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What’s the Difference between a Saute Pan and a Skillet?

Though Saute Pans and Skillets may look similar, they serve very different purposes in the kitchen.

By Emily Borst
Jan 11, 2021
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Have you ever reached for a Saute Pan when a recipe called for a skillet, or vice versa? While they may work in a pinch and are often thought to be interchangeable, they actually have very different strengths—and you should have both in your kitchen.

Learn more about the key differences between Saute Pans vs. Skillets so you know when to reach for one over the other.

What Is a Saute Pan?

Sauté comes from the French phrase “to jump”. In cooking, it refers to cooking food using the direct heat of the pan. Generally, sautéing is a technique performed over medium-high heat and used on ingredients or food that’s been cut into smaller pieces, like shrimp or vegetables.

A Saute Pan excels at its intended purpose thanks to its high, straight walls and large cooking surface area. Saute Pans feature a straight, long handle similar to frying pans, and usually have a smaller side handle to help with lifting. Saute Pans usually also come with a lid to help hold in moisture, as well as help simmer sauces. Our 3.5 Quart Stainless Clad Saute Pan has the same functionality as a 12” Frying Pan, including quick heat response and conductive properties.

This design is perfect for achieving a sauté that’s brown and crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, as well as for creating sauce-based dishes or finishing pasta, as the tall sides hold  liquids inside the pan where they belong. Saute Pans' straight sides provide a deeper vessel and a flat bottom of the pan, perfect for shallow frying. They can be made of Stainless Clad or Non Stick materials.

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What Is a Skillet?

Skillets and Frying Pans refer to the same piece of cookware—a shallow pan for frying. The term “skillet” is generally used to refer to one made of Cast Iron, but it can be used interchangeably with “frying pan.”

Frying pans or skillets have flat bottoms, sloped sides, a shallow depth, and do not come with lids. They feature one long, straight handle to make maneuverability around the stovetop or into the oven easy and painless.

This design makes Frying Pans perfect for any number of kitchen tasks, particularly for quick cooking techniques that don’t require holding in moisture, like a fast sauté, searing meat, or frying eggs. They can be constructed out of a variety of materials, including Non Stick, Stainless Clad, or Carbon Steel.

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When Should You Use a Saute Pan vs. a Skillet?

Although you can technically use a Saute Pan for a skillet’s job and vice versa, that doesn’t mean you should. Both pans are extremely versatile and can be used for a wide variety of tasks in the kitchen beyond just sautéeing and frying. First, you’ll need to determine exactly what your recipe calls for so you can choose the best pan for the job.

Saute Pans are a better choice for slower-paced meals that need more time to cook and less hands-on stirring or flipping, especially those that involve working with a lot of liquid. When you simmer sauce or ratatouille, the Saute Pan will keep the moisture locked in and prevent any sauce spilling over its sides.

Skillets are best used for quick-cooking methods that require you to be actively at the stove, spatula in hand the entire time. If you're frying up breakfast, choosing a skillet with sloped sides will allow you to scramble eggs and flip pancakes with ease without retaining any moisture. They're also perfect for searing a steak over high heat.

If you’re deciding between purchasing a Frying Pan or a Saute Pan, we recommend picking up both. Whether you choose these pieces of Cookware in Stainless Steel, Non Stick, or Carbon Steel, you’ll be happy to have both at your disposal when a recipe calls for it.