The word skillet can have several meanings. The most common usage is for any type of flat- bottomed frying pan, commonly made from stainless steel, cast iron or aluminum. It is a very general term and skillets may vary greatly in shape and profile but are usually sloped or curved outward. In Britain, the term may also refer to larger, deeper, lidded pots or pans with long handles and legs. Alternatively, particularly in America, the term has come to refer to a rustic type of all-in-one meal that often combines cooked, diced vegetables and meats that are served on a very shallow metal or ceramic skillet-shaped dish.
Today, the term skillet is used interchangeably with frying pan or frypan. More traditionally, however, it refers to a specific type of frying pan, with a flat bottom and flared sides that are relatively low in relation to overall diameter and that curve upwards gradually from the bottom. Old-fashioned cast iron skillets, which are still popular because of their cooking characteristics, generally have sides that gradually slope outwards but do not curve directly up from the bottom.
The earliest skillets were, like most cooking pots and pans, made of iron, and today, cast iron skillets are still a popular kitchen item. Many cooks favor them because they transfer heat very evenly without scorching and are very durable. They require special care however, and this keeps them out of the kitchens of some cooks. Many other metals are used to make modern skillets, including aluminum, stainless steel, and copper. Some pans have a composite composition of copper or aluminum clad with stainless steel, and many are treated with a non-stick coating as well.
An electric skillet is a type of skillet with its own heat source, meant to be used on a counter or table and plugged into a standard wall outlet. Such an appliance has a detachable cord or pan insert to facilitate cleaning. A typical electric skillet will have temperature controls and will have feet to keep it above the work surface to prevent damage to counter or tabletops.
In cuisine, the term skillet has come to be used, particularly in America, to mean a type of one-dish meal served on a metal or ceramic plate or very shallow dish that resembles a regular skillet. Ingredients vary but often include diced, browned potatoes, meats, and vegetables, which can be served unadorned or topped with cheese, gravy, or a sauce. This type of dish is popular as a breakfast and may contain breakfast meats such as ham, bacon, or sausage as well as eggs. Many different skillet dishes for other meals can be found at American restaurants, however. The word may also refer to such a meal prepared entirely in one large pan for convenience and served on regular plates or in bowls.