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.
‘How To’ Zone
We’ve thrown a lot of general ideas your way. Let’s talk real world parameters to get great food from your electric skillet. Most electric skillets have a maximum temperature of 400 degrees. Frankly, that is a scorching temperature for many oils, and food, and messier with splatter and smoke. There rarely seems a reason to go quite that high. You’ll want to be sure to have a trusty instant read or IR surface thermometer at your disposal, as the thermostats are only a general idea of what temperature you can expect to be cooking at.
|Bacon||350 to 375°F||6-8 minutes|
|Braising||250to 325°F||45-60 minutes|
|Browning||325 to 400°F||5-10 minutes|
|Canadian Bacon||275 to 300°F||3-4 minutes|
|Chicken||325 to 375°F||25-40 minutes|
|Eggs Fried||250 to 275°F||3-5 minutes|
|Eggs Scrambled||250 to 275°F||3-5 minutes|
|Fish||325 to 375°F||5-10 minutes|
|French Toast||325 to 350°F||4-6 minutes|
|Ham, 1/2-inch thick||325 to 350°F||10-12 minutes|
|Ham, 3/4-inch thick||325 to 350°F||14-16 minutes|
|Hamburgers, 1/2-inch thick||350 to 375°F||8-12 minutes|
|Liver||325 to 350°F||5-10 minutes|
|Pancakes||325 to 350°F||2-3 minutes|
|Pork Chops, 1/2-inch thick||325 to 375°F||15-20 minutes|
|Pork Chops, 3/4-inch thick||325 to 375°F||20-25 minutes|
|Potatoes, cottage fried||300 to 350°F||10-12 minutes|
|Roasting||325 to 350°F||60-90 minutes|
|Sandwiches, grilled||300 to 325°F||5-10 minutes|
|Sausage, link||300 to 325°F||20-30 minutes|
|Sausage, precooked||325 to 350°F||10-12 minutes|
|Stewing||200 to 225°F||30-90 minutes|
|Upside Down Cake||250 to 350°F||25-35 minutes|
This is your range for raw meats to cook and acquire good coloration. Although, this is probably too cool to cook a steak unless you are going for solid medium doneness and above. But for burgers, pork chops, chicken and fish, this is your optimum range. For all these items you are best off with just salt and pepper for the cooking stage, many seasonings will scorch at the higher end of this range.
Another great way to add color and flavor is with flour or a breaded layer added to the meat. This will get you more success at the lower end of this temperature range. And some of your best results will be when you are working with dishes that can handle 20 minutes or so of cooking. These get the deep brown crisping and color that we all know and love from the Maillard reaction.
Bacon! This is the right setting to get your bacon done to your favorite style of doneness. Sausage patties and links work great in this range as well.
Semi-deep frying 350°F
Electric skillets are great for this, but not quite deep enough to safely deep fry, as in fully submerged items, particularly larger foods. But with the thermostatic control, you can still do a lot, especially with smaller and thinner items. Think onion rings or French fries, shrimp, hush puppies, and many similar items will work just fine. Like always with this style of cooking, do not overload your skillet, cooling down the oil too far, or worse, making it overflow everywhere.
This is also very effective with foods that are symmetrical and can be turned over in the cooking process. Donuts, fritters, breaded cutlets, chicken wings, Asian dumplings, and similar dishes can be safely cooked in an inch or so of oil. Peanut oil is one of the best choices for this style of cooking, although both Canola and soy are neutral flavored and sturdy with a high smoke point.
Pancakes, bread and such 300-350°F
Lots of these types of items will contain sugars that bring with them a scorching risk. Also, the top end of this range is fine with using most oils, but some olive oils max out at 325°F to avoid scorching and for safety. Butter is also better used at 325°F or even lower.
Pancakes generally stay at 350°F to get good color. French toast will do fine at 350°F, but if you are patient and want to cook it in butter 325°F is your number. Same for great grilled cheese sandwiches. Taking your time at 325°F, or a slightly lower temperature, use real butter and thick sliced cheese. Your grilled cheese game will quickly top a new level of excellence.
Braising and simmering 250-325°F
Most cooking techniques are where an electric skillet can shine. From simmering meat balls in red sauce to braising your meat in red wine and stock for stroganoff or countless other dishes, the thermostatic control is very effective. It also means you do not have to heat up the entire oven, and often the house with it. The flat area of the skillet also allows for, say a pot roast or meat loaf, with a variety of veggies around it, to cook as a one pan meal. Compared to a crockpot typically offering only low and high heat settings, you get much more control with your skillet.
It also works as a one pan/pot method for pasta. The broader surface area heats your water much quicker, allowing an ease of cooking aspect to pasta. Drain the al dente pasta off in colander and bring your sauce up to a simmer in the skillet. Add your noodles back to the sauce and let them simmer in the classic Italian style, absorbing all those flavors for a memorable dish.
One Pan Concepts
Pan gravies or sauces are a great addition to homestyle meals. This is another area made easy in electric skillets, starting with the non-stick surface they almost all possess. From pork chops to chicken, take the meat from the skillet and set aside under a foil tent.
Drop your heat to 300°F, unless there is a lot of oil from the food you just cooked, add a tablespoon of butter and 2 Tablespoons of flour. Mix with a whisk until smooth, or possibly crumbly, and you have roux. The longer you keep the roux on the heat the more color it can acquire. Add 1-1/2 cups of fluid; broth, milk, water, or any mix including wine or liquor for flavor. Continue whisking smooth, until the sauce has reached a mild simmer and should be thicken up. Add salt and pepper to taste. Allow to simmer a minute or two continuing to stir or whisk. There you have it, pan sauce or gravy, which will taste great by either name.
For a lighter sauce, remove the meat, set the heat at 325°F, and slowly add white wine, your favorite herbs, maybe lemon juice, and whisk the pan to release any crispy bits of flavor from skillet surface. Add just a couple ounces at a time so that it boils right up, reducing the volume. After adding a cup or two of wine, stir and simmer, add salt and pepper top taste. Finish with a couple tablespoons of unsalted butter for a nice sheen and rich flavor.
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
- Electric Skillet
- Paper bag
- 2 Cups all-purpose flour
- 1 Tablespoon paprika
- 1 Tablespoon salt
- ½ Tablespoon ground black pepper
- ½ Tablespoon garlic powder
- ½ Tablespoon onion powder
- ¼ Tablespoon cayenne
- ¼ Tablespoon celery salt
- ¼ Tablespoon ground mustard
- 3 Tablespoon Vegetable oil
- First order of business, the flour dredge to bread it. In bowl, mix together: purpose flour, paprika, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, celery salt, 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°F 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°F 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°F. 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!