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Saucepan vs Frying Pan

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The age-old bone of contention between all home cooks is the matter of which would be better the saucepan or the frying pan? The old saucepan vs frying pan debate has been argued among a lot of home cooks, but is there a clear winner?

The folks in the saucepan camp might argue that a frying pan cannot hold a large volume of fluids effectively and therefore is inferior. ‘Camp Frying pan' would argue that the reduced heat conduction of the Saucepan limits its ability, making it the lesser versatile option. While some of the arguments in both camps hold a lot of truth, this debate is nonsensical. 

Saucepan Vs Frying Pan 

Frying pans, earmarked by their larger cooking surfaces and flatter appearance are most commonly used, as the name suggests, for frying food. The smaller cooking surface and slanted sides aids in conducting heat much quicker between the stove and your food, the base will also be slightly thinner than that of a saucepan resulting in the frying pan conducting higher heats.

saucepan vs frying pan

Saucepans are much larger in appearance because of their depth. They are designed to contain a larger volume of liquid. Their bases are generally a bit thicker to ensure more even heat distribution throughout the entire cooking surface. 

Characteristics Of A Frying Pan 

The biggest defining characteristic of a frying pan is the slanted sides which assist in flipping, turning, and removing food from the pan. My favourite thing about the slanted sides would be the ability to toss your food in the air and catch it in the pan again, making you look like a TV chef. They are not as heavy as saucepans which helps a lot with shaking and tossing the food – I believe that my preference for the frying pan is deeply rooted in the showmanship they have to offer. 

Although the slanted sides do offer a lot of benefits, it is important to note that their slanted sides do result in a slight loss of effective cooking surface. When buying a frying pan, it is important to note that the displayed sizes of a pan are not measured on the effective cooking area but rather from rim to rim, because of the slanted sides you will generally lose a bit of the effective surface area. Saucepans on the other hand have a larger effective cooking surface due to their more upright sides. 

saucepan vs frying pan

All frying pans will have one handle by which you can grip the pan and do all your flipping, tossing, turning and in some cases dancing. Because you will not have a lot of liquids in the frying pan, they are generally lighter when being used than a saucepan, therefore one of the most distinct differences would be the number of handles. Saucepans will always have at least two handles on opposite ends, whereas the frying pan will have only one. 

Characteristics Of A Saucepan 

The saucepan is made to contain more liquid than the frying pan, therefore the saucepan generally looks much bigger than the frying pan, it has higher and more upright sides. As with almost any tool in your shed or utensil in your kitchen, each item has a specific use. The deeper saucepan will be your go-to for cooking with liquids, because of its ability to contain fluid more effectively. Think about it this way, if you had to carry a bit of water from one side of the room to the other, and you had to choose between using a plate or a bowl to do the job, which would you pick? If you do not have the most basic understanding of physics you might opt for the plate, in which case, good luck boiling pasta in a frying pan.  

frying pan vs saucepan

Because you will be cooking with more liquids in a saucepan, they will naturally be heavier when being used. Therefore, saucepans will always have two handles one large handle on one side and a smaller ‘helper handle' on the other. The extra handle is there to help you pick up the pan without accidentally incurring third-degree burns from the boiling water you are trying to drain. 


How To Tell Them Apart 

Saucepans have higher, upright sides with one long handle on one side and a ‘helper handle' on the other side of the pan. Frying pans are shallow and appear wider with only one handle and have distinct slanted sides. 

Frying Pan Uses 

The slanted sides of a frying pan make access to the food being cooked, a lot easier, especially if you need to flip a steak or gently turn a fragile egg without breaking the yolk. The shallow sides of the frying pan make it a lot easier to wedge a spatula between the egg and the pan. Imagine how you would struggle if you had attempted this by accessing from the top and not being able to come in at an angle.  

Frying pans are very versatile tools, you can use them for virtually anything, and if you buy one with an oven-safe handle you unlock a ton of added features. I love cooking steak in a frying pan, being from South Africa, saying this does not feel right as we are only allowed to cook steak on a fire. But I have discovered that you can do so much more with a steak in a frying pan than on the fire and it is really simple; Get your frying pan sizzling hot, sear the steak on all sides to form a proper crust, throw in some butter, garlic, thyme and black pepper, keep basting the steak in the now infused butter and then finish in the oven. 

Although I would highly recommend investing in a decent Wok to make stir fry and a myriad of Asian delights, I did not have one until recently and have made many successful stir-fry dishes in my large frying pan.  

The most common cooking methods associated with a frying pan is: 

  • Frying 
  • Sautéing 
  • Braising 
  • Baking 
  • Searing 

Saucepan Uses 

I cannot explain to you have many times I have had to pour food from a frying pan into a saucepan when I have realised, I've made the wrong decision between the two. This is always a messy story. As a rule of thumb, I reach for my saucepan when I am going to add more than a cup and a half of liquid to the pan.  

The difference between a pot and a saucepan is important to note, the only difference really is size; Pots are generally much larger than saucepans and handles; Saucepans have a long handle on one side and a ‘helper handle' on the other whereas a pot has two small handles (much like the helper handles) on either side. Although one would generally make soup or stew in a pot rather than a saucepan, you can use these two interchangeably – the only difference would be that you would make a smaller portion in the saucepan than in the pot.  

The straight and upright sides of a saucepan make them ideal for use with the following cooking methods: 

  • Stewing 
  • Sautéing 
  • Braising 
  • Boiling 
  • Poaching 
  • Steaming (generally by placing an enclosed device on top of the saucepan) 
  • Although not deemed a cooking method I must add an honourable mention to this list, purely because of the name, and because it is the most common use – Making Sauces  

So Who Is The Winner? 

If you do not already know the answer, please start from the top. 

There is no winner between the two because there should not even be an argument about it. Both these items are absolutely essential in their own way. Quite frankly, YOU as a home cook should have at least one of each! You cannot show up to a gunfight with a knife and equally, you cannot show up to a cannon fight with a gun. And if you think that was a bad analogy, don't dare get me started on your Saucepan vs Frying pan argument and its validity! 

  • Saucepan 

    Frying Pan

  • Cooking surface

    smaller

    larger

  • Use

    essential

    essential

  • Sides

    deep

    shallow

  • Range of recipes

    smaller

    bigger

  • Ease of use

    easy

    easy

Saucepan Vs Frying Pan: Summing Up 

You will not get very far as a home cook if you do not have at least one frying pan and one saucepan. They are both essential in everyday cooking and having a variety of tools available will enable you to try new cooking methods and experiment with new flavours and get to know world cuisine! 

Braam Botha
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