Stew vs Soup vs Chowder: The Ultimate Guide to Comforting Dishes

When faced with a choice between stew, soup, and chowder, it can be difficult to discern the key differences between these comforting dishes. Each has its own unique characteristics, but they all share common elements. At their core, all three consist of a delectable mix of ingredients simmering in a liquid base, resulting in amazing textures and flavors. To make the distinction between them, we’ll look at factors such as cooking methods, consistency, and ingredient types.

Stew typically has a thicker consistency and heartier ingredients, making it perfect for those seeking a filling meal. Soup, on the other hand, tends to be lighter, with a more brothy base and a greater variety of ingredients. Chowder is distinctly known for its creaminess, often featuring milk or cream in the base and a bounty of seafood or chunky vegetables. By understanding the essence of each dish and the diverse flavors they offer, you can easily choose the one that best satisfies your cravings.

Key Takeaways

  • Stew, soup, and chowder differ in consistency, ingredients, and cooking methods.
  • Stews are thicker and heartier, soups are lighter and broth-based, and chowders are creamy and often seafood-focused.
  • Understanding the core differences between these dishes will help you choose the perfect comforting meal.

Stew vs Soup vs Chowder: Core Differences

Broth vs Milk vs Cream Base

When it comes to the base of these dishes, stews typically use a broth base, while chowders rely on milk or cream. Soups, on the other hand, can use either a broth or a milk base. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Stews: Broth base (usually made from meat or vegetables)
  • Soups: Broth or milk base
  • Chowders: Milk or cream base

Ingredients and Consistency

The main ingredients and consistency differ between stews, soups, and chowders as well. Stews tend to be thicker and have chunkier ingredients like meat and vegetables. Soups have a more liquid consistency, with ingredients either pureed or cut into smaller pieces. Chowders typically contain seafood, potatoes, and other chunky ingredients, with a thick, creamy consistency. In short:

  • Stews: Chunky ingredients, thicker consistency
  • Soups: Smaller or pureed ingredients, more liquid consistency
  • Chowders: Chunky ingredients (often seafood), thick and creamy consistency

Techniques and Cooking Time

Cooking techniques and time can also help you distinguish between these dishes. When making a stew, ingredients are often browned first before simmering in a small amount of liquid. Soups are usually cooked with a more significant amount of liquid, and the cooking time can vary depending on the type of soup. On the other hand, chowders require a slow simmer to develop their flavors and thickness.

  • Stews: Browning ingredients first, then simmering in a small amount of liquid
  • Soups: Cooked with more liquid, varying cooking times
  • Chowders: Slow simmer for flavor and thickness

Texture and Flavor

Finally, the texture and flavor profiles of stews, soups, and chowders are distinct. Stews are known for their rich, hearty flavors and thick texture. Soups can be smooth or slightly chunky and have a wide range of flavors, from light and brothy to rich and creamy. Chowders have a thick, creamy texture and boast a sumptuous, comforting flavor, often from the combination of seafood and potatoes.

  • Stews: Rich, hearty flavors; thick texture
  • Soups: Wide range of flavors (light to rich); smooth or slightly chunky texture
  • Chowders: Comforting, creamy flavors; thick texture
Healthy soup

Types of Soups, Stews, and Chowders

In this section, you’ll learn about the various types of soups, stews, and chowders. We’ll discuss some common soups, popular stews, and famous chowders in detail.

Common Soups

Soups are generally categorized as either hot or cold and can further be classified as thick soups or clear soups. Here are a few examples:

  • Bisque: a rich, creamy soup typically made from seafood, such as lobster bisque
  • Cream soup: a thick soup made from pureed ingredients and often enriched with cream, such as potato and leek soup
  • Clear soup: a soup with a clear, flavorful broth, such as chicken noodle soup

Soups can also feature various ingredients, like:

  • Vegetables: tomato soup, veggie soup
  • Meat: chicken and rice soup, beef soup
  • Noodles or grains: chicken noodle soup, barley soup

Popular Stews

Stews are similar to soups but are typically thicker and heartier. They often contain chunks of meat or vegetables and are simmered for a longer time to build flavor. Some popular stews include:

  • Beef stew: tender chunks of beef, potatoes, carrots, and onions in a rich broth
  • Chicken stew: a comforting dish with chicken, vegetables, and a thick sauce
  • Vegetable stew: a hearty mix of vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, and peas in a savory broth

Stews can be served over rice or another grain or eaten with a side of crusty bread.

Famous Chowders

Chowders are a type of thick soup, often made with milk or cream and featuring chunky ingredients. Here are some famous chowders you might enjoy:

  • Clam chowder: a creamy soup made with clams, potatoes, and onions. There are two main types—New England style, which is white and made with cream, and Manhattan style, which is red and made with tomatoes.
  • Corn chowder: a thick and comforting soup made from corn, potatoes, and other vegetables
  • Seafood chowder: a rich, flavorful chowder with a variety of seafood, like fish, shrimp, and scallops, mixed with vegetables

As you can see, there’s a wide array of soups, stews, and chowders to explore and enjoy.

broccoli soup

Ingredients and Additions

Meats and Seafood

When choosing meats for your stew, soup, or chowder, consider the following options:

  • Stew: Typically uses tougher cuts of meat like beef, pork, or lamb, which benefit from slow cooking to become tender.
  • Soup: Can use a variety of meats, including chicken, turkey, and sausage, often in smaller pieces or shredded.
  • Chowder: Primarily features seafood like clams, fish, and shrimp, but can also include other meats such as bacon or ham.

Vegetables and Grains

Incorporating vegetables and grains is essential for creating hearty and flavorful dishes. Consider these options in your cooking:

ParsnipsTomatoes(Optional: Beans or Rice)

Herbs and Spices

Enhance the flavors of your stew, soup, or chowder by incorporating herbs and spices:

  • Stew: Thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves add depth and richness.
  • Soup: Fresh parsley, basil, or cilantro complement various soup types.
  • Chowder: Old Bay seasoning, dill, and paprika lend a distinctive flavor.

Thickening Agents

To achieve the desired consistency in your stew, soup, or chowder, choose from these thickening agents:

  • Stew: Often relies on a roux (butter and flour mixture), although flour can be added directly to the meat.
  • Soup: May use a roux, mashed potatoes, rice, or pasta to thicken the broth, although some soups remain thinner by design.
  • Chowder: Traditionally thickened with a roux, but cornstarch or even an egg can be used for a lighter alternative.

By following these guidelines and selecting from these options, you can create delicious and satisfying stews, soups, and chowders to enjoy.

Serving Suggestions


When serving soups, stews, or chowders, you can elevate your meal by choosing the right accompaniments. Toppings such as crackers or hard biscuits add a contrasting texture and pair well with these dishes. For a heartier option, consider offering a side of grains, like rice, barley, or quinoa.

  • Soup: Serve with a warm, crusty bread roll or a side of mixed greens.
  • Stew: A simple green salad or steamed vegetables complement the rich flavors.
  • Chowder: Since chowders often feature seafood, such as shrimp or lobster, you might serve a side of garlic bread or coleslaw.


The temperature you serve your soup, stew, or chowder greatly affects the overall experience. For best results, follow these temperature guidelines:

SoupHot or Cold
StewWarm to Hot
  • Soup: You have more flexibility with soups; serve them hot or cold depending on the recipe and your preference. For example, a gazpacho is typically served cold, while a classic tomato soup is enjoyed hot.
  • Stew: Ensure your stew is served warm to hot, as it retains the feel of a comforting lunch or dinner option. Heated stews release their flavors and aroma, making them enjoyable and inviting.
  • Chowder: Like stews, chowders should be served hot for the flavors to meld and the dish to be at its most satisfying.

Storage and Reheating Tips

Freezing and Thawing

When it comes to preserving your stews, soups, and chowders, freezing is a great option. To freeze your dish, allow it to cool completely, then transfer it into freezer-safe containers or bags. Be sure to leave some space at the top to account for the expansion of the liquid during freezing.

Thawing should be done slowly to maintain the dish’s flavors and textures. Place the frozen container in the refrigerator and allow it to thaw for several hours or even overnight. If you’re in a rush, you can submerge the container in cold water, but don’t use warm water as it might encourage bacterial growth.


When it comes to reheating stews, soups, and chowders, low and slow is the way to go. Use a saucepan and gently reheat the dish over low heat until it reaches the desired temperature, stirring occasionally to ensure even heating. You can also use a microwave, but be sure to cover your dish and stir it every couple of minutes to avoid hot spots.

DishReheating Time (approx.)
Soup5-7 minutes
Stew7-10 minutes
Chowder8-12 minutes

Be cautious to not overcook your dish, as this can lead to a decrease in flavor and a change in texture.

Maximizing Flavor

To get the most out of your reheated dishes, consider adding fresh herbs or a splash of wine to enhance their flavors. Here are some tips for maximizing flavor in your stews, soups, and chowders:

  • Stews: Add a small amount of red or white wine, depending on the dish, and let it simmer to meld the flavors.
  • Soups: Add a touch of fresh herbs or a squeeze of lemon juice for some added brightness.
  • Chowders: Consider adding some diced vegetables or a touch of cream or milk to refresh the dish.

Remember, you can also adjust the cooking time during reheating to ensure the flavors are fully developed and balanced. By following these storage and reheating tips, you’ll be able to enjoy your delicious stews, soups, and chowders with ease while maintaining their original flavors and textures.

Recipes and Variation Ideas

Soup Recipes

For a lighter option, try these soup recipes. They provide a variety of flavors and ingredients to suit various preferences.

  • Classic Minestrone: Combine various vegetables, such as onions, carrots, celery, and zucchini, with tomatoes, white beans, and pasta. Bring to a boil and simmer until the pasta and veggies are cooked.
  • Creamy Pumpkin Soup: Blend cooked pumpkin with chicken or vegetable broth, a touch of cream, and a mixture of savory spices like cumin, paprika, and ground ginger. Heat the mixture in a pot and serve warm.

Be creative and experiment with different ingredients to make your favorite soup variations.

Stew Recipes

Stews are heartier than soups, often featuring chunks of meat and vegetables. Here are some stew recipes to try:

  • Beef Stew: Brown beef chunks in a pot, then add in all-purpose flour and stir to coat the meat. Add chopped onions, carrots, and potatoes, followed by beef broth, Worcestershire sauce, and seasonings (salt, pepper, bay leaves, and thyme). Simmer until the vegetables are tender.
  • Chicken and Vegetable Stew: Start by sautéing onions, carrots, and celery in a pot. Add chicken pieces, diced tomatoes, and chicken broth, along with your choice of seasonings. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through.

Create your own combinations by selecting your favorite types of meat, veggies, and seasonings to develop unique, delicious stew recipes.

Chowder Recipes

Chowders are thick, creamy, and filling meals – perfect for those chilly days. Follow these recipes to make flavorful chowders:

  • New England Clam Chowder: In a pot, render bacon fat and sauté onions and celery until tender. Stir in flour, followed by clam juice and chopped potatoes. Simmer the mixture until the potatoes are cooked. Mix in chopped clams and heavy cream to finish the chowder.
  • Corn and Potato Chowder: Sauté onions, carrots, and celery in a large pot. Add potatoes, frozen corn, and chicken or vegetable broth, then season with salt, pepper, and thyme. Simmer until the potatoes are tender. Stir in some cream and cook for a few more minutes.

Feel free to explore new ingredients and flavors to create diverse chowder recipes that cater to your palate.

Cooking Methods and Equipment

When preparing stews, soups, and chowders, it’s essential to understand the different cooking methods and equipment available to achieve the best results. This section covers three popular methods: Stove Top, Slow Cooker, and Pressure Cooker.

Stove Top

Cooking on the stove top is a common and straightforward method for preparing stews, soups, and chowders. Begin by simmering your ingredients in a large, covered pot filled with liquid, typically water or stock. Doing so allows the flavors to meld together while letting the ingredients tenderize gradually. Remember to stir occasionally and cook at a low to medium heat to avoid burning or overcooking.

  • Good for: Chowders, soups, and stews
  • Heat: Low to medium
  • Equipment: Large covered pot or Dutch oven

Slow Cooker

A slow cooker is an excellent option for busy households, as it allows for a hands-off, “set it and forget it” approach. Simply place your ingredients in the slow cooker, set the desired temperature (usually low or high), and allow the dish to cook for several hours. The slow, even heat tenderizes the ingredients, resulting in a tasty and well-developed meal.

  • Good for: Hearty soups and stews
  • Heat: Low or high settings
  • Equipment: Slow cooker
  • Cooking Time: 4-8 hours, depending on the recipe

Pressure Cooker

A pressure cooker is a time-saving option that cooks dishes quickly while still providing great flavor and tenderness. The high-pressure environment allows the liquid to reach a higher temperature, speeding up the cooking process. Place your ingredients in the pressure cooker and ensure the lid is secured properly. Remember to follow your specific appliance’s guidelines for pressure settings and times.

  • Good for: Quick, flavor-packed soups and stews
  • Heat: High pressure (settings & times vary by appliance)
  • Equipment: Pressure cooker
  • Cooking Time: Generally, 20-60 minutes, depending on the recipe

By familiarizing yourself with these methods and their appropriate equipment, you can ensure a successful and satisfying outcome for your stews, soups, and chowders.

Nutrition and Dietary Considerations

Balancing Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fats

When comparing stew, soup, and chowder, consider the balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats in each dish. In general, stews and chowders tend to have higher amounts of proteins and fats due to their meat or seafood content, whereas soups can have lighter, vegetable-focused options.

To balance these macronutrients in your meal, consider the following:

  • Protein: Choose lean sources of protein, such as chicken, turkey, or fish. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, opt for beans or lentils.
  • Carbohydrates: Aim for whole grains and complex carbs like brown rice, quinoa, or whole wheat bread. Include plenty of vegetables such as corns, carrots, and potatoes.
  • Fats: Keep an eye on the amount of fats in your dish, and select healthier options like olive or avocado oil for cooking.

Remember that moderation is key—incorporate a variety of ingredients to make your meal as nutritious and balanced as possible.

Dairy and Dairy-free Options

Dairy products, such as cream and cheese, are common in chowders and some stews, providing richness and flavor. However, if you have a lactose intolerance or follow a dairy-free diet, you may need alternatives.

Consider these dairy and non-dairy options to accommodate your dietary needs:

Dairy Options

  • Cream: Adds a creamy consistency to chowders and thick soups.
  • Cheese: Elevates the flavor of dishes, commonly used in chowders or to garnish soups.

Non-Dairy Options

  • Coconut milk: A versatile substitute for cream, adding richness and a hint of tropical flavor to your dish.
  • Almond milk: Another alternative for cream, providing a more neutral flavor.
  • Nutritional yeast: Mimics the taste of cheese in dairy-free recipes, and can be added to soups, stews, or chowders.

When choosing the right meal option for your dietary needs, don’t forget to account for any added salt—keep it within recommended levels to maintain a balanced and nutritious meal.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main difference between a soup, a stew, and a chowder?

A soup is generally a thinner liquid dish with some solid ingredients, often featuring vegetables and/or meat in a flavorful broth. Stews are thicker, heartier dishes with a more concentrated, gravy-like consistency. They typically involve larger chunks of meat and vegetables, simmered slowly over a longer period of time. Chowders, on the other hand, are usually thick and creamy, made from a milk or cream base. They often feature seafood, potatoes, and other vegetables.

How can you differentiate between a chowder and a cream soup?

Chowders tend to have a chunky texture, with visible pieces of ingredients like seafood, potatoes, and vegetables, while cream soups tend to be smoother or pureed, containing finely chopped or blended ingredients. Another difference is that chowders usually have a milk or cream base, whereas cream soups can also be made with other liquids like broth or stock.

Is there any similarity between bisque and chowder?

Both bisques and chowders are thick, creamy soups, often featuring seafood as the main ingredient. However, bisques are typically smoother, as they are pureed, while chowders have a chunkier texture. The flavor profile of a bisque may also be more refined and elegant, while chowders can be heartier and more rustic.

What defines a dish as a stew rather than a soup?

The thickness and consistency of the liquid, along with the cooking method, are the main factors that differentiate a stew from a soup. Stews have a thicker, gravy-like consistency and involve slowly simmering the ingredients over a longer period of time, allowing flavors to meld and evolve. Soups tend to be thinner and can often be prepared more quickly.

At what point does a soup become a stew?

A soup becomes a stew when its consistency thickens enough to be considered gravy-like, and the solid ingredients become more prominent than the liquid. This often results from a slower, longer cooking process that allows the flavors to deepen and meld together.

What factors can determine if a dish is a soup, stew, or chowder?

The liquid-to-solid ratio, overall consistency, cooking method, and ingredient choices are key factors in classifying a dish as a soup, stew, or chowder. Soups have a thinner consistency, stews have a thicker, gravy-like consistency, and chowders have a creamy, often chunky texture. The cooking time and method can also help differentiate between these categories, with stews and chowders generally requiring longer simmering times than soups. Finally, ingredient choices like seafood, vegetables, and type of liquid base can help identify whether a dish is a soup, stew, or chowder.

Healthy soup

Stew vs Soup vs Chowder

Here's a simple chowder recipe that you can try:
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Soup
Cuisine American
Servings 4
Calories 310 kcal


  • 4 slices bacon chopped
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups diced potatoes
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Chopped fresh parsley for garnish


  • In a large pot or Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  • In the same pot, sauté onion and garlic until softened.
  • Add chicken broth, water, and potatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender.
  • Stir in corn and heavy cream. Heat through but do not boil.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve hot, garnished with chopped fresh parsley and reserved bacon.


Calories: 310kcal
Keyword stew vs soup vs chowder
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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
Cassie Marshall
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