A dish of food simmering on a gas stovetop.

WHAT IS A SIMMER?

Whether you’re just curious about the difference between a simmer and a boil or interested in cooking soups and stews, learn what a simmer looks like and how to use it. 

WHAT DOES SIMMER MEAN?

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

A pot of simmering water and a pot of boiling water on a stovetop 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 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 increases to a full simmer, more steady streams of small bubbles will 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.

DO YOU SIMMER WITH THE LID ON OR OFF?

You can simmer with the cookware lid on or off, simply follow your recipe instructions. Keep in mind that when using a cover, you’ll want to set your stovetop to a low setting as it can reach a simmer faster than without a cap. When you’re not using a lid, adjust your stovetop setting to medium.

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.

Supplies
  • Cookware

  • Cooking spoon

  • Cooking thermometer (optional)

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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 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. If your simmer does boil over, it is good to know how to remove your electric stove burners to clean.

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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.

A person cutting red peppers and adding them to a frying pan next to a pot of simmering water on a Maytag® electric stovetop A person cutting red peppers and adding them to a frying pan next to a pot of simmering water on a Maytag® electric stovetop

HOW DO YOU USE A SIMMER TO COOK DIFFERENT FOODS?

You simmer foods when combining a liquid, such as water, broth or milk, with ingredients, like meat, vegetables and seasonings. As it cooks slowly on a low setting, some of the liquid evaporates, infusing flavors into the dish. Simmering enhances the taste of foods, like rice, sauces and stews.

HOW DO YOU SIMMER MEAT?

To simmer meat, add it to a sauce or liquid and cook for a longer time at a lower temperature vs. frying or searing. You can simmer beef stew, meatballs in sauce, chicken and rice with broth, seafood gumbo and meat stock … just to name a few! Braising, or simmering large cuts of meat in water, beer or wine softens ingredients into a flavorful meal.

HOW DO YOU SIMMER SOUPS AND STEWS?

You simmer a savory soup or stew by combining ingredients, like meat, beans and vegetables with seasonings and a liquid, such as water, broth or milk. Gently cook these ingredients on your stovetop on low to medium heat, occasionally stirring, especially when adding new ingredients. 

A soup uses more liquid with ingredients for a thinner consistency, can be quicker to make and is usually broth-based, puréed or creamy. A thicker, heartier stew cooks with less liquid—usually water, broth, beer or wine—for a longer period of time to create an aromatic blend of flavors. 

Whether you’re making a soup or stew, simmering instead of boiling allows the ingredients to cook slower at a lower temperature, creating a tender consistency without a mushy texture. Simmering gently softens the ingredients and melds the seasonings into a delicious one-pot meal.  

HOW DO YOU SIMMER VEGETABLES?

When you simmer vegetables, you combine the ingredients with herbs and spices in a liquid. Bring salted water or broth to a simmer on low to medium heat on your stovetop, then add the ingredients. Cook the vegetables for a longer time to gently soften the texture and enhance the flavors.  

Root vegetables, such as beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, rutabaga and turnips tend to work well because simmering softens their starchy, fibrous texture. You can also make vegetable stock using a simmering method.

A Maytag® electric oven in a modern kitchen A Maytag® electric oven in a modern kitchen

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SHOP MAYTAG® GAS AND ELECTRIC COOKTOPS FOR SIMMERING, SAUTÉING AND MORE

The simmer burner on Maytag® gas cooktops provides 800 to 5,000 BTUs of precise, adjustable heat to give your cooktop both a full-power simmer burner and warming setting all in one. And with a Maytag® electric cooktop, you can enjoy options like the Power™ burner that can boil water faster or get a wok ready for stir fry. Choose the best option for you from a variety of dependable Maytag® cooktops.

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