A skillet is a metal pan that is used for frying food over a burner. Incidentally, it’s also the name of an American Christian rock (not metal) band that was formed in Memphis, Tennessee in 1996. However, you will never be able to use Skillet the band for searing a day old piece of steak for your steak and eggs. So to recap – one is metal and one is not metal. To avoid any confusion, we’ll just stick to the metal type used for cooking.
Skillets are frequently called frying pans and less commonly frypans. Some people tend to use the terms skillet and sauté pan interchangeably, but this is wrong. While it’s true that skillets are similar to sauté pans, there are a couple key differences. Skillets have somewhat lower sides than sauté pans and they flare outwards as opposed to the vertical sides of sauté pans. Skillets are typically used for frying and cooking over higher heat. Common sizes for skillets range from 8 – 12 inches (200 – 300 mm) and they usually have a long handle. Skillets rarely come with lids.
The slanted sides of the skillet make this pan ideal for stir-frying or cooking things over fairly high temperatures where the food needs to be moved around on a consistent basis. Skillets also work great for foods that are served directly from the pan such as omelettes and frittatas. They are also the preferred pan for those who enjoy sloshing food and sauce over the edges of the pan and onto the stove top!
Due to the slanted sides of the skillet, they contain less cooking area than a sauté pan of the same size. This isn’t usually a big deal though, and for the most part, skillets and sauté pans can be used for the same things. This could be why some people get confused about the difference between the two. They’re both made from the same kind of materials and they come roughly in the same diameters. The only real difference between the two is the shape and angle of the walls. In the end, each of them are designed to be slightly better at different tasks.
If you’re just starting out on your cooking adventures and don’t know which pan you should purchase first, I would lean toward buying a skillet. I feel that they are a little more friendly for beginners, and the angled sides make them a bit more versatile.