When it’s time to throw a pan on the stove and cook up a dish, the choice of equipment can change the game. Here we are talking about the saute pan versus the wok. They may seem like similar tools with similar uses, but there are actually some very important differences to be aware of.  

Read on to explore the pros and cons of the saute pan and the wok. Is there a true winner or does it all depend? Let’s find out.

Saute pan pros and cons

You can identify a saute pan by its shape and size. It will have straight, high sides and will be larger than your usual frying pan or skillet which generally has shorter, slanted sides. It will usually have a lid and a handle. But what is the saute pan good for and what are its downfalls? 

Pros:

Size: saute pans are generally smaller than woks, therefore they take up less room on the stove. You can have other pots and pans on the go at the same time if you wish. However, they’re large enough for cooking a decent amount of food without overcrowding.

Easier to store: saute pans are shallower than woks, so they’re easier to find a storage place in a cupboard or drawer. If you’ve got really limited kitchen real estate, a saute pan is going to be easier to manage.

Versatile: saute pans are great for a wide range of uses. They’re awesome for frying meats and foods which can be left to cook in a still state, as opposed to tossing and mixing.

You simply lay out a couple of steaks, fish fillets or chicken breasts and leave them to cook before turning. This is due to the flat, level bottom and wide surface area.

You can simmer sauces, curries and risottos too. You can make stir-fries, but it’s harder to get the right balance of heat and movement to ensure non-soggy veggies.

Cons:

Can overspill: saute pans do limit the amount of food you can cook. With a wok, you can add more food without spilling. However, a saute pan can tend to overflow if you add too much food and try to stir it or turn it.

Harder to toss: getting food moving and circulating around a saute pan is a little difficult. The pan will likely be pretty heavy, and the straight sides make tossing very hard. As mentioned before, giving the food a good stir can prove messy if the pan is too full.

All one level: the flat bottom of a saute pan is great for evenly cooking food which has the same cooking requirements. However, it can be a little less handy if you have a few different elements to a dish which require different temperatures.

You can’t really push food aside and leave it at a cooler temperature while you sear food on a hotter surface. This is what’s great about a wok, the temperature cools from the base to the sides.

Saute pans are great for:

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Steaks
R
Chicken breast and thigh
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Reducing sauces
R
Risottos
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Curries (with smaller portions)

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Wok pros and cons

Woks are amazing pieces of cookware. They are characterised by wide, outward sloping sides and a tapered shape so that the bottom of the pan has a small surface area. They’re mostly known for their use in Asian cuisine. Most of the best woks are made from carbon steel but there are also non-stick and cast iron options.

Pros: 

Keeps food moving: the slanted, high sides of the wok means you can get your food moving far more easily than with a saute pan. You can give the wok a “dipping” motion and pull it back to get a good “flip”. You can hold the wok by the handle and tilt it as you stir, and you can also toss food with a utensil without spillage. This is great for food which needs to be cooked quickly on a high heat.

Less spillage: as touched on previously, woks are better if you really want to avoid spillage. You can vigorously stir and toss the ingredients without overflowing and spilling food everywhere. This is due to the deeper capacity and the wider sides.

Withstands high heat: woks are made for, hot, hot heat. This is great for flash-cooking foods such as meats and veggies which need a short blast of high heat. This is great for stir fries, rice dishes and noodles which need to be cooked quickly, on a high heat, while kept moving. This helps for achieving crunchier veggies and deliciously charred meats.

Offers different cooking rates: the shape of the wok ensures that the hottest part is the base of the wok, with the temperatures cooling up the sides. This means you can cook foods at different temperatures and times.

For example, you can add meat first and cook it on the hottest part of the wok, the bottom. Then you can add veggies such as sugar snap peas which only need a short hit of heat. They can stay at the sides of the wok to heat through, then you can toss everything together to easily amalgamate before serving.

Allows oil to drain away: because the wok tapers in toward the center, you can drag your food up the side of the wok and let the oil run into the center. You can’t do this with a saute pan as the surface is even and flat.

Cons:

Harder to store: woks take up a fair amount of room, so they can be harder to find a home for. If you’ve got a little kitchen with limited storage space, you might find it a mission to keep your wok kept away tidily.

Woks are great for:

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Stir fries
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Small pieces of veggies
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Small pieces of meat
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Dishes which have liquid added halfway through or at the end

Conclusion

The saute pan vs wok argument doesn’t have a definitive answer or correct “side”. It does depend on a few factors such as how much storage room you have and what you’re going to be cooking most regularly.

If you often cook stir-fries, noodle dishes and meals which require a quick blast of very high heat then I’d definitely consider getting a wok. If you mostly cook steaks, larger pieces of poultry, risottos or sauces then a saute pan is preferable.