From boiling up boxed pasta to tackling the most complicated recipe, odds are, most cooking you do will involve boiling water.
But what's the difference between a simmer, a gentle boil, and a rolling boil? Thumb through any cookbook and you'll see recipes calling for different liquid-heating methods.
Mastering these methods—and knowing which technique works best with which recipes—could mean the difference between a successful dish and a culinary disaster. Just follow our simple cheat sheet to cook every dish to perfection.
What it looks like: At a simmer, a few tiny bubbles should form in the water every few seconds. Overall, however, the water shouldn't be moving very much. To simmer, you'll usually want to use medium-high heat.
What it's used for: Melding different flavors together, braising meat, or cooking down soups, sauces, and stocks.
What it looks like: Like a simmer, a gentle boil shouldn't involve much agitation in the liquid. Instead, small bubbles should constantly break at the surface, and some larger bubbles should form periodically. You may need to keep a close eye on the temperature to make sure a gentle boil doesn't turn into a full-on boil.
What it's used for: Thickening sauces and soups nicely without too much splashing or mess.
What it looks like: Bringing water or sauce to a boil usually requires high heat. Boiling should constantly produce big bubbles that break at the surface of the pot, releasing lots of steam.
What it's used for: Getting hearty vegetables (like potatoes and root vegetables) perfectly tender and cooking hard- or soft-boiled eggs.
What it looks like: Think of a rolling boil as a boil kicked up a notch or two. Big bubbles should erupt at the surface of the water, and neither stirring nor adding ingredients can slow down the boil. You can also hear the movement of the water at this stage.
What it's used for: Quickly blanching vegetables and cooking pasta pasta until al dente.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont