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Cook Noodles The Right Way

Check out top chef tips for churning out sensational spaghetti from a stock pot every single time.

Making pasta is such a seemingly simple pastime. Picture it: you boil a pot of water, toss in some noodles, wait a few minutes, drizzle on some sauce, and you’ve got a plate of pure weekday pleasure. But back on planet earth, the task is churning with trouble.

Do I add a pinch of salt or a drop of oil? Drain it now or let it simmer? Our grandmothers always had that one ‘secret’ step for prepping the noodles and seasoning the sauce. Yet today, we follow the recipe on the back of the noodle box and hope for the best.

Stop ruining pot after pot of mushy macaroni and lifeless linguini. Follow these easy tips for perfect home-cooked pasta, and prepare to be transported to your grandmother’s kitchen.

Step #1: Pick the perfect pot

We’re all guilty of it. You trudge home from work, grab a small saucepan, get lazy, and load it with just enough water to cover a serving of pasta. The problem is, the ‘fast and furious’ method causes noodles to stick together and cook unevenly.

Make sure to choose a large pot (the Made In 5QT Stock Pot or the Made In 8 QT Stock Pot) and fill it with ample water so that your spaghetti is literally swimming. It may take a little extra time to boil, but it does make a difference with not having your noodles become sticky.

Step #2: Flavor your water

The secret is SALT. Most people know to salt the water after bringing it to a boil (salting too early can damage your pan), but the big mistake is coming up too short.

In order for the starchy noodles to actually seep up some of that seasoning, you want to be very generous with the shaker, adding at least 1-2 tablespoons to the pot. Bring the H2O to a complete boil before plunging your pasta and salt in.You should use table salt, rather than kosher or sea salt (check out our guide on selecting the right salt).  Temperatures should be dangerously hot—meaning, practically bubbling over.

Step #3: Get your ladle going!

Once your pasta and salt have entered their boiling bath, remember to continuously stir the water. This action will prevent individual pieces from sticking together and mixing up into a messy clump. You don’t have to go crazy. Every few minutes, just give things a go around.

Note: the common misconception is that starch is what causes noodles to stick together, however overcrowding and not stirring your pasta pot is really the issue.

PRO TIP – Step away from the oil

It’s at this point we should also debunk a common blunder committed by generation after generation of home chefs. Never—EVER—add olive oil or any other greasy ingredients to the water itself.

Over the years, this faulty pointer has somehow gained traction as people think the oil will lubricate the pasta and prevent it from sticking. In reality, it over-coats the pasta to the point that mom’s special pasta sauce can’t bind to it, resulting in a slippery, tasteless mess.

Step #4: Check and check again

One thing to note is that every pasta cooks differently. For instance, fettuccine and linguine are relatively thick and may clock in at 10 to 12 minutes for al dente; meanwhile, a thinner spaghetti or angel hair variety may take only 7 to 8 minutes. Always check the box and follow precise instructions.

When you’re a few minutes away from the recommended cook time, bite down on a piece and test its doneness. It should have a little bite—not to the extent that it’ll break your teeth—but a chewiness that’s supple. We find this ‘almost done’ consistency to be an ideal time to start straining. Still, it’s smart to experiment with the texture you best enjoy, as this science is slightly subjective.

PRO TIP – Starch up your sauce

Are you making red sauce or mushroom marsala on the side? (No offense to mushrooms, but we happen to love tomato sauce and recommend you check out our tips on how to perfect a sweet and savory tasting sauce). Many seasoned chefs have a little trick up their sleeve when it comes to sauce, and it happens to be revealed at this point in the preparation process. Once you’re ready to drain your pot, put a cup or so of the starchy water aside.

By adding a little of your leftover liquid to a homemade gravy, you can achieve that restaurant-quality texture—not too thick, not too thin—that everyone craves.

PRO TIP: Don't rinse your pasta 

Avoid rinsing noodles in cold water, which strips each strand of its starchy exterior. This is a key binding agent and is essential to your entire dish coming together on the plate and in your mouth.

Step #5: Prepare to indulge

Once the pasta is thoroughly cooked, drain into a colander, and add your classic gravy, marinara, alfredo, vodka or some other pasta-worthy sauce.  And don’t wait! You can avoid unnecessary clumping by adding sauce straight to the pot (or vice versa, with the pasta placed right in the saucepan). If you are mixing your sauce in a fry pan, we recommend finishing off your pasta directly in a 12" frying pan.

In the age of Pinterest, Tasty, and Bon App’s Basically, everyone can be a master at-home chef. Experiment with different pasta and protein pairings: spaghetti with ground meat, fettuccine with blackened chicken, linguine with shrimp, and other classic matchups.

With the right cooking technique and a mouthwatering sauce, you’ll be singing your own pasta praises in no time.

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