I recently got into a surprisingly heated argument with a friend about what level of boil you should cook your pasta at. He (an engineer) argued that the heat transfer would remain the same regardless of the level of the boil and that anything above a simmer would be a waste of energy. I looked at it less from a heat transfer point of view and argued that a higher boil would increase agitation and cause the noodles to stick less to each other.

So what is it? Is a higher boil actually a waste of (a minuscule amount of) energy?

9 Answers 9


You should boil noodles. Simmering is not the same as boiling. Boiling water is 212 ℉ (100 ℃). Simmering water is in the range of 185 ℉ to 200 ℉ (85 ℃ to 93 ℃).

Your engineer friend is under the mistaken assumption that simmering is somehow a weaker boil than a rolling boil, but still 212 ℉. It's not.

You are correct in your assumption that the more vigorous rolling boil will agitate pasta and help prevent sticking.

  • 4
    And I would add...boil them in abundant water!
    – avpaderno
    Commented Aug 1, 2010 at 19:31
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    roux has linked to an article debunking these claims (I've repeated the experiment). What are your references?
    – iwein
    Commented Aug 2, 2010 at 7:21
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    lol. what claims? I stated the temperature at which water simmers and boils. That's hardly a claim, that's called a fact. The claim that vigorous boiling agitates pasta and prevents sticking? That certainly isn't debunked by that article. It provides an alternative. Just because I show you how to use an elevator doesn't mean stairs are invalid.
    – hobodave
    Commented Aug 2, 2010 at 7:35
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    Sure enough, simmering and boiling is not the same, but the question is, do we need to boil, and why? I thought the article linked to from daniel's post (cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/3949/…) sounds really solid. I'll try for myself and see. Commented Oct 22, 2010 at 14:13
  • @Hanno: That's actually not the question at all.
    – hobodave
    Commented Oct 22, 2010 at 16:46

Actually you're all wrong. The twin myths that we must use a rolling boil and abundant water have been rather soundly disproved. Most recently by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt over at seriouseats, an MIT graduate who later became a chef.


is the article in question. I have used his method at home with great success. Have not yet been brave enough to try it at work, as chef doesn't much like it when that sort of dogma gets challenged. But that's all it is, dogma.

  • That's awesome. I love me some scientific method in my cooking.
    – yossarian
    Commented Aug 1, 2010 at 21:30
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    i actually read that article just before posting the question. he adds the caveat that it's more difficult with longer pastas.
    – Chris
    Commented Aug 1, 2010 at 21:30
  • That article sounds pretty convincing, I'll definitely try that. Commented Oct 22, 2010 at 14:09
  • Tried it last night worked perfectly. Great link.
    – iterationx
    Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 14:55
  • Stirring reduces stickiness, he did this only when the water lowered to a certain limit... ?
    – insidesin
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 7:26

While either one will cook the pasta, the more convection movement of the water by the rapid boiling will keep the pasta agitated and minimize the chance of sticking.

A large ratio of water to pasta combined with vigorous boiling is your best bet against pasta sticking together. The higher volume of water helps reduce the concentration of starch that is released from the pasta.

Oil added to the water simply forms a grease slick on top.

  • 1
    I wonder if that's a double-edged sword, though, since the agitation from a boil increases starch release as well. I bet the optimal is inbetween, at 212 but no more roiling than necessary.
    – Ocaasi
    Commented Aug 3, 2010 at 3:02

I understand the theory and practice discussed, I boil with plenty of water and then use some of the pasta water to help in thickening the sauce going with the pasta. This is traditional Italian method taught by my Mother in Law from Sicily. I have noticed my sauce does thicken more and it clings to the pasta better when I do this. This also works when I make a cheese sauce for pasta. Let me know what you try.

  • We were actually also interested in this idea. Can you give a little more detail as to how you do this? When do you add the water? How much water?
    – Chris
    Commented Aug 6, 2010 at 16:13

I'm a chemical engineer - in full support of SMH's answer. A gentle boil is sufficient to cook anything. The convection from the gentle boil helps prevent sticking, and provides ample distribution of heat necessary to cook the item in question.

Water boils at 100C at standard atmospheric pressure; a vigorous boiling doesn't raise the temperature above this threshold. The difference between a gentle boil and a vigorous boil requires a huge, unnecessary amount of additional, wasted energy.

An excess amount of water is wasteful from an energy standpoint as well; a water level a little above the level of the noodles is sufficient, with a tad more to accommodate the expansion in volume of the noodles. Covering the pot (leaving the lid slightly cracked to vent), and occasional stirring both holds in heat and helps prevent noodles from sticking.

Americans would stand to save huge amounts of energy by appropriately modifying cooking techniques, not to mention modifying behavior in general where resource use is considered.


I've started a rigorous boil many times then, after dumping noodles in (works both with elbow for macaroni or spaghetti), move to a simmer and they turn out perfect. I do simmer with a lid on to keep a boil going. The idea you have to have a boil is false. I'm basing my comment off experience.

  • See the reference in daniel's top-rated answer (not the selected one) for experimental details. Your experience is correct. Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 0:24

However (10 years after the question was asked) the latest is... add some chicken broth to a pre-made sauce for the expansion of the dry spaghetti noodles but, you don't boil the noodles or you'll surely be splattered!


  • 2
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    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 21:52
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    – Community Bot
    Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 14:34

I keep it rolling boil for the whole time. To prevent spaghetti to stick, you have three helping procedures.

The first is: you break them in the middle. This is heresy in Italy, but I find it a good solution to prevent clumping and to fit the spaghetti completely into the water from minute one.

The second trick is to clump the spaghetti together using the index and the thumb of each hand, in the center of the spaghetti, shaping the fingers in a ring. Then you rotate these rings in opposite directions. the spaghetti open in a sort of double cone (here is an example of the shape you should obtain before throwing them in), and the spread prevent them to clump. Then you throw them in the boiling water. This way, they open in a circle, with minimum contact area.

Third, you actually continue mixing them for the whole six minutes.

Regarding energy, the heat you "waste" actually goes into your house, so you are actually heating yourself, and in winter is good. In summer, I personally tend to eat something different.

  • 1
    If you need to break them to fit them into the pot, then your pot is too small.
    – hobodave
    Commented Aug 1, 2010 at 19:35
  • I do it regardless of the size. However, you are right, I tend to use small pots. Takes less time to boil water. Commented Aug 1, 2010 at 19:37

212F is 212F. I simmer. I'm a Development Engineer. Always solving problems. Small water to cover pasta and use a lid. Lid keeps environment moist and boils in 75% of the time. Stir at the beginning and shake/stir the pasta a bit every few minutes. Use water with much more starch in your sauce. Yummy.

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