In your kitchen you likely have an assortment of different cookware from a frying pan to a saute pan or a dutch oven. In most circumstances, you’re probably clear on what these are for. Frying pans are for shallow frying and pasta pots are for making cooked pasta. However, sometimes the use and difference between these pieces of cooking equipment aren’t immediately obvious. One example of this relates to the saucepan vs pot conundrum which leads many to wonder what’s the difference?

Saucepan vs Pot – What’s the Difference

It is true that in some contexts a saucepan and pot can be used interchangeably. However, the intended cooking techniques of a saucepan and pot are rather different. Generally, speaking pots are intended purely for heating and boiling liquid. 

Saucepans on the other hand are much more versatile. Whilst they can be used much the same way as a pot this will be on a much smaller scale due to saucepans tending to be quite small but with steep sides. In addition to heating liquids through a saucepan can also be used for deep frying, shallow frying, braising, searing meats and much more. 

Mainly though as the name implies, a saucepan is intended for making and thickening sauces or similar hot beverages.  

What is a Saucepan

Some argue that a saucepan is really more a type of pot than its own distinct entity. This is to the point where some people will refer to them mistakenly as a sauce pot. The reason for this is that both can be used for heating liquids. However, as mentioned above saucepans can be far more versatile.

From sight alone, you can clearly see the difference between a saucepan and a pot if you know what you’re looking for. Saucepans will have a singular long handle instead of a pair of looped handles. 

Additionally, they will have a small flat base with tall sides. This makes them ideal for quickly heating up liquids. However, whilst they can be used to replace a pot in a pinch, even large saucepans will only be suited for making small batches. As such, saucepans are much better suited for reducing sauces like tomato sauce or pasta sauce than they are for say making soups.

What’s Considered a Saucepan

Saucepans typically come with a glass lid which is used when cooking liquids or steaming meaning they can be used for much of the same purpose as a pot. Additionally, they will typically have a smaller surface area than a comparable frying pan but have much taller sides along with one long handle.

Even when you compare saucepans to similar pots and pans there are key differences. For example, sauciers are used for a similar purpose to saucepans. However, they have a curved base which makes whisking or stirring grains easier. The trade-off is a longer time to heat up due to having less contact with the stovetop.

Saucepan vs Pot - What's the Difference?

What is a Pot

Pot as a name is something of an umbrella term for a variety of different cookware appliances. Some different examples include a stock pot, pasta pot and steamer pot. 

In general, the purpose of a pot is to boil or heat liquid during cooking. Additionally whilst oven-safe saucepan variants do exist, it is far more likely that you will find pots that are intended for oven use than you would saucepans.

What’s Considered a Pot

Typically pots will have a large cooking surface area with tall straight sides that allow for more even heat distribution, therefore ensuring the food within will cook evenly. They will also typically be made of stainless steel or similar materials without a non-stick coating as they need to be able to withstand high heat.

The key difference between pots and saucepans, however, is the quantity of food cooked. This is because even regular pots intended for cooking will create large batches of food. Additionally whilst a saucepan will often have a single long handle, pots will have a pair of looped handles. This is due to the often requiring two hands to hold properly.

Comparing Saucepans And Pots

SaucepansPots
ShapeSmall flat base, tall straight sides, single long handle, comes with a lidLarge base, tall straight sides, two looped handles,  comes with a lid
MaterialsAluminium, Stainless Steel, Copper, Cast IronStainless Steel, Cast Iron, Copper,  Aluminum
SizeTypically quite smallVaries widely from small sauce pots to large dutch ovens
Cooking Methods/UsesShallow Frying, Deep Frying, Braising, Searing Meats, Boiling Liquids In Small Amounts, Making, Reducing and Heating Sauces Slow Cooking, Braising,  Making and Reducing Sauces, Boiling Liquids, Roasting, Steaming
CapacityOne to four quarts depending on sizeVaries Greatly. Typically between two and twenty quarts depending on the pot type

Examples of Pots

As mentioned above a saucepan is a specific piece of cookware which despite its versatility is fundamentally intended for making sauces and heating up small amounts of liquid. However, the pot is more of an umbrella term. Dutch ovens, stock pots and many others all have different culinary roles and come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. With this in mind, it is crucial that when collecting a variety of pots that you know exactly what they are and how they should be used.

Dutch Oven

Dutch ovens are large pots that are often made from cast iron. These pots will come with a lid and will be some of the most durable and versatile pots you can find. They are excellent for braising, slow cooking, one-pot roasting and many other uses such as making bread.

Additionally, a dutch oven can be used indoors and outdoors, along with being perfectly comfortable in the oven, on a hob or even hot coals. As such, they can really be the workhorse of many a cooking endeavour whether at home or even whilst camping.

The only real pitfalls of the dutch oven are that they will likely need seasoning before use due to typically being made from cast iron. Additionally, as far as kitchenware goes dutch ovens are definitely on the more expensive end of the spectrum. 

French Oven

The French oven is a variation of the Dutch oven that has a ceramic nonstick surface made by French companies such as Le Creuset. As a result, it is often easier and more convenient to use due to not requiring any preseasoning. 

The caveat to this, however, is that French ovens cannot be used on open fires or coals making them only practical for indoor cooking. This is as a result of the ceramic coating which whilst more convenient is potentially quite fragile. As a result, the trade-off is often versatility for convenience.

For more information about the difference between Dutch ovens and French ovens, click here.

Saucepan vs Pot - What's the Difference?

Sauce Pot

When discussing the differences between a saucepan and a pot, the sauce pot is often what leads to the most confusion. This is because sauce pots and saucepans look incredibly similar and often come in the same sizes.

Whilst both can and often are used interchangeably, sauce pots are in fact better suited for making soups and sauces in larger quantities. This is because sauce pots will often have taller sides and rounded loop handles. This makes them able to hold more liquid along with being easier to move around your kitchen.  

Stock Pot

Stock pots are probably the type of pot most people associate with the word pot. These are large and tall pots that are primarily used for making stews, soups, broths and or course stocks, as their name implies. 

In addition to these uses though, stock pots are also commonly used for slow cooking. As such many people will typically either have either a stock pot or a Dutch oven instead of both.

Saucepan vs Pot - What's the Difference?

Double Boiler

A double boiler is the name somewhat implies, is technically two pots instead of just one. The first pot acts as a bottom in which water is boiled to generate heat. Above which a top pot slots in, allowing you to cook or warm up food with the indirect heat from below.

Often these will be used for delicately heating up food, such as melting chocolate for making custard for deserts. However, they can also be used to keep foods such as gravy at a warm temperature whilst preparing other parts of the meal.

Steamer Pot

These are made to cook food purely via the steam generated by boiling water. Similarly to a double boiler, there are two compartments to a steamer pot, with these being a top and bottom section. 

However, instead of the top section being a secondary pot it will be a colander or sieve-like container that allows steam through to the top layer. As a result, the food can be cooked without ever making contact with the boiling water below it.

Pasta Pot

As you can probably guess, a pasta pot is specifically designed for the task of cooking pasta. The reason why these pots are used is to simplify the process of cooking pasta by reducing the amount of different cookware required.

To accomplish this goal, a pasta pot is designed to have a method of draining water whilst containing food built into the design. The reason for this is to avoid the necessity of a separate colander. Typically this is done in either one of two ways. 

Firstly it can be done via the inclusion of a colander/strainer insert which can be attached to the pot itself. Alternatively, however, the pasta pot may have a perforated lid through which the water can be drained once your pasta is cooked.

Saucepan vs Pot - What's the Difference?

Pressure Cooker 

Pressure cookers will use pressured steam to cook food. Since the expanding water vapour is trapped it remains in its liquid form at temperatures well above 100°C. 

As a result, the food being cooked within a pressure cooker will be ready much faster. Additionally, due to the vapour produced being trapped within the cooker, flavours from the included ingredients will be extracted more efficiently.

A pressure cooker can be used to cook pretty much anything from beans to soups, or to tenderise meat. As such it is an incredibly versatile piece of cookware. 

The caveat though is that you have to be incredibly careful when using a pressure cooker, even when compared to other types of cookware. This is because pressurised steam can reach extremely high temperatures that can cause severe burns to your skin if directly exposed to it.

The Difference Between Saucepans and Pots

Whilst a saucepan can fulfil some of the uses of smaller pots, they are ultimately intended for different purposes and contexts. Even a regular pot will be larger than most saucepans and have a pair of looped handles instead of a single long handle. 

Additionally, saucepans are often used for small scale cooking such as sauces, frying, etc. However, pots will typically be used for cooking with large amounts of liquid. As a result, both types of cookware will be vital parts of any kitchen, whether belonging to enthusiasts or not.

FAQs Regarding Saucepans Vs Pots

Can I use a pot instead of a saucepan?

Some smaller pots can easily be used in place of a saucepan within certain contexts. For example, a sauce pot can often replace a saucepan since the primary intent for both is to make sauces.

Why use a pan instead of a pot?

Pans are more useful than pots when cooking in smaller batches such as heating up some soup for one or two people or making a small amount of sauce. This is because the smaller size allows you to more precisely control and interact with your food as it cooks. Additionally, the complete contact with the stove allows the pan to heat up much more quickly than a larger pot would.

Should you fry in a pot or pan?

Frying is better done in a pan since the flat bottom of a pan will allow heat to be more evenly distributed. Additionally, the more complete contact a pan has with the hob will help you to cook your food much more quickly.