Saucepan vs Pot: What’s the Difference and Which to Use?

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Is there a difference between a saucepan vs. pot? While those terms are often used interchangeably, there is a difference in the intended cooking techniques. 

A pot is designed to boil or simmer large quantities of water or liquid, while the smaller saucepan is ideal for sauces or smaller batches of food.

If you’ve ever found cookware names to be confusing, you’re not alone. Finding the right pan for the right job is crucial, but it can be a challenging task. You might have an assortment of cookware in the kitchen and still wonder what exactly each piece is used for.

Sometimes the connection is more obvious. Such is the case with frying pans used for shallow frying or with pasta pots for boiling pasta. But a saucepan is trickier to pin down. Is it a pot? Is it a pan? What’s going on there?

In this article, I’ll break down what a saucepan is, what the difference is between a saucepan and a pot, and answer other common questions.

Ready to learn more? Let’s get started.

What Does a Saucepan Look Like?

Women making sauce in the kitchen

First invented in the 17th century, the saucepan has an unmistakable shape. It’s deep and has high, straight sides. It usually features a long handle and a lid. The base is circular and has a relatively small cooking surface compared to the height, which helps distribute heat evenly throughout the liquid in the pan.

Sometimes saucepans are equipped with pouring spouts on one or both sides of the pan. These spouts are especially helpful for draining liquids or pouring sauce without making a mess.

A saucepan is intended for stovetop use. You can find saucepans in many sizes, though 2-3 quarts (1.89 to 2.84 liters) are the most common sizes.

There are saucepans as small as 1 quart (.9 liters), but I find anything less than 1.5 quarts (1.42 liters) too small for practical everyday use.

They’re smaller than stock pots or Dutch ovens, but they’re deeper and have a smaller cooking surface than frying pans or sauté pans.

A saucepan’s height is perfect for liquids for several reasons. First, it contains large volumes of liquid in a smaller area. Second, the tall sides prevent splashes and spills.

This is especially helpful when boiling liquids, which would be impractical at best and dangerous at worst in a skillet, for instance.

Saucepans come in a variety of materials. Stainless steel, hard-anodized aluminum, and non-stick aluminum are the most common. You can also find enameled cast iron options, although they’re less common.

Cooking with induction? Check out my induction saucepan review to find the best saucepan for your cooktop.

What Are Saucepans Used For?

Saucepans are primarily intended for making and reducing sauces, but they can be used for a variety of cooking methods.

Making sauces is the obvious use of a saucepan. I like to use my saucepan to prepare homemade tomato sauce and roux for my baked mac and cheese recipe.

It’s helpful for making caramel sauce, such as in this recipe for caramel corn puffs.

You can also use it to boil water for small batches of pasta, mashed potatoes, risotto, rice, or any dish that requires boiling water.

Additionally, a saucepan can be used for simmering water. In combination with a double boiler, it’s perfect for melting chocolate. Or just use the water to make pour over coffee.

Speaking of hot beverages, you can whip out your best saucepan to make this keto hot chocolate recipe.

Can You Use a Saucepan for Slow Cooking?

A sauce pan is not the best tool for slow cooking dishes. Technically, you could slow cook food in a saucepan as long as it has a tight-fitting lid to completely cover ingredients, but it’s not ideal.

Slow cooking requires a large cooking surface so the steam produced can recirculate back into the food. The tall sides of the saucepan may not cook food as evenly.

Plus, even large saucepans can’t hold the volume of food slow cooking requires. Try shoving a pork roast with potatoes and carrots into a saucepan. It won’t be pretty.

If you plan on slow cooking on the stovetop, I recommend using an enameled cast iron Dutch oven. Not sure which one to get? Check out my list of the best Dutch ovens.

Is a Saucepan a Pot?

A saucepan is not a pot, although they share some similarities.

Generally, pots are intended purely for heating and boiling liquid. They have taller sides that are suited for making stocks, boiling water, and making soups.

A saucepan, however, is a more versatile piece of cookware. While it can also be used for heating liquids, it will be on a much smaller scale. The average saucepan can only hold 1-4 quarts (.95 to 3.79 liters).

If you don’t have a kettle, you can use a saucepan to quickly heat water for tea or coffee. In addition to heating and boiling water, you can use a saucepan for shallow frying, preparing vegetables, melting butter, and making pudding.

Saucepan vs. Pot: What’s the Difference?

Saucepan vs pot know the difference

A pot is designed to boil or heat large quantities of water or cooking liquids. It has double looped handles and deeper sides than a saucepan, allowing you to cook larger quantities of food. There are different types of pots that lend themselves to specific tasks.

For instance, a pasta pot is suited for preparing pasta. A steamer pot is designed for steaming fish and vegetables. (You can also use steamer baskets for this purpose. Find my favorite bamboo steamers.)

A stock pot is perfect for making stocks, blanching vegetables, and making soups. The average stock pot, Dutch oven, or sauce pot is oven-safe, as well.

Pots come in many sizes. A regular pot is anywhere from 3-6 quarts (2.84 to 5.7 liters), while a large pot can hold up to 12 quarts (11.4 liters) or more. Regular pots are great for making rice or preparing soups. Large pots are great for deep frying, since they can hold large volumes of cooking liquids.

A saucepan, on the other hand, is smaller in volume. Instead of double handles, it features a single long handle, perfect for stirring sauces or hot liquids. Saucepans are not oven-safe. They are meant for stovetop use only.

A saucepan is perfect for reducing and thickening sauces, as well as heating liquids and making small batches of other food, like mashed potatoes.

I like using my saucepan for preparing green beans, melting butter, and making stovetop macaroni-and-cheese.

Is a Saucepan a Pot or a Pan?

A saucepan shares characteristics with both a pot and a pan, but a saucepan is more pan than pot.

In general, pans are shallow cooking vessels with long handles. Sometimes a pan will also have a second small handle, called a helper handle, in addition to the long handle. They might also include a glass lid.

Pans can have flared or straight sides, depending on the type. A sauté pan will have straight sides, but a frying pan or skillet will have curved sides.

Pans have a flat bottom with a larger cooking surface, with the average size ranging from 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm). They are used for shallow frying (i.e., pan frying), searing meats, and sautéing vegetables.

A saucepan has the flat bottom and long handle of a pan, but it has the deep sides of a regular pot. It’s not made to prepare large quantities of food. But when it comes to small servings, a saucepan will heat faster than a larger pot.

Is a Saucier the Same Thing as a Saucepan?

No. A saucier is similar to a saucepan, but there are some key differences.

One of the main differences is the shape. A saucier has rounded corners around the bottom, which make stirring easier. The gentle angle is perfect for the rounded end of a whisk.

Additionally, the rounded corners of a saucier make cleaning far simpler. It’s difficult for food to stick to the rounded bottom, and the corners are easier to reach and scrub.

Both saucepans and sauciers are designed with tall sides to handle liquids, and both feature a long handle and lid.

Does that mean you should forego a saucepan for a saucier? Not necessarily. Saucepans are more common, so they’re generally less expensive. You can also find saucepans in a wider range of materials. Most sauciers are either stainless steel or copper.

Looking for a saucier? Find the best saucier pan for making sauce and more!

Why Is It Called A Saucepan and Not a Sauce Pot?

The name most likely comes from the long handle on the side, as opposed to double looped handles of a pot. Some pots feature double handles, and these are commonly referred to as sauce pots. A sauce pot is smaller than a stock pot or a Dutch oven.

What Is the Difference Between Saucepans and Sauce Pots?

Most people use the terms interchangeably, but saucepans are more common. In general, if a pot has the shape and size of a saucepan but has two side handles, it’s a sauce pot. If it has a single, long side handle, it’s a saucepan.

What Is the Difference Between Saucepans and Stock Pots?

When most people think of a “pot,” they probably think of a stock pot. Stock pots are large with tall sides. They’re primarily used for making stews, soups, broths, and stocks. A stock pot can also be used for slow cooking, although I prefer a Dutch oven in that case.

The main differences between saucepans and stock pots are the size and the handles. A stock pot has two handles, whereas a saucepan has a long handle. Saucepans are also much smaller than stock pots.

What Is the Difference Between a Saucepan and a Double Boiler?

You can probably guess from the name, but a double boiler is technically two pots instead of one. The bottom pot is used to boil water and generate heat. The top pot fits inside the top pot, so you can cook or warm up food with indirect heat.

Double boilers are frequently used for melting chocolate or making custard. They can also be used to keep delicate foods warm, such as gravy or sauces. This is helpful when preparing other parts of a meal.

What Is the Difference Between a Saucepan and a Frying Pan?

A saucepan has steep sides and is designed for preparing sauces and simmering water. It has a long handle and a glass lid to cover the ingredients.

Frying pans are shallow with a larger surface for even heat distribution. They also have a long handle and might or might not include a lid. Frying pans are ideal for frying, searing meats, sautéing vegetables, and more.

What Is the Difference Between a Saucepan and a Sauté Pan?

A standard sauté pan has straight sides and straight edges with a lid. It has a longer side handle and a short helper handle, as well.

A sauté pan is deeper than a skillet or frying pan. It’s designed for sautéing foods. You can also pan fry meats and veggies in a sauté pan.

A saucepan has a smaller diameter cooking surface and taller sides than a sauté pan. It doesn’t have a helper handle, either.

At What Point Does a Pan Become a Pot?

A pan becomes a pot when it has tall sides that can hold larger volumes of liquid or hot water. A pan also become a pot when it trades the single handle for two side handles for easier lifting.

Both pots and pans can come in a variety of materials, including stainless steel, aluminum, and cast iron. Most stock pots are stainless steel or aluminum, however. Dutch ovens come in all materials, but I prefer enameled cast iron versions.

Pans often have a nonstick coating, since they’re used for stickier foods. But stock pots don’t need a nonstick coating as much, since they’re used to hold liquid.

Whether it’s a stock pot, sauce pot, steamer pot, or double boiler, a pot is primarily for liquids. It’s going to be taller than it is wide, and it’s mostly for stovetop use (although some types are oven-safe).

Should You Fry in a Saucepan?

Frying is best done in a skillet or deep fryer. For a shallow fry, you need only an inch or so of oil. The wider base of a fry pan ensures even heat distribution. I would use a pan that can handle high heat. For instance, I wouldn’t use a thin non-stick aluminum pan for frying food.

For deep frying, you can use a cast iron skillet or a Dutch oven. You can use a stock pot, as well, but you might waste a lot of oil. Obviously, food is healthier when it’s not deep-fried, so if health is a concern, I would avoid it.

Should You Use a Pot or Saucepan to Make Rice?

You can make rice in either a saucepan or pot. I typically use a saucepan unless I’m making a large batch. In that case, you can either use a designated rice cooker or a stock pot.

The most important consideration is the size. The pot needs to have enough room so the water doesn’t boil over and cause a mess. It also needs to have a tight-fitting lid to trap the steam and make the rice fluffy.

Bonus tip! Don’t set the heat too high. Once the liquid begins to boil, turn down that heat and let it simmer gently. No one likes a burnt layer of rice on the bottom of the pan.

How Many Saucepans Do I Need?

Even the most minimalist of kitchens often have more than one saucepan. Having separate saucepans is helpful because allows you to cook multiple dishes at once.

You can even get multiple sizes to accommodate different size batches of food. I recommend this for most home cooks.

I like to have at least one smaller saucepan, about 2 quarts (1.89 liters). This is great for making sauces, preparing custard, and melting butter.

Woman preparing strawberry jam

I also prefer to have a larger saucepan, 3 to 3.5 quarts (2.84 to 3.31 liters). This is great for making beans, cooking corn, and making small amounts of rice and pasta, like in this Lemon Garlic Pasta with Scallops.

The right size saucepan really depends on the type of cooking you’re doing. If in doubt, I would get a 3-quart saucepan to accommodate the widest range of dishes.

I do most cooking with two saucepans, but I’ve been known to use three at once for large dinners. It’s ultimately up to you!

Saucepan vs. Pot: Final Thoughts

Regardless of how many pots and pans you have, a good saucepan is a must-have for home cooks.

Even though the terms can get confusing, the most important factors are the size, shape, and intended purpose. It’s not the name attached to it.

If you’re looking for affordable saucepans in a cookware set, visit my review of Anolon vs. Calphalon. Both brands offer good quality cookware at an affordable price point.