Pasta Do's and Don'ts

Hint: Breaking pasta is a major no-no.

Large pot with salt and spoon
Photo: Anna Williams

What's not to love about pasta? Our favorite carb is affordable, versatile, and delicious. Whether it's eaten with your favorite sauce or used in soup, some simple dos and don'ts will keep your strands separated, perfect, and tender every time. Hint: From using the right cookware (big enough so there's no need to break your pasta before putting it in) to salting the water just right (do it after it comes to a boil, not before), here are a few tips to help you make your pasta dishes even better.


Use a large pot that holds at least seven quarts. The lighter the pot, the better; the water will boil faster than with a heavy stockpot and―also key―return to a boil quickly after you add the pasta.

Salt the water once it comes to a boil. (Add salt earlier and it could end up pitting an aluminum pot.) The seasoning will give the pasta an essential flavor boost. For every pound of pasta, figure on two tablespoons of salt and six quarts of water.

Stir the pasta right after you add it to the water and then occasionally throughout the cooking time to prevent clumping.

Test for doneness about one minute before the time given on the package instructions. Dried pasta should be cooked through but still firm to the bite. (If it sticks to the wall, it's already overdone, so skip your sister's noodle-tossing method.) Fresh pasta will rise to the surface when it's ready. It should be chewy and have a uniform color throughout.


Don't break pasta to fit it in the pot. Let the ends stick out until the submerged sections soften, about 1 minute. Then stir to bend the pasta and push it underwater.

Don't add oil to the pot in an attempt to keep the noodles from sticking together―stirring with a pasta fork is much more effective. Oil also prevents the sauce from coating the pasta, making cleanup a greasy proposition.

Don't discard all the pasta cooking liquid. Reserve a cup before draining to add to sauces for seasoning and body.

Don't rinse cooked pasta. It eliminates the flavorful starch that helps the sauce adhere; rinsing also cools the pasta.

Put these new skills to the test with kid-friendly pasta recipes.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles