Things You're Doing Wrong While Cooking Pasta

You're Doing It Wrong: Because being wrong doesn’t actually feel right. To find out other things you're screwing up, click here.

We've already shown you what you are doing wrong while making pasta sauce -- and really, that should be the hard part. After all, cooking pasta is just dumping a heap of hard noodles into boiling water till they're soft, right?

Wrong. Dead wrong. If I had an Italian grandma (I mean, nonna) she'd be spinning in her grave right now (or hopefully her Rascal scooter, because I'd want my hypothetical Italian grandma to still be alive). There are some fairly common ways people are mucking up their assorted noods, and we talked to some top Italian chefs around the country to suss 'em out. And mamma mia! I didn't know how dumb we all were. 

boiling pot of pasta

You aren't salting your water

Why do you do this, amateur chef? You are blowing it! Like Marge Simpson said, "The extra ingredient is salt."

"The No. 1 mistake home cooks make with pasta is under-seasoning the pasta water. The pasta water needs to be seasoned with salt -- it should not be salty as the sea, but you should taste the water and be able to taste a small amount of salt. No matter how much salt is in your sauce, the dish will still taste off-balance." -- Matt Ford, executive chef at Americano (Dallas, Texas)

And if you are salting the water, you are doing it too soon

In life, timing can often be the most important thing. In pasta, it's pretty much the only important thing.

"Adding salt to the water for your pasta is important, but even more important is how much salt you add and when you add it in the boiling process. Keep in mind that the amount of salt depends on how much water you are using, not the amount of pasta you're cooking. Additionally the salt shouldn’t be added to cold water you've yet to put on the stove or when it's reached boiling, but when the water starts to 'quiver.'" -- Valentina Guolo-Migotto, executive chef at Ca' Momi Osteria (Napa, California)

You're putting olive oil in the water

Don't do that. Whoever told you to do that was wrong. Sorry, it was probably your grandma.

"A big mistake I see many people doing is putting oil in the water with the pasta. Even if you drain all the water out, the pasta is left with a coat of oil, which prevents the sauce from sticking to it." -- Fernando Darin, executive chef at Ray's & Stark Bar at LACMA (Los Angeles, California)

You're following the instructions on the box

Do you always follow the rules? Wake up, sheeple! Sometimes the box does not know best. 

 "Never cook pasta as long as it says on the package, cook for three minutes less." -- Tony Mantuano, executive chef at Bar Toma (Chicago, Illinois)

Delicious Pasta in a Pan

You aren't matching pastas with the right sauce

Pairing the wrong pasta with your sauce is like eating a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch with chopsticks. I mean, you can do it -- but it's really dumb. 

"Use the right pasta for the right sauce. If you are using a heartier sauce, like bolognese, use a wide noodle like pappardelle, or if you have a thinner sauce, then use a pasta shape with more grooves and folds to be able to carry the thin sauce." -- Ford

You're rinsing the pasta, and not letting it properly cool

For some reason, human beings have an inherent and unexplainable need to run any food we eat under hot water before we cook it. This is so wrong. Here, at least.

"I have heard that people say to rinse the pasta in the colander with cold water to stop the cooking, but when you do that you are rinsing all of the starch off the pasta. I find this makes the sauce not stick as well and the flavors to not integrate as well with each other. I would recommend after draining the pasta, tossing it with olive oil and then spreading it on a flat surface so it is able to cool that way." -- Aaron Meneghelli, executive chef at Carneros Inn (Napa, California)

If you make your own pasta, you are using the wrong eggs

Freshest is best... shest? You get what I'm trying to say here...

"I always recommend using the freshest eggs you can find, preferably organic and free range. This may sound like a small detail, but it really enhances the pasta." -- Darin 

You're not saving a little bit of the "starchy" water

Remember what you learned from Fern Gully? Why are you messing with the lessons from Fern Gully?

"And always remember to save a little bit of the water that you used to cook the pasta to finish the dish. The starch in the pasta water helps emulsify the sauce and acts as a binding agent between the sauce and the pasta." -- Mantuano

You're not letting the pasta finish in the sauce

Why do you want to half-ass everything? Finishing is the most important part of life, and nobody likes a choke artist. It's why LeBron went to Miami... and then back to Cleveland.

"Put the pasta back in the pot you cooked it in, add the half cup of starchy water plus a couple ladles of sauce, turn the heat back on to medium-high and the pasta will absorb the sauce and water. It's what the Italians call the 'Pasta Marriage Ceremony' – marry the sauce and the pasta so they become one." -- Mantuano

You're not using this dumb spoon trick

This one is mine, but it is extremely useful. Impress your friends! Scare your enemies! Measure your pasta perfectly! Live your life knowing you can do at least one thing right!

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Thrillist. He's never once peed on a busboy, but once he threw up on a horse. Follow him @wilfulton.