What’s the Difference Between Soup, Stew and Chili?

Updated: May 10, 2024

Stew vs. soup vs. chili: Do you know the difference between these three?

When I’m craving something comforting, there’s nothing better than a big ol’ bowl of soup, stew or chili. Warm, hearty and easy to throw together, cozying up with one of these dishes is just so satisfying. And while I rely on these meals throughout the colder months, I didn’t really understand the difference between the three. So, I rolled up my sleeves and learned the real difference between soup, stew and chili.

Check out these soup, stew and chili recipes for all your creature comforts.

What’s the difference between soup and stew?

The main difference between soup and stews is the amount of liquid they contain. While soups contain enough cooking liquid to fill a bowl and allow its ingredients to float, stews contain just a bit cooking liquid to simmer the other ingredients.

Is chili different from soup and stew?

Kind of! Chili is considered a type of stew because of its low liquid content and is usually made with chilis or chili powder.

What is soup?

Soup, loosely, is a liquid-based dish where ingredients like vegetables, meats or legumes (or any combination of the three) are boiled in water, stock or broth to meld and enhance the dish’s favors. There are many types of soups, from creamy chowder to pureed butternut squash, but the main characteristic of soup is that there’s a lot of liquid. You know you have soup if it has to be eaten with a spoon and served in a bowl or cup. Or a homemade bread bowl.

Speaking of types of soup, browse our favorite soup recipes, including brothy soups, bisques, chowders, cream of chicken soup and more.

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What is stew?

Stew is a dish where larger pieces of meat and vegetables are partially covered, but not floating, in a cooking liquid and then simmered until the ingredients are tender and the liquid has thickened. The cooking liquid can be broth or stock, like a soup, or something richer like wine, beer or tomato juice. And, while most stews include chunks of meat, it can be vegetarian, too. This slow-cooked lentil stew is a great example.

A lot of stews are served with a starchy side like mashed potatoes, noodles, polenta or rice, but you can certainly eat it on its own.

Slowly simmer any of these stew recipes for dinner tonight.

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What is chili?

Traditional chili is a type of spicy stew that typically contains ground meat and chili powder, plus beans and tomato. There’s a ton of variation when it comes to chili, but you can tell it apart from other stews by its heavy use of fresh chilis and/or chili powder—like this authentic chili con carne, for example.

When we say chili has a lot of variation, we mean it. Chili can be made with pretty much any meat (or made vegetarian), with or without beans, be tomato- or broth-based, stuffed with veggies or made with pretty much just meat. Don’t believe us? Take a look at our ultimate chili recipes and see the difference for yourself.

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