Let’s help you choose your pasta, choose your sauce, and choose your time. Learn how to cook spaghetti to perfection every single time.
To determine the cooking time of long pasta, consider its thickness.
Most spaghetti noodles cook to al dente in 9 to 10 minutes, and to full doneness in 11 to 12 minutes.
As a general rule of thumb, thin noodles cook faster, and thick noodles cook slower. Long noodles with holes in the middle, like bucatini, take less time to cook than their counterparts that are whole. (For recommended cooking times, read on.)
Regardless of the thickness, pasta tastes best when cooked to al dente, which translates to “to the teeth” and describes pasta that’s slightly underdone. You know your noodles are cooked al dente when they’re tender on the outside, but they still give some resistance when you bite into them.
Only dry pasta can be cooked al dente. Fresh pasta contains a lot of moisture, so it doesn’t need to reabsorb as much of the cooking water as dry pasta does. This is why fresh pasta cooks perfectly in as little as 1 to 3 minutes, and, when prepared well, it turns out chewy and lively.
Spaghetti Cooking Times
The guidelines below will help you approximate the cooking time of your spaghetti (and other long pasta noodles). The cooking time in the instructions on the back of the box is also helpful, but remember that it’s only an approximation.
The only way to tell if pasta is cooked is to fish out a noodle and taste it when you feel it’s just right. If they’re still undercooked, let them sit for another 15-30 seconds and repeat the process.
Cooking times for long pasta, from shortest to longest:
- Fresh pasta cooks to full doneness in 1-2 minutes.
- Angel hair (Capellini, Capelli D’Angelo) pasta cooks to al dente in 1-2 minutes, and to full doneness in 3-4 minutes.
- Fedelini pasta cooks to al dente in 3-4 minutes, and to full doneness in 5-6 minutes.
- Spaghettini pasta cooks to al dente in 6-7 minutes, and to full doneness in 8-7 minutes.
- Bucatini (Perciatelli) pasta cooks to al dente in 8-9 minutes, and to full doneness in 10-11 minutes.
- Whole-grain spaghetti pasta cooks to al dente in 8-9 minutes, and to full doneness in 10-11 minutes.
- Spaghetti pasta cooks to al dente in 9-10 minutes, and to full doneness in 11-12 minutes.
- Square spaghetti (Spaghetti alla Chitarra) pasta cooks to al dente in 12-13 minutes, and to full doneness in 14-15 minutes.
Buy high-quality pasta. It isn’t that much more expensive than the cheap stuff, but it makes a big difference on the dining table. When in doubt, consult our list of the best Italian pasta brands.
How to Cook Spaghetti Like an Italian
Cooking pasta is about two things: rehydrating the noodles and giving them flavor. You rehydrate the noodles by cooking them in boiling water, and you give them flavor by salting the water.
Fill a pot with water, salt it liberally, and, over high heat, bring the water to a rolling boil. Add 1 gallon (1.2 liters) of water to 1 pound (450 grams) of pasta. To every gallon of water, add 1-2 tablespoons of salt.
Add the pasta to the pot and lower the heat to medium-high to keep the cooking water from boiling over. Don’t break the noodles in half if they’re too long for your pot; instead, press on them with the palm of your hand until they’re softened and fully submerged.
Stir the pasta briefly at first to keep it from sticking, then leave it to cook without interruption. Don’t add olive oil to the pasta water—it will coat the surface of the noodles and make them incapable of taking up the sauce later.
When you think that the noodles are done, fish one out and taste it. If it isn’t, put it back, wait 15-30 seconds, and then repeat the process.
When the pasta is cooked, strain it from the water, but don’t rinse it, then toss it with the sauce. You can do this in a large bowl or in the saucepan you cooked the sauce in. Plate the pasta, grate some cheese over it, then serve it on the table and eat it steaming hot.
Note: If the recipe calls for cooking the pasta with the sauce for 1-2 minutes, remember to allow for the extra cooking time and remove the pasta from the cooking water earlier. In such a case, preserve a ladle or two of salty and starchy pasta water and add it to the hot pan. It will ameliorate the sauce in many ways and keep the pasta from drying out.
Thin, Regular, or Thick Spaghetti?
Thin pasta, like angel hair and thin spaghetti, is delicate. Pair it with lightly cooked tomato sauces, parsley crème, and seafood.
Regular spaghetti pairs well with just about any type of sauce. Try it with tomato sauce, olive oil and garlic (Aglio e Olio), and carbonara.
Thick spaghetti, with its full-bodied flavor, goes well with hearty, meaty sauces when you need carbohydrates to stand up to the meatballs or Italian sausages.
The key to cooking spaghetti is not to undercook or overcook it. Easier said than done, I know, but now you have the knowledge you need to get cooking—and cook you will!
When the noodles are in the sweet spot, a.k.a. al dente, they’re tender on the outside but firm to the bite and slightly white on the inside. Remove them from the heat, strain them from the water, toss them with the sauce, then plate, grate cheese, and enjoy.