Shepherd's Pie vs. Hamburger Pie

Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images

It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that shepherd’s pie, conceived as far back as the 1870s, is the original hot-dish comfort food. Traditionally made with minced meat such as lamb and leftover gravy, the meaty filling is topped with creamy whipped potatoes and oven baked. Recipes for hamburger pie mimic the filling of shepherd’s pie, but rely more on convenience foods such as ground beef and bread dough for the top crust, giving busy home cooks an easier option for this fast but wholesome main dish.

Crust Considerations

It is the crust on your meaty casserole that best determines whether it is a hamburger or a shepherd’s pie. Hamburger pie usually has a bread component. Using white or whole-wheat bread, trim the crusts, butter one side and lay over the top of your hamburger filling, pressing gently to make a crust. Conversely, use a package of crescent roll dough to line the bottom of a pie pan; a second package of crescent rolls can be used to make a top crust. Shepherd’s pie is classically made with a mashed potato crust. Time-saving tips include using leftover mashed potatoes, or instant mashed potatoes. Other recipes suggest variations using whipped sweet potatoes, rutabagas or parsnips.

Inside the Pie

Both shepherd’s pie and hamburger pie can be made with ground meat. Fillings made from scratch for both dishes rely on a sauté of vegetables thickened with flour; modern recipes call for jars of purchased gravy or cans of condensed soup. Both dishes are designed to stretch your meat to feed a crew, and can help use up leftover ingredients from previous meals. Hamburger pie, however, is sometimes thought of as a variation on the American cheeseburger. In these cases, the filling is kept to simple tomato-based ingredients such as canned or fresh tomatoes and cheese, with a breadlike top and bottom crust.

To Cheese or Not to Cheese

Adding cheese to hamburger pie gives it more of a cheeseburger taste. Layer the cheese right into the filling, or grate it over the top in place of a top crust. Served alongside a green salad, hamburger pie is an easy oven-dish variation on the ever popular hamburger theme. Classic recipes for shepherd’s pie using roasted meat as opposed to ground hamburger rarely employ the addition of cheese, because the meat itself is rich enough. Cheese is a popular addition, however, for shepherd’s pie made with ground beef, in which case the cheese is grated over the potato crust and browned during the last 10 minutes or so of baking.

Name That Dish

Variations on shepherd’s pie can sometimes break all the rules, employing top and bottom crusts made from pie dough, bread dough and dumplings. So how can you tell one dish from another? Shepherd’s pie can be made with any kind of meat, including roasted lamb, poultry and ground beef. Hamburger pie -- as the name suggests -- is always made from ground hamburger. Neither shepherd’s pie nor hamburger pie are limited to a “pie” shape. Baking dishes range from oval casserole dishes, square baking pans and deep-dish pie plates. Regardless of what you name it, the result is an easy but satisfying one-dish meal baked in the oven.