In Dutch, we have just one word for pots and pans, which happens to be "pan", so I was surprised to learn about the word "pot". I learned that pans are for frying, which is why they are shallow and pots are for boiling, which is why they are tall and have straight sides. But that doesn't seem entirely correct. Saucepans seem to have the properties of a pot, but are a pan.

There is a lot of conflicting information on the internet. So what's a pan and what's a pot?

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    Why is this getting downvotes? Please leave comments.
    – Belle
    Jun 21, 2019 at 4:50
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    Pans have low sides (due to minimal liquids, such as when frying), while pots have high sides (due to significant volumes of liquids, such as when boiling). I didn't downvote, but if you check dictionary definitions it's clearly shallow vs. deep. pan, pot. Some additional research would make a better question.
    – user3169
    Jun 21, 2019 at 5:43
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    @user3169 I did research. And it's not quite clear, because a saucepan is not shallow, and those definitions doesn't seem in line with ThaRobster's answer. There are multiple definitions, hence my confusion.
    – Belle
    Jun 21, 2019 at 6:20
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    I think you're going to find that the answer is a matter of dialect, culture, and opinion. For any justified definition you can come up with, there are still a bunch of questions and vessels of indefinite name.
    – FuzzyChef
    Jun 22, 2019 at 2:35

2 Answers 2


I think the answer to your question lies in the etymology of the words.

Pan is actually coming from Germaic pfanne (in Dutch panne). Which is from Latin patina (shallow pan, dish) and Greek patane (dish, plate).

On the other hand, pot also has Germanic roots it means vessel (also in Dutch) coming from pottus (drinking cup) for Latin.

So the difference as the etymology of the words put it, pans are shallow (akin to dish, plate) most suitable for shallow frying, and pot is a vessel for boiling, simmering or deep frying.

Note: Like all living things, languages can also evolve and words don't necessarily stay true to their origins. Saucepan should have been called saucepot, but that’s just how languages work; as people coining terms and words don't necessarily put much effort in the history and story of the words.


As a native English speaker, certainly where I come from, saucepan and cooking pot are mostly interchangeable. However, I understand the differentiation to be that "pans" have long, extended handles and "pots" do not. So a pan:

And a pot:
cooking pot
Edit to include dictionary definitions kindly provided in a comment by user3169

Pan: "A pan is a round metal container with a long handle, which is used for cooking things in, usually on top of a cooker or stove."

Pot: "A pot is a deep round container used for cooking stews, soups, and other food."

While the definition of pot specifically mentions depth, the definition of pan does not, which leads me to believe that a pan could have reasonable depth. The main distinction still seems to be the long handle for a pan.

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    In American English, the handle type is immaterial. An 9" deep 4qt vessel with a long handle is still a pot.
    – FuzzyChef
    Jun 22, 2019 at 2:33
  • @FuzzyChef : I can't speak for all areas of America, but that's how I learned it. (but I'm a military brat, and my mom was raised in Maryland w/ parents from Philly; my dad was raised in Connecticut w/ a Basque/Argentinean father, so I can't really say where I'm "from"). A 4qt deep vessel would still be called a "sauce pan" if it had a long handle : amazon.com/Simply-Calphalon-Nonstick-4-Quart-Saucepan/dp/…
    – Joe
    Jun 23, 2019 at 14:04
  • Some people call them saucepans, and some call them pots. I've had a cooking instructor firmly tell me that it's only a saucepan if the sides are sloped, and otherwise its a pot. I've even seen cookware listed as a "sauce pan pot", presumably to split the difference. Popular language isn't consistent.
    – FuzzyChef
    Jun 23, 2019 at 22:23
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    @FuzzyChef : you often have the case where in an industry terms have rather specific meanings, but the meaning is more lax in general society. (eg, "theory" in science does not mean "wild ass guess" like some science deniers act like it does). The general concept is polysemy, which I gave a talk about years ago: youtube.com/watch?v=oSWyg_RbqG8
    – Joe
    Jun 28, 2019 at 1:55

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