I see that a skillet or a fry pan has sloped sides...for easy tossing. A saute pan has straight sides.

I see that a skillet/fry pan as more of a all-round pan to have...and if I complement it with a lid, I don't see why I would ever need a saute pan.

Am I missing something here?


1 Answer 1


Skillets are not designed to hold much liquid; as you point out, the curved sides are optimized for easy flipping and turning (i.e. with a spatula). They also normally do not come with lids; I'm sure there are some out there, but even my All-Clad skillets didn't.

You can really only use a skillet for high-heat searing or frying due to their low profile. Don't bother trying to poach or even shallow-fry in one.

Sauté pans, on the other hand, have more height, and usually do come with lids. They're a little heavier, and don't make it as easy to turn, but they can also be used for shallow-frying and moist-heat cooking methods like braising or poaching.

I've seen people make sauce or chili in sauté pans as well; sometimes they're more convenient if you're only going to make a small quantity, since the large exposed surface area (relative to a saucepan) makes it easier to reduce sauces. It's a no-brainer if your recipe starts out with sautéing garlic, onions, vegetables, etc., and then has you adding the liquid ingredients; if you have a large enough sauté pan then you don't need to bother transferring to a saucepan afterward.

I think you've got it backwards; of the two options, a sauté pan is definitely the more versatile option. I use both, but if I only had the space or budget for one, I'd choose the sauté pan, because it can do everything a skillet can do (just not quite as well) and many more things a skillet is useless for. A skillet is really only necessary for people who do a lot of pan-searing.

Note that as commenter Owen suggests, there are "French skillets" sold which have higher bases; these are not really skillets, and are not normally sold with lids, but assuming you can find or improvise one, they would make semi-decent multi-taskers. I maintain that cast-iron skillets, while taller, are not nearly as versatile due to their reactive material and weight - I only ever use mine for searing/grilling.

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    It's not necessarily true that skillets have low profiles these days. Many manufacturers are making skillets that have lids and a reasonable amount of depth to them. All-Clad markets them as "French skillets", for example. Lodge cast-iron skillets also have plenty of depth to them. So either skillets or saute pans could make a fine all-in-one, depending on how they're made. Keep in mind: the extra depth could make certain kinds of frying a tad more unwieldly, and look for pour spouts etc. in the rim of the pan that could compromise the effectiveness of covered cooking.
    – Owen S.
    Commented Jan 6, 2012 at 19:14
  • Hi @Aaronut. Do you want to incorporate Owen's comment that either a skillet with good depth plus a lid or a saute pan with a lid are both equally good multitaskers? I think that then I'll be able to mark your answer as the accepted one. :)
    – milesmeow
    Commented Jan 7, 2012 at 8:07
  • @Aaronut I've got the following pan, and do most of my cooking in it. What would you classify it as? I've managed to braise, sear, make sauce etc without problems. Would you say that is more a skillet, or more a sauté-pan? netonnet.se/ItemImages/hem-och-hushall/matlagning/…
    – Max
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 6:31
  • @Max: That's the "French skillet" referred to in Owen's comment and the last paragraph of this answer.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Jan 11, 2012 at 14:09

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