If you think cookware names can be frustrating, you're not alone. A sauce pan is one of the hardest terms to nail down because it doesn't seem to fit cookware naming conventions. Thousands of people search for "sauce pan vs. pot" every month, and different sites give different definitions, making the issue even more confusing.
We'll look at what "sauce pan vs. pot" is actually asking (there are a few possibilities), share some basic definitions that should help clarify things, then pull it all together to come up with a helpful answer. (Hint: You're probably using the "right" terms.)
What Is "Sauce Pan Vs. Pot" Really Asking?
"Sauce pan vs. pot" might sound confusing--what are people really asking here?--but it has thousands of monthly searches, so we're going to try to answer the question.
Since "sauce pan vs. pot" could have a few different meanings, and we're going to look at all of them:
We'll look at each question, so whatever you want to know, we hope you can find the answer here. (And if you can't, please let us know so we can answer your question!)
Let's start with basic definitions so we're all on the same page.
What Is a Sauce Pan?
According to dictionary.com, a saucepan is "a metal container of moderate depth, usually having a long handle and sometimes a cover, for stewing, boiling, etc."
According to Collins Dictionary, a sauce pan is "a deep metal cooking pot, usually with a long handle and a lid."
According to Masterclass.com, "a saucepan is a piece of cookware that functions as a small, deep pot for cooking liquids on a stovetop. It is deeper than a standard sauté pan or frying pan, but shallower than a stockpot. A saucepan has a flat bottom and steep sides with straight edges like a pot, and a long handle like a pan."
According to Misen, "A saucepan has a distinct shape: It's deep with high sides and straight edges, and usually features a long handle and, quite often, a lid. Its surface area is generally small relative to its height, allowing heat to be evenly distributed through the liquid in the pan."
Here's our definition of a saucepan: A deep pot used primarily for cooking liquids, sized from 0.5-4 quarts, with a long handle and a lid.
So you can see that definitions for sauce pan vary quite a bit. In fact, sites even spell it differently, with some sites spelling it as one word ("saucepan") and other sites spelling it as two word ("sauce pan"). Both spellings are correct and mean the same thing (just like "cannot" and "can not") .
Note that most of the definitions (including ours) use qualifying words like generally, usually, and primarily. This is because you can use cookware many different ways and have many different names, and there is very little absolute right and wrong (even if you don't use a pan for what it was designed for).
This should put you at ease if you've been worrying that you're using cookware terminology the "wrong" way--you probably aren't.
A sauce pan is a kitchen essential, used for boiling pasta, making rice, soups and stews, cooking oatmeal, heating canned foods, making sauces, steaming, and much more. Most cooks need a few sauce pans in different sizes: a 1-2 quart sauce pan for small jobs, and a 3-4 quart sauce pan for large jobs.
Pots and Pans: Definitions
Here are some definitions for pots and pans, so you can see how many different definitions there are:
According to webstaurantstore.com, "a pot has tall sides and two loop handles, while a pan is shallow with one long handle. Pots are used for simmering or boiling liquids that completely cover ingredients to cook from all sides. Pans are used for cooking methods that apply high heat to produce browning, like reducing, sautéing, searing, or frying."
According to Wonderopolis, "pots tend to be deeper with high sides that go straight up from a circular base. Pans, on the other hand, are usually shallow with sides that extend only an inch or two from the base. The sides of a pan may go straight up like a pot, or they may curve up at a gentle angle...Pots and pans usually have different types of handles, too. Pots usually have two small handles located on opposite sides of the pot. Pans, on the other hand, tend to have just one long handle.
According to recipetips.com, "pots generally refer to high, straight sided cookware that will often contain larger quantities of items. Pans may refer to frying pans, cake pans or many other different types of kitchen cookware that have lower depth sides and a variety of shapes and sizes. Pots or pans are available in many different materials and sizes for special uses in the kitchen."
All of these definitions are good. We like Webstaurantstore.com's definition because it includes uses--except a sauce pan isn't used for browning food. We like the Wonderopolis definition because it's basic but has all the right information--except that some pots are oval, not circular. And, we like recipetips.com's definition because it allows for many different materials and sizes--both of which are important considerations when buying cookware--but it doesn't include uses, which often determines what you call a piece of cookware.
Our definition of pots and pans includes all of these aspects: depth, handles, size, lids, and usage (and it still doesn't nail everything down)...
A pan is shallow and a pot is deep. Depth can vary on each, but a pan is always shallower than a pot (unless it has "deep" in the name, like "deep sauté pan.")
Depth is typically (but not always) the main differentiator between a pot and a pan.
A pan has one long handle (and sometimes a helper handle, if it's large), and a pot has two short handles.
Along with depth, the handle is often the main differentiator between pots and pans.
Size varies greatly among both pots and pans. They can range from tiny, as in a 0.5 quart butter warmer (sauce pan) or an 8-inch diameter skillet, up to huge, such as a 40-quart stock pot or a 16-inch diameter skillet.
Most cooks need a few sizes of skillets and sauce pans, as well as a larger pot or two for braising, making stocks, meal prepping, and serving a crowd. If you make stock frequently and braise, you probably need a stock pot and a Dutch oven.
Size has little to do with whether a piece of cookware is a pot or a pan because both can come in a variety of sizes (although because pots are deeper, they can be much larger than pans).
Skillets typically do not come with lids because their primary use is browning--but sometimes they do.
Most other types of pots and pans usually--but not always--come with lids, including sauce pans, sauté pans, stock pots, and Dutch ovens.
Lids are not a good way to determine whether a piece of cookware is a pot or a pan.
Pans are shallow and used with high heat to sear, brown, sauté, and any other cooking method that uses small (or no) amounts of liquids--except sauce pans, which are deep and used for liquids.
Pots are deep and used for liquids. (So, yes, a sauce pan is actually a type of pot.)
Usage is an important factor in naming, but there are exceptions. A sauce pan is probably the most obvious one (that is, it's a pan that's used primarily for liquids). Woks, chef's pans, essential pans, and deep sauté pans are also deep pans you can use for browning.
Usage will sometimes--but not always--help you determine if a piece of cookware is a pot or a pan.
Examples of Pans
As you can see, there are many different types of pans, and not all of them fit perfectly into either the "short sides" definition or the "one long handle" definition.
So why are they pans instead of pots? Sometimes because of usage, sometimes handles, and sometimes depth.
But mostly? Convention. (That is, it got the name just because, and it stuck, so that's what it's called.)
Examples of Pots
In general, pots are deeper than most pans and are used for liquids, but they can have long or short handles and have a wide variety of uses, which--like pans--can make them hard to characterize.
There are many other types of pots and pans, including pasta pots, deep sauté pans, double boilers, Windsor pans, chef's pans, essential pans, and more. However, all of them are some variation on a basic skillet (used for frying) or pot (used for liquids).
For example, you can think of a chef's pan or deep sauté pan as an oversized skillet with deeper sides so you can make larger meals--with or without liquids. (A deep sauté pan is one of our favorite pieces of cookware because it's so versatile: you can use it as a skillet, a Dutch oven, a large sauce pan or small stock pot, and just about anything else.)
Now that we've looked at definitions (which may not have clarified things all that much), let's get back to the original issue: sauce pan vs pot, and what we think people want to know when they google this.
Why Is It Called a Sauce Pan and Not a Sauce Pot?
This is probably what most people want to know when they do an Internet search for sauce pan vs. pot.
We can't find a definitive answer, so our best answer is a guess: the sauce pan was named for its long handle rather than its deep sides and usage (liquids).
Does this mean the handle is more important than the depth? Not really. It's probably just the way the term evolved.
Does it mean that you should use a sauce pan for frying and browning? No, not at all. The deep sides and small flat cooking surface make a sauce pan a bad choice for frying or browning. It is designed for heating liquids, regardless of its name.
Are a Sauce Pan and a Sauce Pot the Same Thing?
People might also be wondering if a sauce pan and a sauce pot are the same thing when they search for sauce pan vs. pot.
The terms can be used interchangeably, but they are technically different because of the handles. The most accurate definition of a sauce pot is "a deep pot, usually medium sized, designed for use with liquids with two short handles and a lid."
To confuse things even more, sauce pots may also be called soup pots (like this All-Clad Fusiontec 4-quart soup pot):
Sauce pots are usually the size of a large sauce pan: 3-4 quarts. You may see them as large as 6 quarts, but probably not bigger than that.
Here again, the handles determine whether it's a pot or a pan--even if the uses (as well as everything else) are pretty much identical.
So if it has two short handles but is a deep, 3-4 quart pot, you can call it a sauce pot (or soup pot).
You can even call it a short-handled sauce pan, and people will know what you mean (but let's not go any further down that road).
Are a Sauce Pot and a Stock Pot the Same Thing?
When some people google sauce pan vs. pot, they may be thinking about a stock pot, wondering if a sauce pan and a stock pot are the same thing. Or if a sauce pot and a stock pot are the same thing. Or, if a sauce pan, sauce pot, and stock pot are all the same thing.
Or if a sauce pan, sauce pot, soup pot and stock pot are the same thing.
They are all used for the same function--heating liquids--so some people may use the terms interchangeably.
However, sauce pans and sauce pots (AKA soup pots) are usually smaller and shallower than a stock pot, and--as we already established--a sauce pan has a long handle, while sauce pots and stock pots have two short handles.
Stock pots are deeper than sauce pans and sauce pots to facilitate slow simmering without a lot of evaporation--so there is a rational explanation to the differences in depth, and thus, a valid reason that sauce pans, sauce pots, and soup pots are not the same thing as a stock pot.
Stock pots typically start at around 5 quarts and range up to huge.
So you may hear sauce pot (or soup pot) and stock pot used to mean the same thing, but they are different.
However, it's not a culinary crime for people to consider them the same, because the design and usage are quite similar.
Is a Sauce Pan Really a Pot?
Yes, a sauce pan is a pot: a pot with a long handle.
Then why isn't it called a pot?
There's no clear cut answer to this question, but it can almost certainly be chalked up to convention. That is, someone a long time ago called it a sauce pan, and the name stuck.
There's probably nothing more to it than that.
(We know there are many sites that disagree with this and will try to convince you that every pan has a name that fits it for a rational reason. But our research has shown us otherwise--see our definitions above.)
Note also that region, country, and culinary background can have something to do with it. We haven't done any formal research on this (though it's a great topic), but where you live and how you learned to cook (and from whom) probably have a strong influence on your cookware naming conventions.
So if you get into an argument with somebody over the name of a piece of cookware, the best tactic is to agree to disagree, because you're probably both right.
Where Does a Dutch Oven Fit In to All of This?
Dutch ovens probably aren't on most people's minds when they google sauce pan vs. pot, but it's also a pot used for cooking liquids, so it should be part of the conversation.
Dutch ovens are heavy, deep, short-handled pots with many uses, from making stocks, soups, and stews to long, slow braising. Thus, they can be used interchangeably with many kinds of pots, although though their primary use is for oven braising. The best Dutch ovens are made of enameled cast iron for excellent heat retention, but are extremely versatile pots.
Dutch ovens come in many sizes, but the most common size is 5-7 quarts. This size is great for braising large cuts of meat, big batches of soups and stews, and even making stock, if you don't own a stock pot (or are making a smallish batch). However, it is bigger than a sauce pan (or sauce pot/soup pot), though it can be used for cooking liquids.
Again: there's a lot of overlap.
If you want to learn more, see our review of the best enameled cast iron Dutch ovens.
Putting It All Together
Here's a summary of everything we said above:
Sauce pan: A sauce pan is a deep, small-to-medium-sized pot with a long handle and a lid, used primarily for liquids. The name comes from the handle (long, like a pan) rather than the shape and usage:
Sauce pot: This is a rarer term than sauce pan, at least in the US, largely because it is a not a common pot here. It generally means a deep, medium-sized pot with two short handles that is smaller than a stock pot. It can also be called a soup pot (although soup pot can also mean stock pot). Some people also use "sauce pot" to mean "stock pot," but this isn't quite accurate.
Stock pot: A large pot with two short handles and a lid. Usually 5 quarts or larger (up to several gallons). Can also be called a soup pot.
Dutch oven: A deep, heavy pot--but not as deep as a stock pot--with two short handles and a lid. Its primary use is braising in the oven, although it can double as a large sauce pan or sauce pot, or a shallow stock pot. We include this because it's so similar in function to sauce pots and stock pots, even though the name (and most common usage) is different.
NOTE: We barely mentioned sauciér pans, which are a sauce pan variation with a rounded bottom (as defined above). Sure, there's a little more to it, but "sauciér" probably isn't in the mind of someone searching for "sauce pan vs. pot," so we didn't think it was part of the conversation.
How to Find the Pot (or Pan) You're Looking For
Probably not surprisingly, you can search for any of these terms and get overlapping results. Probably the most accurate search will be for "sauce pan," which will result in mostly medium-sized, long handled pots with lids (at least in the USA).
A search for "sauce pot" will also mostly return sauce pans (long handles), mostly because sauce pots--basically short-handled sauce pans-- aren't very popular in the US.
Also, many of these pieces have overlapping names. For example, All-Clad usually calls a 5-quart, short-handled pot a stock pot. But you may also see it called a Dutch oven, or, as in the case of the D5 stock pot that comes with a ladle, a soup pot. But it's exactly the same pot--so even the same brands of cookware can use different names for the same pots!
In fact, different cookware brands have their own naming conventions, and there can be a lot of variation. So what one brand calls a Dutch oven, another might call a stock pot, and so forth.
If you're not sure what you're looking for, you can try searching for any of them: sauce pan, sauce pot, soup pot, stock pot, and even Dutch oven. They will all return results of cookware used for liquids, and you can pick out the size, shape, and handle design that best suits your preferences.
How to Pick Out a Good Sauce Pan, Sauce Pot, or Stock Pot
If you're in the market for a sauce pan, sauce pot, stock pot, or Dutch oven, here are some tips for buying:
We hope we've helped you find what you're looking for when you search for sauce pan vs. pot. Yes, a sauce pan is technically a pot, but is called a pan because of its long handle.
And yes, there are differences between sauce pans, sauce pots, soup pots, stock pots, and Dutch ovens. But there is a lot of overlap among these terms, too. Naming conventions can also vary widely by brand and region, and not all of them make perfect sense.
And to confuse things further, cookware manufacturers are always trying to come up with new terms to intrigue buyers.
The main thing to remember is to not worry so much about the name as about the pot having the right size, shape, and handle that you want.
And if someone else calls a piece of cookware something different than you do, you're probably both right. (Or maybe you're both wrong. It doesn't really matter.)
Sorry there aren't more exact naming conventions to guide you. But there just aren't.
Thanks for reading!
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