The terms skillet, frying pan, and sauté pan are often confused and used interchangeably, even by seasoned chefs. This is one of the many reasons that buying cookware has traditionally been such a confusing process. At Sardel, our goal is to make it easier to understand your cookware needs, so let us try to clear up the confusion.
The simplest way to understand the difference between these types of pans is to look at the sides of the pan. If the sides are slanted, the pan is a skillet, which is also sometimes called a frying pan or fry pan. If the slides are straight, it’s a sauté pan.
SkilletA skillet, sometimes referred to as a frying pan or a frypan, is a shallow pan with slanted sides. Skillets are commonly used to stir-fry or sauté, which refers to a method of cooking in which ingredients are cooked quickly in a small amount of oil or fat, often over relatively high heat. The slanted sides make it easier to stir, flip, and toss ingredients in the pan so that everything is cooked quickly and evenly. After all, the word “sauté” in French literally means to “jump,” just like vegetables “jump” in a skillet when sautéed or stir-fried.
Sauté PanA sauté pan is a shallow pan with straight sidewalls. This is the main difference between a sauté pan and a skillet or frying pan, which has slanted sides. The straight sides make the sauté pan better suited for certain tasks that require cooking ingredients in a liquid, such as shallow frying or braising, because these liquids could leak over a skillet’s slated sides.
*When in doubt, just remember this: you can often perform the same cooking tasks in either a skillet or a sauté pan, but keep in mind that the angle of the sidewalls of each pan differ, which means that one might be better suited than the other for certain cooking tasks.*