What is a Tureen?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

To serve soups, stews, and other warm, wet dishes in an elegant yet old-fashioned style, some cooks like to use a tureen. This serving dish is especially designed for hot dishes. Usually shaped like an oval bowl with handles and a lid, tureens have broad mouths and deep interiors to allow for easy ladling and serving.

Woman baking cookies
Woman baking cookies

Old-fashioned tureens are normally made from porcelain or another ceramic base. Some are also crafted from silver. Modern varieties may be made from stainless steel or other similar materials. Many tureens are footed, which may help people and items such as tablecloths from being burned.

The domed lid or cover of a tureen typically features a handle or knob at its tallest point. This ensures that the diner may remove the lid without burning his or her fingers. The lid itself helps to keep the tureen's contents fresh and hot, ready to serve in both family as well as restaurant atmospheres.

In addition to a cover, most tureens come with a platter or under tray and a serving spoon. The under tray protects the server's hands from touching the hot tureen. It also helps create a sophisticated display when serving the dish. Serving spoons are normally wide and deep, similar to ladles.

While the most common shape for these serving and dining dishes is round, they can exist in many different styles and forms. Rectangular tureens are popular in some areas. Some restaurants feature more specialized, creative shapes, such as animals or abstract art. Many of these dishes are considered collectible items. Tureens in the shapes of popular film or television characters, sports team logos, and other memorabilia can also be purchased.

Tea parlors, fine restaurants, and other establishments may use the tureen as a centerpiece. Depending on its size and shape, a tureen can usually hold enough soup for two to six people. Larger tureens may be used for special events.

Tureens are generally inexpensive. Many collector's items, however may be quite costly. Such serving dishes, often made of silver or fine earthenware, are usually sold in auctions or antique sales. The world's largest collection of tureens is located in the state of Delaware at the Henry Francis DuPont Winterthur Museum.

During 18th Century France, the tureen was known as the écuelle. Rather than being accompanied by a ladle or spoon, the écuelle was simply tipped like a two-handled cup for drinking. Smaller tureens used for sauces were called saucières.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for wiseGEEK and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

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Discussion Comments


There is a restaurant close to my house that serves only soup and bread. They serve all of their soup out of these very simple and elegant looking porcelain tureens. They bring out enough soup for several portions so you might try 2 or 3 different soups over the course of the meal.

I love this family style approach to serving soup. If you want a little you can have a little and if you want a lot you could eat a whole tureen by yourself. And if you have several on one table the steamy aromas mix together into delicious combinations. God, just writing about makes me want to grab my boyfriend and head down there right now.


I have a beautiful old china soup tureen that has been in my family for over a hundred years. It is a beautiful heirloom and something that I really treasure, unfortunately I just don't have that many occasions to use it. I have a husband and three small kids and serving soup out of china just doesn't make sense.

But I don't want it to just sit in the cupboard and collect dust. I think that treasured family objects should be used rather than just displayed. I think it keeps them alive.

For this reason I have gotten into the habit of making a soup as a first course at Thanksgiving dinner. We usually have a big crowd and at the beginning of the meal this beautiful tureen is the centerpiece of the table. After that we replace it with the turkey. It may only be once a year, but I am glad to have some opportunity to use this beautiful tureen.


I come from a relatively modest background but my mom's mom is very wealthy and lives in a huge old house by herself with serveral servants to attend to her.

I only went to visit her a few times as a kid. My mom does not get along so well with her mom so we tended to avoid the dusty old mansion.

But on the few occasions we did visit I will never forget the amazingly formal meals that we were served. My grandmother would sit at the head of this huge table and preside over the meal like a queen.

For some reason the thing that stands out most in my mind if this huge tureen that was always used to serve soup. The butler would bring it in in a very showy way and then make a performance out of serving the soup. I think that is what stuck out in my head, the idea that serving soup could be something to look at. I don't have a lot of great memories of visiting grandmother but I was definitely exposed to a different way of living.

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