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What’s the Difference Between Soup and Stew?

Do you ever wonder, “What’s the difference between soup and stew?”

If so, you’re not alone. Plenty of people can’t tell them apart or use the words interchangeably. So let’s find out!

bowl of beef stew

Soup and stew are similar, but there are some key differences that set them apart.

The main thing you’ll notice is that soup is often thinner. By that, I mean, you need to slurp the liquid.

In contrast, stews typically cook longer and are, therefore, thicker.

Of course, there are plenty of thick soups with lots of chunky ingredients! So let’s examine soup vs stew, and see if we can’t get to the bottom of it.

That way, you’ll be able to find the right soup or stew recipes down the line.

Soup vs. Stew (What’s the Difference?)

Pinpointing the differences between soup and stew isn’t as hard as you might think.

In fact, you can really break them down into three primary points. So that’s what we’ll do! 

1. Soups Contain More Liquid

This is the most significant difference between stews and soups.

Soup recipes typically contain much more liquid and have water or broth as a main ingredient. 

Stews may also feature broth or water in their ingredient list. However, there’s typically far less of it than in soups. 

On the other hand, stews are much chunkier and thicker.

They’re far more dependent on chunky ingredients like meat and veggies than broth. 

Their “broth” may also be much thicker and more dense than soup’s broth.

In fact, some people don’t even call it broth in a stew, they refer to it as gravy. 

2. Stews Are Cooked Longer and (Sometimes) in Different Ways

Now, keep in mind we’re not talking about microwave cook times here.

The times will be similar if you’re nuking canned soup or stew. 

No, I’m talking about actually cooking something from scratch. In most cases, stews take a much longer time to cook.

To stew something means to simmer it slowly in a small amount of liquid.

That’s always how you’ll make a stew, by stewing it! You can also stew some soups. 

However, most of the time, soups don’t have to be stewed. You can cook them much more quickly by bringing everything to a boil.

Then, you reduce the heat and let it simmer. For example, this Italian sausage soup recipe can be on the table in just 30-40 minutes.

In contrast, this Guinness beef stew recipe needs over 2 hours!

3. Stews Are Less Versatile Than Soups

Because you cook them by stewing, stews are almost exclusively served warm.

They’re also thick, chunky, and hearty by nature. 

Soups, on the other hand, can be warm or cold, like zippy gazpacho.

They can be thick or thin, full of chunky ingredients, or simply made of broth, etc. 

There’s a lot more versatility to soups. You can even find recipes for sweet (dessert) soups if you look around for them!

Stews, though, are savory all the time.

Beef Soup with Potatoes, Carrots and Kidney Beans

What Is a Soup?

As mentioned, soup is a liquid-based meal that uses a cup or bowl for serving.

Beyond that, though, soups can be incredibly varied. They can be thick, thin, clear, chunky, hot, cold, sweet, or savory.

And you can serve them for any meal of the day, including breakfast.

(Don’t believe me? Check out my article 17 Breakfast Soups to Start Your Morning Right!)

Soup even includes things we usually classify as chowders or bisques.

The primary thing is that it must be heavily dependent on liquid as an ingredient. 

The typical soup recipe requires you to cover the ingredients in liquid and bring them to a boil.

Then, you reduce the heat and let them simmer to bring out all the flavors. 

Here are some of my favorite soup recipes:

Zuppa Toscana Soup
Sausage Potato Soup
Copycat O’Charley’s Loaded Potato Soup

What Is a Stew?

Alternatively, stews are made by stewing or braising ingredients in very little liquid. It usually takes much longer to prepare. 

Many, though not all, stews are also very meat-heavy. Stewing the meats in their own juices is part of what makes them so flavorful. 

Stew is nearly always served warm and generally only for lunch or dinner.

Most often, people eat it for dinner because it’s hearty and keeps them full all night. 

You can enjoy stews in a bowl like soup.

However, because they’re thick and have a gravy-like base, you can also pour them on top of things like mashed potatoes and rice.

Here are a couple of my favorite stew recipes:

Texas Cowboy Stew
Old-Fashioned Beef Stew

A Bowl of Chili

What About Chili? 

Ah, chili. Chili is in a category all of its own. Some people insist it’s a soup, while others put it firmly in the stew camp.

Still, there’s a third group who insists chili is just chili. 

Technically, classifying it as a soup or stew depends on how you cook it.

If you braise your meat first and add other things near the end, it’s a type of stew. 

However, adding browned meat to liquid with other ingredients makes it more of a soup.

Personally, I align myself with that third group of people. To me, chili is just chili, and I love it.

Here’s a few of my favorite chili recipes:

Best Texas Chili
Tim Hortons Chili
Cowboy Chili

What’s the Difference Between Soup and Stew?

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author avatar
NaTaya Hastings
NaTaya Hastings is a food and recipe writer for Insanely Good Recipes. She’s an educator, boy mom, dog mom, and whatever-stray-enters-the-yard mom. As a result, she's constantly cooking for both humans and animals.

Luckily, she enjoys it!

Though born, raised, and still living in Alabama, her specialty is NOT down-home Southern cooking. Instead, she loves to experiment with Asian, Mexican, Italian, and other ethnic cuisines. She has two mottos when it comes to cooking. “The more spice, the better!” and “There’s no such thing as too much garlic!”

She’s also pretty good with desserts. Especially the easy, no-bake ones.

Her favorite things are cuddling with her four giant dogs, traveling, reading, writing, and hanging out in nature. She’s also pretty excellent at Dominoes.

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