The Difference Between a Simmer, a Boil, and a Full Boil

Published Categorized as Cooking Tips
The Difference Between a Simmer, a Boil, and a Full BoilToa55 /Depositphotos

As with everything else in the kitchen, there’s a right and a wrong way to boil your food. Master this cooking method with our best tips.

Few cooking methods are as straightforward as boiling: Fill a pot, a saucepan, or a Dutch oven two-thirds full of water, then crank up the heat and wait for the water to reach a boil.

If the recipe calls for it, adjust the heat and season the water with salt. Submerge the food in the water and let it boil, with or without a lid. (A covered vessel keeps the moisture and heat in; an uncovered vessel evaporates and reduces the liquid.)

As simple as this sounds, you and I both know that boiling food to deliciousness is never that easy; you really have to know what kind of boil to aim for.

There’s a big difference between a simmer, a boil, and a full boil—and knowing it can make or break your homemade dishes. To help you master boiling, let’s take a minute or two to talk about that difference, and what it means for the way you prepare your food.

What’s a Simmer?

What it is:

A simmer takes place when you heat the water just below its boiling point, to a temperature of 180 to 190°F (80 to 90°C).

What it looks like:

The water moves and murmurs gently on the stove as tiny bubbles break through the surface calmly and sparsely, rising up one after the other in an orderly fashion. The situation in the pot is generally calm and there’s little movement.

When to use it:

Simmer sauces, soups, and stews to thicken and develop flavor. The gentle heat cooks the ingredients low and slow, and their aromas and flavors meld and add color to the cooking liquid.

What’s a Boil?

What it is:

When the water in the pot hits its boiling point at 212°F (100°C), it begins to boil.

What it looks like:

When water boils, bubbles form energetically and rise to the surface, only to playfully bump into each other and burst as the pot emits a cloud of steam.

When to use it:

Boil eggs to cook them through, legumes and grains to soften them, and fruits and vegetables to blanch or cook them to softness.

What’s a Full Boil?

What it is:

In a full boil, also called a rolling boil, the water doesn’t exceed its boiling point of 212°F (100°C), but it starts to evaporate at a much faster pace than before.

What it looks like:

When you bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, the boil becomes audible and produces a large amount of steam—sometimes more than the range hood can handle.

Huge bubbles form randomly and push to the surface, aggressively bumping into each other and bursting explosively, swirling and overturning the food in the pot as they go.

When to use it:

Cook dried foods, such as Italian pasta and Japanese noodles, in a rolling boil. The rapid movement of the water prevents the pasta or noodles from sticking together during cooking.

In Summary

It’s time to put it all together! For quick reference, here’s a neat table that shows the difference between a simmer, a boil, and a full boil:

Simmer180-90°F (80-90°C)Tiny bubbles forming sparsely and calmlySauces, soups, stews
Boil212°F (100°C)Medium-sized bubbles forming energetically and bursting playfully; some steamFruits, vegetables, legumes, grains
Full (rolling) boil212°F (100°C)Huge bubbles forming haphazardly and bursting aggressively; lots of steamPasta and noodles

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By Dim Nikov

Food writer, Home Cook World editor, and author of Cooking Methods & Techniques: A Crash Course on How to Cook Delicious Food at Home for Beginners. Cooking up a storm for 30 years, and still no sign of a hurricane warning.

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