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Jan 17, 2011 07:16 PM

proper double boiler setup

I've created a few makeshift double-boiler setups over the years but am always unsure of the proper setup. I dug around online but nothing very thorough (or reliable-seeming) came up. My Better Homes and Gardens cookbook basically just says the double boiler needs to be heat-safe and should not touch the water below. Is that all there is to it? Should it / can it form a seal with the pot below? Should the water be simmering or boiling?

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  1. Without having any special expertise other than my own experience. I would say that the top bowl should fill the top diameter of the heating pot. I don't think that you8 need a complete seal, but that you should get somewhat of a seal from the weight of the top bowl. Whether you want to simmer or boil the water would have to do with how quickly you wanted to heat the food in the top bowl.

    For many years I used a pyrex bowl that overlapped a 3 qt. Revereware pan. I was fortunate enough to find a deep, double bowl insert curved bowl at a church fair.

    1. don't make it more complicated than it is. BHG is correct - the top bowl or pan should be heat-safe, and should nest on or in the bottom pan with enough space to keep water from bubbling up & touching it...and to prevent that from happening, best to keep the water at a simmer instead of a rolling boil. that's really it.

      1. I'm wondering in both terms of proper heat transfer and safety, since my mother just suffered burns (a la undomestic diva, link below) from a double boiler somehow exploding. In her post the undomestic diva says, "Never, EVER stack the pots, which will (take it from me, people) prevent the steam from the boiling water to escape and then, what-do-you-know? it will explode. (The smaller pot should be able to fit within the larger pot, with room for the steam to escape.) "

        But aren't official double-boilers tight-fitting?

        similar commentary here:

        1 Reply
        1. re: okayperson

          wow, i've never heard of anything like that before. exploding Pyrex dishes, sure, but not double boilers! i always use a bowl nested into a pot, so i guess since it's not an airtight seal there's technically some room for steam to escape...though i've never noticed it streaming out of there. the other issue is the temperature of the water - as i said before, it should be simmering but not boiling. water at a hard/rolling boil will generate a greater volume & force of steam, which could probably contribute to the risk of explosion.

        2. I too have two sets of Revereware which means I have two double boiler setups.

          I bring water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer unless its a larger batch of something.
          Tight seal is not necessary and can actually cause a boil-over if too tight of a seal and the pressure and heat from the water forces things up and outward.

          Water should not touch the double boiler insert and any bowl, metal or ceramic, can be used in a pinch.

          No better way to melt chocolate and I still do my scrambled eggs via double boiler to keep them soft, fluffy and slightly underdone to my liking.


          2 Replies
          1. re: jjjrfoodie

            Melting chocolate is much easier in the microwave IMO. It is about the only thing I use it for!

            1. re: magiesmom

              Another easy way to melt chocolate is in a covered bowl set on the warming plate of a drip coffeemaker. Takes a little while but the gentle heat is just right.

          2. Thanks for all the comments!
            So it sounds like too high of heat is the main concern (safety-wise).

            water not touching + low heat -- easy enough