Whether you’re deciding on a new purchase for your kitchen or impersonating a professional chef for your latest spy mission, there may come a time when you’ll want to know the difference between a skillet and a sauté pan. Fortunately, it’s pretty straightforward.
As Business Insider explains, the sides of a sauté pan extend straight up from its base, while the sides of a skillet flare out at an angle. Because the diameter of every pan is measured from the rim—not the base—this means the cooking surface of a skillet is smaller than that of a sauté pan. If, for example, you buy a 12-inch skillet, you’re only getting about 10 inches of space to cook on. With a 12-inch sauté pan, you’ll get the full foot.
Without angled sides, a sauté pan can hold more liquid, and that liquid won’t slosh over onto your stove (or feet) as easily as it would in a skillet. So if you’re cooking with a generous quantity of sauce, wine, oil, or any other liquid that you could easily spill, you might want to choose a sauté pan over a skillet.
Skillets, however, have their own skill set. According to Serious Eats’s chief culinary consultant J. Kenji López-Alt, a skillet’s smaller base makes it lighter than a sauté pan, so it’s easier to manage with just one hand. And those sloped sides come in handy when you’re trying to toss food like a pro, which helps ensure that the contents cook evenly. In other words, sautéing is actually a job best-suited to skillets, not sauté pans.
If you only have enough room (in your kitchen or in your budget) for one shallow pan, López-Alt recommends the skillet, since sautéing is so common in recipes.
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