Skillet vs Frying Pan: What is the Difference?

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By Maria Turner • Last Updated: May 10, 2023 is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Skillet vs Frying Pan: What is the Difference?

When you look up “skillet” on the internet, the North American definition says skillets are essentially frying pans.

You came to this article for help, so we shall be overly particular with the details and not just rely on the literal meaning of words. Spoiler alert: skillets are frying pans, but not all frying pans are skillets. Read the rest of this article to understand the comparison between skillets vs. frying pans.

What’s the Difference Between a Skillet vs Frying Pan?

Frying pans and skillets are some of the most commonly used cookware nowadays. You can recognize these pans by their shallow and wide cooking surface and long handle.

Their looks are quite similar, which confuses, but will it be fine to use these kitchen tools interchangeably for, let’s say, sautéeing, frying, and braising? Or do their features differ so much that it affects the cooking performance and the taste of your food?

Let’s see how to distinguish a skillet from a frying pan.


A skillet is a little deeper than a frying pan (at least two inches deep). Generally, a skillet is a frying pan usually made of cast iron. A skillet does not come with a nonstick coating, which is a great thing for longevity.

You can use a cast-iron skillet in various ways, including braising, sautéeing, searing, baking, roasting, just about anything! When you have a skillet in your kitchen, you know you can use them for cooking many dishes—they are convenient.

You love cooking with them for the excellent heat retention that’s ideal for cooking steak and making sauces. And you also like that you can keep cast-iron or carbon steel skillets around for a long time due to their amazing longevity. This cookware needs to be maintained by regular seasoning if you want to keep food from sticking to it.

Cast-iron skillet pans are oven-safe, too. Even their handles are cast-iron so that you can pop them in the oven without any worries. You can improve your cooking by searing meat then taking the skillet into the oven.

Furthermore, stir-fries will be a good option with a skillet due to its heat retention. With cast iron skillets, you can do so much fast cooking! Skillets are light, so they’re ideal for shaking while cooking.

What are the defining characteristics of a skillet?

A skillet pan has flared rims that allow you easy access to the cooking ingredients, like when you move things around constantly when sautéeing, for example. The sloping sides and wide opening of the skillet help you flip, stir, and turn your food quickly and smoothly with a spatula.

Meanwhile, the slanted sides of the skillet make it easy for you to transfer its contents onto a plate. It makes a big difference compared to when you’re using sauté pans with straight sides.

Frying Pan

A frying pan looks identical to a skillet, and you use it to fry, brown, and sear food. Frying pans are quicker to heat up than skillets, are shallower, and thinner.

Typically, these can be nonstick, aluminum, or stainless steel pans, and they don’t come with a lid. Did you notice that you don’t see the term “cast-iron frying pan” as much as other types of frying pans? That’s because people use “cast-iron skillets” to refer to pans made of cast-iron.

Nonstick frying pans are ideal for cooking healthier dishes since you don’t need to use oil to cook the food. But, most frying pans aren’t oven-safe because of the nonstick coating.

Can you use frying pans and skillets interchangeably?

Although frying pans are slightly shallower, you won’t find a big difference between a frying pan and a skillet.

They look very much the same. Therefore, you can use any of them for your frying, sautéeing, browning, braising, and roasting needs; it won’t be a big deal. Like a skillet, you can easily slide the cooked food out into a plate very easily due to the sloped sides.

Why People Confuse Skillets for Frying Pans (and vice versa)

So, skillets can be called frying pans, and you can use fry pans and skillets for the same tasks; no worries there. But there’s another type of cookware that exists called the sauté pan. It is a similar-looking pan, but with vertical sides instead of the usual sloping sides you’ll find on cast-iron pans.

Many people can mistake sauté pans for frying pans and skillets due to the almost identical appearance of a large surface area, short sides, and a long handle. However, here’s the difference between a sauté pan and a skillet: the sauté pan has straight sides instead of slanted sides. Because of this, the pan’s cooking area will be slightly larger compared to a similarly-sized shallow frying pan or skillet.

When it comes to choosing a sauté pan vs skillet, which cookware depends on the types of cooking you’ll do. A sauté pan will be better for cooking dishes with a little more liquid, such as curry. You can also use skillets and frying pans as omelet pans, searing a tenderloin steak, or for any shallow frying.

Another thing to note is that larger sauté pans come with a helper handle, a smaller handle positioned opposite the main, long handle. This extra handle makes moving the pan around much easier.

How do you pick a good sauté pan, frying pan, and skillet?

It’s going to help a lot if your pots and pans, in general, are high-quality material. There are lots of types of frying pans to choose from, but if you want the most durable for your everyday cooking, go for at least a tri-ply stainless steel-aluminum combo, preferably with hard-anodized aluminum.

This material will provide the best balance of heat retention, heat distribution, and heat sensitivity (ideal for quick-cooking).


Is there an objective answer to which is better overall: a skillet or a frying pan? It depends on personal choice and your daily cooking needs.

When it comes to frying, searing food, making sauces, stir-frying, and many more cooking techniques, you can freely use either a skillet and a frying pan. A skillet, frying pan, and a sauté pan are essential cookware items to cook the food, no matter if it’s the main dish or the side dishes.