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The Inessential, Essential Tool for Perfect Pancakes (& Everything Else)

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Let me just get the caveats out of the way here: I share a kitchen with two other people, so space is at a premium. I have a standard frying pan that I love. I don't make pancakes very often. And you're more likely to find the tool I'm about to tell you about on eBay than in a department or even specialty cooking store.

And now that we've gotten that over with, I'm still going to tell you that one of my very favorite tools is the electric frying pan.

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Photo by Bobbi Lin

My parents received an electric frying pan from my mom's mom as a wedding present—a Farberware model, stainless steel with a lid and a cord that detaches (for easy cleaning!). As far as I can tell, they've pulled it out every weekend since then to make pancakes in it.

Pancakes were one of the first things I learned to make. Every Sunday, I'd use the red satin ribbon in the Joy of Cooking (1975 edition) to flip the book open to the pancake recipe (one my dad knew, and still knows, by heart). Out came the green-glazed dishes with the leaves on them, the butter dish, the maple syrup (always the real deal), the sharp little forks intended for salad but always used for pancakes. And out came the electric frying pan.

The pan, which stands just above the counter on jaunty little feet, plugs into the wall; you adjust the heat via a dial on the cord, which means that the temperature is both steady and precise—from 200° F to 500° F. A light on the dial goes off when the pan is the right temperature, which, if you're wondering, is 350° F for perfect pancakes. I am convinced that this pan is the secret to my father's pancake mastery.

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How to Make Pancakes Without a Recipe
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How to Make Pancakes Without a Recipe

But the steady heat—even in all parts of the pan—makes electric frying pans prime candidates for frying, or French toast, or cooking eggs for a crowd (low-and-slow scrambled or poached), or anything else where a few degrees in the wrong direction could skew the final result. Put the lid on it and you have a stew pot, the high sides keeping everything contained within. Take the lid off and get a good sear on meatballs or pork chops.

Yes, the electric frying pan is a lot like a standard frying pan. You still need to add a little oil to cook in it, for example; and anything that you'd cook in an electric frying pan, you can cook in a standard frying pan, too. But the electric one, in addition to having that steady, even heat, gives you an extra "burner" to cook on if you're cooking for a crowd and your stove is occupied—or if your stove is finicky and one (or all) of the burners refuses to light. (This is, as far as I can tell, an almost universal experience in New York.)

And yes, you might have to track it down on eBay or Etsy—and if you do, make sure that the one you're buying has the lid and cord included, and that the cord is in good shape (don't be afraid to ask for photos). But track one down, even if space is at a premium, even if you have a frying pan you love. Make a batch of pancakes. Wait 'til you see. They'll be perfect.

Tags: pancakes, electric frying pans