken. My buddy’s mom would make it, but I never had it fresh, it was always a late night snack and it was awesome. Like meatloaf, I almost learned to make it more for the leftovers than for the hot meal…but I digress.
Fried Chicken in an Electric Skillet
The first order of business was to get an electric skillet. It seems almost purpose built for cooking this dish. Sure, fried chicken can easily be done in a good cast iron skillet or any pan on a stove. But the thermostat allows excellent precision for the right combination of browning and doneness.
First order of business, the flour dredge to bread it. In bowl, mix together:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 Tablespoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne
- ¼ teaspoon celery salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground mustard
Preheat your skillet to 350 degrees. The next big question is chicken. Cut down a whole chicken into 8 pieces, or our family favorite, buy chicken thighs with the skin on and bone in. With the thighs, they often come with some flaps of skin that are very fatty, so take a moment to trim the skin down to just cover the meat of the thigh. We are basing the cooking times offered here on doing the thighs. The timing will apply to a cut up chicken, although the times may increase for the bone-in breast meat depending on how you cut it.
Put the breader into a large brown paper bag. Toss in the chicken thighs, close and roll the top, and tumble until they are all well coated.
Pour a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil into the skillet, enough to coat the bottom well. Remove the chicken thighs, shake off the excess flour and place them evenly around the skillet with the skin side down.
Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces, the skin side should be a deep golden brown. If they have browned way too much, drop your heat to 325. With all the skin sides up, cover again and cook for 15 minutes.
Turn the chicken again to skin side down. Cook with the lid askew. This allows steam to escape but keeps the splattering to a minimum. Your chicken should be done in 10-15 minutes, unless they are particularly large pieces. You are looking for 165 degrees next to the bone if you want to use a piercing thermometer to check. Place the chicken on a rack or paper towels to allow it to drain briefly before serving.
And Yet There’s More…
For a relatively compact device, an electric skillet creates some broad cooking horizons. Take four boneless skinless thighs, hammer them to an even thickness, dredge them, drop the temp to 325 and brown them in butter on both sides, remove, sprinkle a little flour in the pan, add chicken stock, white wine garlic, etc.
Voila, a great base. Use Marsala wine to build a sauce, or lemon chicken with some juice and zest, a handful of minced garlic browned up and it’s a garlic butter chicken sauce to pour over the top. And that is just one protein, there’s pork, fish, beef and on and on. Being more contained allows you to capitalize on the yummies that come from browning in a skillet without scorching, and incorporate them into a pan sauce.
Crockpots are a great device, but they don’t have the thermostat starting at 200 degrees typically. The skillet may give you more control for braising lamb shanks, beef stew, or all kinds of slow cooked rich dishes.
And yet…to wrap things up properly, you can even cook up some dessert using classic baking techniques and no leavening. Here’s a four ingredient sponge cake that is an awesome vehicle for any fresh fruit, or just on its own. This is geared toward a non-stick square electric skillet no bigger than twelve inches. Rub a light coat of butter on the sides and bottom of the skillet, heat to 275.
In a bowl add;
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Beat with an electric blender until soft peaks are formed. Be patient, this will take 6-9 minutes. Add:
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
You do not want to whisk this, instead gently fold in the flour until blended. Pour into skillet, cover and drop temp to 200 degrees. After 15 minutes, check with a toothpick, if it comes out clean you’re done, otherwise give it a few more minutes. Remove the cord and invert the cake on to a cookie sheet. Invert again on to a plate with the light side up top. Let cool completely and enjoy!