During my childhood while learning to cook, I was always interested in the tiny specifics of cooking… I’m not sure if you are the same, but it’s always intrigued me. The one that intrigued me the most? Yes the skillet vs frying pan argument…
Friends and family always told me that they were the same pan, but I didn’t believe them.
After all, why would they use different names?
The worst part was… We didn’t have the internet when I was a child, and it was a devious task finding a book that might have answer.
I started to forget about it, until I became a chef… after finally being told by a colleague of mine what the difference was, I felt like kicking myself! It’s so obvious… but so many people don’t see it until someone explains.
After reading this guide, you’ll know everything there is to skillets, frying pans and sauté pans.
Skillet vs Frying Pan: what’s the difference?
A cast iron frying pan has near enough straight vertical sides. Skillets have sloped sides that flair outwards. Cast iron skillets are used for shallow frying and cast iron frying pans are used for deep frying.
Skillets however have slanted flared out sides, now these are specially designed to move foods around, for example a stir fry, or even simply reducing sauces. Essentially the curved edges help with the flow of moving it.
Due to the flared out sides on a skillets, the frying pan has a larger surface area, which is brilliant for foods like steak and other big meats. It gives you the room to get a good sear.
Skillets and frying pans are essentially the same, but with a few minor difference that can have a big impact on cooking if used correctly.
What is a skillet?
A skillet is flat bottomed, normally with a diameter of 12 inch although this can vary depending on how big you need it. It’s also made out of cast iron.
For home cooks, you will most likely use one that’s 12 inch. Professional chefs have a range of sizes designed for a variety of recipes.
Skillets all tend to have the same features, which are normally shallow sides that flare outwards, heavy weighted, long handles, no lid, more durable material like cast iron and some of the larger skillets have a grab handle for safety and control.
- Flat bottomed
- Typically 12 inch in diameter
- Slanted sides
- No lid
- Larger skills have a grab handle
- Non stick cooking surface
What is a skillet used for?
A skillet is designed for searing meat, browning foods or shallow frying due to their flat-bottoms and slanted sides.
However, you can also use a skillet for a range of cooking, one of the most popular amongst skillets is stir frying or foods that require a lot of movement.
- Used for frying, searing or browning foods
- Reducing sauces
- Foods that require a lot of movement
Which is the best for cooking?
As you probably guessed, it’s dependant on your needs and how high your standards are with food. If you want the absolute perfect sear on meat, then I would definitely use a frying pan for cooking those types of food.
And if you want evenly cooked stir fry’s and good sauces, then I would recommend a skillet.
Of course the best idea would be to have both, as you will always be cooking different foods and some food may require a skillet and some may require a frying pan for cooking.
What about the sauté pan?
So interestingly enough, pan frying is also done in a sauté pan. The name sauté pan comes from the French word Sauter which means “jump”.
There are a few differences between the sauté pan and frying pans.
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.
A sauté pan also is used with a lid, this allows you to trap the heat and oil splatters in the pan allowing for a more crisp outside while cooking on the inside.
Lastly, sauté pans are generally made from stainless steel with a long handle, the pan and a skillet are both made from cast iron.
How do you season a skillet?
Note: new cast iron skillets or frying pans come preseasoned, so you will most likely only want to season if its 2nd hand or requires re seasoning.
To season a pan and a skillet, it’s quite simple, yet essential for a high quality tasting foods.
Start by cleaning down the pan with warm water, and then use soapy water to clean it a second time with a bristle brush. Ensuring you get every spot.
Then let it dry, either naturally or dry it down with some paper towels.
Once dry, you will want to apply a thin coat of oil, preferably vegetable oil. Ensure it is a very thin layer of oil otherwise you wont enjoy that next step! Keep in mind that the entire pan requires seasoning too, this includes the bottom of the pan skillet and the handle.
Now put the skillet pan or frying pan into the oven upside down on the middle shelf, and heat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. I recommend placing foil on the shelf underneath to catch any oil that may drip off.
Finally, bake it for 1 hour. Take it out, and your skillet or frying pan is now seasoned and ready to cook with.
How do you care for a stainless steel sauté pan?
A stainless steel sauté pan is quite different from pan frying due to its stainless steel or aluminum material that’s used for cooking food. It needs to be treated with extra care.
- Don’t place the glass lid on direct heat, this can include flames, ovens or microwaves as the heat will most likely weaken the glass.
- Read the manual for the maximum temperature.
- Avoid non stick sprays on the stainless steel sauté pan as it will ruin the surface. This will cause the food you are cooking to stick to the pans and burn.
- Avoid using the sauté pan on high heat, this is because the heat distribution of the material is good, so it can be used on medium or low heat and will make the cooking of food easy in any one of the pans.
How to care for a pan and skillet
Caring for a cast iron skillet vs frying pan is essential to a long life while keeping the quality of it’s taste. I always recommend cleaning burnt on grease off, for a guide check this one that explains the different methods on how to clean off burnt on grease on frying pans.
You want to make sure it’s season thoroughly, this is because the oil actually created a rust resistance and non stick surface, preventing any rust building up or stuck food blackening. Here is a guide on how to prevent uneven seasoning on cast iron frying pans.
Storing is not much of an issue for most people, but some may live in places that contain a lot of moisture, such as flats with no ventilation. Therefor if that’s the case, you will need to store it somewhere less humid, such as an enclosed cupboard.
After cooking, you also need to clean it thoroughly, try to get all the food off to avoid it sticking after a few uses.
You will need to avoid using metal utensils as these can damage the surface, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scratched pans using metal utensils, they just don’t work no matter how careful you are.
Last but not least, you need to avoid soaking the pan for too long, this will take the seasoning off and your skillet or frying pan will require re seasoning.
- Ensure seasoned properly including bottom and handle to create rust resistance and nonstick surface
- Storing, ensure its dry and not in a moist environment, e,g keep in cupboard, rust is enemy
- Rinse with warm water and then use brush with soapy water to remove stuck on food
- Avoid metal utensils
- Clean after use and avoid soaking for too long
How to clean a skillet or a frying pan
Cleaning a cast iron cookware is a lot easier than most people think and it’s different from a sauté pan.
You need to rinse, dry, and then scrub with warm soapy water and a bristle brush ensuring that you have removed any food that has gotten stuck.
If you do have rust on your cast iron skillets or frying pan then you need to use fine steel wool which usually removes it.
After you are done, wash the skillet again with either a bristle brush, gentle scouring pads or a mesh sponge depending on how much left there is to clean.
Finally, dry the skillet and re-season it as per our seasoning steps which are written above.
- For rust removal do the following
- Use fine steel wool to remove rust
- Wash the skillet and scrub with bristle brush, gentle scouring pads or mesh sponge if needed
- Dry skillet and preseason
How do you measure a skillet or a frying pan
Knowing how to measure a skillet pan is really important, a lot of recipes tend to state which inch skillet and fried pan you need, and if you don’t know the size of your pans and skillets, it may be hard to follow the recipe, especially ones with a lot of ingredients or ones that needs more a big enough size cooking area. Simply put, knowing how to measure is a good choice.
That being said, to measure, all you need to do is get a tape measure, and measure in inches from the top of the rim on one side, to the other side.
The industry standard is measuring from the top, so therefor to follow the size in a recipe, you always need to measure from the top of the pan.
- Recipes often state which size frying pan is needed
- Grab a tape measure and measure from top, rim to opposite rim.
- This is industry standard in cooking