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13 Pasta Cooking Tricks You Really Should Know By Now

From how much salt to put in your water to knowing exactly when it's done.

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For most people, cooking pasta is a no-brainer. You just dump it in boiling water and walk away — but it's not that easy.

From properly salting the water to using the right amount of water, there's actually a lot that goes into cooking perfect pasta. Here are 13 basic (but super important!) tips for cooking pasta at home:

1. For every pound of pasta, use one tablespoon of kosher salt to season your cooking water...

This might seem like a lot, but most of it goes right down the drain and this is the only time you're able to season the actual pasta (and not just the sauce). For most pasta, one tablespoon of salt is the perfect amount to season your cooking water — but keep in mind that this ratio is for kosher salt, not table salt (which is stronger). If using table salt, use just two teaspoons instead of a tablespoon.

More: How To Properly Salt Your Pasta Water

2. And four quarts of water — which might sound like a lot of water, but it needs it.

Pasta releases a lot of starch when cooking, so it's important to use a large pot of water. If you were to cook pasta in a small pot of water, the starches would make the water thick and your pasta slimy. To prevent this, just use four quarts of water (aka a gallon) for every pound of pasta you use.

3. Pick the right pasta shape for the sauce you're using.

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Not all pasta shapes are created equal, and some are better suited to thick sauces while some are perfect for oil-based sauces. For delicate sauces (sauces made primarily with olive oil or tomatoes) spaghetti or other long pastas are a solid choice as the thin sauce coats the pasta evenly. For heavier sauces (sauces made with meats or large chunks of veggies) tube pastas such as penne or other large shapes are ideal. The crevices in the pasta trap the hearty sauce and let you get the perfect ratio of sauce-to-pasta in every bite.

More: How to Choose the Right Type of Pasta for a Sauce

4. Don't follow the cooking times on the packaging and instead taste it as you cook.

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The best way to tell if pasta is done? By simply tasting it. Packaging directions can give you an idea of how long to cook your pasta, but it isn't foolproof. Not all boiling water is the same — lazily boiling water is different than water that's at a rolling boil, and they cook pasta at different speeds. To be safe, simply remove a noodle from the water and taste. You want it to be tender yet toothsome (AKA al dente.)

5. As soon as you add your pasta to your cooking water, make sure to stir it.

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Most of the pasta's starches is released within the first few minutes of cooking, meaning that the pasta is most likely to stick during the first few minutes of cooking, too. To prevent this, stir your pasta constantly for the first few minutes of cooking. After that, you can back off and let it do its thing without worry.

But why not just add oil to the cooking water? Because the oil will actually coat the pasta and prevent your sauce for coating them properly.

6. Despite what you've heard, don't add oil to your pasta water.

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If pasta is starchy and sticky, then why not just add oil to the cooking water? Because the oil will actually coat the pasta and prevent your sauce for coating it properly. A lot of people think they need to add oil to their water when boiling pasta, but this could be doing more harm than good (and it really isn't preventing the pasta from sticking together all that much), so go ahead and leave it out.

7. Reserve some of the cooking liquid in case you need it to make your sauce.

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You may have heard people refer to pasta water as "liquid gold," but why? Because pasta water contains the starches from the pasta, making it perfect for adding into your favorite sauces. The starches help thicken sauces up, make them glossy, and help coat noodles perfectly. It doesn't add any flavor, just a bit of richness that takes sauces from good to great. If you find yourself with a sauce that doesn't cling to your pasta or seems too thin, try adding 1/4 cup pasta water until it's velvety and shines.

8. Strain your pasta as soon as it's done, and don't let it hang out in the water off the heat.

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Turning off the heat is not enough to stop pasta from cooking. The hot water (even if it's not boiling) will continue to cook it until it turns to mush. The best practice? Strain your pasta as soon as it's done and never let it hang out in hot water off the heat.

9. Don't rinse your pasta unless you're planning to make a quick pasta salad or stir-fry.

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Rinsing pasta does two things: It quickly cools it down, and it washes away all of the starch. For most pasta recipes (like ones coated in a warm sauce such as Alfredo or marinara) you want some starch on the pasta. It helps the sauce cling to the pasta better and thickens up your sauce just enough to make it coat — but for things like pasta salad or stir-frys, rinsing can be beneficial. Removing the excess starch helps prevent the noodles from sticking to each other (or the pan if stir-frying), so it can come in handy — otherwise, skip the rinsing.

More: When to Rinse Pasta (and When to Skip It)

10. If you're not planning to use your pasta right away, toss it in olive oil to keep it from sticking together.

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The starches in pasta makes it naturally sticky, and as soon as you drain your pasta, the noodles begin to dry and get even stickier. If you're not planning to use your cooked pasta right away, tossing it in a bit of a olive oil can prevent your pasta from turning into a sticky mess. However, if you do plan to use them right away, skip this step as olive oil can prevent your sauce from fully coating the pasta.

11. Add your pasta to your sauce, not your sauce to your pasta.

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Adding your pasta to a hot sauce gives it time to actually cook in the sauce and absorb some of it. Just like how salting water allows you to flavor the pasta itself, finishing pasta in a hot sauce allows the flavors of the sauce to get absorbed into the pasta. Once strained, add your pasta directly to a pan with your sauce in it and toss over low heat. This allows your sauce and pasta to combine into one instead of the sauce sliding over the pasta — just make sure to undercook your pasta by a minute or two so it doesn't overcook in the sauce.

12. If you're cooking fresh pasta, you'll have to treat it a bit differently...

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When cooking fresh pasta, use the same ratio of salt and cooking water as above (one tablespoons of salt and four quarts of water per pound) but don't cook it as long. Fresh pasta only needs a few minutes to cook depending on the shape, and some can cook in as little as 90 seconds. To test it, remove a piece and taste it. The texture will be different than dried pasta, but you can still achieve an al dente texture. If it's undercooked, it'll taste gummy and dense, and overcooked will simply turn to mush. It may take some practice to get just right, but cooking with fresh pasta is a great way to up your pasta game.

More: How to Cook Fresh Pasta

13. And if you're cooking frozen, stuffed pastas, boil them just until they float to the top.

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Frozen, filled pastas (such as ravioli) can be a bit tricky to cook properly. If you overcook them, you run the risk of them exploding. If you undercook them, the center will be cold or the pasta will taste raw. The general rule of thumb is to boil frozen, filled pastas just until they float, and always boil them directly from frozen (don't let them sit out too long before cooking).