Although it’s commonly believed that skillets and frying pans are the same pan, they are actually different. Just take a quick look at them both on amazon to see.
The definition might mean they are the same, but companies are producing skillets as individual products to frying pans. Times are changing in the cooking world. So what’s the difference between them now?
In this article, I’ll be talking about how and why skillets and frying pans are two different pans, and I’ll be introducing their close relative, the sauté pan.
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What’s the difference between a skillet and a frying pan?
Even though a skillet by definition is exactly the same as a frying pan, companies are now creating differences between skillets and frying pans, which is actually causing a lot of confusion.
For example: If you go to amazon and search “Skillet” and then search “Frying pan” You’ll clearly see they are completely different. So what is a skillet and how are they different from frying pans?
Well, a skillet is a cooking utensil that has straight flared sides, flat bottoms, a moderate depth, and come with helper handles. Frying pans have rounded flared sides, flat bottoms, a shallow depth and they don’t come with helper handles (due to being lighter)
Skillets are typically made from cast iron because they are primarily used for foods which need intense heat which can be maintained consistently to be cooked properly and cast iron is a prime candidate for this style of cooking. You can find skillets in different materials, however the majority are always cast iron, and whenever I refer to a skillet, it’s always a cast iron skillet.
Frying pans are made from various materials, typically materials that can heat up fast with non stick capabilities, whether that’s aluminium with a non stick coating, cladded stainless steel or even pure ceramic, it simply doesn’t matter, they all are designed for the same task, quick, convenient shallow frying.
Why the confusion?
As we know, frying pans, fry pans and skillets are all terms that get used interchangeably, and by definition, they are all the exact same pan.
But we understand that companies don’t adhere to this definition, and they create skillets which are their own design, and frying pans which are a different design. So the definition goes against what’s sold on the market, and that’s the primary reason for the confusion between skillets and frying pans.
Because of the different etymologies, this has helped contribute to the confusion.
Now I hate to add to the confusion, but to keep in the spirit of sharing knowledge, there is a relative of skillets and frying pans that’s extremely similar. And that’s the sauté pan.
What is a sauté pan?
Sauté pans are relatives of frying pans and skillets. They differ from the others because they have one of the largest surface areas out of all three pans. The large surface area is specifically used for sautéing, because to Sautee properly, you can only have one layer of food in the pan.
Sautéing is a cooking technique that’s used to brown foods whilst keeping it’s texture, moisture and flavor. It’s basically where you cut up food into small pieces, add some oil to the sauté pan, and add the food into one layer. This allows the steam from the food to escape, which helps create the browning. Whilst the food is cooking, this is when you “Saute” and that’s basically where you keep tossing the food to brown it evenly.
Sauté pans are typically made from stainless steel, aluminium or copper. This is because they are light, so it’s much easier to keep tossing the food without your arm getting tired.
What’s the difference between a saute pan compared to a frying pan and skillet?
Well Sautee pans as mentioned above have large surface areas, but they also have straight, vertical sides that are quite low. This is for two reasons, they have vertical sides to stop food escaping whilst sautéing, and low sides to allow steam to escape faster which speeds up the browning process (Crucial for a good sauté). Funnily enough, this allows them to reduce sauce quite well, just like a saucepan (Which is why some saucepans have low vertical sides)
Why should you get a sauté pan?
The only reason you should get a sauté pan, is if you want to learn how to Sautee, so I’d recommend having a look at some Sautee recipes, and deciding if that’s your preference of food. If it is, then definitely get one and give it a try.
Can I use a frying pan instead of a skillet?
You can use a frying pan instead of a skillet, however since skillets are designed specially to sear and braise meat, you won’t be able to get the same flavor out of your recipes from a frying pan when searing or braising in it. So for professional chefs, you can’t use both, but if you are a home cook, then it’s acceptable.
Inexperienced cooks will typically start off using a frying pan, and only a frying pan, simply due to how easy they are to cook in and clean. As they become more experienced, they learn the differences between a skillet and a frying pan and this leads to them using both.
If you use both, and you use them properly, you will get more flavor from your food, especially when searing meat in skillets. But to some people, they don’t mind the reduction in flavor that comes from cooking in a frying pan, so it’s more down to preference on your taste whether you have both, or just a frying pan.
To clarify, if you only have the budget for one, go for a frying pan, as it’s more of an all-rounder, where as a skillet is more of a specialised cooking utensil.
Skillets, frying pans, and saute pans all belong to the same family, however they are all different, even if the definitions for skillets and frying pans are the same.
If you are looking to up your cooking skills and produce some quality flavors from your recipes, then getting one of each pan is the best route.
However, if you are on a budget, then your best option would be to get a frying pan, it might not be able to sear or braise as good as a skillet, and it might not be able to sauté like a sauté pan, but it will certainly cook foods that require those techniques to a moderate standard.