Saute Pan vs. Frying Pan: Which to Use?

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This article compares sauté pans and frying pans. For instance, how would a T-fal Specialty Non-stick Sauté Pan stack up against a T-fal Professional Non-stick Frying Pan?

Sauté pans and frying pans are two of the most versatile pans in the kitchen. You can use both for a variety of quick-cooking methods, and they both come in a wide range of materials.

But it can be confusing to determine which one is better. Is there even a difference between a sauté pan and a frying pan? What about a skillet? If you’ve ever asked any of those questions, you’re not alone.

But the good news? You can find all of those answers in my saute pan vs frying pan guide. Keep reading to learn all about sauté pans, frying pans, and decide which one is right for you.

Saute Pan vs Frying Pan: At a Glance

When it comes to a sauté vs frying pan, which pan type is the best tool in the kitchen? It really depends on what type of cooking you’ll be doing and the materials you prefer in your cookware.

Frying Pan vs Saute Pan

If you want to sear meats, a skillet is the best. It will give you a nice crust and cook evenly. Also, skillets are better for flipping foods like omelets, pancakes, and burgers.

If you like to reduce sauces and make pasta dishes, a sauté will work nicely. It’s also great for stir-frying and sautéing. My sauté is a go-to for one-pot meals.

All About Sauté Pans

What is a sauté pan?

A sauté pan might sound like some obscure, fancy cookware piece, but it’s surprisingly ordinary. Sauté is a French word that literally means, “to jump.” Sautéing involves frying food in a small amount of oil or cooking fat, often while moving or tossing the food around in the pan.

A sauté pan is a round pan with a large cooking surface and straight, vertical sides. These straight sides are conducive to making saucy dishes and shallow frying (i.e., sautéing).

A sauté pan will normally come with a lid.

What is a sauté pan used for?

Sauté pans are pretty versatile. They can handle sautéing vegetables, braising chicken thighs, or reducing sauces. I love to use my sauté pan for one-pan meals like frittatas, pasta, or curries.

Sauté pans are not ideal for foods that require flipping, like pancakes or omelets. A frying pan would be better in that case.

Can you fry in a sauté pan?

Of course! In fact, many people use the term “pan fry” instead of sautéing. Both terms involve frying food in a shallow pan with a small amount of cooking oil or fat.

Can you use a sauté pan for deep frying?

A sauté pan is better suited for smaller batches and foods that can fry well in an inch of oil. A sauté pan’s straight sides will keep in oil, but it can’t hold large quantities. If you plan to deep fry frequently, your best bet is a Dutch oven or a stockpot.

Can you use a sauté pan for stir fry?

You can use a sauté for stir fry. Stir-fries require a small amount of oil and tossing ingredients, just like sautéing. The key differences are that stir-fries require cooking at a higher heat and tend to do better in a sloped pan.

So while you can certainly use a sauté for cooking stir-fries, be sure to use a stainless steel or carbon steel pan that can handle high heat. Also, realize that the vertical sides might not be as conducive as the sloped sides of a skillet or wok.

Sauté Pan Reviews

T-fal Specialty Nonstick 5-Quart Sauté Pan with Glass Lid

T-fal is among the top names in nonstick cookware. This T-fal Sauté Pan is also dubbed a “Jumbo Cooker” and has a capacity of 5 quarts (4.73 liters). That’s big enough to hold three large pork chops or chicken breasts. This is an excellent pan for families and those who like to entertain.

T-fal products usually have a Teflon nonstick coating. This nonstick pan is no different.

Also, like most T-fal products, this pan has the Thermo-Spot indicator. The Thermo-Spot indicator is a ring on the pan’s cooking surface that turns red when the pan is sufficiently preheated.

Overall, customers were pleased with the performance of this T-fal sauté pan.

Gotham Steel Non-stick 5.5-Quart Sauté Pan with Lid

Gotham Steel is another popular brand of cookware known for its ceramic nonstick coatings. This sauté can hold 5.5 quarts (5.2 liters), enough to hold

One thing to note is that while the product photo displays a rounded pan, this particular nonstick pan is actually square, according to customer reviews. The square shape gives you more surface area to cook with, but it is more awkward for stirring than a rounded pan.

Users liked the taller sides of the Gotham Steel sauté. The height allowed them to toss ingredients and fry without worrying about splashes or spills.

See my guide to Gotham Steel for more.

All About Frying Pans

What is a frying pan?

A frying pan is a round pan with a flat cooking surface and sloping sides. It can come in a variety of materials, including aluminum, hard-anodized aluminum, stainless steel, cast iron, and carbon steel.

A frying pan’s sloped, shallow sides give the cook better access for flipping foods. Fry pans are great for searing meat, stir-frying, making omelets, and so much more.

What is a skillet?

A skillet is essentially the same thing as a frying pan. A flat cooking surface, slanted sides, and a long handle are all features of a skillet.

You will find different products or brands that use one term or the other. For instance, when a pan is cast iron, it’s called a cast-iron skillet. You won’t usually see a “cast iron frying pan.”

But practically speaking, there isn’t much, if any, difference. For this article’s purposes, the terms skillet and frying pan will be used interchangeably.

What is a French skillet?

A French skillet is like a combination of a skillet and sauté pan. French skillets have sloped sides like a frying pan, but they are deeper like a sauté pan. These pans are suitable for many of the same cooking tasks as a regular skillet.

Is a sauté pan the same as a frying pan?

No, although the two pans are similar. Both pans have a flat cooking surface, are ideal for tossing ingredients and pan-frying, and have a long main handle.

The key differences lie in the sides, handles, sizes and lids. A frying pan has sloped sides, whereas a sauté pan has straight sides.

Also, sauté pans tend to have a helper handle, whereas most skillets do not. Sauté pans almost always include a lid, but skillets are hit or miss when it comes to lids.

Finally, frying pan sizes are more varied. They usually have a large cooking surface, but sometimes come smaller. In any case, because of the larger sides, sauté pans hold more food.

Frying Pan Reviews

T-fal Professional Total Non-stick 10.5-Inch Fry Pan

This T-fal Professional Total Non-stick Skillet has a diameter of 10.5 inches (26.67 cm). It has a nonstick surface and silicone stay-cool handles. It does not come with a lid.

This T-fal also features the Thermo-Spot indicator that shows when the pan is preheated. The induction base means this piece is compatible with induction cooktops.

All-Clad D3 Tri-Ply Stainless Cookware, 12-Inch Fry Pan

All-Clad is known for its high-quality, U.S.-made stainless steel cookware. This All-Clad 12-inch (30.48 cm) fry pan features a tri-ply construction. Two layers of stainless steel surround an aluminum core for fast, even heating.

This skillet pan comes with a stainless lid and has dual-riveted handles. The stainless steel construction means that, unlike a nonstick skillet, this pan can handle high heat.

Frying Pan vs. Sauté Pan: Product Feature Comparison

Saute Pan vs Frying Pan

Capacity

The T-fal and Gotham Steel saute pans have a capacity of 5 quarts (4.73 liters) and 5.5 quarts (5.2 liters), respectively. That’s enough to feed a family or a small crowd.

The T-fal skillet is a bit smaller, with a diameter of 10.5 inches (26.67 cm). The All-Clad skillet is larger, with a diameter of 12 inches (30.48 cm). That’s an equal diameter to the T-fal sauté pan.

Generally, you’ll be able to hold more food with saute pans. This can vary depending on the individual product. But if you’re cooking food for more than four, your best option is a sauté pan.

Winner: Sauté pans

Handles and Lids

The T-fal Nonstick Sauté features riveted silicone handles and a looped helper handle. It also has a vented glass lid. Likewise, the Gotham Steel pan also has a glass lid and helper handle. Its handles are stainless steel, however.

The T-fal skillet has riveted silicone handles that stay cool while cooking, but it does not include a lid. The All-Clad skillet, however, has riveted handles and a stainless lid. Neither fry pan comes with a second handle.

A lid will hold in heat and moisture and make for slower evaporation. That’s why a sauté is better for cooking sauces or dishes that have more liquid. A skillet typically does not include a lid, which makes for quick evaporation.

While you can cook a lot of dishes without a lid, it’s nice to have the option. For that reason, saute pans get the edge in this category.

It’s a slight win though, because you can normally buy a lid separately for your frying pan.

Winner: Sauté pans

Cookware material

This really boils down to preference. Both types of pans come in several materials. The saute pans on our list are both aluminum with nonstick coatings. These coatings help release food and prevent sticking while cooking.

The downside? You can’t use these on a high stovetop setting.

The T-fal skillet also has an aluminum core with a Teflon coating, and an induction base on the bottom. The same advantages and disadvantages apply to this non-stick pan as the others.

This video tells about the T-fal’s Titanium-reinforced non-stick coating.

The All-Clad features a tri-ply, fully-clad construction. The two layers of stainless surround an aluminum core.

The stainless is inert and won’t react with food, while the aluminum heats quickly and evenly. The only drawback is that stainless is prone to sticking.

A nonstick skillet is best if you want something for cooking sticky foods like eggs and crepes. If you would like a non-reactive pan that retains heat well, go with stainless. You can find both sautés and skillets in either material.

Winner: Draw

Versatility

Cooking stovetop-to-oven dishes is only possible with cookware that can go between the two. Both sautés on our list are oven-safe.

But the T-fal non-stick pan can only go to 350°F (177°C), severely limiting its oven use. The Gotham Steel pan, however, can handle up to 500°F (260°C) in the oven.

Neither sauté works with induction cooktops.

Both the T-fal skillet and All-Clad skillet are good for oven cooking, with maximum temperatures up to 400°F (204°) and 600°F (315°C), respectively. They are both also induction-compatible.

However, these are just examples, and there are sauté pans that are induction compatible. It’s also true that sauté pans are able to cook a wider variety of food.

Winner: Draw

Performance

Customers were pleased with all of the pans on our list. Teflon skillets, like the T-fal option, have great food release. But they won’t last decades; their lifespans are shorter.

Stainless skillets are of higher quality. You’ll find them in a professional kitchen, especially brands like All-Clad. However, they are more prone to sticking and can require more maintenance.

For a sauté, you’ll find the flat surface, and tall sides make it great for holding in heat. The sauté is ideal for quick cooking or for dishes that require reducing liquids.

Both types of pans can cook a variety of foods quickly and efficiently.

Winner: Draw

Cleaning

The ease of cleaning really depends on the material of the cookware. Non-stick pieces are obviously easier to clean than stainless pans. However, they’re more likely to scratch than stainless. It’s a trade-off.

Hard Anodized Pan being cleaned with a sponge

Both T-fal pans and the Gotham Steel sauté are dishwasher safe, making for easy cleaning. All-Clad does recommend hand washing your skillet. 

You could argue the sloping sides of a skillet make it easier to clean, giving it a very slight advantage.

Winner: Frying pans

Price

In general, nonstick options are going to be more affordable than stainless options. Cast iron skillets will tend to land somewhere in the middle. This is more directly related to cookware material than the type of cookware.

However, the lack of lid and smaller size mean skillets are typically more affordable.

Winner: Frying pans

Sauté Pan vs. Frying Pan: Which is Best for You?

When it comes to deciding between a sauté pan and a skillet, which one should you choose?

If you do a lot of stir-frying at high heat, I’d go with a stainless steel skillet like the All-Clad Tri-Ply Stainless Skillet Pan. This pan is also great for oven cooking.

You can find other frying pans and skillets in my carbon steel pan guide.

If you want something lighter weight, budget-friendly, or great for stovetop cooking only, go with a sauté pan like the T-fal Specialty Sauté pan. The nonstick coating makes tossing ingredients easy and fun. Plus, cleanup is a cinch.

Whether you go with a sauté pan or skillet pan, rest assured you’ll get a versatile piece of cookware that might just become one of your favorite pans.