Shepherd’s Pie vs. Pot Pie: Differences & Which Is Better

Shepherd's Pie vs. Pot Pie Differences & Which Is Better
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Shepherd’s pie and pot pie are among my favorites during the cold winter days. Both have a comforting effect on me, and I just love having them on my table accompanied by the wood-cracking sounds of a fire, most often in the background on my TV. There’s something about these two dishes that teleports me back to a simpler time and offers me a unique type of warmth and wholesomeness. But what are the differences between pot pie and Shepherd’s pie? 

While pot pie is a type of pie made with meat, veggies, and sauce baked in a pot, Shepherd’s pie is a type of dish made with meat, peas, carrots and onions, and topped with mashed potatoes.

Either will do just fine if you are looking for a warm, nurturing, and comforting meal, but these two pies are entirely different, and you may end up disappointed if you have the wrong one. I love them both, but not everybody does, so knowing the difference between them is crucial. In this article, I will tell you all about pot pie and Shepherd’s pie and the differences that make these dishes unique. 

What Is Pot Pie?

Savory and juicy, a pot pie is a savory dish made with a flaky pastry crust filled with ingredients like meats, vegetables, and a creamy sauce. It can have as many variations as you can think of, but as long as it is a pie crust filled with a savory filling baked in a pot or a pie dish, it will qualify as a pot pie.

What Is Shepherd’s Pie? 

Shepherd’s pie is a classic rustic dish made with a base of ground or minced meat (usually lamb or beef) cooked with vegetables and topped with mashed potatoes. It’s baked until the potatoes are golden brown, and it follows a traditional recipe. Of course, you can make your own variation, adding your own touch, but the more it varies, the further it gets from the original recipe; therefore, it is no longer Shepherd’s pie. 

Shepherd's Pie vs. Pot Pie Differences in Appearance and Size

Comparing Shepherd’s Pie and Pot Pie

Although they both contain the word “pie” in their names, Shepherd’s pie and pot pie are distinct dishes. While pot pie is a traditional pie, Shepherd’s pie can mislead you with its name because it isn’t actually pie. When I decided to make Shepherd’s pie for the first time, I expected kneading and baking, only to find out that none of that was involved. 

Below, I explain the differences between these two delicacies, each of them being delightfully original and satisfying!

Key Ingredients That Set Shepherd’s and Pot Pie Apart

Both dishes include meat and baking, but the additional ingredients and cooking methods differ to a great extent. Shepherd’s pie includes minced meat (lamb or beef) cooked in gravy (often Worcestershire sauce), where peas and onions are added. 

Once the meat is cooked, you place it in an oven pan and top it with mashed potatoes and grated cheese. The dish is then baked and served. 

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Pot pie, on the other hand, is a classic pie and involves the regular pie-making method. It can contain a variety of ingredients, though it often features meat. The filling is previously cooked and then added to the pie shell. It frequently contains a creamy sauce or gravy. 

Pot pie is traditionally baked in a pot; hence the name, but a pie dish or another suitable oven-safe dish can do. I rarely cook it in a pot since pie dishes are much more user-friendly for me. 

Differences in Appearance and Size

Shepherd’s pie and pot pie look nothing alike. Shepherd’s pie is usually cut into squares and served with gravy on top with a side of salad, bread, cheese, or whatever you have and like. It is a rustic dish and doesn’t have any particular sides to be served with. 

It is very appetizing and inviting. I find the cheese crust absolutely irresistible. The creamy potatoes and the juicy meat are kept soft and creamy below, giving this dish an excellent variety of textures. 

When you look at it from the side, a well-prepared Shepherd’s pie has three clear layers — the cheese crust on top, the mashed potatoes, and the meat and veggies at the bottom. 

Pot pie has a complete dough crust from the top to the bottom, and you can look at it from any angle, and you won’t see anything other than baked dough. Inside the pie shell is where the magic happens! 

Pot pie is usually cut in triangles, and here, too, you will see layers. The top and bottom layers are pie crust, and the middle is filled with a delicious meaty filling. The crust is golden-brown, while the filling is usually darker brown. 

I find that pot pie, too, offers a nice variety of textures, the crust being slightly crispy and the filling being delightfully creamy and soft. 

When it comes to size, a pot pie’s size is more or less standard since the pot or pie dish comes in unified dimensions. Shepherd’s pie is more variable in this regard since you can make it in smaller or larger baking pans. 

I use a standard-sized baking pan to make it since it fits the perfect amount of ingredients, so I don’t run out or have too many leftovers. 

The Savory Taste of Shepherd’s Pie and the Heartiness of Pot Pie

I don’t know how to even begin describing the taste of both these delicious dishes. Saying that they taste good doesn’t even begin to capture how tasty they both are. On the other hand, I am a huge fan of both, so not everyone will like them as much as I do. 

Still, if you like the one, you will probably like the other since they are both meaty and juicy. Shepherd’s pie is more savory than pot pie. It is very savory and creamy and features notes of butteriness and explosive meaty and cheese richness. 

The original recipe calls for flavor balance, so it isn’t spicy, but it is exceptionally flavorful. I love it for its perfect blend of simplicity of ingredients, resulting in an overall flavor complexity of the dish.

The best word to describe the taste of pot pie would be “hearty.” It is so warm and wholesome, comforting, and rustic. It is simpler in taste than Shepherd’s pie but still extremely tasty. I would say that pot pie tastes sharper than Shepherd’s pie because the mashed potatoes in it mellow the surrounding flavors.

I especially enjoy the texture variety in pot pie, accompanied by the depth of flavor added by the sauce, gravy, or simply the natural juices of the meat. Pot pie, too, doesn’t tolerate too many spices, and it isn’t supposed to taste too intense since it is already as flavorful as it is. 

Similarities in Serving Styles

Shepherd's Pie vs. Pot Pie Similarities in Serving Styles

When it comes to serving styles, the history of both dishes is essential to know to understand the “no-serving-style” style. Both originated a long time ago when aesthetics in food was reserved mainly for the rich, so neither requires a particular side, plate, or a specific style. 

They do come in specific shapers, but that stems from convenience, and it isn’t due to presentation or style. Shepherd’s pie comes in squares, which clearly display the layers it contains. 

If you have any leftover gravy, you are welcome to spread it onto the piece of Shepherd’s pie or on the side of the plate, as done in many restaurants. You can pair it with whatever you like since it goes with countless sides, starting from bread and salads to other fancier side dishes. 

Pot pie also doesn’t have a specific serving style, though it often comes in triangular pieces. Depending on the filling, it is often served as an individual mini pie you can have without having to cut it. 

The sides for pot pie vary according to the filling, so here, too, you can be as creative as you want. I prefer it with a goat cheese salad and a scoop of sour cream. 

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Variations & Other Names

Shepherd’s pie is pretty much standardized, but it does have variations in terms of the meat. The traditional recipe calls for lamb, but it is common to make it with beef, too. There are also vegetarian versions, including soy instead of meat. Still, the more the recipe varies, the further away the dish is from “Shepherd’s pie,” and it gravitates more toward another dish. 

Shepherd’s pie isn’t just the manner of cooking or layering, but the entire dish with all of its ingredients. So, for example, moussaka also includes minced or ground meat, lamb, or beef, topped with sliced potatoes, which are then topped with a cheesy and buttery layer. As you can see, the similarities are apparent, yet moussaka is a separate dish and not a variation of Shepherd’s pie. 

Sometimes, you can see Shepherd’s pie called “cottage pie” or “meat pie,” but again, the recipe remains the same. 

Pot pie, on the other hand, can have many variations. Since a pot pie is a pie made in a pot, you can fill it with many different ingredients and still be able to call it “pot pie.” The most popular variation of pot pie is the chicken pot pie, but there is beef pot pie, vegetarian pot pie, and many other combinations of meat and veggie pot pies.

Their Distinct Origins

Shepherd’s pie originated around the 18th century in Britain, more specifically Scotland and England. It is a rustic dish, and it really is the shepherd’s pie. They had substantial amounts of lamb, so they decided to layer it with other ingredients they had plenty of –potatoes and veggies and call it Shepherd’s pie. 

Over time, the recipe acquired a few variations regarding the meat, so now we can have Shepherd’s pie with beef, too. This variation is often referred to as cottage pie. 

Pot pie is much older than Shepherd’s pie. The earliest indications of this delicacy go back to the 500 BC. Due to the reasonably simple cooking method, it is easy to imagine pot pie being made in those times since it doesn’t require a lot of technology (people cooked on hot stones and baked under iron lids). 

It is a worldwide known pie, and each culture has its own version of the pot pie. It is very versatile, and as long as you bake a filled pie shell in a pot, you have a pot pie. 

Chicken Pot Pie vs. Shepherd’s Pie: Which Is Better?

If you are looking for a fattier and more substantial meal, you should go with Shepherd’s pie, and if you are searching for a hearty, wholesome dish, then chicken pot pie should be your choice. 

Shepherd’s pie is juicier and richer, but don’t sell chicken pot pie short either. They are both delicious and unique, bearing traditional markings and easily adapted to everyone’s taste. 

I do like chicken pot pie slightly better since I’m a true fan of baked pies. Still, Shepherd’s pie is my go-to whenever my parents are in town since it’s a family favorite!

How about you — are there any special memories you have related to these two? I would love to hear about it in the comments below!