Sauté Pan or Frying Pan [What’s The Diff?] Do I Need Both?

CRYSTAL H.  | ,   |   Updated
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Cookware sets come with sauté pans and frying pans or maybe one or the other. Is there a real difference between these pan types that matters? From what I found, it largely depends on your cooking style and what you’re comfortable with, but you may get away with just one…

frying pan and its uses
saute pan and its use

The above helps, but you probably need to know more if you’re looking to buy this cookware, so read on.

Sauté pan versus frying pan

What are they good for?

A sauté pan is best for browning and sautéing they say. But you can do so much more, soups even. A 10 inch is a good size. And, I’d choose one with a lid — nearly 90% of them come with a lid. A lid helps with braising meat and cooking stews.

The main difference between a sauté pan and a frypan is the sides. The sides of a sauté pan are taller and straight whereas the sides of a frying pan are slanted. And a sauté pan typically has a lid. Here’s an example…

The Caraway Home Saute Pan

Sauté Pan by Caraway

Use of a sauté pan

With a sauté pan you can get away with using less oil or fat than with using a frying pan (apart from a nonstick one). With the sauté pan you can toss the food to coat it rather than shallow frying with oil or fat in a frying pan, where you flip the food to coat both sides.

Another difference is the style of cooking. With sautéing you use higher, faster heat than with frying. The lower heat of frying is better for large pieces of meat with the slower cooking in the extra oil ensuring the meat is cooked thorough. You can do both methods in both pan types but one performs better than the other for the purpose they were designed for.

Spruce Eats explains sautéing as a type of dry heat cooking — I wrote about this method; how you can use it for reducing fat in your meals.

Sautéeing browns the food’s surface as it cooks and develops complex flavors and aromas

Spruce Eats

Use of a frying pan

A frying pan is best for shallow frying or searing. But you can sauté vegetables and meat in it. The limitation comes when you cook with a whole lot of liquid in this type of pan with its shallowness and sloped sides. It can get messy.

Why does a frying pan have sloped sides? The slanted sides help with flipping the food and later sliding the food onto a serving plate.

Even without watching the following video you can see the obvious differences between these two pan types. The sauté pan is on the left. It has straight high sides compared to the frying pan on the right that is shallower with slanted sides.

They can both have the same type of handles. The two shown both have two handles, one long and one U shaped helper handle for ease of moving it around.

Note: The sauté pan in this video displays a white discoloration on the cooking surface. My article on stainless steel discoloration covers why this happens (and how to fix it).

Choosing one over the other

In knowing what to choose for your kitchen cookware set, if you had to pick one pan only, I’d recommend opting for the sauté pan, because it is more versatile.

It’ll give you more room and more volume. And, I like the idea that it has a lid.

Although you can buy a universal lid to fit your pan, no matter the type or its size. I have a stainless steel lid like this that I use often with my large frying pan.

WishDirect Universal Pans Pots Lid Cover Fit All 7 Inch to 12 Inch Pots / Pans /Woks Stainless Steel and Glass Lid with Heat Resistant Knob
A universal pan lid
to use with your frying pan
You can get these at Amazon

And then there’s the price you might want to consider…

Price difference between Sauté pan and frying pan

How do these compare price-wise? I found that sauté pans cost more than frying pans on an inch by inch diameter basis. No surprise there really. More material goes into making a sauté pan.

Here are examples of how they compare in price:

  • At Made In cookware you get a 10.5″ stainless steel sauté pan that costs US$149 (at time of writing). Their frying pan is US$79 is about half the price, but is a smaller size at 8.5″ and doesn’t come with a lid.
  • At Caraway Home, a ceramic-coated sauté pan (11.8″) is US$149 while their 10.5″ frying pan is US$95. Once again the sauté pan comes with a lid.

Where to check out the prices of these pans…

Bottom line

I hope this explains the difference between a sauté pan and a frying pan for you and helps you with choosing one or the other, or both.

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