Sauté pans are versatile pieces of cookware. Besides sautéing, you can use them to sear, fry, braise, boil, broil, and much more.
In fact, if you’re on a budget and can only buy one pan, I’d recommend a sauté pan.
The question is — what sauté pan size is best for your kitchen?
This quick guide will help you determine the right sauté pan size for your needs. You’ll learn what’s available and the key factors to consider.
Plus, I give you my recommendation for the best sauté pan size.
So, if you’re ready to pick out the perfect sauté pan for your kitchen but need help deciding which size to buy, keep reading.
Use the links below to navigate the guide:
- Sauté Pan Sizes: What’s Available
- Sauté Pan Sizes: Comparison Chart
- Most Important Factors to Consider
- Bottom Line: What Sauté Pan Size Do You Need?
A sauté pan functions similarly to a skillet, except it has straight, steep sidewalls and a wide, flat bottom.
Most sauté pans come with lids. They often feature a helper handle in addition to the long, main handle. They’re ideal for making sauces, shallow frying, pan frying, searing, braising, and poaching — in short, liquid-heavy recipes.
Because they handle liquids so well, sauté pan sizes are measured in quarts. Alternatively, skillet or fry pan sizes are measured in inches.
The most common sauté pan sizes range between three and six quarts, but they come as small as one quart and as large as 12 quarts.
Exact sizes vary by cookware brand and collection.
Let’s take a look at sauté pans from three popular cookware brands:
- Made In: Made In makes one sauté pan in a 3.5-quart size. The fully-clad pan boasts a five-layer construction and a brushed stainless design. It’s induction-compatible and oven-safe up to 800°F.
- Anolon: Most Anolon sauté pans are round with a PTFE-based (Polytetrafluoroethylene) non-stick surface. They come in 3-, 4-, 5-, and 5.5-quart sizes.
- All-Clad: Sauté pans by All-Clad span six collections, ranging from two to six quarts. Most are fully-clad stainless steel, but they also have graphite, copper-stainless, and PTFE-based non-stick sauté pans.
Sauté pan dimensions also vary by brand. Some brands make their sauté pan with taller sides and smaller cooking surfaces (measured by the pan’s diameter), while others have shorter sides and larger cooking surfaces.
The cooking surface (or diameter) of most 3-quart sauté pans is approximately 11 inches. The diameter of most 2-quart sauté pans is around 8 inches. Larger options, like 5- or 6-quart pans, have 12- to 14-inch diameters.
Most people don’t realize that even one or two inches in diameter can make a significant difference in a pan’s cooking surface. For example, a sauté pan with an 11-inch diameter can easily fit four pieces of bread, while a pan with a 10-inch diameter can only fit three.
The chart below shows the dimensions of All-Clad’s sauté pan across various sizes and collections:
|Sauté Pan||Diameter||Height (sidewalls)|
|All-Clad D3 (2-quart)||8 inches||4.25 inches|
|All-Clad G5 Graphite Core (3-quart)||11.3 inches||5.1 inches|
|All-Clad Copper Core (3-quart)||11.4 inches||5.5 inches|
|All-Clad D5 (4-quart)||11.5 inches||5 inches|
|All-Clad HA1 (4-quart)||12 inches||6 inches|
|All-Clad D3 (5-quart)||13 inches||4.25 inches|
|All-Clad D5 (6-quart)||13.5 inches||5.5 inches|
The following comparison chart shows how many people you can feed and what kinds of meals you can make with each sauté pan size.
|Sauté Pan Size||Serves||Ideal for|
|2-quart||1 person||Simple syrup, small batches of vegetables, rice, eggs, one chicken breast|
|3-quart||1–3 people||Poached fish, steamed vegetables, two chicken breasts|
|4-quart||2–4 people||Four filet mignon steaks, sauces, four chicken thighs|
|5-quart||4–5 people||Two large pork chops, 20 meatballs, sautéed leafy vegetables like kale|
|6-quart||5–6 people||Family meals, braised meats, stews, soups, stocks, baked pasta|
Most Important Factors to Consider
How do you plan to use the pan? How many people are you cooking for, and how many servings do you need to make? How heavy is the pan you’re considering?
To pick the right Sauté pan for you, you need to know how the size will impact certain factors. Here are the most important factors to consider.
It makes sense to get a smaller pan if you’re cooking for yourself. However, if you’re into meal prep and want to cook several meals at once, a larger sauté pan will serve you better. In this scenario, household size is important, but your style of cooking matters, too.
In general, you can base this on serving sizes. So even though you are one person, if you want to cook six portions and freeze five, your serving size is six. So, choose the size that allows you to cook in as few batches as possible without overcrowding the pan.
An overcrowded sauté pan is not efficient. The pan will have trouble maintaining its temperature, and food won’t cook evenly.
Sauté pans are perfect for shallow frying, reducing sauces, and braising because the steep sides prevent spatter as the hot liquids bubble.
Think about what you cook most of the time.
Searing foods requires enough room around each piece of meat or vegetable. If you need to sear two small chicken breasts, a 3-quart sauté pan would suffice. Need to cook five or more chicken breasts or salmon filets? Go for a 6- or 7-quart pan.
Unlike frying pans, which have shallow, sloped pan walls, sauté pans have straight sides. As a result, the diameter of a sauté pan is almost identical to the pan’s interior cooking surface.
So, if a sauté pan has a 12-inch diameter, you get roughly the same amount of cooking surface area. Not so with frying pans. In general, a standard frying pan’s cooking surface is about two inches smaller in diameter than its advertised size.
How much time do you have for cooking? If you’re frequently on the go and need quick cooking options, you’ll need to consider how your cookware handles heat conduction.
The larger the pan, the longer it takes to heat up. Therefore a 3-quart pan heats more quickly than a 7-quart pan.
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Additionally, pan construction plays a role in heat conduction.
A fully-clad pan has bonded, alternating layers of heat conductive material. It may feature an aluminum or copper core sandwiched by stainless steel. Fully-clad construction offers even heating, but a 3-ply pan will heat faster than a 5-ply pan (assuming the 5-ply pan is thicker).
Then, there are some pans with an impact-bonded base. These feature multiple layers of metal on the bottom of the pan. With this construction type, the bottom heats fast, but the sides heat slower and unevenly.
If you are looking for superfast heating, look for fully-clad pans with a copper exterior or core. Copper has high thermal conductivity, so it heats up super fast.
You’ll mostly find sauté pans in the following materials:
- Stainless steel with an aluminum or copper core
- PTFE-based non-stick with aluminum or hard-anodized aluminum exterior
- Cast iron or enameled cast iron
Of all materials, PTFE-based non-stick has the most heat limitations. In general, you can’t exceed 500°F. So, if you plan to use your sauté pan under a broiler or prefer high-heat cooking such as stir-frying, stick with broiler-safe stainless steel or cast iron.
To better understand the limitations of non-stick, check out my article that discusses Teflon and ceramic cookware.
Once fully heated, large sauté pans retain heat longer than smaller pans. Thicker fully-clad cookware made from materials like copper, aluminum, or graphite, holds heat even longer than single-ply or impact-bonded base cookware.
Larger sauté pans are heavier than smaller ones. It’s essential to check the weight before you buy. You don’t want to buy a pan that you can’t easily maneuver.
Weight varies by size, but the pan’s construction and material play a role, too.
For example, a 5-ply sauté pan is heavier than a single-ply pan or one with an impact-bonded base. Also, cast iron pans are thicker and heavier than aluminum non-stick pans.
When considering the size and weight of a sauté pan, add a couple of pounds to account for the food and liquids. Many recipes call for searing on the stove followed by roasting in the oven, so make sure you can handle that transfer.
The following chart displays the weight of popular All-Clad sauté pans across all sizes:
Induction cooktops and glass ranges have circles to indicate the heated area. Pans larger than the circles will take longer to heat.
Gas ranges allow you to use a variety of pan sizes since you can adjust flame intensity.
If you plan to use several pots at one time and have a slim profile stovetop, choosing smaller pans is ideal.
When you’re finished cooking, you’ll need a place to store your sauté pans. Using overhead racks frees up cabinet space. Opting for stackable cookware can also help save space.
Consider the height and depth of your storage space before purchasing. Remember to include the length of the handles when you measure.
Look for storage accessories from your preferred cookware brand. Some include storage as part of a set. For example, a complete Caraway Cookware set comes with a magnetic rack and canvas lid holder.
If you compare the same brand and collection, a larger sauté pan costs more.
That said, prices vary by brand. So, a larger sauté pan from one brand could be cheaper than a smaller one from another. For example, a 3-quart All-Clad D3 sauté pan costs more than a 3-quart Anolon sauté pan.
Prices also vary across collections within the same brand. For example, the 3-quart sauté pan in All-Clad’s D3 collection cost much less than the 3-quart sauté pan in All-Clad’s Copper Core collection.
The chart below shows current prices for popular sauté pans across various sizes:
|Sauté Pan||Price||View Details|
|KitchenAid 3-Quart Sauté Pan||Amazon|
|Calphalon Classic 3-Quart Sauté Pan||Amazon|
|Tramontina 3-Quart Sauté Pan||Amazon|
|All-Clad D3 3-Quart Sauté Pan||Amazon|
|Calphalon Classic 5-Quart Sauté Pan||Amazon|
|GreenPan Rio 5-Quart Sauté Pan||Amazon|
|All-Clad Copper Core 5-Quart Sauté Pan||Amazon|
|Anolon Advanced 5-Quart Sauté Pan||Amazon|
|Cuisinart Professional 6-Quart Sauté Pan||Amazon|
|Tramontina 6-Quart Sauté Pan||Amazon|
|All-Clad D3 6-Quart Sauté Pan||Amazon|
|All-Clad Copper Core 6-Quart Sauté Pan||Amazon|
Now that you know how different sauté pan sizes compare, it’s time to decide which is best for you.
Before I provide my recommendation, let’s recap the main points:
- Sauté pans provide versatile cooking, come with lids, and are especially suited for recipes that require a high liquid content, such as braising meat or making stock.
- While there are multiple sizes to choose from, your household size, dishes you cook, and how much weight you’re comfortable handling will dictate your choice.
- Keep in mind the size of your stovetop and storage space. You’ll want a sauté pan that fits both.
- Consider pan construction and materials, as they impact heat conduction and retention. For even, long-lasting heat, go for fully-clad cookware.
- Before buying a sauté pan, check its weight. You’ll want a pan that is easy to move.
- Have a budget in mind before you make your choice. Sauté pans come in all price ranges, based on the brand, collection, construction, and materials. In general, larger sauté pans are more costly.
Bottom line — the right sauté pan size depends on several factors, but 3- to 6-quart sauté pans are the most common.
The key to finding the right sauté pan size is zeroing in on what matters most to you.
For most home cooks, I recommend at least a 3-quart sauté pan. Anything smaller than that is too limiting. A 3-quart sauté pan is big enough to cook for three adults but not so big that it clutters your cabinet or is too heavy to maneuver.
Choose a 4- or 5-quart sauté pan if you have the space and budget. Both have enough space to avoid overcrowding food, ensuring even cooking. Plus, they’re ideal for large one-pot meals to feed a family.
Still not sure which size to buy? Here’s an exercise you can do at home:
Roll out a tape measure to 11 inches, which is the cooking surface diameter of most 3-quart sauté pans. Visualize what you plan to cook. Do you have enough space? If not, stretch it to 11.5 inches, the typical size of a 4-quart pan. And for reference, 13 inches equates to 5 quarts, and 13.5 inches represents the average 6-quart pan.
Keep going until you reach a diameter and capacity that feels right.
Now that you know which size to buy, it’s time to pick the brand and collection. If you need help deciding, this guide to the best cookware brands will help.
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