perfect fried egg and tomato sauce in the frying pan

Cooking accessories come in many forms, types, and shapes. When looking through cookware stores, a newbie to the kitchen might get overwhelmed by the many choices of almost similar kitchen tools that he or she is likely to encounter.

Some of the utensils that might leave you confused include frying pans, sauté pans, and skillets. 

yummy meal in the skillet

Fry pans and skillets, for instance, look so much alike that some cooks use them interchangeably. Sauté pans, on the other hand, have a few unique features that set them apart from fry pans and skillets.

Getting the right tools for each culinary job is important in enabling you to cook with minimal effort and helps you get awesome results. This article lists the difference between frypans, skillets, and sauté pans to help cooks choose which tool they should use to improve their cooking.

Skillet vs Frying Pan vs Saute Pan: What's the Difference?

Skillets and frypans have a shallow cooking surface. This makes them perfect tools for cooking small meals. Skillets and frypans are majorly lightweight and have a thin body. The cooking surface on most frypans is circular in shape. Note, however, that some cookware sets include rectangular shaped fry pans and skillets.

A skillet and fry pan are basically the same thing. They have walls that slant towards the interior meaning that the top edge is wider as compared to the bottom. Sauté pans are deeper than skillets and have straight walls.


What Is a Skillet?

A skillet is a cooking utensil that has a thin body and walls that slant towards the interior. The cooking surface on a skillet is shallow, measuring about 2 to 4 inches deep. Skillets are available in sizes ranging from 8, 10, and 12 inches wide.

fried pork meal in the skillet

It is worth mentioning that the width of a skillet is measured using the dimensions of the top edge and not the bottom surface where actual cooking happens. As such, an 8-inch skillet gives you about 6 to 7 inches of cooking surface at the bottom due to the slanted walls.

Slanted walls on the skillet have the advantage of giving the cook ample space to toss and turn food. When you get a skillet with edges that are flared outwards, plating food after you have finished cooking becomes even easier. Such benefits make skillets perfect tools for frying eggs.


What Is a Saute Pan?

A sauté pan has straight vertical sides that set it aside from frypans and skillets. The top edge has equal width measurements with the bottom due to the straight walls. You get a larger cooking surface when using a sauté pan as opposed to when cooking with a skillet or frypan of the same size.

cooking seafood in the saute pan

Sauté pans also hold more content due to the straight walls and are made deeper by most manufacturers. The straight walls are good for holding liquid contents but they limit movement space when you want to turn the food you are cooking. The straight walls also perform well in avoiding spillovers.

Some sauté pans come with the main handle on one side and a smaller handle known as a helper handle attached to the body on the opposite side.


Using the helper handle ensures the cook can lift sauté pans when they are full with ease. Many cookware sets also sell the sauté pan with an accompanying covering lid while skillets and frypans don't come with lids.


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.

frying carrot and purple onion in a pan

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.


Fry Pan vs Skillet vs Saute Pan: Materials

Fry pans, skillets, and sauté pans are made of materials that have high heat conductivity. For instance, skillets are commonly made of an aluminum core covered with a non-reactive material, such as ceramic.

Frying pans are also made of highly conductive materials like aluminum coated with non-stick materials such as porcelain or ceramic. There are also skillets, frypans, and sauté pans made with a specially treated kind of aluminum known as anodized aluminum. The anodization process reinforces the naturally formed oxidation layer on aluminum to deliver cookware that lasts long and withstands high temperatures.

Cast iron is also another good material used to make skillets and frypans. Iron heats up quickly and retains heat for a long time, which works to your advantage when you want to keep the food in storage for some time before serving.

delicious meal staying in a skillet

Similar to skillets and frypans, sauté pans have a highly conductive metal core coated with non-reactive materials. Coating include ceramic and porcelain. Anodized and hard anodized aluminum are also used to make sauté pans.

Stainless steel is yet another material that makes quality pans and skillets. Stainless steel utensils have no coatings because the stainless steel is naturally unreactive. To improve heat conduction and distribution of stainless steel, manufacturers use all clad design that encapsulates a conductive metal core in between two stainless steel layers.

Copper is also used to make pans and skillets. The high reactivity of copper, however, makes it mandatory for the cooking surface to be coated with a non-reactive lining to prevent food from coming into contact with the copper.


FryPan vs Skillet vs Saute Pan: Cooking Methods

Frypans and skillets perform well when cooking foods that require lots of turning because of the slanted walls. They are shallow, which means that they hold only little amounts of food. The slanted walls also restrict cooking liquid foods on frypans and skillets.

Skillets and frypans work great when you want to cook food that is not saucy. Frying an egg, for example, works great on an open skillet because of the open and easily accessible cooking surface. Cooking an omelet, however, would work better in a sauté pan because it has more moisture retention capability.


You can also fry dry steaks and toss frittatas on a skillet or frypan but if you want a juicy steak that cooks together with veggies, a sauté pan works better.

taking food out of the frying pan

Evidently, sauté pans are good for foods that you want to cook with sauces or soups while dry frying with a skillet or frypan achieves better results. That is why many sets include lids for sauté pans and leave skillets and frying pans open with no covering lids.

Skillets and frypans have a shallow cooking surface and hold little amounts of food. If you want to cook for numerous people, therefore, you have to do multiple rounds in the kitchen. Sauté pans, on the other hand, hold large amounts of food. Since they are used to mainly prepare soups and sauces, you can prepare enough food for many people at one go when using a sauté pan.


FryPan vs Skillet vs Saute Pan: Capacity

Frypans and skillets are shallow and designed to cook dry foods. The measurement for them is made in terms of how wide they are as opposed to sauté pans that have deep walls and measured according to the amount of maximum liquid they can hold.

Common measurements found in cookware sets for skillets and frypans are 8 inches for small skillets, 10 inches for medium sized skillets, and 12 inches for large skillets. It is worth noting that the measurements are made across the top and not the bottom of the pan. The top edge on a skillet or frypan is wider as compared to the bottom due to the walls that slant inwards.

yummy fried egg in a skillet

For sauté pans, capacity is measured according to the maximum amount of liquid the pan can hold. This is used because sauté pans vary in both width and depth. Common sizes found in many cookware sets are 1 quart, 2 quart, 4 quart, and 7 quart sauté pans. The different measurements are done to differentiate between capacity of sauté pans that may be of the same width, but the walls have different height.


Related Questions

Can you use a saute pan for stir fry?

You can stir fry using a sauté pan because the deep walls give you enough space to toss the contents of the pan. When doing this, however, keep the top edge open so that you don't restrict moisture from escaping as the contents become hotter. If the sauté pan has a helper handle, use it to your advantage when turning or tossing the ingredients instead of relying on the main handle only.

What size frypan should I buy?

Frypans in many cookware shops are 8 inch, 10 inch, or 12 inch wide. Your cooking requirements should guide you on the perfect size for you. Frypans are shallow and are best suited for cooking meals that don't have lots of sauces or soup. Keep in mind that the width measurements are taken on the top edge and not on the bottom cooking surface.

fried bread on a pan

You should choose the size that allows you to fit all the items you are cooking at one go. For example, if you want a pan you can use to fry eggs for the whole family, going for a 12-inch pan allows you to cook many eggs in one go. Cooking with a smaller pan in this case forces you to do multiple rounds, which is wasteful in terms of the fuel and cooking oil used.

Can you fry eggs in a saute pan?

You can fry eggs in a sauté pan as well as a frypan or skillet. For good results, pre-heat the pan with some cooking oil and let it warm for a few minutes. Then break and pour the eggs contents with the heat turned up to moderate level.

The egg white cooks faster than the yolk so ensure that you keep checking if the yolk is sufficiently cooked. Note, however, that plating the eggs when frying with a sauté pan is more difficult than when plating from a skillet or fry pan. The straight walls on the sauté pan hinder you from removing the egg.

What can I use instead of a skillet?

A frypan is similar to a skillet in many ways and makes the perfect replacement for frying when you don't have a skillet. Both have a shallow cooking surface and walls that slightly slant towards the interior.

delicious meal in a pan

The walls make it easy to turn food and plate the cooked food at the end of the cooking session. The fry pan also has a thin body just like the skillet, which boosts heat conductivity and distribution across the cooking surface.

Is a frying pan a utensil?

Frying pans are kitchen utensils that make cooking small meals enough for one or a few people easier and much more fun. Choosing the correct sized pan allows you to cook just the right amount of food for your guests or family. Frying pans that have a non- stick coating also make the cleanup after cooking meals easier because food does not stick to the surface.

Sean Bennett
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