At first glance, a saucepan and a pot might seem like the same thing.
And yes, they do have some features in common.
However, if we go to practical terms, they have completely different functions.
Now, let’s be honest. It is true that unless you’re a professional chef (or a cookware geek like me), you probably won’t need all the kitchen gear you’ll see on the market.
And if you don’t spend much time in the kitchen, you might not even know what some stuff is used for.
Nevertheless, if you’re planning on buying new, practical tools, you have to know what you’re buying and why.
And that’s why we’re here.
In this post, we’re going to talk about the main differences between a saucepan and a pot: shapes, sizes, and most importantly, uses (and recipes) for each one.
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What is a saucepan?
If you’re not very familiar with kitchen gadgets, you can think of a saucepan as a combination between a frypan and a pot. And that is, in fact, a simple but accurate way of defining it.
But let’s try to give a proper definition:
As its name implies, a saucepan is a type of pan popularly used for cooking and reducing sauces. It has a circular shape with high straight sides and a long handle. In most cases, it comes with a lid as well.
Another typical characteristic is that it has a small cooking surface in relation to its height, which is why many people think of it as a tiny pot. But it’s more than that.
Saucepans are usually made of stainless steel, but you can find some models made of other materials such as aluminum or even cast iron.
They are available in a wide variety of sizes, although the average saucepan can hold about 1 or 2 quarts of liquid. For their part, the larger ones have a capacity of 4 quarts or so.
Due to their high sides and long helves, saucepans are extremely useful for cooking and pouring any liquids. They are great for preparing (and reducing) all kinds of sauces and many other dishes that are mainly liquid.
Besides that, saucepans are the perfect vessels to make any hot beverage you want. You can boil water for making tea or pour-over coffee, or even prepare delicious hot cocoa for yourself.
Oh, and if all of that wasn’t enough, large saucepans are also suitable for braising and deep-frying. What else could you ask for?
Saucepan vs. pot – Main differences
As you see, a saucepan is a super versatile piece of cookware that you should have in your kitchen. It’s almost like an all-in-one pan.
But, how is it different from a pot?
The most obvious difference is that a saucepan has one long helve while pots have two looped handles, one on each side. In addition to that, pots are usually larger than saucepans and have deeper sides too. Therefore, they are more suitable for preparing soups, stews, and stocks.
However, being honest, a saucepan is just a type of pot. After all, it is a round container used for cooking, mainly for liquids.
We like to separate saucepans from pots because they have notable differences in both their shape and uses.
Saucepans are excellent for heating liquids. As they are small, they heat faster than regular pots, and their straight sides do a great job at warming everything evenly and maintaining the temperature inside.
Thanks to its physical shape, a saucepan can be used as a pot. You can prepare soups, sauces, beverages, pasta, rice, beans, and pretty much everything you would do in a pot, but on a much smaller scale.
Nevertheless, a pot can’t be used as a saucepan because it’s not that useful for heating things quickly and evenly. Instead, pots are perfect for soups, stews, chili, and slow-cooking dishes in general. Especially if you’re cooking for many people.
Also, the long handle on saucepans makes them very easy to manipulate for pouring liquids, which is definitely not the case with regular pots.
Now, as I said before, a saucepan is just one type of pot. But there are many others that you should know about.
Different types of pots
Pot is a broad term that encompasses a lot of kitchen utensils with specific functions.
Of course, you could use a pot in many different ways, and that versatility is one of the main factors to consider when buying new cookware. But, depending on the shape, size, and purpose, some types of pots will come in handier to you than others.
That is the reason why you should be aware of the wide variety of pots that you can find on the market. That way, you make sure to invest in practical cookware that fits all your needs.
Let’s talk about some different types of pots:
This one is the classic big, tall pot that is mainly used for making stocks, soups, and stews. They are the perfect choice to prepare slow-cooking dishes.
This one is similar to a saucepan, but it has two looped handles like a regular pot.
A Dutch oven is a large, thick pot that is usually made of cast iron, although you can find some models of ceramic. It also comes with a lid, and it’s one of the most versatile kitchen utensils you will see.
Most cast-iron Dutch ovens are coated with enamel for better non-stick performance. These enameled models can also be called French ovens.
What makes Dutch ovens so special is that they are a multi-purpose pot that you can use with any heat source, even in the oven. They’re suitable for making soups and stews, as well as baking, frying, braising, slow-cooking, and more. Just take a look at this video from Le Creuset— but hey, I will not be responsible for any cravings you may have after this!
This type of pot is primarily designed for cooking pasta effortlessly without using a separate colander. Pasta pots are equipped with a strainer insert that you only have to lift to drain the cooked pasta.
Other models have a perforated lid instead of the strainer, but they serve the same purpose.
These pots are made for cooking with the steam produced by hot water in a closed vessel. They come with a lid and a metal piece with holes (similar to a colander), which is placed above the water level. That way, the food gets done without touching the water at any time; it is all steam.
A double boiler is just two pots used for cooking with indirect heat. It consists of a bottom pot that you need to fill with water and a slightly smaller pot that fits inside.
The most common uses for a double boiler include melting chocolate for desserts and maintaining gravy warm.
This type of pot uses high steam pressure for cooking. It is a lot faster than regular pots, but it must be used with care to avoid accidents.
A pressure cooker is a sealed vessel that traps all the steam produced while the food is heating inside. People usually use it for beans or to tenderize meats, but you can cook almost anything you want with it.
Saucepan vs. frying pan
Besides pots, a lot of people tend to confuse saucepans with frying pans. But they are utterly different, and you’ll see why.
First of all, remember that although saucepans share some features with frying pans and pots, each of these utensils has different functions. Therefore, you must learn how to recognize which one is best suited for a specific purpose.
Let’s refresh some typical characteristics of saucepans:
- They have a long handle and high straight sides. Because of that, the diameter of the pan is often the same as the cooking surface. They look like a tiny pot with a helve.
- In most cases, they come with a lid.
- Saucepans are designed for liquids. They are suitable for simmering water, preparing sauces, hot beverages, and any other dish that is mainly liquid.
- They have a small cooking surface considering their height.
- Most saucepans are made of stainless steel or aluminum.
On the other hand, here are the main characteristics of frying pans:
- Although they also have a long handle, frying pans have short slanted sides. For that reason, the complete diameter of the pan will always be larger than the cooking surface.
- They are noticeably much shallower than saucepans, and they generally don’t include lids.
- Due to their sloped sides, frying pans are designed to slide a spatula with ease. Additionally, they are suitable for shallow frying and searing as liquids tend to evaporate faster.
- They have a wide cooking surface in relation to their height.
- Frying pans can be found in many different materials such as cast iron, aluminum, stainless steel, and copper.
Once you start recognizing all these features, you’ll notice that saucepans are entirely different from frying pans. They look different, plus they serve distinct purposes too.
All of this leads us to the next point:
What recipes are best for each (with examples)
Now that we all know that every pot and pan is designed for a specific purpose, it’s time to talk about what kind of dishes you can make in each one.
Best recipes using saucepans
Given their physical characteristics and versatility, saucepans are suitable for many different dishes that require liquids.
As we already mentioned, saucepans are also great for preparing hot beverages and small amounts of rice, grains, and pasta.
Furthermore, they also do a great job at deep-frying. If you want to get creative, here’s my super easy (and delicious) recipe for Puerto Rican Sorullitos de Maíz. It’s a quick and versatile meal that you can prepare in a single saucepan!
Bonus: if you own an oven-safe saucepan and have a sweet tooth, you can try this vanilla cake from Ricardo Cuisine.
Best recipes using pots
Pots are the perfect gear to prepare stocks, soups, stews, chili, pasta, sauces, and much more. They are like a big saucepan.
Of course, as you might know by now, there are many different types of pots, so I’ll mention some versatile recipes:
If you like soups, I recommend you this delicious Shrimp Corn and Bacon Chowder that you can prepare with your favorite stockpot or Dutch oven.
For more soup ideas, here’s a list of 17 fresh soup ideas to make for spring.
Best recipes using frying pans
Last but not least, here are some great ideas to prepare using frying pans or skillets.
As you know, frying pans are best suited for shallow-frying, and they’re super versatile. With them, you can make eggs, bacon, stir-fried vegetables, caramelized onions, pancakes, or even Venezuelan cachapas. They’re great for searing meats as well.
Depending on the material, you can even cook in the oven with them. For example, if you own a big oven-safe or cast-iron skillet, you can try this Cheesy Frittata with Spring Greens and Shallots.
Some people like to compare saucepans, pots, and frying pans attempting to define which one is better.
I think none of them is better than the rest. All of them have different purposes, and choosing the best one for you will always depend on your needs and the kind of dishes you like to prepare.
If you like to make soups and stews, buy a nice stockpot. And if you have the budget, a Dutch oven is one of the best purchases you can make for yourself because of its durability and versatility.
However, if you don’t need any large pots because you’re only cooking for yourself, then go for a mid-size saucepan.
Every kitchen (and every cook) is different. Therefore, you are the only person who knows what is missing in your cabinets.
Remember: the perfect cookware has to be practical, so you need to invest in kitchen gear that fits your needs!
Owner and Food blogger on The Cookware Geek. She loves cooking, baking, traveling, playing with the cats, and knitting. She believes that eating delicious meals doesn’t require a culinary degree or a Michelin-star chef in your kitchen.