Differentiating between a frying pan and a skillet can be quite confusing.
Many people use either term (frying pan or skillet) to refer to their cooking pan.
The difference between a skillet and a frying pan is that skillets are slightly deeper than frying pans. Since skillets are mostly used for braising thick sauces and curries, they come with a lid. They are available in different materials, but the most common is cast iron.
|Larger in size and can be used to cook more food (such as steak or meat)||Smaller in size is meant to cook less food (such as eggs to pancakes)|
|It has higher sides and can hold more volume||It has lower sides and can hold less volume (except for saute pans that have more depth and can hold more volume than cast iron skillets)|
|Made with heavier materials such as cast iron||Made with lighter materials such as aluminum or stainless steel|
Knowing which one is best for braising, frying, or sautéing is important to prepare good-tasting food.
There’s a reason why a juicy sauce-dripping steak is best cooked in a cast-iron skillet.
However, when cooking, many people confuse skillets, frying pans, and sauté pans. But are all these the same, or are there visible differences?
Let’s find out!
Skillet Vs. Frying Pan – Are They Different?
Many people contend that skillets and frying pans are the same.
While they do have some similarities, you also need to consider some differences when choosing which of them to use for your next meal.
Depth of the Pan
The difference is that skillets are slightly deeper than frying pans.
Since skillets are mostly used for braising thick sauces and curries, they come with a lid.
Size of the Pan
Skillets are usually bigger and are used for cooking food such as steak or meat.
Frying pans are usually smaller than skillets and are used for cooking food such as eggs or pancakes.
Frying pans also have a flat smooth bottom which is helpful when you want to flip the food.
Weight of the Pan
Skillets are available in different materials, but the most common is cast iron (which is heavier than most regular frying pans that are made of aluminum or stainless steel).
Since cast iron skillets can become too heavy when cooking food in them, you will notice that many of these skillets come with a handle on the opposite side so the cook can pick up the pan with both hands (as shown below).
Frying pans are mostly available in stainless steel, aluminum, or a combination of these metals (which are lighter than cast iron).
Despite these differences between a skillet and a frying pan, both can be used interchangeably for grilling, braising, frying, stewing, and roasting.
At the end of the day, you can pretty much cook the same with both. So if you’re wondering “can I use a frying pan instead of a skillet?” then the answer is yes.
You should correctly refer to each cookware by its rightful term. For example, you are more likely to call non-stick cookware a frying pan, instead of a skillet.
Similarly, “a cast-iron frying pan” is an unusual term because it’s commonly referred to as a cast-iron skillet. Other than this, there are no such differences between a skillet and a frying pan.
Now that we have sorted this out, let’s move on to why and where the confusion really lies.
So, Where Does the Confusion Arise?
We know that skillets and frying pans are the same.
To the untrained eye, every pan will look the same. Only an experienced chef will be able to choose the right pan based on the food they need to cook.
However, even when skillets and frying pans are the same, there is still much uncertainty that needs to be resolved.
The third type of cookware – a sauté pan— is where the confusion stems from.
What is a Sauté Pan?
A sauté pan is visibly different from a shallow frying pan.
Although similar to a skillet, it can be easily identified across the cookware spectrum. A sauté pan comes with a lid, has straight sides, and is taller than a skillet.
How Is It Different from a Skillet?
The word ‘Sauté’ comes from a French word which means to “to jump”,
A sauté pan comes with a flat bottom and vertical sides, as compared with a skillet that is also the same size, however, its sides are flared at an outward angle.
Below is an example of a saute pan (where you can see that the sides are straight)
And here is an example of a skillet (where the sides a moving out with a slope)
A sauté pan can hold more liquid than a skillet, which also makes it ideal for sauces over tender cuts of meat.
Defining the Characteristics of a Skillet
The main defining trait of a skillet is that it has slanted sides.
While the surface area of a skillet is slightly smaller than a sauté pan, the skillet is far more versatile and can be used for cooking more stuff than a saute pan.
Apart from being conveniently available, you can cook just about any food in them.
Whether you are cooking meat, making an egg, or stir-frying, skillets can offer a wonderful surface for delicious cooking.
Skillets hold up amazing heat and are ideal for grilling steaks and sauces.
Skillets are available in many different materials, and here’s a breakdown of the most commonly used ones.
Cast iron skillets are the most popular, and with proper care and maintenance, these can last for generations.
With the right care and maintenance, cast iron easily qualifies for a one-time investment.
Although you will have to season them frequently to avoid food from sticking, they’re super easy to use and clean.
Cast-iron skillets have longer handles and may require the most maintenance, though.
Aluminum Skillet with Ceramic or Non-stick Coating
Next up is an aluminum frying pan that is best suited for low-heat, quick foods like bacon and eggs.
They don’t sit too well with extreme heat as the coating can develop hot spots.
Non-stick cookware can last you a lifetime, provided that you take care of it. A quick tip here is to never throw them in a dishwasher as the harsh environment can deteriorate its coating.
All in all, aluminum frying pans are easy-to-find and budget-friendly.
Lastly, we have stainless steel frying pans that are an absolute favorite among chefs.
It is durable, can tolerate extreme temperatures, and is quick and easy to clean.
Stainless steel pans also come in different grades, and if you can, get the higher quality ones as they will last longer.
Now that we know the basic traits of a sauté pan and a skillet, let’s move on to the more important differences between them that can influence your cooking.
Weight of the Cookware
Sauté pans have a wider base and diameter, which makes them heavier than normal skillets.
This is why they are also equipped with a “helper handle” along with the main handle that helps in moving and lifting the pan across the stove.
Skillets are lighter and have just one long handle. They are safe and easy to move on the stove.
Weight isn’t a problem as long as the pans sit on the stove.
A skillet is great at cooking food evenly. In contrast, deep sauté pans are superior if you want to retain all the flavor and sauce of your meat dishes.
The capacity of the Cookware
The vertical sides of a sauté pan allow you to fill more liquids.
Hence, when you’re cooking curries, soups, stews, and thick sauces, a sauté pan is best-suited.
With straight, tall sides, you are less likely to spill or splash the juices, which may be a problem with skillets.
Its flat bottom and thin angled-out walls can cause spills when cooking a sauce over a skillet.
The extra capacity of a saute pan also ensures that your meat cooks evenly despite using just a few tablespoons of oil.
However, skillets have their own advantages.
Cooking pancakes, eggs, dry stir-fry, and frittatas are best done over a frying pan.
It tends to hold up less oil and the even distribution of heat will produce amazing food.
Surface Area of the Cookware
The diameter of the lip of the pan essentially determines its surface area. A sauté pan that has a 12-inch diameter will naturally also have a wider cooking surface.
Skillets are an inch smaller in width than sauté pans. This just means that skillets have a 20-30% less cooking area.
Hence, if you’re planning to braise chicken thighs in some wine, a sauté pan might be the best option.
Skillets are fine when you’re cooking fewer things at one time.
Instead of cooking your meat in batches, use a sauté pan to get it done in one go.
The irony of the matter is that a skillet is far better for sautéing and tossing food around than a sauté pan itself.
It has wider walls with a slope that allows you to swerve the food in the pan with more control and less chance of food spilling out
A sauté pan doesn’t allow that as its walls are vertical and straight.
Whether you want to flaunt a “chef-style” move or mix your food around, skillets have a greater tossing ability.
A sauté pan is better suited for foods that require some stirring (such as Béchamel sauce or stir fry vegetables).
When you are stirring, make sure to use a wooden spatula so that you don’t scratch the pan’s surface.
Rate of Evaporation
The secret to great cooking is controlling the moisture in your food. The structure of a pan can directly influence how much moisture your food retains.
A skillet has a wide and flat cooking surface which is great when you are cooking sauces.
However, for saucy dishes where you want the food to be juicy and tender, a sauté pan is what you need.
Knowing the difference between your cookware can help you chef-grade food in no time.
Now that you’ve learned these insightful differences between a frying pan, a skillet, and a sauté pan, share these with your friends and family!
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