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May 8, 2010 10:00 PM

Why have a skillet when a saute pan does the job?

Both a skillet and a saute pan are used for sauteeing, but it seems like the saute pan is more versatile with the straight sides and a lid. (Some skillets do come with lids, but they generally have less volume than saute pans.) Is there something a skillet can do that a saute pan can't? The only thing I can think of is that, in a saute pan, you can't easily toss food that you don't want to break up with a utensil


By saute pan, I mean the heavy pan with the straight sides, and by skillet, I mean the lighter pan with slanting slides that allow tossing.

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  1. I think both cookware are similar. The shallower side of a fry pan make the foods more assessable for utensils.

    I will say that I have seen some pans marketed as saute pan, but looks like a fry pan, and vice versa.

    Saute pan?

    Fry pan?

    I won't say a saute pan is more versatile. My impression is that more people have a fry pan than a saute pan.

    1. For me, most of the dishes that I make are better suited to the skillet. The skillet/fry pan is slightly better at cooking proteins, then quickly making and reducing a pan sauce due to the better evaporation. I never really cook anything that needs to be covered, unless it's a braise where I'm using a dutch oven. Being able to toss the food easily is a plus to me because I don't need to cook with a utensil most of the time. I have an All-Clad saute pan that I love, but I only use it for deeper frying or when I'm making pasta dishes, where I will make the sauce and then mix the pasta in inside the pan. But honestly, is there something that a fry pan can do that a saute pan simply cannot, besides the tossing? I don't think so...

      EDIT: I have yet to see a cast iron saute pan. My favorite cookware material is cast iron.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Jemon

        Good point. I wonder if it is because a cast iron saute pan will be too heavy for sauting.

        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          That's just the thing that is strange to me... saute pans are not meant for tossing the food (sauteeing in my eyes?) but fry pans/skillets are meant for tossing food. Saute pans almost require the use of utensils, but fry pans/skillets do not. I am very strong, and fry and toss (saute, right?) with a 10" and a 12" cast iron skillet, but I know this is not practical for most people. Weird that they wouldn't make a cast iron saute pan (which requires utensils) instead of a slope-sided skillet. Hopefully that made sense...

          1. re: Jemon

            Part of the confusion may come from the names. A sauteuse is the pan with the sloped sides and a sautoir is the one with straight sides.

            I consider the sauteuse the pan for properly sauteing things (and that what I learned at cooking school). From Eve Felder, a chef-instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York: "The slanted sides of the sauteuse let food's moisture dissipate more quickly and allow a fast sear to seal in juices. The sautoir's right-angle sides let juices build up; use it for stewing or braising slower-cooking foods. Both are often called saute pans."

            1. re: Sooeygun

              Sooeygun. Thanks. It is interesting. All-Clad has several sized SAUTEUSE, which are all staright sided (two handles) but they should be SAUTOIR? They call sloped sided ones (two-handled) "casserole". Confusing....

      2. I have a good quality straight-sided saute pan and a shallow frying pan. I use the frying pan when I just want to fry something and get a nice brown, or if I want to easily slide it out of the pan or toss it. The saute pan I use for anything that I need to mix or deglaze into any quantity of sauce, because the straight sides help to retain liquid evaporation and prevent spills. Could I just use the saute pan for everything? Maybe... but the shape of the fry pan just makes it easier to remove food and it's lighter to handle. So I think the two shapes are both valuable for different tasks. Someone said they think of sauteing as moving the food around constantly - it's not really that. To saute is simply to place food in fat over a high heat in order to form the caramelized crust. For that task, you should not actually be flipping the food all over the place.

        You wouldn't want to make a quantity of sauce from drippings in a shallow fry pan, nor would you want to use a heavy straight-sided saute pan for quickly browning and dumping some peppers and onions.

        13 Replies
        1. re: tzakiel


          Last time you said I mislead people when I wrote Global knives have a convex bevel because you thought Global knives have a straight bevel. As it turns out, I am correct. Now, you said saute is not about moving foods. You wrote "Someone said they think of sauteing as moving the food around constantly - it's not really that. To saute is simply to place food in fat over a high heat in order to form the caramelized crust."

          If it is all about caramelizing, then pan frying does that as well, doesn't it? The difference between pan frying vs sauting:

          "...There's another element to sautéing — the toss. The word sauté actually means "jump" in French. Tossing or flipping the food in the pan ensures that it cooks evenly, but it also helps keep the pan hot..."

          "...French sauté, past participle of sauter, to jump, because the cook shakes the pan to make the food move around..."

          Obviously, people can have different definition, but it is not out of the mainsteam, when a person thinks of sauteing as jerking, jumping and tossing the foods

          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            I think "sear" better describes the technique of letting things sit and develop a pronounced browned crust. In sauteeing, you obviously don't want to toss or stir too much if you want good browning, but after letting it sit a for a while, you do need to move the food to brown the other sides.

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Cool. Thanks for pointing out my inaccuracies. Clearly you are correct.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                Cooks shake pans to see if proteins have released and, if so, this is indicative that's it is usually time to turn the protein which is normally done with a turner (tongs, what-have-you) other foods are *tossed* because they are not susceptible to using a turner (a quick sear on a bunch of vegetables, for instance).

                I'd kick a line cook's ass if I saw him or her trying to flip a hundred bucks worth of tournedos (retail) with some cute pan trick even if Wikipedia says it's ok to do it. I couldn't care less if they lost a dice or two of carrot on the other hand.

                Did you notice that the picture accompanying the article in your link is of flared, shallow fry pans and not of saute' pans? They aren't the same. A carpenter doesn't frame a house with a slater's hammer.

                The whole bit about tossing to keep the pan hot is something I've never heard and find to be bordering on the absurd. Cooks are moving veggies around because they're sitting in a hot pan on top of a 35,000 BTU HOB running pretty much full bore ('cuz that's the way it's done). I've cooked in a lot of places and I promise I've never heard one Chef, Sous, line jockey, or anybody else with a chip in the game complain about the haricot vert cooling down the pans so much they needed to get the food flying so the pan could recycle up to speed. Veggies are flipped so they'll all feel the heat. If you're counting on the veggies on the top of the pile cooling the pan down much then you're going to burn a lot of produce. Either that, or stop putting frozen food in a hot pan.

                The author of that article says that "some saute' pans have sloped sides." Really? I've never seen a slope sided pan called a saute' pan in any European supplier's catalog or website. Mostly, because such a pan isn't a saute' pan. Saute' pans have straight or on a deeper pan they might have a slight flare.

                Here's a link to E. Dehillerin which might help you match terminology with what each pan actually looks like:


                1. re: CharlieTheCook


                  Like I wrote in my last statement, everyone can have his/her definition and it is particular true for sauteing. Quote "Obviously, people can have different definition..." Some people think of saute as the same as pan frying, while others distinguish the two. I am saying that it is not out of the mainstream definition when someone associates the words like "jerking, jumping or tossing" to the word "saute". These are not mutual exclusive terms. It is not like saying drinking mercury is healthy -- that would be mutually exclusive because "drinking mercury" cannot be "healthy".

                  I don't think your motivation of kicking a line cook's ass proves anything. Does the fact that you want to kick someone ass makes you more correct? So if I write that I want to kick someone's ass for not tossing the foods, does it makes my arguement more convincing?

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    Fast and loose with the definitions leads to using the incorrect tool for the job.

                    You could sear one or two chicken breasts and then proceed to cook them to completion in the bottom of a stock pot if you wanted to. If you cook for just one or two people most of the time, why not just cook everything in your stockpot?

                    1. re: CharlieTheCook


                      Thanks. I think you are correct that fast and loose with definition can lead to confusion -- if anything mis-communication. I think that is why we have confusion on this matter on saute pans. Almost like how the definition of barbecue differes between the South, the West and the East. Or ice tea for that matter. On the other hand, definition is made by human and evolve in times. Had we only have a few percentages of people believe a definition in a certain way, then surely we can claim the majority has the "correct" or "standard" definition. However, the definition on sauting seems very diverse.

                      I am not understanding the chicken in the stockpot statement.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        CK- I think what charlie meant is if you don't care steaming much or it is not a big issue for you, and you cook only SMALL portion, then you can sear even in your stockpot (even higher side than a saute). then degraze to make a sauce or braise it. To some extent, I agree. I sometimes do make some recipes that way. Needless to say, you can always control steaming issue by how much you put into the pot or pan for searing one time. Ofcourse, it may mean you have more batches to cook and you need longer time to complete to cook.

                        1. re: hobbybaker

                          That's true and the overall point being that as the food gets out closer to the edge of the pan or pot then the differences in geometry can play a material role in how the dish comes out. If whatever is being cooked sits in the dead middle of the pan or pot, then the matter moves out toward the 'moot' end of the spectrum.

                          If one is matching pan to the amount of food being cooked then shape makes a difference. I don't use a 14" honking saute pan to pan sear two supremes.

                    2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      I just don't get it. Why would a pan with straight, tall sides (a saute pan, in other words) be good for tossing or "jumping" as CK put it? To me, a fry pan would facilitate this "toss" maneuver better. In fact, whenever I have seen chefs toss foods, it has been in what I think of as a fry pan with sloped sides. Saute pans with straight sides usually are heavy and require the use of a tool such as tongs to move food around. I guess I could see "jerking" a saute pan around to some degree, to check for release of the protein. Still, I can't imagine flipping food over in my saute pan with a tossing motion. The shape doesn't facilitate that kind of action very well.

                      To me, I use a saute pan if I want to make a liquid sauce from the browned spots. Or if I am braising something I have just seared in the pan. Frying pans fall short where holding and simmering liquids is concerned. I use a frying pan when I want the "tossing" motion or I want something to cook in fat but not hold moisture or liquid sauce. I'm not sure that has anything to do with the actual definitions of frying vs. sauteing.

                      1. re: tzakiel

                        That was part of the argument in the first place. The name "saute pan" doesn't make sense because you can't actually use it to saute! I agree with you. They should call it something else. The names should be reversed, in my opinion.

                    3. re: CharlieTheCook

                      Charlie. Mauviel seems to call it "Curved Splayed SAUTE Pan" which is slope sided and with flat bottom. Relatively small as 3 qt.

                      I found it as I looked for a saucier and wondered why they call it SAUTE pan, but after seeing it in person I got it because the bottom is not rounded like a saucier. it has a flat bottom, which is not obvious in the picture.

                      Anyway, terminology is confusing (and interesting at the same time) to me including fry-pan, skillet, and sauteuse as the others mentioned above, too.


                      1. re: hobbybaker

                        Yep, that pan would work great for certain sautes' (the dish) and this may or may not imply a searing, or even a whole lot of browning for that matter, of the featured protein.

                        It's good, though, that they put the qualifiers "curved and splayed" to distinquish it from a regular straight sided saute' pan. It's a little unorthodox and it looks like a shape that I feel I could do without. But obviously somebody's buying them.

                2. Saute = high heat, little fat. Frying = food partially submerged in fat or in the case of deep frying, the food is fully submerged. Sauteed foods are cooked quickly and usually are best cut into uniform pieces and as CK points out, moved in one way or another.
                  Pan frying is NOT the same thing. I'm with Chem on this.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: knet

                    Knet is correct of course, but a saute pan can easily be used to shallow / medium fry too if desired. In fact it offers some advantages over a frying pan including higher sides to hold more oil, reducing splatter and maximising available cooking area by using square sides.

                    Which brings us back to the original question - Is there anything a frying pan can do better than a saute pan other than allow for easier flipping of food? Maybe 20% less cost, 20% less weight and 20% less room in the dishwasher? But so, so much less versatility!

                    If you run a restaurant or have a big family or a lot of money to spend, you'd presumably have both, but I think the OP was asking that if you were planning to spend £100s on a single copper pan, surely it would make more sense to buy the saute rather than the fryer.

                    In fact if I could afford two, I think I'd still go for 2x saute for maximum versatility.

                  2. A saute' (the dish) is started and finished in the same pan. A saute' pan, therefore, has a lid and straight sides to hold the volume of food as other ingredients other than the protein may be added at some point to finish with the protein. A French fry pan (Matfer Bourgeat, deBuyer, et al.) is a carbon steel pan with sloping sides. This is THE fry pan to own. They get seasoned and produce a beautiful fond. The sloping sides help blow the moisture off so you are purely searing and not steaming the food (assuming you put a dry protein in the pan to start with). A saute pan with straight sides, with a full, but not crowded, pan can result in steaming. A full fry pan (again, not crowded) will move the steam off the proteins around the perimeter of the pan because of the sloping sides.

                    It's a matter of the right tool for the job. If all you ever put in a pan is one chicken breast or steak then it probably won't matter. Use the entire pan surface area (yet again, not crowding) you won't sear and brown nearly as well in a saute pan as you will a real fry pan and this is because of the sloping sides.

                    13 Replies
                    1. re: CharlieTheCook

                      Charlie, I think you said best of all. Especially about pure searing capability of a fry-pan. I fully agree that the steaming issue of a saute pan vs evaporation ability of a fry- pan. Also feel the same way as Jemon about the use of a fry-pan and a dutch oven.
                      I own no saute pan but never felt inconvenient with my fry-pan and a DO or a shallow enamelled cast iron casserole.That being said, if I buy a sautepan I want to buy a one with a bit longer diameter. It is interesting to see how different people's preferences are.

                      1. re: hobbybaker

                        Yep - if you get proteins out near the edges of a straight sided saute pan they'll steam, and you might also get some radiant cooking off the sides that most likely will not be desirable (could be catastrophic with a nice piece of fish assuming the cook understands what the end product's texture, taste, and appearance should be).

                        A screwed up sear screws up the dish for sure.

                        With a slope-sided frying pan, again traditional French 'pattern,' the steam will clear more quickly and there is no radiant heating/cooking from the sides to speak of, or at least a very de minimis amount of it.

                        The beauty of the carbon steel fryers is that they're so inexpensive. Get a couple of sizes - I have Matfer Bourgeat pans. You'll spend less than a hundred bucks for two and they simply cannot be beaten. They can be totally seasoned all the way to black in less than an hour and will look like you've been cooking with them for twenty years which is exactly what you want. The first proteins you lay down on one and see the absolute perfect sear, perfect Maillard reaction, you'll know you've "come home." I deglaze all the time without any off tastes or loss of seasoning as well.

                        1. re: CharlieTheCook

                          Charlie, you don't have to convince me about the carbon steel. I have five deBuyer frypans (carbon steel) and adore them. Absolutely adore them. Seasoned like a dream, and lighter than cast iron. I'm constantly making the most fabulous omelets and they just slide right out. Proteins sear like mad with the honking high heat I can use. Clean up is a breeze. The handles are super comfy in my hands.

                          I have it all: All Clad, LeCreuset, etc. and my blackened carbon steels are my handsdown fav.

                        2. re: hobbybaker

                          I agree with Charlie, too. If I cooked for a lot of people I would buy a stovetop skillet, which has no sides, as you aren't going to pick it up to toss the solid foods. But, since I don't, I can fry in nearly anything, as long as there is sufficient room around the solid. Come to think of it, one could saute in a frying pan too, and use a lid to control the evaporation. Maybe it's not the most ideal situation, but it works. It also depends upon the height and shape of the sides, which I've noticed varies widely, in fact, the name (fry pan, skillet, saute) often doesn't mean much.

                          1. re: E_M

                            Just remember that a good quality high carbon steel skillet by a solid French manufacturer in even the larger sizes will cost less than $100. Really no reason not to have at least one real hardcore fry pan hanging on the rack. They do such a fantastic job and they "look the part" which we must all admit is a nice bonus.

                            Let me caution against buying a Vollrath carbon steel pan however - they are over a half to a full millimeter thinner than a deBuyer or Bourgeat pan. That's too thin IMO unless you really want a pan that's fast - these will warp readily if you really hammer them hard with a decent burner, but they're cheap so I think they sell them as expendable. Some online suppliers only offer them in a minimum quantity of eight.

                            Word and definitions matter and I don't think definitions are as blurred as they are being made out to be in this thread. If I asked for a saute' pan and was handed a fry pan I'm quite positive that I know the difference and I wouldn't have asked for a saute' pan unless it was what I needed for the dish. Hand an expert in Asian cuisine a fry pan when he needed his wok and I'm sure you'd get an icy stare.

                            These things have different shapes for a reason - they did not arise arbirtrarily. I promise!

                            Somebody posted a link earlier to Tramontina pans sold through Wal Mart. I wouldn't consider the terminology they use to describe a pan to be determinative at all. In fact, I would think the use of the term saute' in this instance to be a marketing decision - sounds more highbrow than 'fry pan.'

                            1. re: CharlieTheCook

                              Thanks for the info about the carbon steel pans. Those are really great for high heat transfer, quick cooking stuff. If anyone has used a cheap, made in Asia wok, it was most likely carbon steel to the best of my knowledge. I love the best tool for the job approach, but I think most people will benefit from simply knowing that the shape isn't as important as the material.

                              1. re: Jemon

                                One of the reasons I have a variety of pans is I really do find that the right pan for the job makes it all work better. The pan various people have described various ways that has high but sloping sides I have heard called a fait tout. Believing there is no such thing as a pan that "does it all," I have never bought one. I have an old, heavy copper BIA saute pan (straight sides, lid, #24 size) and a large (14") deBuyer fry pan. Neither does what the other does nearly as well. (I have, btw, other deBuyer fry pans, but even though it takes muscle I love the big pan because there is enough room to cook steaks, flattened chicken breasts, or veal without moisture buildup. IMHO smaller (8") fry pans are for individual servings. For saute pans, where moisture can develop along with some fond, the extra room does not seem to be as critical, although I have a hard time envisioning using a smaller saute pan. For most pans, heaviness seems to be an important attribute, too. Most of the mainstream brands are a good deal lighter than deBuyer steel pans or Mauviel or Bourgeat heavier copper lines, and while I can cook with them, they take a WHOLE lot more attention.

                                In short, yes, there are absolutely things a good fry pan does better than a good saute pan and vice versa. There is a reason that as classic cookware was developing in a world that did not seem to be as limited by materials and costs as we are these days, a host of very specialized pans (and other cooking tools) were developed. That said, for fun cooking at home where undivided attention can be given and the number of dishes in motion is limited, you can do an awful lot with some very basic tools, like a fry pan AND a saute pan!

                                (__ 8 ])

                                1. re: tim irvine

                                  Very well said Tim. I agree with you on all of those points. However I think that there is such a large variety of pots and pans out now because cookware manufacturers would like to sell more pieces. They know the average person is not going to be like us "serious" cooks (I assume I'm not only speaking for myself) and buy multiples of good, solid, versatile tools. I do most of my frying, sauteing, what have you in a 12" cast iron skillet. I don't believe that "one pan does it all," but for me, a very small collection of pans do all the things I need to do well enough that I don't go seeking out pans that I will use for one task. I wish I had a few good copper pieces, but since I don't, i will stick to my cast iron and carbon steel workhorses. I think that the average "serious cook" can do well with the following (baking excluded):

                                  A large fry pan, a large dutch oven, a stock pot, and a small (1qt) sauce pot. I believe that a saute pan is optional, although handy at times. The problem arises when the average person buys a set with like 5 slightly different sized pots that do basically the same thing, fry pans in 8", 10", 12", etc. No one needs THAT much variety. They will find that they will end up reaching for the same pan most of the time while a lot of the other stuff rarely gets used.

                                  To better explain what I said before, I think it's best to have one carbon steel, cast iron, or copper saute or fry pan than it is to have one of each in anodized aluminum or single ply stainless steel. The former materials will do either job better than the latter.

                        3. re: CharlieTheCook

                          Charlie - Will the Bourgeat black steel pan object to citric acid being used in it? I'm looking for a pan to cook fish and chicken in, and I frequently finish with lime or lemon juice, or vinegar.

                          1. re: Jay F

                            I wouldn't worry about it unless you are aiming to reduce those acids. It never seems to make much of a difference to me. If it's well seasoned it should be fine!

                            1. re: Jemon

                              I throw acidic things in my big deBuyer pan all the time and have no problems from it. I am lucky enough to have collected a good collection of copper over the years. I prefer, for most things, tin. It does not stick as much (as SS). But i can get my steel pan a lot hotter than a tin lined copper pan without worry. I agree with your short list of what most of us will need, but I seem to go to my larger saucepan a lot -- probably about 2 qts but I am too lazy to go measure it.

                              I am astounded at what new designs and names they will come up with to sell cookware. I saw W-S selling a "paninii knife." I have a nice collection of knives but my 10" chef's will do pretty much anything except boning, with ease...slice tomatoes, bread, even do paring, or, amazingly, cut my panini!

                              Still, I love all of the traditional highly specialized pans, have a few, and admire others' when I see them.

                              An aside on the fry pan/saute pan issue. While I use the former for frying, I do, as noted, throw the occasional splash of wine, squeeze, of lemon, or handful of capers in the steel pan. When I need a lid (it is 14"), I just toss a cookie sheet over it.

                              A second aside, as seductive as copper is, if I could make an investment in only one copper pan, it would not be a saute pan. It would be my workhorse saucepan.

                              I really enjoy all of the different perspectives in this thread and thank Charlie for the reference to Dehillerin. There's a reason this stuff is still sought after and prized after 150 years or more of largely unchanged design.