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Test Drive: Electric Skillets

It’s time to bring back this handy countertop appliance

Fine Cooking Issue 103
Photos: Scott Phillips
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Back in the day, it seemed that everyone had an electric skillet. But as time went on and kitchen cabinets began fi lling up with food processors and stand mixers, those electric skillets began to seem bulky and redundant. Couldn’t a stovetop skillet do it all? Die-hard fans said no. After all, an electric skillet uses less energy than a conventional stovetop burner, doesn’t heat up the kitchen, and doubles as a chafi ng dish for entertaining. It’s portable and can be set to a precise heat for even cooking. Plus, the enclosed heating element is safer than an open burner.

Today’s manufacturers have taken notice. There are many new models on the market boasting innovations in performance, design, and safety. Here are our favorites:

Best Features

Zojirushi Gourmet d’Expert electric skillet
$150 at cooking.com/fc

This skillet is really four appliances in one: a Dutch oven, a wok, a skillet/griddle, and a steamer. It has a spacious 16-1/2-inch interior diameter and top-notch design and construction, including a wide temperature range (up to 480°F) and three removable pans: a 1-1/2-inch-deep nonstick “flat plate” for sautéing; a 2-1/2-inch-deep nonstick “pan” for braising, making soup, and stir-frying (this pan can also be used on the stovetop); and a metal steamer rack that fits inside the pan. Heat is controlled by a sliding mechanism rather than a dial. This model braised chicken, stir-fried, and seared burgers to perfection. It comes with a one-year warranty.

Small Package, Super Power

Presto 12-inch electric stainless-steel skillet
$70 at kitchencollection.com

Despite its smaller 12-inch interior, this model delivers lots of cooking power. The Control Master heating mechanism (which heats to 400°F) maintains the set temperature beautifully, an especially useful feature for braising. The skillet cooked pancakes and fried chicken with ease, and even a pan of oil left on for an hour (by accident) didn’t burn. The stainless-steel exterior is sleek, there are two stay-cool handles (one straight and one U-shaped), and the skillet is fully immersible and dishwasher safe (with the heat control mechanism removed). This skillet comes with a one-year warranty.

The Workhorse

Cuisinart electric skillet CSK-150
$120 at sears.com

With a generous 12×15-inch interior, 5-quart capacity, and thick walls, this skillet offers solid overall construction. Its design includes attractive details like die-cast stainless-steel handles and a metal grommet in the lid’s steam vent for a finished look. It performed like a good-quality traditional nonstick skillet, successfully cooking six pancakes at once without any oil and searing burgers well. When set to its top temperature of 450°F, this pan stir-fried easily. This model promises a long life, backed up by a three-year warranty.

What to look for

Keep these things in mind when shopping for an electric skillet.

Safety
Look for a short cord that keeps the skillet near the wall (so it won’t fall off a countertop or trip you up), or a breakaway heating mechanism that separates easily from the skillet in case it’s pulled or tipped over.

Construction
Electric skillets of old were infamous for their flaking Teflon nonstick coatings. Today’s skillets use thicker coatings of safer nonstick surfaces that adhere better so they won’t end up in your food. There are also stainless-steel skillets on the market. Lids are often clear tempered glass with a vent.

Volume and surface area
If you want your skillet to double as a griddle for bacon and pancakes, or if you want to use it as a buffet warmer, go for a larger skillet (16 inches, as opposed to 12).

How we tested

We tested eight skillets, six with nonstick interior coatings and two with stainless-steel interiors. We made pancakes, hamburgers, and fried chicken, and braised pot roast and chicken with rice, evaluating the skillets for even and precise heating and safety, as well as browning, frying, and warming capabilities. The top three performers in those tests were then tested side by side for their ability to stir-fry.

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