Skillet vs Frying Pan: What’s The Difference?

If you have friends who enjoy cooking as much as you do, you have probably entered the skillet vs frying pan debate before. And that might be what led you to this article.

Or maybe your looking for a new pan and not sure which one you should buy.

Regardless of why your here, if you have a passion for cooking then it’s important to know the difference between a skillet and a frying pan to improve your overall cooking experience. A great example of a frying pan is our Gotham steel pan review.

The Difference Between A Skillet And A Frying Pan

Skillets typically have slanted flared out sides, these are specially designed to move foods around, for example a stir fry, or even simply reducing sauces. The sloped sides help with the flow of moving food around which is great for stir frying if you don’t own a wok. Skillets also come with a lid, because if you are reducing sauces or braising, you want to keep the moisture in the food.

Frying pans are designed to do what they are called, fry foods. They don’t come with lids because their main purpose is to sear meats, fry and brown foods which doesn’t require keeping moisture in the pan. To help with the frying process, they are flat bottomed pans, which keeps the oil at an even level to help get a better sear or browning.

frying pan and skillet

Why Do People Get Confused Between Skillets And Frying Pans?

You’ll often hear people use the terms frying pans and skillets interchangeably. As you can imagine, unless you are a professional chef, it’s hard to tell the difference.

This results in the average cook typically using only one type for everything simply because they are unaware of the differences between a skillet and a frying pan.

So the next time you hear someone call a skillet, a frying pan or vice versa, you can probably understand why.

But what gets people more confused is when they start hearing about the third type, a sauté pan.

saute pan, skillet, frying pan

What is a Sauté Pan?

Sauté pans are the third type of pan, unlike skillets and frying pans, they have some more obvious differences.

The sauté pan has a wide flat bottom with vertical sides, it’s normally quite deep which allows you to toss food in the air while it’s cooking and not burn yourself with the oil. Not only that, but the depth means you can add higher volumes of sauces, typically to fully cover tender meats.

A sauté pan also is used with a lid, this allows you to trap the heat and moisture to prevent the sauces from reducing and it keeps the moisture in the pan and slows down the evaporation process.

Defining Each Pan

Skillets – A small metal cooking pot with slanted sides, a lid and a smaller cooking surface area. Typically used for braising and sauces.

Frying Pans – A shallow pan with a relatively long handle, slanted sides and a slightly larger surface area. Typically used for cooking food in hot fat or oil to sear, brown or fry foods.

Sauté Pan – A deep pan with a long handle, wide flat bottom with straight sides and a large surface area. Typically used for meats that require being cooked in sauces. Can be used for braising, poaching, shallow-frying, searing, and pan-frying if the ingredients do not need flipping regularly.

Which Material For Which Pan?

The skillet vs frying pan… which material do you need for which pan?

As we know now, both are used for different cooking purposes, and by now you should realistically know that you need both for versatile cooking.

However, one other factor remains. The material used.

It’s incredibly important to choose the right material of cookware for you, because if you choose the wrong one, you won’t be happy.

Below, I cover the which material should be used for a skillet, a frying pan and a sauté pan, whilst including their benefits and cons.

This should allow you to make an informative choice about which material you need for buying a skillet or a frying pan. You can also apply this to the saute pan if you are looking to buy one.

Cast Iron – Frying Pan

When it comes to cast iron, a frying pan is the most popular choice, as cast iron is reactive and tends to add flavour to certain foods such as beef, steak and lamb. Whilst it may add flavour to these foods, it can leave a metallic taste in other foods such as tomato sauce and wine. It’s also oven safe which makes it great for foods that need to be taken from the stove top to the oven like roast potatoes.

This makes it the most suitable for searing, pan frying and browning foods.

Benefits of Cast Iron Cookware:

  • It’s very difficult to ruin cast iron skillets and frying pans.
  • Cast Iron has great heat retention, which makes it the perfect material for searing meats.
  • Since cast iron has great heat retention, it keeps food warm for long periods of time. This is why flaming grills serve their steak to your table on cast iron.
  • Each time you are cooking in cast iron with oil, you are building up the seasoning, making it better quality every time you cook.
  • Small amounts of iron are absorbed into food from the pan, which is great as humans need iron in their body (in small quantities)
  • Presenting food in cast iron looks great especially when it comes to meats.
  • Oven safe up to very high temperatures

Cons of Cast Iron Cookware:

  • Poor conductors of heat, so they take a while to preheat.
  • Cast iron cookware is heavy. Depending on the cookware this can be a big disadvantage. Your average 10″ skillet or frying pan can weight around 6lb. And cast iron dutch ovens weigh considerably more.
  • Cast iron handles get extremely hot, so it’s good to have oven gloves around. This is due to not having covers on the handles so that they can be more versatile and be put into an oven for foods that require baking after frying like meatballs.
  • Cast iron skillets and frying pans require seasoning to protect them from rust, but also to give them non-stick properties.
cast iron pan

Aluminum with Non Stick Coating – Skillet

Aluminum is most commonly used in cooking when it comes to a pan skillet, as it’s light weight, easy to clean, preheats quickly and comes with a lid. Quick and easy cooking of foods that don’t require high heat is the aim when it comes to aluminum with non stick coating.

This makes it the most suitable choice for braising or cooking sauces.

Benefits of Aluminum Cookware:

  • Excellent heat conduction, to ensure a fast preheating pan.
  • Lightweight for those who struggle with heavy pans.
  • Easy to clean due to non stick coverings
  • Requires less oil for cooking than a cast iron skillet or cast iron frying pans.

Cons of Aluminum Cookware:

  • Aluminum is highly reactive to acidic or alkaline foods which can impact health. As a result most skillets and frying pans are made with a non stick coating such as ceramic or PTFE.
  • Aluminum is soft, so it warps easily under high heat and is prone to scratching. Once certain coatings are scratches, the pans should be thrown away as they can leak chemicals into food.
aluminum skillet

Stainless Steel – Sauté Pan

Stainless steel is typically used for a saute pan for cooking. As a saute pan can be used for frying, braising and sauces due to it’s non reactiveness, ability to handle high heats, and it’s depth.

Although it won’t provide as much flavour to meats as cast iron can, it can certainly eradicate the needs for a frying pan and a skillet.

This is why stainless steel is so popular with sauté pans, it’s the perfect combination with the pan itself to provide extreme versatility.

Benefits of Stainless Steel Cookware:

  • Durable to high heats
  • Easy to clean
  • Doesn’t require maintenance
  • Non reactive

Cons of Stainless Steel Cookware:

  • Quality stainless steel is quite expensive for your average chef
  • It’s not non stick, so proper care must be taken with oils.
saute pan

Final Thoughts

The skillet vs frying pan debate is extremely common amongst average cooks, which is not surprising as it is realistically knowledge that only professional chefs hold.

Although frying pans and skillets are extremely similar, they both have small differences which really define whether they should be used for frying, braising or sauces.

It’s also important to make sure you know which materials correspond to which pans, as when it comes to skillets, frying pans and saute pans, the shape of the cookware go hand in hand with the material used.

Now that you know the differences in depth, you should now be able to greatly improve your cooking experience, and increase the quality of the food you cook.

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