Decoding the Distinctions: Stew vs. Casserole

The difference between a stew and a casserole

Stew and casserole are two popular comfort foods that are loved for their ease of preparation and delicious flavors. While they may seem similar at first glance, there are distinct differences that set them apart. In this article, we will explore the differences between stew and casserole, including their cooking methods, ingredient preparation, and the amount of gravy in each dish.

What is a casserole?

A casserole is a versatile dish that is cooked and served in the same deep cooking vessel, usually the oven. It offers a wide range of ingredient options and is appreciated for its simplicity. When preparing a casserole, it is important to choose an oven-safe pan that is deep enough to hold all the ingredients.
Casserole dishes come in a variety of sizes, shapes and materials, including glass, ceramic and metal. Unlike other dishes, casseroles are often baked uncovered in the oven, allowing the flavors to meld and the top to become golden and crispy.
Traditionally, casseroles consisted of rice and some sort of meat. Today, however, people are getting creative by adding different ingredients and spices to enhance the dish and create a comforting meal.
The three main components of a casserole are protein, vegetables, and a starchy binder. You can choose beef, chicken, fish, or even go for a plant-based option with ingredients like eggplant, carrots, or potatoes. The starchy binder, such as pasta, rice, or potatoes, helps hold the casserole together and enhances its flavor.
Meat and vegetables in a casserole are usually cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces. While the meat is often pre-cooked, it is further cooked in the oven to tenderize it, and raw vegetables are cooked to perfection. Additional seasonings, sauces, and toppings can be added to enhance the flavor profile, with grated cheese or crunchy bread crumbs being popular finishing touches. Liquids such as water, wine, or stock can also be incorporated into the dish for added moisture and flavor.

What to serve with a casserole?

Casseroles can be served as a main course or as a side dish. They are often high in protein and filling enough to be the star of the meal. However, pairing them with a complementary side dish can enhance the dining experience.
Some popular side dishes to serve with a casserole include rice, spinach, quinoa, or mashed potatoes. The choice of side dish can be based on the ingredients used in the casserole, aiming for a balanced and harmonious combination. When in doubt, a fresh green salad can always be a refreshing option to accompany the flavors of a casserole.

What makes a stew a stew?

A stew is a one-pot dish made with meats that require longer cooking times and a variety of vegetables. Unlike casseroles, stews contain a significant amount of liquid, resulting in a combination of solid food and flavorful gravy.
In addition to being the name of the dish, stew also refers to the cooking technique. Stews are typically cooked over low heat in a covered pan in a liquid. This slow cooking process allows the flavors to meld, resulting in tender, flavorful meat.
Tougher cuts of meat, such as poultry or beef, are often used in stews. Slow cooking allows the meat to become tender and develop rich flavors. Vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, onions, and celery are added to the stew along with thickening ingredients such as flour or egg yolks. The stew is simmered over low heat for several hours, allowing the gravy to thicken and the ingredients to cook to perfection.
While water can be used as the liquid in stews, adding stock, wine or even beer can enhance the flavors and transform the dish into a rich and aromatic masterpiece.

How to serve a stew?

Stews are considered comfort food and are often enjoyed with a few slices of crusty bread. However, there are several ways to serve a stew as the main course for a hearty dinner.
Potatoes, whether roasted, mashed or baked, are a classic and popular choice to accompany stews. The starchy component pairs well with the flavorful gravy. Other options for a starchy side dish include egg noodles, rice, biscuits or dumplings.
To balance the richness of the stew, fresh side dishes such as a green salad or roasted vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, or cauliflower can provide a contrasting element to the meal.

Casserole vs. Stew: What’s the difference?

While both stew and casserole are one-pot dishes beloved by comfort food enthusiasts, there are notable differences between the two:

  1. Cooking process: Casseroles are cooked in the oven, allowing heat to circulate throughout the dish. They are typically baked uncovered and rely on the heat of the oven to cook the ingredients. Stews, on the other hand, are cooked on the stove over low heat in a covered pan, allowing the flavors to develop slowly over time.
  2. Gravy content: Casseroles generally have less liquid and gravy than stews. While casseroles may have some moisture from sauces or added liquids, they are typically not as saucy as stews. Stews, on the other hand, have a significant amount of liquid, resulting in a thick and flavorful gravy.
  3. Ingredient preparation: In casseroles, ingredients are often precooked or partially cooked before being assembled and baked in the oven. This ensures that all the ingredients are cooked through and the flavors blend during the baking process. Stews, on the other hand, involve adding raw or uncooked ingredients to the pot, allowing them to cook and infuse flavors during the slow cooking process.
  4. Cookware: Casseroles are usually cooked in oven-safe dishes, which can be made of glass, ceramic, or metal. Stews are cooked in pots or Dutch ovens that are suitable for stovetop cooking and can withstand long simmering times.

In summary, while both stews and casseroles are comforting one-pot meals, their cooking methods, gravy content, ingredient preparation, and cookware differ. Understanding these differences can help you choose the right technique and dish for your culinary preferences. Whether you’re in the mood for a hearty and saucy stew or a baked and flavorful casserole, both options offer a delightful dining experience.


What is the main difference between a stew and a casserole?

Stews and casseroles differ in the way they are cooked, with stews being cooked on the stove and casseroles being baked in the oven. Stews also tend to have more liquid and gravy than casseroles.

Can I use the same ingredients for both stews and casseroles?

While there may be some overlap in ingredients, the preparation and cooking methods for stews and casseroles are different. Casseroles often require pre-cooked or partially cooked ingredients, whereas stews contain raw or uncooked ingredients that cook slowly over time.

Do casseroles and stews require special types of cookware?

Yes, casseroles are usually cooked in ovenproof dishes such as glass, ceramic or metal pans. Stews, on the other hand, are cooked in pots or Dutch ovens that are suitable for stovetop cooking and can withstand long cooking times.

Are casseroles and stews suitable for make-ahead meals?

Yes, both casseroles and stews can be prepared in advance and stored for later consumption. In fact, the flavours of stews often develop and improve when reheated the next day. Casseroles can be assembled ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to bake.

What are some popular side dishes for stews and casseroles?

Stews go well with starchy side dishes such as mashed potatoes, rice or dumplings. Casseroles can be served with roasted vegetables, green salads or crusty bread.

Can I freeze leftover stews or casseroles?

Yes, both the stew and the casserole can be frozen for future consumption. It is recommended that they are stored in airtight containers or freezer bags to maintain freshness. When ready to eat, defrost in the fridge overnight and reheat thoroughly before serving.