saucepan and pot comparison

Whether you're just building your kitchen or looking to add a few new items, you might find yourself pondering the difference between a pot and a saucepan. Why do we call these similar items by two different names, and what's the form and function of each? Read on to find out.

Saucepan vs Pot: What's the Difference? 

In general, pots are designed to heat liquids, often to a boil. They're outfitted with high sides and wide bottoms that allow for even heat distribution. Saucepans, on the other hand, can be used for a variety of purposes, although their steep sides make them a good fit for liquids as well.

An easy way to distinguish between a saucepan and a pot is to look at the handles. A saucepan will usually have one long handle, whereas pots are equipped with a pair of looped handles, one on each side. Pots also tend to be larger than saucepans.

What Is a Saucepan? 

Along with the single handle, saucepans are distinguished by their high, straight sides. They typically come with a lid as well. Saucepans are smaller than stock pots and Dutch ovens, with surface areas that tend to be fairly small in relation to their height.

saucepan placed on gas stove

This is a tool that's designed for stove top use, although some may be oven-safe depending on the materials. The average size of a saucepan is two to three quarts, but there are smaller and larger ones available.

Unlike saute pans, which have short sides and sloped edges, saucepans are geared toward heating sauces and liquids. For this reason, it's possible to use a saucepan as you would a pot, though usually on a smaller scale. However, the reverse isn't true, as a pot can't be substituted for a saucepan in most cases.

What Are the Different Kinds of Pots? 

The word "pot" is considered an umbrella term, meaning that it covers a variety of different pieces that share one or two basic qualities. As described, pots have high walls and two handles, but they can be designed for various purposes. Here are the most prevalent examples:

making penne in pot
  • Stock pot—A huge, deep pot designed to hold large quantities of liquid. Ideal for making homemade stocks, soups, stews, and chili.
  • Sauce pot—Similar to a saucepan, but with looped handles on either side.
  • Dutch oven—Capable of being transferred from the stove top to the oven, making it perfect for casseroles and braised dishes. When coated with enamel, the Dutch oven is also known as a French oven.
  • Pasta pot—Usually equipped with a strainer insert or perforated lid, so you can strain out the cooked pasta without using a separate colander.
  • Steamer pot—Similar to pasta pots, these come with metal screens that sit just above the base of the pot to keep the ingredients out of the boiling water. The configuration is perfect for steaming carrots and other hearty vegetables.
  • Double boiler—Outfitted with a second pot or bowl as an insert, double boilers are designed for cooking techniques that call for indirect steam heat, like melting chocolate for candy or desserts.
  • Casserole pot—Like a Dutch oven, but with shallower sides.

Saucepan vs Pot: Materials 

Pots and saucepans are usually made of either stainless steel or aluminum. Aluminum is lightweight, affordable, and an efficient heat conductor. 

Stainless steel is more expensive and doesn't retain heat quite as well on its own, which is why most manufacturers will sandwich an aluminum or copper core between the layers. Because steel won't interfere with the flavors of the food, it's the more popular choice.

Both can also be made from other materials, such as copper or cast iron. These materials carry higher price tags and require more maintenance than aluminum or steel. Cast iron is also quite heavy, but it's suitable for Dutch ovens and casserole pots.

Saucepan vs Pot: Cooking Methods 

Saucepan 

What is a saucepan used for? Basically, it's ideal for heating any sauce or other ingredient that's mainly liquid in form. It's also the perfect vehicle for making rice or couscous, but only if the pan includes a tight-fitting lid.

making tomato penne in saucepan

While 2 and 3 quart saucepans aren't the best tools for making soups, they do an excellent job of reheating them. Ditto for stew, chili, or pasta sauce. If you're making just a serving or two of mashed potatoes, the saucepan will be able to boil those spuds in no time.

If you don't have a teakettle, saucepans are the go-to choice for heating milk or water to make hot beverages. You can either pour the boiling liquid from the saucepan into the mug, or whisk the ingredients right into the pan, depending on what type of beverage you prefer.

Some oven-safe saucepans can be used for braising, similar to a Dutch oven. Just make sure that the pan doesn't have a nonstick coating or other component that would be damaged by the heat of the oven.

Pot 

Because of their size (see Capacity, below) and steep sides, pots play a relatively limited role in the kitchen. First and foremost, they're designed to boil large quantities of liquid. That's the primary function of stock pots, sauce pots, steamer pots, and pasta steamers.

pot to use on stove

However, casserole pots and Dutch ovens are a bit more versatile than that. Because they can be transferred easily from the stove top to the oven and back again, they're the go-to choice for braised dishes. They can even be used for deep-frying or baking bread.

It should also be noted that a good stock pot is an invaluable tool, in spite of its limitations. That's because homemade stock can elevate an ordinary soup or sauce into something truly special. Try experimenting with different meat and vegetable stocks—lemongrass stock, for example, lends a nice subtlety to curries and stir-fries. Make large batches and freeze any leftovers in ice cube trays, so you can use smaller quantities as needed.

Saucepan vs Pot: Capacity 

Saucepan

As we mentioned, the typical size for a saucepan is two to three quarts. That's large enough to reheat a few servings of soup, or to whip up a batch of homemade pudding. Once a saucepan edges into four-quart territory, it usually falls under the sauce pot designation instead.

making soup in saucepot

Pot

Stock pots can be as small as three quarts, but they're typically bigger than that. 10- and 12-quart stockpots are the norm for home kitchen use. Commercial kitchens use much larger ones—as big as 200 quarts in some cases. These require the use of at least four oven burners at once.

Related Questions 

What is the difference between a saucepan and a frying pan?

Frying pans are much shallower than saucepans, with sides that slope gently outward. They also have a broader surface area, so more ingredients are exposed to the heat. The handle of a frying pan will usually be longer than a saucepan handle, both to protect users from the heat and to provide better balance.

Because liquid will evaporate from a frying pan surface more quickly, it's not the best choice for heating sauces and soups. That's why a well-stocked kitchen should keep both vessels on hand.

What is a medium saucepan? 

As a rule of thumb, a 2-quart saucepan is thought to be medium-sized, while a 3-4 quart model would be considered large. According to experts, this is the best size for heating pasta sauces and reducing gravies so that they thicken properly.

What is the difference between a saucier and saucepan? 

You can tell a saucier from a saucepan at first glance, provided you know what to look for. While a saucepan has high, straight edges, the sides of a saucier are rounded, more like a bowl. That's because a saucier is designed specifically for making creamy concoctions, such as risotto and custard. The curved shape makes it easier to whisk the liquid away from the edges, so no leftover bits can burn and ruin the dish.

What size saucepan should I get? 

Which size saucepan you get depends on what you intend to use it for, as well as the size of your family. Single cooks and couples, for example, will probably be satisfied with a 2-quart model, especially if it's only used to reheat soup or pasta sauce.

On the other hand, larger families will need a bigger pot if they're going to heat enough to feed everyone. Similarly, if you want to use the saucepan to make small batches of soup or mashed potatoes, a 3- or 4-quart unit would be best.

The bottom line? We would recommend investing in one of each, just to keep your options open.

Tammy Kennedy
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