The main difference between a skillet and a frying pan is that skillets and frying pans are used for different methods of cooking.
A skillet pan is used to braise sauces, cook vegetables, bake, roast or even broil.
A frying pan is used to shallow fry, sear meats, brown foods, sautéing and even stir frying.
Skillets and frying pans are different shapes and made from different materials which changes the cooking techniques that they are good for.
But let’s take a more in-depth look at their differences as this is important if you are a home cook.
Skillet vs frying pan: the differences in traits
A skillet pan and frying pan are used for different cooking techniques, and this is because they both have different traits which makes them more specialised to certain types of food.
It’s worth noting that a skillet will come with a lid where as a frying pan will not come with a lid.
Knowing that, let’s take a look at the difference in traits.
Shape of Pan
A skillet looks very similar to a frying pan. This is what confuses a lot of people!
Typically speaking, you can identify between the two by looking for a helper handle. A skillet will have a helper handle, whilst a frying pan will not.
In terms of shape, a frying pan will have slanted sides that flair more outwards than a skillet, this makes a frying pan look more rounded in comparison to a skillet.
Skillets are usually larger and can hold more food than a frying pan. However, the size of the skillet will vary from one manufacturer to another but typically a 12-inch skillet will be able to hold around 3 quarts of food whereas a 9-inch skillet will be able to hold around 2 quarts of food.
Although a frying pan may look like it can hold more food due to it being wider on pictures, it’s shallower than skillet, and this affects the capacity a lot.
This means a skillet that can hold around 2 quarts whilst a frying pan of the same size can only hold around 1.5 quartz. So a frying pan has a reduced capacity of around 25% when compared to a skillet.
Rate of Evaporation
The rate of evaporation involves the speed at which the liquid evaporates on the cooking surfaces.
Because skillets and frying pans are used differently, the rate of evaporation is different for each type of cookware.
The major difference though is that frying pans have a higher rate of evaporation than a skillet does. The reason for this is because frying pans usually have sloped sides which flair more outwards than a skillet, this gives it more contact with air than the flatter sides of a skillet so it will evaporate more quickly..
This is one of the prime reasons skillets are used for foods which require more moisture such as sauces and some meats.
The more traditional way of cooking has always been done in cast iron skillets such as in many Asian countries like Japan or China. This is because the cooking material retains the heat and cooks things evenly whilst allowing for simmering your food.
The ability to simmer is the main reason that cast iron skillets are so popular because they retain heat very well and allow for even cooking.
However, with new technology, non-stick pans have become more popular because skillets tend to get stained easily which makes it hard to cook vegetables without them burning.
Cooking Surface area
The surface area of a skillet is going to be bigger than the surface area of a frying when comparing both pans which are the same size.
The size of the surface area affects how you are able to cook in the pan because you have more room for your food and for your utensils.
In addition to this, larger surface areas are usually better at retaining heat so that food does not cool down too much when cooking.
However, smaller surface areas will help with quicker cooking allowing you to brown things quicker, meaning you can spend less time cooking your food.
A skillet is typically made from cast iron, this is because a cast iron skillet is strong, durable, can tolerate high heats and has great heat retention for even cooking. This makes it perfect for braising sauces, cooking vegetables or even baking.
On the other hand, a frying pan is made from a more typical material like steel, aluminum or copper. This is because it is less expensive, easier to clean and also cooks heats up much faster.
When you hear someone say “cast iron frying pan” they will most likely be referring to a skillet and getting the terms mixed up.
The cooking times differ in the case of skillets and frying pans.
Cooking times for a cast iron skillet will usually be longer than those used for frying pans because they have a thicker bottom and sides which makes it harder to heat up. Not only that, but they are made from cast iron which takes longer to heat.
In terms of baking, the cooking time will only be less than 5 minutes for a frying pan, whereas a frying pan that is around the same size and shape as a skillet would take twice as long to bake.
This is because of how shallow fry pans are and the materials they are usually made with, it normally takes around 30-45 seconds to reach a temperature of 500-550F. with a frying pan, but with a skillet it will take around 2-3 minutes to get that temperature.
Ease of Use
Because skillets tend to be larger than frying pans, they are easier to use for sautéing or even searing large amounts of meat at once.
A skillet is very easy to use and in particular, due to its large size, you will be able to use it as if it was an extension of yourself. This is not the case with a frying pan where due to its small surface area this means that moving a frying pan is much harder than moving a skillet.
The shape and the material of a cast iron skillet means that it is oven safe. A frying pan however doesn’t have this feature due to the shape and the lack of material, this means that most are not oven safe unless you manage to find an oven safe cast iron frying pan or another frying pan that uses oven safe materials.
The price of a skillet will usually be more because it is better quality than a frying pan. A skillet is often made from cast iron which needs more material and time in order to create the pan. However, in some cases skillets can actually be cheaper than frying pans!
A cast iron skillet will usually cost anywhere between $50-$100 whereas a frying pan will usually cost anywhere between $10-$30.
Things to Remember
Skillets and frying pans need specialised materials depending on what type of cooking you are going to do with them. A skillet must have a very good heat retention which is why they are made from cast iron, whilst frying pans must have a non-stick surface material so that food does not stick.
So a skillet is different from a frying pan?
Yes, a skillet is quite different from a frying pan as you can see above.
The main reason people get confused between skillets and frying pans is because skillets are part of the frying pan family. It is all down to the name…
Some people will go through the time of learning it because, at the end of the day, it is important to know the difference if you want perfect flavors in your food.
But what’s more confusing for people is, there is a third type of pan from the frying pan family. And that is a sauté pan.
What is a sauté pan?
Sauté pans are in fact frying pans. They differ from anything else because they have one of the largest surface areas out of all the frying pans in the family. They are great for cooking a variety of different types of food with minimal mess due to the vertical sides which offer splash protection
They are typically made from stainless steel, aluminium or copper. This is because they are light, so they are easy to use with the cooking techniques such as tossing.
The main way to identify a sauté pan, is by it’s sides. Saute pans unlike the skillet and frying pan have vertical sides that do not flair outwards. This gives a sauté pan the biggest surface area of them all.
Why should you get a sauté pan:
A sauté pan is ideal not only for cooking delicate foods but also helps with keeping food warm when you turn off the heat.
Since most people cook with gas or electric stoves, sauté pans retain heat well so they can be used on these stoves without giving off any hot spots.
Also since most people use sauté pans for cooking eggs and fish, the shallow base allows for less trauma on the food so it’s easier to flip.
Skillet, Frying Pan, Saute Pan: The differences
At this point, it’s getting pretty confusing right? Well I created a venn diagram to easily identify the differences and similarities between them, so you can easily spot which one you need.
A skillet, frying pan and saute pan: which should you buy?
For a beginner cook with little cooking experience, this choice typically boils down to the two cookware items, skillets or frying pans since they are the most versatile.
The skillets in the market today are typically using cast iron, while the frying pans are typically using stainless steel. You can get skillets which use other materials such as aluminium and copper, but these are not as common.
You might be wondering, why would you even want to buy any of them because all you need is either a skillet or frying pan, right?
It is true that there are rarely times where you will need both. But that is mainly because they’re used for different purposes.
However, that doesn’t mean that you’re missing out on anything if you do not have both. They are both versatile and can be used to cook foods without much difference to an untrained eye.
Now the question is, which one should you get?
Cast iron skillets retain heat better and allows for even cooking when used correctly, but they are heavier and take longer to heat up and cook than stainless steel or aluminium frying pans.
Stainless steel frying pans are lighter and easier to use with the cooking techniques you typically use with it. And they are still just as good as cast iron frying pans.
Saute pans are more specialised, and thus you should only get one if you have both the skillet and frying pan and need some extra flair on your recipes.
So if you are looking for perfectionism, get all three.
If you are looking for more evenly cooked food and don’t mind the longer cleaning process or cooking times, then get a skillet.
And if you are looking for something which cooks quickly and is easier to clean, then get a frying pan.
We looked at the different traits of each type of pan, and how they are used, and also took a look at which one is the best to get.
There is no such thing as the best pan, as that will vary from person to person on what they want it for.
But If you are deciding between a skillet or frying pan then you now have the knowledge to know what type of pan you want in order to make great food.