What's the Difference Between Potatoes Au Gratin and Scalloped Potatoes?

Po-TAY-to, Po-TAH-to.

Classic Parmesan Scalloped Potatoes
Photo: Beth Dreiling Hontzas

These classic potato dishes look so much alike that most people don't know the difference between the two and often use the names interchangeably. Both are rich and creamy. Both have layers of thinly sliced potatoes. And both are baked in a casserole dish until bubbly and golden brown. But they're still not the same!

WATCH: How to Make Classic Parmesan Scalloped Potatoes

Scalloped Potatoes vs. Au Gratin: What's the Difference?

The difference comes down to cheese. Scalloped potatoes are much simpler. Most recipes call for the potatoes to be baked in a basic cream sauce (usually a mix of milk and heavy cream), and that's it. Potatoes au gratin are a bit more decadent. They are made with lots of cheese sprinkled in between the layers of potatoes and also on top of the casserole. Some versions of potatoes au gratin also have breadcrumbs sprinkled on top for a little bit of crunch to contrast with the tender potatoes. Of course, variations abound—you'll find some recipes for scalloped potatoes with a breadcrumb topping, or potatoes au gratin with a cream sauce and a little cheese on top.

However you make them, both dishes are comforting, go-with-anything sides, especially around the holidays, alongside the glazed ham or crown roast. And while it is handy to know the difference between scalloped potatoes and potatoes au gratin (especially if you're ordering them at a restaurant), it is not a crime to get the names of these dishes mixed up.

We'll admit that our own test kitchen does it sometimes—you'll find many recipes for scalloped potatoes with cheese on our site (like the video above).

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