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What is a Skillet? Unveiling the Versatile Kitchen Essential for Everyday Cooking

By Christian Petersen
Updated May 16, 2024
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What Is a Skillet?

A skillet, in its most versatile form, is the culinary cornerstone of kitchens across the globe. According to a report by Grand View Research, the global cookware market size was valued at USD 10.1 billion in 2018, with skillets being a significant segment due to their widespread use. Typically crafted from materials like stainless steel, cast iron, or aluminum, skillets are designed with flat bottoms and often feature sloping sides to facilitate easy tossing and turning of food. In the UK, the term might also describe a larger, deeper pan with a lid, handle, and legs, as noted by the British Cookware Manufacturers Association. Meanwhile, in the US, 'what is a skillet' might evoke images of hearty, one-pan meals served in a shallow dish, a trend highlighted by the National Restaurant Association in their annual culinary forecast. Whether you're searing, sautéing, or serving up a simple meal, understanding the skillet's role in your culinary arsenal is key to elevating your home cooking.

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.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1003812 — On Sep 10, 2020

"In Britain, the term may also refer to larger, deeper, lidded pots or pans with long handles and legs."

Having lived in Britain for 53 years, I have never heard anyone use the term skillet.

By Rotergirl — On Jul 25, 2014

Can I just say that every cook needs a cast iron skillet? Really, every cook needs one! The good folks at Lodge do a pre-seasoned skillet that's ready to use right out of the box. I have one and I wouldn't take anything for it.

They're easy to take care of and will last a lifetime and longer. My mom has her great-grandmother's cast iron skillet and it's well over 80 years old. That's her cornbread skillet and it truly is a thing of beauty.

Properly seasoned cast iron is the original non stick coating and as long as you take care of it, that cast iron skillet will last long enough to hand down as an heirloom.

By Pippinwhite — On Jul 24, 2014

Electric skillets are good things, especially for doing something like frying chicken. They keep the oil at a steady temperature. Since they're covered, they're also good for roasting food.

Electric skillets aren't as common as they used to be, but they're still great appliances. They don't heat up the kitchen and once you get accustomed to using one, I think you'll really like it. I know I love mine. Mine has a nonstick coating so it's easy to clean and I have been really happy with the cooking I've done with mine.

They're not really expensive, either. You can usually get one for about $50USD. I have enjoyed mine.

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