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

We break down the similarities and differences between these pans so you know when to reach for each.

Published Jan. 6, 2023.

I’m about to start cooking dinner, so I open my drawer to pull out a pan. Should I pick a skillet or a sauté pan? Well, it depends what I’m cooking.

Skillets and sauté pans have similarly sized flat, broad cooking surfaces. They each have at least one handle. The main differences lie in their overall shape, specifically their walls.

They can be used for many of the same tasks, but there are specific times we reach for each.

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All About Skillets

Skillets have a broad cooking surface with low, gently sloping walls. We reach for them most often when we’re frying eggs or searing proteins.

  • When Should You Use a Skillet? Frying eggs, sautéing vegetables, searing meat and making pan sauce from its drippings, and cooking dishes that start on the stovetop and finish in the oven such as pork tenderloin or chicken thighs.
  • Why? Its low walls encourage evaporation and make it easier to slide out delicate foods such as fish or fried eggs. 
  • Which Is Our Favorite? The All-Clad D3 Stainless 12″ Fry Pan with Lid has a clean design that includes no unnecessary frills. We appreciate the wide cooking surface and low, flaring sides that encourage excellent browning and evaporation; a steel handle that stays cool on the stovetop and wont rotate in your hand; and an overall weight and balance that hit the sweet spot between sturdiness and maneuverable lightness.
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All About Sauté Pans

Saute pans have a broad cooking surface, with moderately high, L-shaped walls. They generally have a helper handle located opposite the main handle. We reach for them most often when were trying to contain either liquid or large amounts of greens.

  • When Should You Use a Saute Pan? Braising, shallow-frying, sautéeing a lot of leafy greens, and cooking grains that start on the stovetop and finish in the oven.
  • Why? Its walls are high enough to corral splatters, contain food, and prevent spills as you stir, but low enough that it’s easy to reach in with tongs to flip food.
  • Which Is Our Favorite? The Madein Stainless Clad Saute Pan wowed our cooks from the start. It browned food evenly on the stovetop and produced fluffy rice in the oven. Its broad cooking surface provided plenty of room to brown meatballs and accommodate one pound of raw spinach. Its moderate weight meant it wasn’t too heavy to pour from. Its handle was long, offset, and straight, with a small divot on which we could rest our thumb.
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The Best Sauté Pans

A cross between a skillet and a saucepan, this versatile pan can be used for shallow frying, searing, braising, and more.
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