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What Is a French Skillet?

By Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Updated May 16, 2024
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A french skillet is a pan for cooking that is essentially a combination of frying and sauté pans in shape. The sides of the skillet are flared outward, meaning they slope toward the bottom of the pan instead of going straight up. The slope of the skillet is steeper than that of a frying pan, allowing the pan to have increased depth. The different shape changes what a chef can do with the pan and provides both disadvantages and advantages.

The increase in depth available with a french skillet means that a chef can prepare foods with less worry about spilling the contents while stirring. The slope of the sides also makes it easier to flip foods. As the chef works, he can guide the food up the side of the pan somewhat.

In terms of size, there is little difference in diameter between a french skillet and other pans. The smallest one is about 7.5 inches (19.05 cm), and the largest is roughly 14 inches (35.56 cm). Many chefs have various sizes of skillets to accommodate different foods and portion numbers. As with other cooking pans, when people buy just one french skillet, they often buy a larger size to have more cooking options. The added depth of these kinds of skillets sometimes makes them a little inconvenient to store.

French skillets usually are made from stainless steel, making them different from other pans that use iron. For one, the stainless steel is resistant to corrosion, which means the skillet lasts longer and poses less danger of metal leeching into the food. The stainless steel means the pan can be thinner and lighter, as well. Heat transfers well, and it doesn't take quite as long to reach the proper cooking temperature needed.

The way french skillets work with and distribute heat makes them ideal for searing. They thus are an ideal choice for cooking meats, including fish. On the other hand, it is easier to burn food in this type of skillet. Foods that require very low heat, such as delicate sauces, aren't good options for these pans.

One feature that usually is absent on a french skillet is a triangular protrusion or lip in at least one place at the top of the side. These lips are desirable because they allow easy draining or pouring of fluids from the pan. The inability to drain or pour fluids doesn't mean a chef can't use the french skillet, but it sometimes creates some difficulty in meal preparation.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1005751 — On Nov 11, 2021

No one ever mentions that a key difference between french skillets and both saute' pans and regular skillets/fry pans is that (most) french skillets allow liquid to pool around the perimeter of the pan. While that may be frustrating when trying to reduce or emulsify a sauce, it is helpful if you want to baste a cut of meat you are cooking; it's easier and quicker to spoon up pan juices to drizzle over the meat.

By anon991565 — On Jun 30, 2015

The French skillet is the best kept secret of the cooking world as it gives you most the advantages of a fry and sauté pan without all of the negatives.

Pros over fry pan: wider base due to the steeper sides, fry pans with their shallow sloped sides have a significantly smaller cooking surface. For example: The 11" All-Clad French skillet has a comparable base to the 12" All-Clad fry pan. Consequently the French skillet is more likely to give you more room on your stove top for other pots/pans.

Cons over fry pan: More difficult to pour liquid due to the lack of a rolled/flared lip. (Opinion: I'm convinced that All-Clad purposely omits the flared lip on their French skillet so it won't cannibalize sales of fry and sauté pans.)

Note: Some 'fry pans' look more like French skillets because they were designed with steeper sides versus a normal fry pan, so don't knock it until you see it.

Pros over sauté pan: Significantly easier to toss food due to the sloped sides.

Cons over sauté pan: Sloped sides are generally not as tall as that of a comparable sauté pan so you have less volume.

By burcinc — On Jan 10, 2015

@fify-- Absolutely and in fact, I highly recommend getting one with a lid because there may be times where you want to simmer and you will need the lid.

I'm not an expert in cooking and there maybe more knowledgeable people who will disagree with me. But, the French skillet is a very multi-purpose skillet that you can use for different things. I've used it for frying, searing, simmering and sauteing. I guess, ideally, one would have different pans and skillets for these things but I only have two skillets so I use my French skillet for lots of different things.

You do need to be careful about food sticking or the pan getting hot very fast. But even if food sticks, a little bit of soaking is enough to clean up.

By fify — On Jan 09, 2015

Do French skillets come with a lid usually? And is it a good idea to fry foods in this type of skillet?

By stoneMason — On Jan 09, 2015

I mostly use my French for searing meats. Sometimes I also add veggies and other ingredients. But like the article said, this skillet isn't best for foods that cook very quickly. It can get very hot, so it's best for quick searing or roasting. Foods that are cooked too long tend to over-cook and also stick to the bottom of the pan.

Why I like my French skillet is that I also like adding sauces to my meats and this type of skillet is best for this. It can handle some liquid without problems.

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