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

What makes stew different from soup? Is chili a stew? Learn what sets these spoonable meals apart.

If you have an interest in cooking, then it is likely that you have come across soup, stew, and chili recipes.

pot of stew soup or chili

In the vast majority of cases, we don’t tend to think about recipes and their origins. However, when it comes to soups, stews, and chili, they are all quite similar.

Given their similarities, it is likely that you have wondered what differentiates them from each other, and where each dish received its name.

In this article, we are going to talk you through each of these dishes, to give you a better understanding of their differences, and similarities. 

What is a Soup?

Out of the three dishes, a soup contains the most liquid.

While the others are also quite liquid heavy, they tend to feature chunks of meat or vegetables, whereas soup is typically blended to have a smooth texture. 

Soup is usually served warm, and while it can be a main dish, it is often served as an appetizer too. There is not a particular recipe that needs to be followed when it comes to creating soup, and any type of fruit or vegetable can be used. 

There are lots of popular soups in every culture. The ingredients can be vegetables, meat, or a mixture of both.

The ingredients are then mixed together and blended with water and milk to create the liquid, and smooth texture. The consistency can be thinner or thicker, depending on your personal preference.

Stock, which can be vegetable or meat, is added for flavor, along with other ingredients or spices of your choice.

Soup should be served warm, often with buttered bread, and it is great for the winter months. It is a hearty, and filling meal. 

What is a Stew?

When comparing a stew to a soup, they have very different consistencies. As a result, they are fairly easy to tell apart.

Unlike soup that is smooth and has a liquid consistency, a stew typically features chunks of vegetables and meat. 

While a stew does have cooking liquid that is similar to a soup, this tends to be more watery, and is thin in its consistency. It is typically favored by the meat or the vegetables. 

The main portion of a stew is the meat and cut vegetables that are fairly large. While it does feature a soup like liquid, this is not the majority of the dish like it is with a soup. 

Stew is typically served in the colder months, and it is a great way of cooking vegetables and meat in big batches before they turn bad. It is left to stew for a long while, and can also be placed in the slow cooker. 

The liquid is made up of the juices from the meat, stock, and water. It can also have a gravy-like consistency, depending on your personal preference. 

What is a Chili?

A chili is something that can be distinguished by how it looks and its flavor.

When looking at its appearance, it is different to a soup and stew, but as it can be quite liquid heavy, it is easy to see how you may get it confused. 

Chili is often called Chili Con Carne, which means chili with meat. It is thought to have originated in Texas, though it has roots in the Canary Islands.

Chili is made with ground beef and chili peppers, and it is a typically hot dish. 

However, you can create vegan or vegetarian chili dishes, and ones where the spice levels are lower. This is all down to personal preference. Chili often contains tomatoes and different types of beans too. 

The overall texture is quite chunky, but the vegetables and meat are a lot smaller in size in comparison to a stew.

However, a chili is not as liquid heavy as a soup. Rather, it has a similar consistency to a bolognese. The sauce is quite thick, but is quite smooth. 

A chili can be served in many ways, but it is usually served over rice, or with tortilla chips. It can also be served in tacos too. While ground beef is the most common meat to be used, other meat can be used too. 

The Main Differences between Soup, Stew, And Chili

As we have already covered, the main differences between soup, stew, and chili is the overall consistency of the dishes.

Out of the three different dishes, a soup features the most liquid, followed by a stew. While a chili can feature some liquid, the sauce tends to be fairly thick on the whole. 

The liquid in a stew is present, but as the meat and vegetables are simmered in it, the sauce is minimal on the whole.

The vegetables and meat will float in the liquid, but you can decide how much, or how little liquid you want in your serving. 

When it comes to a soup or a chili, the consistency is the same throughout, and each dish will have the same amount of liquid and consistency featured. 

What is great about these dishes is that they can all be adjusted according to your personal preferences. This is in relation to the flavor, taste, and even the consistency.

While they all are fundamentally different, you can use your own creativity to make these dishes your own. 

For example, while a chili is typically spicy, and a soup is not, there is nothing to stop you from adding a few chili peppers to your soup if you are looking for a spicier kick to it.

In addition to this, you can choose to create a thicker soup, or one that has more liquid if you prefer. The choice is entirely up to you!


We hope that you have found this article useful. As you can see, there are some similarities when it comes to soup, stew, and chili dishes.

However, on the whole, these are three dishes that are quite fundamentally different. They have quite different tastes, and consistencies.

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Written by Erin Elizabeth

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.