What’s the Difference Between a Sauté Pan and a Skillet?

updated Jul 2, 2020
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Credit: Leela Cyd

Sauté pan! Skillet! These two terms are often used interchangeably, but there actually is a difference between them. Is it wrong to use one instead of the other for certain things? Do you need both? Who makes the best ones out there? Let’s take a look!

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

What’s the Difference Between a Sauté Pan and a Skillet?

A sauté pan has straight sides (the pan on the left in the photo above). It has a larger surface area, which makes it ideal for tasks like searing meat or reducing a pan sauce. We also like it because we’re less likely to slosh things over the side!

A skillet has slanted sides (the pan on the right in the photo above). To add to the confusion, this pan is also sometimes called a frypan or frying pan. The slanted sides make this pan perfect for stir-frying and quick cooking techniques where you’re moving ingredients around a lot in the pan. It’s also good for dishes like frittatas that are served straight from the pan.

When to Use a Sauté Pan versus When to Use a Skillet

The reason these pans get so confused is because they really can be used almost interchangeably. They’re constructed from the same kinds of metals and are available in the same diameters, so they only really differ when it comes to the shape of the sides. Sure, one might be slightly better suited for a particular task (like the ones mentioned above), but that doesn’t mean that the other pan can’t do it.

Credit: Great Jones

The Best Sauté Pans and Skillets

If you’re trying to decide which kind of pan to buy, we’d recommend going for the skillet first. You lose a little surface area, but you can buy a slightly larger size than you might otherwise to make up for this. We feel like the sloping sides of the skillet give us better access to the food and make this pan more versatile.

Our Favorite Sauté Pan and Skillets

Do you have a preference for one pan over the other or think it makes a big difference which one you use? Let us know!