You may refer to skillets and frying pans as ‘pans’ and move on. It is fine to do so if you are not super into cooking.
But if you do cook, you should know the differences between these two cookware items, as it will certainly help you to utilize them to their full potential.
What is the difference between a skillet and a frying pan? Skillets are made of cast iron, while frying pans are made of stainless steel or aluminum. Skillets are best for roasts, stews, and sauces, while frying pans are best for frying, browning, searing, and sautéing.
This article is all about skillets and frying pans, their differences and similarities, and what is the best cookware option for you.
Skillet and Frying Pan – Are They Different?
When it comes to skillets and frying pans, both terms are often used interchangeably. While there are many similarities between the two, there are also a range of differences that set skillets and frying pans apart.
There are cooking tasks that both perform better than the other.
If you are not much into cooking, you may not know that the angle at which the sides are slanted, the material the pan is made of, and many other details determine the best uses of skillets and frying pans.
Why should you know the difference, you may wonder? Because not all recipes mention what kind of a pan to use for their particular recipe. And believe it or not, it does make a difference.
Knowing how skillets and frying pans are best used is fundamental cooking knowledge that will positively affect your skills.
What Is a Skillet?
If you spend a lot of time in your kitchen, you probably already have a skillet in your cookware collection.
It is a cooking item with angled sides, which result in a smaller cooking area.
The way the sides of skillets are slanted makes it to reach the food and stir it around if needed.
Dishes cooked in skillets can also be served in one. Food served in cast iron skillets looks especially homey.
Cast iron skillets are one of the most popular skillet types. In fact, the word skillet is often used to refer to cast iron skillets.
They are well-loved by those who know how to take care of them. Once you get the hang of using cast iron skillets, you will attempt to make every dish in it.
Here is a full breakdown of the pros and cons of this all-time popular cookware item.
Cast iron skillets have many advantages which make them a worthwhile investment.
- Non-Stick – Cast iron is naturally non-stick. However, you should keep in mind that in order to maintain this quality, you have to properly season your pan. This is the process of baking oil onto the cast iron skillet’s surface to give it a protective layer.
- All-Natural Coating – Because cast iron can provide a non-stick surface on its own and with the help of some oil, there are no synthetic coatings used to make it non-stick.
- It’s Healthy – As unusual as it sounds, cooking in a cast iron skillet is actually healthy. Not only because it doesn’t leach chemicals from synthetic coatings, but because it enriches your food with iron.
- Heat Retention – Cast iron heats up slowly but it also cools down slowly. If you want your dish to stay warm for a longer time, you can cook and serve it in the cast iron skillet.
- Oven Safe – Cast iron has a very high heat capacity. Thus, you can put it in the oven and your pan will certainly not suffer. The oven-safe quality of cast iron skillets makes them perfect for slow-cooking dishes in the oven and even baking. Try baking cornbread or pound cake in a cast iron skillet and you will never do it another way.
- Long-Lasting – Cast iron skillets will serve you a lifetime if taken care of well. In fact, cast iron skillets get better over time, as the porous surface smooths out due to constant cooking with the right kind of spatula.
All the disadvantages of a cast iron skillet are either compensated by its benefits or are a result of not maintaining it in proper conditions.
- It’s Heavy – Cast iron skillets are rather heavy. Their weight is not even comparable to those of stainless-steel pans or skillets made from a different material. They can be quite cumbersome for those who have a hard time lifting heavy objects.
- Prone to Rust – Properly seasoning your cast iron pan should save you the trouble of dealing with a rusty skillet. However, no matter how well you take care of your cast iron skillet, it may develop some rusty spots. Getting rid of the rust on the skillet may take you time and effort, but the important thing is that it’s fixable.
- The Handle May Get Too Hot – If you leave the cast iron skillet on the stove for a long time or put it in the oven, the handle will heat up, as it is made from the same cast iron material. If it weren’t, you wouldn’t be able to put the skillet in the oven.
What Is a Frying Pan?
A frying pan is a cookware item used for quick frying and giving color to the food.
Frying pans come in a variety of sizes and materials.
Unlike skillets that may come with a lid or may require a lid for certain cooking techniques, frying pans generally don’t have one.
The reason is that the cooking methods frying pans are used for need the moisture to be evaporated, not retained.
Here are the reasons that make frying pans a must-have item in your kitchen, as well as disadvantages that you have to keep in mind when deciding to buy a frying pan.
Here are the benefits of cooking with a frying pan.
- Quick Cooking and Reheating – Frying pans are not as thick as cast iron skillets. This means that they heat up very quickly and cook the food in a shorter amount of time. Also, because frying pans have a wider cooking surface, you can spread the food and cook it quickly.
- Low-Maintenence – Unlike cast iron, frying pans don’t need to be seasoned due to their synthetic non-stick coating. They should be washed like all cookware and scrubbed gently so as not to scratch the non-stick coating, but that’s it.
- A Good Cooking Surface – Most frying pans have scratch-resistant cooking surfaces, as they are made with such materials as stainless steel.
- More Flavor – It is not a secret that dishes cooked in cast iron skillets taste rich, as all of the ingredients come together during the long cooking process. However, dishes cooked in a frying pan don’t fall behind in terms of the flavor they give to the dish. The flavor remains in the food, even as it is cooked quickly.
- Less Oil – Frying pans generally have a non-stick surface. This means that you can use less oil when cooking in a frying pan. If you want a cookware item that will give you healthier dishes and aren’t concerned with an iron deficiency, frying pans are a great option.
When buying a frying pan, there are certain things to keep in mind.
- Can’t Leave Unattended – Because cooking in a frying pan happens too fast, you can’t leave the food to cook while you take care of other chores in the kitchen. You should be attentive so that you don’t overcook or burn your dish.
- Heat Spreads Unevenly – Some frying pans, especially those made of stainless steel, don’t have even heat distribution. In addition to this, if you keep the heat high, you are likely to burn the food, especially if you have spread it out.
Skillet Vs Frying Pan – Differences
Skillets and frying pans have many similarities. But there are also differences that make these cookware items more suitable for specific tasks.
The shape is the main noticeable difference between skillets and frying pans. The former has a depth of at least 5 centimeters.
The latter, on the other hand, is more shallow. Frying pans are generally lower, as the cooking techniques they are used for don’t require much depth. Both skillets and frying pans have a flat bottom and they come in similar sizes.
Skillets and frying pans are also similar in the way the sides are angled. They are slightly slanted and rounded, which makes it easy to flip the food in the pan.
Cast iron skillets, however, have sides at a sharp angle. Because of this, they have a smaller cooking surface than frying pans do.
Skillets and frying pans are available in different materials.
- Aluminum – Pans made from this material are not durable for cooking at high heat. They are made for easy tasks, such as frying eggs for breakfast.
- Stainless steel – If you have ever seen a commercial kitchen where professionals work, you may have noticed that everything there is stainless steel. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, as this material is durable and long-lasting.
- Ceramic – Some frying pans can even be made with ceramic, which has a safe, chemical-free, non-stick coating and great heat conductivity. However, they can chip much easier than metal pans.
- Cast iron – This strong material is some of the best for cookware. It is very long-lasting and has incredible heat retention.
Stainless steel frying pans are widely used, while the most popular material for skillets is cast iron.
The material of pan handles also matters. Frying pans usually have long handles so that they don’t heat up while cooking.
Nowadays, such materials as phenol are used to prevent the handles from heating up. Thus, you can freely cook without oven mitts. However, phenol handles contain plastic and are not completely oven-safe.
You may also come across wooden pan handles. These however, are neither oven nor dishwasher safe.
Skillets are quite a versatile cooking utensil. Due to the way the pan is structured, it is suitable for a variety of cooking techniques and you will find many uses for it in your kitchen.
Skillets are best used for:
- Stews and casseroles
Skillets also work well for sautéing and stir-frying. However, these two cooking techniques and skillets are compatible if your cookware item is light-weight. Cast iron skillets, for example, are too heavy and not easy to shake.
Additionally, the sides are not sloped. They form a straighter angle. This makes it difficult to redistribute the food in the pan, even if you are strong enough to shake the cast iron skillet.
Frying pans are best used for:
- Shallow frying
If you are a fan of deglazing and getting all the flavor you can from the bits left in the pan, don’t buy a pan that has a non-stick surface.
To deglaze, wine is used in most cases. You scrape the flavorful brown bits from the bottom of the pan or a skillet with a metal or wooden spatula. Doing this on a non-stick surface will damage the cookware.
However, deglazing cast iron with wine or vinegar is especially damaging, as it removes the seasoning and may even cause the dish to taste metallic.
Which One to Choose – Skillet or Frying Pan?
Which cooking utensil is best for you depends on what meals you cook often. Look at your typical menu to see what kind of dishes prevail.
If you are someone that likes comfort food, such as stews and casseroles, and wants a cookware item that is extremely versatile, go with a skillet.
However, if you decide on buying a cast iron skillet, keep in mind that it requires proper maintenance.
If you want a pan to cook quick meals in, the frying pan it is. Stainless steel frying pans are quite easy to clean and use.
Also, consider the size of the pan you are buying. If you often cook one or two portions, choose a smaller pan. If you usually cook for multiple people, a larger pan will come in handy.
Can’t decide on the size? Pick a larger pan, as you can always cook less food in a large pan, but you can’t and shouldn’t cook a lot of food in a small pan.
Do You Need Them Both?
If you are not keen on cooking and simply need some cookware in your kitchen, then no, you don’t need them both.
These two cooking items can be used interchangeably in the kitchen and can perform each other’s tasks quite well if needed.
But if you are enthusiastic about trying out all kinds of cooking techniques and executing them as they do in cookbooks, then it will be good to have both.