“Cooking at home should be fast and easy but it’s a hassle,” says the narrator in an As Seen On TV commercial for a product called Master Pan. It’s a five-compartment frying pan that many reviewers say makes it easy to cook a Full English Breakfast—bacon, eggs, tomato, beans, and other veggies can each get their own compartment without taking over the entire stove.
The Master Pan, one of the ancestors of the three-in-one breakfast machine, is not a new kind of invention. In 1907, a Chicago woman named Catherine Sullivan patented a frying pan with three built-in divisions “in order, that a number of different commodities may be cooked therein without mixing,” she writes in her application. Anyone who has ever tried to cook on top of a woodstove knows that there’s often very little room and heating even a simple cup of tea requires an awful lot of energy in the form of wood or coal. Though gas stoves were available as early as the mid-1800s, in America the expense of gas meant that it wasn’t until almost half a century later that they became features of the average kitchen. Trying to make the most out of fuel consumption, early inventors experimented with ways to turn necessary energy sources like an oil lamp into a portable cooking surface.
North Carolinian Anthony Martin created even earlier example of an all-in-one breakfast cooking mechanism. In 1903 he patented a variation on the lamp-stove which used the heat from a pot of boiling water (used to make a morning cup of coffee or tea) to warm a griddle placed above the device’s spout. Martin wrote that the griddle could be used for “light cooking such as frying eggs, meat, and cooking cereal, vegetables, and the like.”
Though these products have appeal for anyone who wants to cook a big breakfast in a small kitchen, the advent of the RV era and the mid-century love of modern kitchen gadgetry led to new popularity for all-in-one meal makers. Early camping clubs were known as the “Tin Can Tourists Association” because the only way campers could cook was to pull off the road and heat up canned food over gasoline stoves. By the 1930s, RVs owners were able to enjoy water and electricity inside their moving homes and they wanted to enjoy breakfasts too. Without much room on tiny kitchenette stoves (or a stove at all) kitchen items that could multitask became important. Inventions like a 1932 “gas-saving plate”—a double griddle that could be heated with only one burner—allowed home and mobile home owners to use one portion for “frying eggs or the like while coffee is made over the end portion.”
In the last few decades, a trend toward making multi-food making gadgets temperature calibrated and specially built for each food has become popular. A company called Nostalgia Electrics makes a 3-in-1 Breakfast Station with a coffee percolator, toaster oven, and griddle on top which can make a full breakfast with one plug’s worth of electricity and 20 x 12 inches of counter space. One fan uses it to make breakfast on a sailboat, another carries it on business trips to whip up a quick motel room meal. Unsurprisingly, many people have made use of all-in-one cookers for their tiny New York apartments.
Since 2000, a large number of patents for similar breakfast makers have been filed by inventors in China. Whether this is because of a large number of breakfast-loving inventors or because of the small apartment sizes for urban dwellers in China is impossible to say for sure. However as of 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported, “50 million of China’s 230 million urban households live in substandard quarters often lacking their own toilet and kitchen.” This would make inventions that are essentially multi-use hot plates especially important for making any meals at home.
As more of these inventions get made, any breakfast lover can find a quick, easy-to-clean appliance that will help them make their favorite morning meal. From the traditional combo of coffee, toast, bacon, and eggs to breakfast burrito makers or even a machine that makes waffle breakfast sandwiches there’s something for every dorm room, RV, or lazy home cook.