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Skillet vs. Sauté Pan

Skillet vs. Sauté Pan

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Question: What's the difference between a skillet and sauté pan? Some places say that a skillet has sloping sides and the sauté pan has vertical sides, but I have also seen the reverse of this. Then of course if you look at a cast iron skillet, it is an in-between.

Due to the variety of cookware brands, it is common to see different types of pans with the same names. Given these discrepancies, consider the shape and function when you are buying your pans.

Frying pans are often called skillets. With flared sides and no lid, skillets (left) are generally used for quickly cooking foods over high heat. The sloped sides make it easy for cooks to turn, flip, and remove foods from the pan. Well suited for the basic needs of most home cooks, these pans come in a variety of materials: aluminum, cast iron, copper, stainless steel, anodized aluminum.

Sauté pans (right) have straight sides and a lid. They are also very versatile. The added height on the sides allows for cooking with more liquid or keeping moisture in the dish. This type of pan is well-suited for braising, pan-frying, sautéing, searing, or even making small amounts of sauces.

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A sauté pan is a large pan with straight sides, a long handle, and a lid. A skillet, often called a frying pan or fry pan, is a shallow pan with sloped sides and long handle, and it may or may not come with a lid as well.


The biggest difference between these pans is the angle and height of the sides. It is common to see the sides of saute pans measuring between two and up to about four inches, but the height and angle of skillet sides varies. Some skillets have very short sides while others are more substantial and these sides could be flared out at dramatic angles or angled only slightly.

Differences in the angle of the sides affect the actual cooking surface area of both pans. For instance, a sauté pan measuring 12 inches across will actually have more space for food to directly contact than a skillet measuring 12 inches across because the skillet loses some of its cooking area to its flared sides but a sauté pan with its right angles does not.

Surface Area

Sauté pans are usually larger in size as they are designed for sautéing, which requires a lot of space for food to spread out. If their bottoms were small, they would not be much different than a sauce pan.

You are unlikely to see a sauté pan that measures less than 12 inches in diameter, but skillets range anywhere from eight to 12 inches across.

Size (Volume vs. Diameter)

Another main difference between these pans is the way that they are measured.

Because of the way saute pans are shaped, they are usually measured by volume. Two- or three-quart sauté pans are common, but these pans can hold anywhere from two to seven quarts. But measuring skillets like this wouldn’t make sense as these pans are shallow and have flared edges, so these are measured by calculating the distance from one side to another.

The average sauté pan tends to be larger than the average skillet, but it’s hard to tell when a skillet can hold the same volume as a sauté pan because this information is not usually provided.

What is a skillet?

One of the defining characteristics of a skillet is the fact that the sides are slanted. While the overall surface areas of cooking is a bit smaller than the same sized the saute pan it comes with a number of advantages.

You have better access to what you are cooking and this makes them very useful for cooking things like stir-fries and other types of frying where you need to be moving it around a lot. Skillets are particularly good for frittatas which are served from the pan.

Skillets are also known as frying pans or fry pans which can complicate things a little for those that new to cooking. You get many types and the material that they are made from will vary. Here is a breakdown of the material they are made from and what these materials are good for.

Aluminum (with a nonstick or ceramic coating) – these are not great for high-temperature cooking but are best suited for things like cooking eggs and bacon. You can find a lot of budget options with these types. In recent years the technology has developed to produce pretty decently made cookware such as scan pan . These tend to be a lot safer . Products that are made with Teflon need to be used with care. (check out our article on the dangers of Teflon)

Stainless steel – This is a firm favorite among professional chef and those who take their cooking seriously. If you learn the techniques associated with cooking with stainless steel you can really belt out some amazing food. Stainless steel is robust and long lasting making it perfect for commercial environments.

NOT ALL STAINLESS STEEL IS EQUAL! be aware of the quality of the stainless steel cookware, there are different grades of stainless steel

Cast iron skillets – Loved by many, cast iron is robust and extremely long lasting and those that buy into it swear by it. You will need to season them from time to time and they do require the most maintenance out of all the cookware. If you season them right they get a pretty decent non-stick coating

Skillet vs. Sauté Pans

Your skillet, also known as a frying pan or fry pan, is a flat-bottom pan used to sear, brown, or fry food. The relatively short sides of the pan flare outward slightly. Keep in mind that the size of your pan is determined by the diameter of the lip of the pan, not the size of the cooking surface at the bottom.

A skillet has a smaller cooking surface than a sauté pan—usually about 30% less. For some at-home cooks, this is a significant difference for others, this is a matter of little concern. Some of the benefits of cooking with a skillet pan include:

  • Quick cooking over high heat.
  • Sloped sides allow for easy turning, flipping, and food removal.
  • A more efficient design for tossing foods during the cooking process.
  • A typically lighter weight than a standard sauté pan.

While a sauté pan has a flat bottom, just like your skillet, the sides of a sauté pan are straight. The straight sides allow for a larger cooking area in relation to the diameter of the pan. Since a sauté pan is typically heavier than a skillet, large sauté pans often have an additional handle—a helper handle of sorts—across from the main handle to assist in handling a hot, heavy pan. You may want to consider some of the additional benefits of sauté pans:

  • More cooking capacity.
  • May be easier to use.
  • Well suited for searing, braising, and pan-frying.
  • Intended for use with lower cooking temperatures but will double as a skillet.
  • Typically comes with a lid.
  • Higher sides allow for cooking with more liquid.

Is Non-Stick the Best Pan Coating?

Whether you choose a skillet, sauté pan, or a multi-functional hybrid version of both, the cooking surface you select determines how easy your cookware is to both use and care for. Some pan coatings work better for specific types of cooking.

Cast Iron Pans—Can Be Used for High Temperatures

While cast iron provides even heating and can withstand high temperatures, a cast-iron pan may not be recommended because it can be porous and prone to rust.

Cast-iron skillets require seasoning to create a surface of oxidized fat over the iron to protect the surface and eliminate sticking. Stainless steel can interact with some foods and can also be challenging to clean.

Use a Copper Pan for Even Cooking

Copper skillets are known for their ability to conduct heat. Chefs often use a copper pan to prepare delicate foods that require controlled temperatures, like sauces and seafood.

Some people worry about whether or not copper pots and pans are safe. Copper is a mineral found in all body tissue and can help form blood cells the recommended daily allowance is 900 micrograms for adults and adolescents. Although large amounts of copper are potentially toxic, Medical News Today reports that both copper deficiency and copper toxicity are rare in the United States.

Today, most copper cookware is designed with a tin or stainless steel coating to protect against the release of copper into food.

Are Teflon Pans Really That Bad?

For decades, many cooking enthusiasts have gravitated to the use of Teflon skillets and sauté pans to keep food from sticking during cooking. Teflon pans are also well known for their browning abilities. Teflon is the brand name for polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) in the process of making PTFE, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is used.

A debate exists due to potential health concerns of the fumes released when pans containing PTFE & PFOA overheat, while others dispute that claim. The American Cancer Society states that while Teflon is “not suspected of causing cancer,” provisional health advisories for both PTFE & PFOA have been released by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Cerami-Tech Non-Stick Cookware

Cerami-Tech pans are both PTFE & PFOA free. Cerami-Tech is a newer type of non-stick pan coating designed for consumers who want a Teflon-free pan for browning and sautéing.

Cerami-Tech pans are said to require little or no oil for easier cooking and cleaning. Most Cerami-Tech pans feature a built-in induction plate that is said to help the pan reach high heats faster and cook food evenly.

The Copper Chef brand offers a Cerami-Tech copper skillet that serves the purpose of both a skillet and sauté pan. With this unique cooking surface, you can cook healthier meals without sacrificing the ease of clean up. This Copper Chef pan is a sautéing or frying pan with some of the features of a traditional skillet, like gently sloped sides.

Easy Kitchen Organization

While years of experience in the kitchen undoubtedly enhance your cooking skills, most people have accumulated more cookware than they need or can store comfortably. Sometimes, it's necessary to take stock of kitchen inventory and eliminate some of the clutter.

Click here for all-purpose pan designs to suit multiple cookware and baking needs.

Skillet vs. Sauté Pan: What’s the Difference?

Whether you’re deciding on a new purchase for your kitchen or impersonating a professional chef for your latest spy mission, there may come a time when you’ll want to know the difference between a skillet and a sauté pan. Fortunately, it’s pretty straightforward.

As Business Insider explains, the sides of a sauté pan extend straight up from its base, while the sides of a skillet flare out at an angle. Because the diameter of every pan is measured from the rim—not the base—this means the cooking surface of a skillet is smaller than that of a sauté pan. If, for example, you buy a 12-inch skillet, you’re only getting about 10 inches of space to cook on. With a 12-inch sauté pan, you’ll get the full foot.

Without angled sides, a sauté pan can hold more liquid, and that liquid won’t slosh over onto your stove (or feet) as easily as it would in a skillet. So if you’re cooking with a generous quantity of sauce, wine, oil, or any other liquid that you could easily spill, you might want to choose a sauté pan over a skillet.

Skillets, however, have their own skill set. According to Serious Eats’s chief culinary consultant J. Kenji López-Alt, a skillet’s smaller base makes it lighter than a sauté pan, so it’s easier to manage with just one hand. And those sloped sides come in handy when you’re trying to toss food like a pro, which helps ensure that the contents cook evenly. In other words, sautéing is actually a job best-suited to skillets, not sauté pans.

If you only have enough room (in your kitchen or in your budget) for one shallow pan, López-Alt recommends the skillet, since sautéing is so common in recipes.

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What Is a Frying Pan?

A fry pan has slanted sides just like a skillet. The walls narrow down from the top edge towards the bottom, thus making the frypan ideal for cooking foods that require frequent turning.

Frypans are shallow and have a thin body, which allows them to heat up quickly. The thin body also makes them light and easy to cook with. The slanted walls provide cooks with a good view of food and provide easy access when you want to turn the contents.

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Sauteuse Pan Design

Sauteuse pans are made much like sauté pans, with a layer of anodized aluminum sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel. A sauteuse pan resembles a soup pot in that it has high, sloping sides designed for better simmering reduction, but it also has a large cooking surface for even heat distribution. It features two hoop handles on either side of the pot for easier transferring and pouring. Sauteuse pans range in size from 2.5 quarts to 7 quarts and come with a slightly domed lid made of metal and glass.

Sauté Pan vs. Frying Pan

We hear the terms skillet, frying pan and sautéing pan. What’s the difference? The side of pan answers that question. A frying pan, also known as a skillet, has slanted sides. A sautéing pan has straight sides.

The curved or sloped side of the skillet works well for stir-frying and other cooking where you are moving ingredients around in the pan.

The straight side of the sauté pan gives it a larger surface area against the heat, perfect for searing meat. Sauces and other liquids stay in the pan better due to the straight sides. This pan often comes with a lid.

Five factors are affected by the pan you choose:

  • Surface area: pans are measured by the diameter of the lip. With a skillet’s smaller diameter of the bottom of the pan, you’ll have a smaller area on the cooking surface. You should take into account the diameter of your stovetop eyes when choosing the size of frying and sautéing pans.
  • Volume: a higher volume of liquid fits into the sauté pan.
  • Weight: a sauté pan is heavier than a frying pan because of the wider base. This is why a sauté pan may come with a second handle.
  • Tossing ability: have you been practicing tossing or flipping your food like you see on TV? A skillet works best for this skill. Actually it’s the most effective way to evenly distribute your ingredients in the pan. Plus it’s fun!
  • Evaporation: as long as you leave space between the meat that you’re sautéing or pan frying, evaporation will occur. Use a bigger pan than you need or split the amount to keep your food from becoming soggy.

The pans can be used interchangeably with Fork & Leaf Sauteing Oil. Both work well for eggs and grilled cheese. Options vary in size, material and construction – which we’ll get into in a later article.

If you have seen, skillets and frying pans are different in terms of design and performance. This means that they can have a big impact on the way your food turns out. Just like any type of tool, it is important to use the right type of cookware for the task in hand.

Therefore, it is a good idea to own a cast iron skillet and at least one frying pan. Quality is key when it comes to cookware, and it is best to choose the best quality products you can. Top-of-the-range skillets and frying pans can serve you well throughout all your culinary journeys and come with lifetime warranties.


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