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Saucepan vs. Sauté Pan: What’s the Difference?

If you’re shopping for new cookware, you might be wondering:

What’s the difference between a saucepan and a sauté pan? Do you need both? Which pan is the most versatile?

In this comparison of saucepans vs. sauté pans, you’ll learn how they differ in shape, size, construction, usage, price, and more.


Use the links below to navigate the comparison:


What Is a Saucepan?

Saucepans are shaped like a cylinder with tall sidewalls, a narrow base, and a long handle for easy transport. Most have straight sides and a flat bottom, but some have a more rounded profile near the base.

Saucepan with long handle
Saucepan

Its tall sides provide depth, allowing it to hold a considerable amount of liquid.

A saucepan is perfect for creating and developing savory or sweet sauces. You can also use it to boil, deep fry, stew, or braise.

Saucepans ‌heat liquids evenly, excel at heat retention, and often have tight-fitting lids to retain moisture while food cooks.

What Is a Sauté Pan?

Sometimes mistaken for a skillet, a sauté pan is a wide pan with short, vertical sides. Its steep sides allow it to hold more liquid and help contain splatter from bubbling liquids and sauces better than a skillet.

All-Clad Sauté Pan
Sauté Pan

Like saucepans, sauté pans vary in shape and size, depending on the brand. They generally have straight sides, a large cooking surface, and a flat bottom.

Sauté pans have a long handle and sometimes include a helper handle. They feature tight-fitting lids and are used for various cooking techniques, such as searing meat, stir-frying vegetables, and sautéing foods.

Saucepan vs. Sauté Pan: Comparison Chart

Here’s a quick comparison of both pans:

 SaucepanSauté Pan
ShapeTall sides and narrow baseShort sides and wide base
Common Sizes2 to 4 quarts3 to 6 quarts
Construction and MaterialsNon-stick, stainless steel, copper, enameled cast ironNon-stick, stainless steel, copper, enameled cast iron
VersatilityGreat for sauces, steaming, stewing, boiling, braising, deep fryingGreat for sauteing, searing, braising, pan frying
StorageSmaller footprintBetter for shallow storage
CleaningFood may stick along edgesFood may stick in the center
Price$-$$$ (view price comparison chart)$-$$$ (view price comparison chart)

Shape

Although there are variations, saucepans and sauté pans have defined shapes. The significant difference is that a saucepan is taller, and a sauté pan is wider.

Saucepan versus saute pan_labeled
Sauté pan (left), saucepan (right)

The flat bottom of a saucepan helps maintain contact with the heat source. Stirring moves the hot liquid to provide even cooking. Sauté pans have a wider base and a larger cooking surface, so more food contacts direct heat.

Both pans feature a long handle but sauté pans usually include an additional helper handle — a short handle across from the longer one to make moving the pan with two hands easier.

Sauté pans have a wide opening with straight (vertical) sides. It’s more shallow than a saucepan. Occasionally, it will feature pour spouts.

Size

The size of both types of pans is measured in quarts.

Saucepans come in four standard sizes: 1-quart, 2-quart, 3-quart, and 4-quart, but the most popular are 2- and 4-quarts. There are some options for 8 quarts or more.

Popular sauté pan sizes range between 3 and 6 quarts. But there are options for as small as 1 quart and as large as 12 quarts. 

If you compare a saucepan and a sauté pan of equal capacity, the saucepan will have a smaller diameter and taller walls than the sauté pan.

Diameter of All-Clad D3 saute pan
Diameter of a 3-quart sauté pan
diameter of a 4-quart saucepan
Diameter of a 4-quart saucepan

The chart below shows the dimensions of saucepans and sauté pans of various sizes.

Saucepan Diameter Height
All-Clad 1.5-Quart Saucepan6 in.3.5 in.
All-Clad 2-Quart Saucepan6 in.4.25 in.
All-Clad 3-Quart Saucepan8 in.4 in.
All-Clad 4-Quart Saucepan8 in.5 in.
Made In 4-Quart Saucepan8.5 in.5 in.
Calphalon 3.5-Quart Saucepan8 in.5.75 in.
All-Clad 2-Quart Sauté Pan8 in.4.25 in.
All-Clad 3-Quart Sauté Pan11.4 in.5.5 in.
All-Clad 4-Quart Sauté Pan11.5 in.5 in.
Made In 3.5-Quart Sauté Pan10.5 in.2.5 in.
Calphalon 6-Quart Sauté Pan13 in.3 in.

Versatility

Sauté pans are more versatile if you’re looking for cookware that lends itself to one-pot meals. You can use a sauté pan to sear meats and vegetables, braise, pan fry, stir-fry, and of course, sauté.

All-Clad Cooking Performance
Braising chicken in a sauté pan

It functions like a fry pan but with higher sides to hold more liquid and reduce splatter.

With a sauté pan, you can prepare quick sauces, but they will evaporate more rapidly because of the wide surface area.

Saucepans are smaller and tend to be used for side dishes, sauces, and liquid-based meals.

eggs in a 2-quart saucepan
Hard boiled eggs in a 2-quart saucepan

Because saucepans have a smaller surface area (and opening at the top), the evaporation rate is slower, allowing you to develop deeper flavors when cooking sauces.

Still, you can also use it for boiling, deep frying, steaming, and simmering. Saucepans are ideal for making rice, quinoa, pasta, hard boiled eggs, and small batches of soup.

Storage

Saucepans are smaller and easier to store. Plus, since they have straight sides and a flat bottom, they’re easier to stack on top of wider pots and pans. Some cookware brands like Calphalon even provide stackable saucepans to save space.

Sauté pans are wider but flatter, so they can fit in tighter spaces like long, shallow kitchen drawers or short cabinet shelves.

Cleaning

Both types of cookware have pros and cons when it comes to cleaning.

Saucepans tend to have more burnt food and stains around the interior edges and sides of the pan and near the rims. It’s common to overcook rice in a saucepan, resulting in stuck-on burnt bits at the bottom.

Cleaning a stainless steel saucepan with Palmolive dish soap
Cleaning a stainless steel saucepan with Palmolive dish soap

But sauté pans can get hot spots in the middle — especially if the heating element is not as wide as the pan — causing food to burn and stick.

The material matters, too. Stainless steel is more difficult to clean than PTFE-based non-stick.

Overall, saucepans and sauté pans are relatively easy to clean if you know the proper techniques. Check out my guides for tips on cleaning non-stick and cleaning stainless steel to help you save time and frustration.

Construction and Materials

Saucepans and sauté pans are most commonly made of stainless steel or non-stick with an aluminum base. But there are other options, such as ceramic non-stick and enameled cast iron.

Saucepan and saute pan materials

Depending on the brand and collection, you can even find copper, titanium, and hybrid (stainless/non-stick) options. Check out my guide to the best cookware materials before deciding on the best construction for you. 

As far as construction, you’ll have a choice of fully-clad cookware, impact-bonded bases, and those with one-piece construction, such as enameled cast iron. Each has its pros and cons.

If you are looking for excellent heat retention, go for fully-clad stainless steel or cast iron. Need quick and even heating? Go with hard-anodized aluminum or copper. The best choice depends on your preferences.

The following chart features some top cookware choices based on construction and materials:

MaterialSaucepanSauté Pan
Stainless SteelAll-Clad D3All-Clad D3
Non-Stick (PTFE)CuisinartCalphalon
Non-Stick (Ceramic)GreenPanGreenPan
Enameled Cast IronLe CreusetCrockpot

Price

Sauté pans are larger and more expensive than saucepans. But, their versatility can eliminate the need for a fry pan or wok, therefore saving money.

The price for saucepans and sauté pans vary depending on the brand, collection, materials, and construction. For example, an All-Clad saucepan with fully-clad construction will cost more than a Rachael Ray hard-anodized aluminum non-stick saucepan.

For exact pricing, refer to the following chart, which lists the cost of popular saucepan and sauté pans. Click or tap the price to learn more about each option.

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Bottom Line: Do You Need a Saucepan, Sauté Pan, or Both?

Saucepans are ideal for sauces, soups, grains, and other side dishes. You can steam, stew, boil, braise, and deep fry.

Sauté pans are more versatile. You can use them for sauteing, searing, braising, and pan frying. They’re ideal for burgers, eggs, meatballs, sauce, short ribs, and much more. You can also cook sauces in saute pans, but you need to watch the consistency because moisture evaporates much faster.

Both come in a variety of constructions and materials, offering you flexible options for cooking, cleanup, and performance.

But if you have limited space, keep in mind that saucepans are smaller. And if your budget is tight, they are also less expensive.

Bottom line — Although the pans are similar, they serve distinct purposes. If you have the room and budget, it’s better to have both.

However, if you can only choose one, think about the type of meals you’ll be cooking most often. Go for a saucepan for sauces, broths, and side dishes like vegetables. If you want a pan for searing and braising main courses, choose a sauté pan.

If you’re not sure which brand to buy, I highly recommend Made In, All-Clad, Scanpan, Lodge, Le Creuset, and Mauviel. Learn more in my guide to the best cookware brands.

Andrew Palermo Founder of Prudent Reviews

Andrew Palermo - About the Author

Andrew is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Prudent Reviews. He’s studied consumer buying behavior for 10+ years and has managed marketing campaigns for over a dozen Fortune 500 brands. When he’s not testing the latest home products, he’s spending time with his family, cooking, and doing house projects. Connect with Andrew via emailLinkedIn, or the Prudent Reviews YouTube channel.

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