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Mar 10, 2008 10:57 AM

Cooks Illustrated Recipe: Boiled Water

Cooks Illustrated Recipe: Boiled Water
by Cooky McKitchener

Like many people, I enjoy the moist aroma and sinus-soothing vapors from a pot of boiling water. But it is often difficult to get a roiling boil just the way you remember it as a child. In my quest to perfect boiled water I began by collecting a dozen different recipes ranging from family hand-me-downs to restaurant standbys. But none of these recipes produced a water boil precisely as I remember it. Some were too slow and too dilute while others were dense and tough. All of the recipes shared a few typical ingredients, such as water. But otherwise they had little in common.

In my first effort to produce a reliable boiled water, I began with a cylindrical steel container, or “pot” as often called for in traditional recipes. Placing the pot four inches away from the flame, the water did eventually come to a boil, but it took six hours. This might have been acceptable in our grandparents’ day, but many of us no longer have so much time to spare. I then moved the pot closer, a mere two inches from the flame. Indeed, the water boiled in half the time – a big improvement.

Still, tasters said that the boiled water exhibited a “metallic” tang. I suspected this off-note might have been imparted by the steel container or “pot” itself. Next, I removed the pot from the equation, pouring the water directly into the flame. As I’d hoped, the water boiled almost instantly, exhibiting just the warm vapor I was looking for.

Although direct contact with the burner did boil the water quickly, testers found it difficult to get close to the liquid without having their faces burned off by the gas flame. Clearly I needed to find another way.

I then remembered a vessel I’d received as a gift from an ex-mother-in-law that has been kept in a remote storage locker for many years. I drove there in my car at a speed of 30MPH. After observing that it was taking a long time to get there, I increased my speed to 60MPH. This worked well and I arrived at my destination in half the time.

The vessel is constructed with a layer of ceramic enamel enrobed over an iron core. It can hold about 8 quarts of liquid and weighs 400 pounds. I strapped the container to a trailer hitch and returned to the test kitchen.

Because of the vessel’s weight, I used a winch to lift it onto the burner. Once in place, I filled it with water and lit the stove. Voila! In just about ten minutes, there was a perfectly boiled pot of water. The steaming vapor had just the level of moisture I’d remembered, and because of the enamel coating, the boiled water did not take on any unwanted flavors.

1 heavy enamel-coated iron pot with winch
8 quarts of water

Lift pot onto burner and fill with water. Turn burner on high and wait ten minutes. Serve immediately.

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  1. Salted Water for Boiling
    Recipe may be doubled; leftovers freeze well.

    Serves: 6

    The equation to find the elevated boiling point is as follows: M = k(w/eW), where M is the relationship between the molecular weight of the dissolved substance, k is the ebullioscopic constant, w is the weight of the solute (salt), and W is the weight of the solvent (water), and e is the elevation in boiling point. Remember that atmospheric pressure also affects the boiling point of water. For a rough measurement, a handful of salt in a pan of water raises the boiling point about a tenth of a degree.


    • 1 Tablespoon salt
    • 4 quarts water (any temperature under 212 ° F)


    1. Take a large pot* fill with 4 quarts water.
    2. Place pot carefully over burner on stove.
    3. Turn on the stove.
    4. Wait patiently (if patience grows thin, check to see if burner is lit).
    5. Do not watch closely as a watched pot never boils.
    6. When water and/or salt gets hot enough, it will boil.
    7. Water is boiling when large bubbles come to the top and it makes a boiling sound (it is not yet boiling when tiny bubbles come up).
    8. Further heating will only result in evaporation and (heaven forbid) burning water.
    9. Add salt.
    10. Always add your salt after the water begins to boil to avoid pitting your cookware.
    11. Heating the water to a gentle boil improved the final dish.
    12. Serve hot or at room temperature.

    * A pot is somewhat similar to a cup in shape i.e. cylindrical, except it is usually metal and has a long handle.

    1. The genius about that article is the way they duplicated the tone of every Cook's Illustrated recipe I've ever read.

      1. That this meme originated on Epicurious:

        The best comments are from early on (2002-2003). Very funny. ;)

        2 Replies
        1. re: litchick

          Thanks for the link. I received the "recipe" in an e-mail. Do you have the one on cannibalism?

        2. This is even funnier than the cannibalism one!

          1. Now I just need a recipe for ice.

            2 Replies
            1. re: LabRat

              All in good time grasshopper. They need recipes for next month.