Shepherd’s Pie vs Cottage Pie – What’s The Difference?

Shepherd's Pie vs Cottage Pie

Both Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie are incredible tasting British dishes. We all know that either would be a great choice to eat for lunch or dinner, any day of the week.

But there’s always the difficulty of knowing which one to cook at home, or order at the restaurant, when you can’t even tell them apart. So what is the difference between Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie?

The main difference between Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie is in the meat. Shepherd’s Pie uses lamb mince, whereas Cottage Pie is made with beef mince. Also, traditionally, Cottage Pie was actually topped with sliced potatoes, with Shepherd’s Pie differing in that it’s always been topped with mashed potatoes.

But that’s not all. There’s a few more differences, as you’ll find out below. Plus, there’s actually a third, lesser-known British pie, which comes into the equation when comparing Cottage Pie and Shepherd’s Pie.

We’ll get to that shortly, along with some guidance on how to make them all.

Differences Between Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie

Some people seem to use the terms Cottage Pie and Shepherd’s Pie interchangeably, presumably because they don’t know the difference, or they’re just absolute savages.

So, here’s what there is to know when it comes to Shepherd’s Pie vs Cottage Pie and their differences:

The Meat

The key difference is of course that Shepherd’s Pie is made from lamb (the clue being in the name) and Cottage Pie from cow. Nowadays at least.

It’s understood that Shepherd’s Pie has always been this way, although in the past, Cottage Pie was actually made from any type of meat.

The Vegetables

One of the most often asked questions we get about British food is this: “do Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie have peas and carrots?”

When it comes to the vegetables used in both dishes, there’s always some hot debate as to those that should be added to the minced meat (and diced onions). 

Some people say both peas and carrots. Some say only peas. Some say only carrots. So, another difference between these two dishes depends on individual taste preferences with the vegetables used. 

It seems that this is one of those questions that’ll just never be answered. The traditional position isn’t entirely clear, even to us at the British Grub Hub.

We say, enjoy your pie with the ingredients you like (within reason). Just don’t call it a Cottage Pie if you’re using lamb, for goodness sake.

The Gravy

Naturally, the sauce that the minced meat is cooked in (otherwise known as gravy), will differ depending on which dish is being cooked, i.e. a lamb gravy is used for Shepherd’s Pie and beef gravy for Cottage Pie.

The Potato Topping

It’s said that sliced potatoes were traditionally layered on top of a Cottage Pie. Whereas, Shepherd’s Pie’s topping has seemingly always been mashed potatoes. These days, both Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie are usually topped with mashed potatoes.

The Origins 

Shepherd’s Pie is understood to originate from Ireland (although clearly now enjoyed across all of Britain). Cottage Pie on the other hand is said to be from England. Our research tells us that Cottage Pie dates back to 1791, whereas Shepherd’s Pie became a thing almost a century later, in 1870.

The Names: Cottage Pie and Shepherd’s Pie

Why Is It Called Cottage Pie?

Back in the day, potatoes were an affordable crop, even for the peasants of Britain. These peasants usually lived in cottages. It’s said that the name ‘Cottage Pie’ was historically used because the dish traditionally had a topping of sliced potatoes (rather than mashed), giving the effect of a cottage’s roof. Enter, Cottage Pie.

Cottage Pie was then later used to name any dish containing meat and mashed potatoes too. At least, until Shepherd’s Pie came along.

Why Is It Called Shepherd’s Pie?

Shepherd’s Pie is called Shepherd’s Pie because it’s a dish made from lamb. Although, some would argue, including many Brits, that both Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie shouldn’t be called pies at all, because they’re not made with pastry. 


Ok, there’s really very little difference between Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie when it comes to their modern appearance, since the original sliced potato topping on a Cottage Pie was replaced with mashed potatoes.

By way of demonstration, see if you can tell the difference between this Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie…

Shepherd's Pie
Shepherd's Pie vs Cottage Pie

Nope, didn’t think so.

That can surely mean only one thing. You need to find a place to eat in the UK so you can try both Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie to taste the difference 😉

Does Shepherd’s Pie Have Cheese On?

It seems pretty clear that an original, traditional Shepherd’s Pie wouldn’t have been made with cheese, although these days it’s perfectly acceptable to add grated cheese to the mashed potato topping of a Shepherd’s Pie.

Does Cottage Pie Have Cheese On?

An original Cottage Pie recipe wouldn’t have included cheese, but rather this was added by some genius more recently and the trend has understandably stuck. Adding cheese to your Cottage Pie topping is definitely a move worth making, but not necessarily a traditional one.

Cottage Pie vs Shepherd’s Pie and Cumberland Pie

If you’ve been wondering what third traditional British pie is very similar to Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie, then the wait is over. Cumberland Pie is essentially an extended variation of Cottage Pie and Shepherd’s Pie, except it has the addition of grated cheese and breadcrumbs to the mashed potato topping. Incredible.

How To Make Shepherd’s Pie

How To Make Cottage Pie

How To Make Cumberland Pie

To make Cumberland Pie, simply add cheese and breadcrumbs to the topping of your Cottage Pie or Shepherd’s Pie. Then live happily ever after.

Meat-Free Shepherd’s Pie & Cottage Pie

Vegetarians and vegans have been known to call a meat-free Shepherd’s Pie a ‘Shepherdless Pie.’ While the name ‘Cottageless Pie’ would just make no sense, you can enjoy a meat-free version of either dish by using a minced meat substitute, lentils, mushrooms, or a selection of other vegetables for example.

So, Is Cottage Pie The Same As Shepherd’s Pie? 

It’s pretty clear that, no, Cottage Pie is not the same as Shepherd’s Pie, despite their similarities. Shepherd’s Pie is cooked using lamb mince and Cottage Pie with beef mince. They both have their own origins and history, albeit closely linked. That said, other than the difference in meat, today they are very similar dishes. 

Whichever one you prefer, you won’t be surprised to find out that we think both Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie (and Cumberland Pie) are among the best food in the world.

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