Electric skillets are highly versatile appliances: They're great for adding a food prep option when you're preparing a big meal, as a standalone appliance when you don't feel like heating up the kitchen with your oven or stovetop range, or even as an all-in-one dish for preparing and transporting food, then keeping it warm on the buffet table.
Like traditional skillets, electric frying pans can be used for sautéing and pan frying. The best electric frying pans can brown your meat nicely before cooking it, but if you're looking for true searing action, you might be happier with an electric grill. In that report, we also discuss electric griddles -- probably the best choice if you need bulk capacity to cook foods like pancakes, French toast or bacon for large groups. Some electric skillets also work for deep frying, although if you do a lot of frying, you should consider purchasing a dedicated deep fryer.
The majority of electric frying pans are made of aluminum, with a nonstick coating on the interior and a glass lid that makes it easy to monitor how your food is cooking. They also tend to be fairly large and deep, allowing plenty of room for the cook to prepare multiple foods at once or cook enough servings for a family. The largest electric skillets we review in this report are rectangular and run 16 to 18 inches down the long side -- plenty large enough to use as a chafing dish on a buffet tablet. However, if you're cooking in a confined space (like an RV) or for just one or two people, we also found good electric skillets that are as small as 8 inches square.
Without a doubt, the rectangular 1500-watt Presto 06857 Electric Foldaway Skillet (Est. $50) is a top pick in this category. Versatile and reliable, the Presto 06857 heats evenly (between 0 and 400 degrees) and holds the set temperature automatically, instead of cycling on and off as much electric frying pans do. Owners say that this 16-inch skillet roasts, braises, grills and fries as well as a traditional skillet. You can even bake in it, and its large capacity makes it ideal for preparing large casseroles, side dishes and pasta dishes. Although it's large, this foldaway electric frying pan is also very portable. The built-in spoon/spatula holder, stay-cool handles and "keep warm" setting make it extremely convenient for serving food buffet-style.
The nonstick coating on this Presto electric skillet cleans up nicely with just a wipe-down. Both the skillet pan (which separates from the base) and the lid are dishwasher safe. The Foldaway Skillet's most popular feature, though, is in its name: Owners love having the ability to pack all the pieces (skillet, heating element, base and lid) together and store them away in a fairly small space. The rectangular shape helps reduce its footprint even more. Just make sure you place something soft between the base and the frying pan interior to protect the nonstick coating.
Those who bought this folding skillet to use in an RV or smaller vacation home are particularly pleased with the foldaway feature, as long as their RV or vacation kitchen has enough room to accommodate the skillet's rather large footprint when it's all put together. If you like the idea of this skillet but need a smaller footprint, there's a smaller version: The 12-inch Presto 07115 Electric Foldaway Skillet (Est. $40).
If you're looking for an even more petite frying pan for occasional small-scale use, we like the 800-watt Nesco ES-08 Electric Skillet (Est. $30) Even though the Nesco ES-08 measures just 8 inches to a side, users say it heats up evenly and is big enough to cook for one or two people at a time. The walls of this little skillet pan are deep enough for cooking soup but not so deep that you can't use a spatula
You can even roast or fry in the Nesco ES-08 -- as long as whatever you're cooking isn't very big. Both the skillet pan and the lid wipe off easily or can go into the dishwasher. The nonstick coating holds up well, and users are usually so happy with the bargain that they don't mind that the heating element has numbers (1 through 5) instead of degree settings, and that it cycles on and off once it reaches the set heat, as is typical for most electric frying pans.
Just like their non-electric brethren, there's a constant tradeoff between electric frying pans made of stainless steel and those made of aluminum. Electric skillets made of aluminum heat up faster than steel, conduct heat better, and are less expensive. However, stainless steel lasts longer and is less reactive, so it won't impart a metallic aftertaste to extremely acid or alkaline foods.
Stainless steel is also a good choice if you have concerns about conventional nonstick coatings -- which most aluminum pans sport. The 1800-watt stainless steel Cuisinart CSK-250 Green Gourmet Electric Skillet (Est. $130) goes one step further, adding a petroleum-free, ceramic-based interior coating that means you need very little oil or butter to make food release easily. Users say this electric frying pan heats evenly ("warm" to 450 degrees), the interior coating is durable and releases food easily, and the round, 14-inch-diameter cooking area means you have enough space to cook for an entire family.
The Cuisinart CSK-250 does a great job of frying, griddling, simmering and braising, and it looks great sitting on a buffet table too. However, it does have one big flaw: The vent hole in the tempered glass lid is too small, so steam tends to either sputter out of, or condense and pool under, the lid. Otherwise it's an excellent electric frying pan, however, and users love that once you remove the heating element, this electric skillet is dishwasher safe.
Completely uncoated stainless steel is another excellent choice for people who are concerned about an aluminum skillet's non-stick coating flaking into their food -- and it's less expensive than ceramic. Just use a little oil, butter or cooking spray with the stainless steel skillet and your food will slide right out. If that's the type of skillet you prefer, we recommend the round, 12-inch Aroma Housewares AFP-1600S Gourmet Series (Est. $60). It has no interior coating and uses an impact-bonded base to help its 18/10 stainless steel conduct heat better. It heats quickly and evenly, is large enough to cook a good-size pot roast, and represents a great value. On the downside, the Aroma Housewares AFP-1600S is not submersible or dishwasher safe, and user reports show that the temperature control (which adjusts between 225 and 425 degrees) is the weak point that tends to fail first. Watch out for the one-year warranty's expiration date because once that's over, users say customer service won't do anything to help you.
If you need more cooking space or prefer a space-saving rectangular design, the 16-inch Precise Heat Electric Skillet (Est. $110) heats evenly and has a stainless steel lid that won't explode -- a persistent, but sparse complaint that we saw about glass lids from all brands. Users say this non-immersible skillet is large enough to cook for a big family, and it cleans up easily with a quick soak and scrub. The heating element adjusts between 225 and 425 degrees, and the whole thing is accompanied by a 5-year limited warranty -- just don't expect great customer service, owners warn.
There are few expert reviews of electric skillets, but we found one at Fine Cooking magazine, where editors pick three favorites after comparing a line-up of eight electric frying pans. CNET also has a brief write-up of a popular skillet, but it seems to be based upon general culinary knowledge, rather than specific testing or use. However, user reviews at sites such as Amazon.com, Walmart.com, BestBuy.com and WilliamsSonoma.com are invaluable in gauging a skillet's performance and convenience in everyday, real-world use.