What does simmer mean?

A simmer is a method of cooking that uses a moderate heat to gently soften foods while slowly combining seasonings and ingredients. It’s often used for soups, stews and slow cooking meat. The definition of simmer is to cook a liquid just below the boiling point (212°F), with a range around 185°F to 205°F.

A pot of simmering water and a pot of boiling water on a stovetop.

What is a simmer vs. a boil?

Simmering cooks at lower temperatures with less agitation, allowing you to slowly incorporate flavors into your dishes. A simmer allows lower heat to penetrate food more slowly and is a better choice for delicate foods that might break apart in a rapid boil. It’s also ideal for proteins like a large cut of meat that will become tender if cooked low and slow and become tough if cooked quickly at high temperatures.

 

Boiling cooks at higher temperatures of 212°F or more and is better suited for pasta, grains and root vegetables. Boiling breaks down and softens food at a more rapid rate, with the increased evaporation creating concentrated flavors.

A pot of simmering water on a stovetop.

What does a simmer look like?

To most easily gauge a simmer, simply watch the amount of bubbles rising from the bottom of the pot to the surface of your liquid. At a low simmer the liquid will have minimal movement with only a few, tiny bubbles rising intermittently, accompanied by little wisps of steam. As the heat is increased to a full simmer, more steady streams of small bubbles will start to rise and multiply. The bubbles will break the surface occasionally, but most of the motion should remain under the surface.

In contrast, when you boil a liquid expect to see large bubbles throughout the pot, rapidly breaking the surface. There will be much more rolling motion in the liquid and larger amounts of steam.

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Reference your recipe before starting a simmer

Most recipes call for two primary methods of simmering, either to heat to a rapid boil then reduce the temperature down to a simmer or to slowly work your way up from a low to a medium heat and then maintain it. Always read your recipe beforehand to ensure the best results and to avoid overcooking.

How to simmer

A simmer has some variance in temperature below boiling point, ranging from a low simmer to a full simmer. You may need to adjust the temperature accordingly based on your stovetop, cookware, ingredients and recipe of choice. Be aware that above sea level air pressure is reduced, causing liquid to boil at lower temperatures and evaporate faster. Cooking temperatures and times will need to be adjusted accordingly to ensure that foods are thoroughly cooked.

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STEP 1: FILL YOUR COOKWARE WITH LIQUID

Start by filling your cookware with enough water or liquid to fully submerge and cover any ingredients that will be added. If you’re using a recipe, reference it for an exact amount.

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STEP 2: PLACE YOUR COOKWARE ON THE BURNER

Set your stovetop to a low to medium heat, slowly increasing it until you reach the desired simmer. Be aware that adding new ingredients may cause the temperature to drop slightly.

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STEP 3: ADJUST THE TEMPERATURE IF NEEDED TO MAINTAIN A SIMMER

A steady simmer can quickly develop into a boil if it gets too hot. Watch the bubbles to gauge a simmer or use a cooking thermometer to monitor the temperature and adjust accordingly.

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STEP 4: SET YOUR TIMER AND STIR AS NECESSARY

Once a simmer is established, stir as often as needed according to the recipe or ingredients used.

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