(Exactly) How to Tell if Pasta is Done: When is Pasta Cooked?

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As a pasta lover, figuring out how to tell if pasta is done is second nature to me as I’ve taste tested countless noodles.

But if you’re new to cooking or not sure about pasta, learning how to know when pasta is cooked is vital for the enjoyment of your food!

Unlike something like meat, pasta that isn’t cooked all of the way is not going to be harmful to your health, but it will be harmful to your dining experience.

Equally, overcooked pasta will mean you end up with a texture that might feel slimey in your mouth and nobody wants that.

So how to tell if pasta is cooked: follow these tips and ditch the boiling time on the package.

Yes, you heard me right!

How to Tell if Pasta is Done
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You cannot always just go by the boiling time on the package for answers when it comes to how long to cook dry pasta.

It can be a good start, but these food companies aren’t taking into account your altitude (pasta takes longer or shorter to boil at different altitudes, fun fact).

It also doesn’t take into account how well you actually go your water to boil, the temperature of your water, or how much you put in.

By all means, use it as a guide, but read on about when pasta is done to make sure you’ve got the real scoop.

How to Tell if Pasta is Done
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How to Tell if Pasta is Done: the Methods

There are two main methods you can use to tell if pasta is done.

How to Tell if Pasta is Done
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The Taste Test

Most people should use the taste test (including if you’ve microwaved your pasta).

The only time you shouldn’t is if you are actually unable to eat the pasta for dietary reasons, but are cooking it for someone else.

Taking out a strand of pasta and eating it is genuinely the best way to tell if it’s done!

We’ll talk more in a second on what you should actually be trying to get a taste for, but you’ll basically want to dip a fork or spoon into the boiling water, pull out 1 or 2 pieces of pasta, and try them.

It will be very hot when you take them out, so let them cool on a plate or paper towel for a second before eating.

How to Tell if Pasta is Done
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The Fork Test

If you are physically unable to eat the pasta and there is no one around to taste test for you, then you can get a good idea by doing “the fork test.”

Either spear a piece of pasta with the fork or pull up a few strands if it’s a spaghetti to get a feel for the texture using utensils and see how it looks to the eye.

The way the spaghetti flops (or doesn’t) and how easily the fork goes through the pasta will help you know.

What Does Cooked Pasta Taste/Feel Like?

Okay, so whether you do the taste test or fork test, how do you actually know that the cooked pasta is done?

Firstly, the general rule of pasta whether you like it “al dente” (firm to the bite and chewy) or more overcooked (less ‘bite’ to it and much softer) is that if you bite into the pasta or put your fork into the pasta and it actually crunches, it’s not done yet.

The “bite” al dente refers to is very slight, so if it sounds like you’re eating a candy bar, you need to keep boiling.

When you bite into al dente pasta, it will feel like you can actually chew it up rather than it practically melting in your mouth, and you may have the slightest bit of “bite” to it where you bite through some firmness.

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It holds its shape well, but keep in mind that spaghetti should still be floppy, even if firm!

If you like your pasta a bit more overdone and past al dente, you’ll want to bite through it with no resistance at all and it should have started going from firm to soft.

If you’re doing the fork test, you should be able to get the fork all the way through the pasta, but if you like it “al dente” then you should feel some firmness (but NOT actual hardness or uncooked bits).

If you prefer it more done, then you’ll want the fork to spear straight through it with absolute ease.

You can also look at the pasta visually.

Uncooked pasta is obviously very breakable and smaller than when it takes on water as it’s cooking.

How to Tell if Pasta is Done
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If the ends of your pasta are floppy and light yellow, but the middle is still that darker yellow and more brittle looking dried pasta, keep going.

You’ll want to keep checking to see if your pasta is done about once a minute once you pass 8 or so minutes.

Note: fresh pasta will float to the surface of the boiling water when it is done – learn more about cooking times for fresh pasta here.

If Pasta Sticks to the Wall, is it Done?

There is this old wive’s tale about pasta sticking to the wall.

Does that mean it’s done?

Well, technically, yes, it would mean it was done, but it could mean it’s overdone!

Do not throw pasta at your walls, people.

Taste it!

How to Tell if Spaghetti is Done

Spaghetti is done when it is a consistent, light yellow color throughout and has a firmness when you bite into it (but not an actual hard crunch).

Typically, if you pull it out of the water with a fork, cooked spaghetti is going to be very floppy and able to twist around your fork.

You’ll know that it isn’t done if you pull the spaghetti out with a fork and some of it is still stick straight or doesn’t respond to an easy curling motion.

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How to Tell if Bow Tie Pasta is Done

Bow tie pasta follows similar principles as the cooked spaghetti, but this is a pasta with different thickness throughout, so you’ll notice that the ends typically cook faster than the middle where it’s more bunched up.

How to Tell if Pasta is Done
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Bow tie pasta is done when you taste test a piece, including the middle, and you are easily able to chew it without hearing a hard crunch (though a firmness is fine and expected if you’re cooking it “al dente.”

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