As laypeople and everyday cooks, we often refer to cookware items using item names interchangeably. This can cause much confusion. The confusion of terms may be due to where we live, and regional terminology or the distinction between items is vague. Understanding the difference in functionality and features of cookware can help one choose the correct name accurately.
Skillets have sloping sides that are higher than a frypan. Frypans are shallower than a skillet, have sloping sides, and are lightweight. Both have wide rims with smaller base sizes. Sauté pans have a flat base with upright sides, an additional helper handle, and a lid.
By definition, a pan is: “a metal container used for cooking food in.” This definition is very wide, and therefore a distinction is needed. How we differentiate between a skillet, a frying pan, and a sauté pan depends on the function and the shape of these three different “pans.”
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Skillet, Frying Pan, and Saute Pan Comparison Chart
Quick comparison table explaining the difference between a skillet, frying pan and saute pan.
|Feature||Skillet||Flying Pan||Sauté Pan|
|Material||Cast iron, stainless steel, or non-stick||Cast iron, stainless steel, or non-stick||Stainless steel or copper|
|Shape||Flared or sloped||Flat||Straight|
|Lid||May or may not have a lid||May or may not have a lid||Comes with a lid|
|Handle(s)||Single long handle||Single long handle||Single long handle or two side handles|
|Size Range||8-14 inches||8-14 inches||8-12 inches|
|Cooking Uses||Searing, pan-frying, roasting, and baking||Frying, searing, and stir-frying||Sautéing, frying, and simmering|
|Best For||High-heat cooking and browning||Cooking foods that need to be turned frequently||Preparing dishes with liquid, like sauces and stews|
|Price (Material & Brand Determines Price Range||$20 to $200+||$15 to $300+||$30 to $500+|
Shape Differences Between Skillets, Fry Pans, and Sauté Pans.
The differences between a sauté pan and a frying pan can be seen at a glance once you know what to look for. Telling the differences between a frying pan and a skillet are a bit trickier. Many believe that there is no difference between these two pans.
Some believe the distinction between the two is merely based on the material used to produce a pan. As such, a cast-iron pan is often called a skillet rather than a cast-iron frypan. A little more digging can reveal a third option as a distinction.
Characteristics of a Skillet?
A skillet or French skillet has the following shape characteristics:
- Wider time than the base
- Steep slanted sides
- Medium depth
- Limited size range
- A single long handle
- Light to medium weight
A true skillet has a combination of features from both the frying pan and the sauté pan. The sides, though also sloped, meet the base at a sharper angle. The sides are also deeper, making them more versatile. As the skillet can hold more volume, it can be used for a wider variety of cooking techniques.
Characteristics of a Fry Pan
A frying pan has the following shape characteristics:
- Wider rim than the base
- Sloped or rounded sides
- Wide size range
- Single long handle
A frying pan has rounded or sloping sides that are shallow. The lighter weight allows for ease of flipping food, and it is ideal for searing browning and shallow frying. The wider rim-to-base design allows for good evaporation of liquids for these types of cooking techniques.
Characteristics of a Sauté Pan
A sauté pan has the following shape characteristics:
- The rim and base are similar in size
- Straight sides
- Long handle and usually additional helper handle
- Has a lid
- Size is measured in volume or a diameter
A sauté pan has a base and rim size that is equal. This allows for a larger cooking area but does not allow liquids to escape as readily. Upright sides result in higher liquid retention and, as such, are better suited for cooking techniques that require more liquid.
Higher sides ensure fewer spills, and the addition of the helper handle on many of these pans makes lifting and moving easier. Added weight due to the bigger base limits the ease with which one can flip and toss foods in a saute pan.
Which Pan Type Is Best Suited to Each Cooking Style?
A quick web search lists the following cooking styles as the techniques most widely and most often used to prepare meals:
Pan and stove-top cooking is not suited to all of these cooking styles. Where applicable, let’s explore which pan is best suited to each style.
Best Cooking Styles for Skillets
Skillets are versatile in the range of cooking styles they are suited to, combining features from frying pans and sauté pans.
Sharply inclined sides allow for quick evaporation of fluids during the cooking process. Skillets are an excellent choice for most forms of frying, like stir-frying, pan-frying, and sautéing. The medium-high sides allow for some liquid use while cooking, so braising is an option if your skillet has a lid.
The slanted sides allow ease of access for spatulas, making a skillet a great choice of pan to use when preparing dishes like eggs, omelets, and frittatas.
Best Cooking Styles for Fry Pans
As the name indicates, frying is the forte for this type of pan. Deep frying is the exception here, though. The lighter weight allows for ease of maneuvering to shake and flip food. It can be used to brown off food when braising but not for the rest of the braising process.
Combining high heat and allowing steam to escape fast makes it ideal for stir-fried dishes, searing meat, or shallow frying food. Lower sloping sides do not restrict access and movement of utensils, making it a go-to for egg dishes and frittatas.
Best Cooking Styles For Sauté Pans
Sauté pans are incredibly versatile and can be used for almost all stove-top cooking that is needed. Of course, saute pans can be used to sear a steak or cook stir fry, but you will need to allow for enough space in the pan to ensure that steam can escape.
The sauté pan comes into its own when cooking dishes that need to retain as much of its natural juices. It shines for braising, simmering, poaching, deep-frying, and even stewing.
Despite being named a sauté pan, it takes a lot more skill and strength to sauté food in a sauté pan due to the upright sides and the fact that it is generally heavier than a frying pan or skillet.
Here is the temperature range for each type of pan:
A skillet can handle various temperatures, from low to high heat. Cast iron skillets can go up to 500°F (260°C), while non-stick skillets should not be used above 450°F (232°C) to avoid damaging the coating.
Like a skillet, a frying pan can handle a range of temperatures, but it’s best used for moderate to high-heat cooking. Cast iron frying pans can go up to 500°F (260°C), while non-stick frying pans should not be used above 450°F (232°C).
A sauté pan is typically used for moderate to low-heat cooking, although it can also be used for high-heat searing. Stainless steel sauté pans can handle temperatures up to 500°F (260°C), while copper sauté pans can handle even higher temperatures.
It’s important to note that the temperature range for each pan may also depend on the specific material and brand. Always consult the manufacturer’s instructions and be mindful of the type of cooking surface when setting the temperature.
How to Choose the Correct Size Pan
Sauté pans are measured differently from frying pans and skillets. For example, on a 12-inch pan, the measurement refers to the size measured from rim to rim. The cooking surface is as much as 30% smaller with skillets and frying pans. A 12-inch pan typically has a cooking surface that is roughly 10 inches.
A sauté pan, having straight sides, has the same size cooking surface as the rim size. An additional difference with sauté pans is that they can be sized according to the volume of liquid they can hold. Sauté pans can then be sized in inches or quarts.
Learn how to choose the perfect size skillet for your cooking needs.
The price of skillets, frying pans, and sauté pans can vary depending on the size, material, and brand. Generally, the price range for each type of pan is as follows:
- Skillets can range in price from around $20 to over $200
- Cast iron skillets are less expensive, with prices ranging from $20 to $100
- Stainless steel or non-stick skillets can range from $30 to over $200
- Frying pans can range in price from around $15 to over $300
- Cast iron pans are less expensive, with prices ranging from $15 to $100
- Stainless steel or non-stick frying pans can range from $20 to over $300
- Sauté pans can range in price from around $30 to over $500
- Stainless steel pans are less expensive, with prices ranging from $30 to $200
- Copper sauté pans can range from $150 to over $500
Again, these are general price ranges and can vary depending on each pan’s brand and specific features. It’s important to consider factors like durability, heat distribution, and ease of cleaning when choosing a pan rather than solely basing your decision on price.
What Cookware is Manufactured in the USA?
Want to support local manufacturers by purchasing cookware and kitchen products made in the USA? These articles I have written and keep up to date will help you find the brands and products made in America.
Which Type of Pan Is Best To Buy?
The quick answer to this question is that no one best pan exists. Which pan is the best will depend on what dish you are cooking, how many people you are cooking for, and the type of cooking style needed. These tree pan types can shine in certain areas but fall short in others.
If you want to purchase or upgrade your cast iron skillet, I have you covered in this article. You will learn how to choose an enameled cast iron skillet.
Is a cast iron skillet better than a frying pan?
A cast-iron frying pan generates enough heat to sear a steak without sticking to the surface due to the natural, non-stick, seasoned surface. Although a frying pan can get hot enough to sear a steak, a generous amount of oil is required to pull it off the surface again, as it is not nonstick.
Can you use a regular pan like a skillet?
No, and Yes, the non-stick seasoned surface of cast iron allows you to use a very hot surface to fry, sear, brown, and saute ingredients without sticking. Regular pans are not non-stick you will have to use oil so you will not get the same sealed result you would with cast iron.
Why use a skillet over a frying pan?
Cast iron skillets can be heated up with no oil, due to their seasoned exterior, before you add your meat or other ingredients. Frying pans, oil, or liquid in the base of the pan while heating up, or the pan will discolor and become warped. Not to mention the fact that your food will stick to the surface of the frying pan.
This article is a must-read when cleaning burnt grease off your frying pan, both the inside and outside.
Best frying pan material?
Cast iron, stainless steel, ceramic, enamel! Frying pans are made from many materials, offering the chef different benefits. Cast iron gets very hot but heats up slowly and is heavy. Stainless steel is light, heats up fast, is perfect for searing, and is easier to control heat. Enamel usually coats a metal, and all have different properties.
Before choosing cookware, you should learn what the safest cookware is.
Wrapping it up: Skillet vs Frying Pan
A skillet is a versatile pan that can be used for all stove-top cooking. The skillet’s slanted sides allow ease of access for spatulas, making it the perfect pan to use when preparing dishes like eggs, omelets, and frittatas.
Frying pans are best suited for deep frying or searing meat because they have lighter weight which makes them easier to maneuver than skillets or saute pans.
Sauté pans shine in certain areas but also fall short in others, so it depends on what dish you’re cooking, how many people you’re cooking for, and the type of cooking style needed!
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