Which is best for your cooking needs, Skillet and frying pan

Posted on 05/21/2023 by: Bearcookware follow: 100
  • frying pan is a generic term that can refer to lots of types of cookware. 
  • A skillet, also known as a fry frying pan, has some distinct differences from a sauté frying pan.
  • The frying pan you choose will affect your cooking experience.

Picture a piece of cookware with a large flat bottom — one with short sides, a long handle, and the perfect shape for cooking up a tasty seared steak. What comes to mind? 

The most common answers are “a skillet” or “a frying pan” — both of which are correct. 

In the range of cookware, skillets and frying pans are two of the most commonly interchanged. They are fairly similar in shape, available in almost the same sizes, and are often chunked into the same product category. 

But to keen observers and cookware enthusiasts (that’s us!), there are some key differences. This article compares and contrasts skillets and frying pans and shares the best cooking techniques and dishes to use each one.

Skillets vs. frying pans: Why the Confusion? 

A lot of the confusion between skillets and frying pans comes from their names. Skillets, for one, are also called frying frying pans or fryfrying pans. In addition, the word “skillet” is frequently used in reference to cast iron frying pans whether or not they are actually cast iron skillets. 

frying pans are open to even more interpretation. While most cooks consider a frying pan to be a sauté frying pan, the term often refers to all types of cooking vessels. The phrase “pots and frying pans” is synonymous with general cookware, and “frying pan” is commonly used when describing other pieces — crepe frying pan, sheet frying pan, roasting frying pan, and the like. 

In addition, skillets and frying pans are available in very similar sizes (typically 8-inch, 10-inch, or 12-inch diameters) and materials (stainless steel, aluminum, multi-ply, and nonstick coating). 

While skillets and frying pans are easily mistaken for one another — and can be used interchangeably in a pinch — the actual cookware items do have their differences.

The Differences Between Skillets and frying pans

The main difference between a skillet and a frying pan is their shapes. A skillet has shorter, curved sides, while a sauté frying pan has straight, vertical sides.

With their flared rims, skillets provide a wide, open view and convenient access to stir, move, or flip ingredients around. The smooth, curved sides also help you quickly slide a finished dish from fry frying pan to plate. 

However, as cookware diameters are measured at the opening (i.e., from side to side of the top), a 12-inch skillet means roughly 10-inches of real cooking surface. Any food that leans on the curved edges is not in direct contact with the heat and won’t cook as quickly as food on the bottom surface. However, the wide opening and relatively light weight of skillets makes them very easy to maneuver so food can be quickly shifted inside. 

Sauté frying pans, in contrast, have sides that meet the bottom surface at a right angle. This defined edge leaves the entire bottom of the frying pan even and flat, making for a much larger surface area. As compared to skillets of the same diameter, a 12-inch sauté frying pan has 12 inches of usable cooking surface. The sauté frying pan’s tall sides allow it to hold a greater volume of liquid than a skillet and help prevent spillovers. 

With tall sides and a wide base, sauté frying pans pack more weight. Larger sauté frying pans may even come with a secondary helper handle, which is a small loop handle attached opposite the main long handle as well as a cover or lid. This is helpful, as the weight of larger sauté frying pans is difficult to move around, especially since they can hold plenty of food. 

When to Cook With a Skillet

Contrary to what many expect, skillets are actually great for sautéing and stir-frying. The lighter weight makes them easy to shake, and their sloped sides helps redistribute the food back to the bottom of the frying pan. The wide opening also allows access to the cooking surface, making it easy to stir the ingredients.

You can use skillets for frying pan-frying or searing a few servings of meat. However, dishes that cook quickly and need constant stirring or flipping, such as a beef stir fry or a spinach mushroom omelet, gives a skillet a chance to really shine. 

When to Cook With a frying pan 

Sauté frying pans are very versatile, as their shape allows them to hold liquids. This means they can be used for making sauces in addition to braising, poaching, shallow-frying, searing, and frying pan-frying (if the ingredients don’t often need to be flipped). 

With their sizeable bottom and weight, however, sauté frying pans actually aren’t best for shaking and flipping food around. Instead, sauté frying pans are built for larger, longer cooking. If the dish requires a good amount of liquid and not much stirring, such as shallow-fried falafels or braised lamb shanks, a sauté frying pan is perfect for the job.

Considerations for Buying a Skillet or frying pan

No matter which piece of cookware you initially lean toward, it’s important to look at a few key factors before you purchase your skillet or sauté frying pan.


Skillets and sauté frying pans are great for everyday cooking and are therefore best when made from durable and versatile material. While each type is available in an assortment of materials — stainless steel, nonstick surfaces, ceramic, cast iron, etc. — a single layer of material can’t provide all the functions needed for a variety of cooking. 

A good choice, especially for heavily used cookware, is a tri-ply or five-ply combination of stainless steel and aluminum (or hard-anodized aluminum). Stainless steel provides a durable surface, providing excellent heat retention and safety. Interior layers of aluminum ensure even heat distribution. All these work together to create the ideal cooking base, whether you’re using a skillet or sauté frying pan.

Handle Construction

Handles are another important part of cookware, particularly for long-handle skillets and sauté frying pans. Skillet dishes often need to be shaken and flipped, while sauté frying pan dishes tend to be used for a lot of liquid and ingredients. Because of this, both skillets and sauté frying pans require stay-cool handles that are securely riveted to the cookware base. 

Cookware Size 

Skillets and sauté frying pans are offered in similar sizes, ranging from 3.5-inch to 17-inch diameters. The most popular are 8-inch, 10-inch, and 12-inch diameters, with most home stoves comfortably accommodating a maximum of 12-inches.

Again, these cookware measurements are taken at the top, so the flat cooking area of a skillet will be a few inches below its listed size. (Note: If cooking on a glass-top stove, the skillet’s curved sides won’t come in contact with the heat source.) 

With their straight sides, sauté frying pans have similar bottom and top measurements, so a 12-inch frying pan will offer a cooking area of the same size. Sauté frying pans are often described according to capacity, and a good choice for home cooking is anywhere from 1 quart to 7 quarts.

The ideal cookware size is a personal choice and a lifestyle choice. Smaller skillets and sauté frying pans are great for one- or two-person meals or quick bites (ex., breakfast scrambles or side dishes), while larger sizes are able to cook family-size portions or complete one-frying pan meals. 

What’s Cooking?

Either a skillet or frying pan would be a great tool for any home cook. While both can be used to sear a tenderloin steak or chicken breast to perfection, they have their differences for other home cooking methods. Skillets are great if you prefer stir fries and easy frying pan-to-plate fare. Sauté frying pans, on the other hand, are perfect for longer cooks, high volumes of food, or any dish with a decent amount of liquid.

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