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Feb 5, 2012 03:26 PM

want to make sure i am truly simmering, is the heat too low?

hey all hope you are all well... well i am finding myself paranoid over the art of "simmering" . . . i am making homemade refried beans and am at the stage where i am cooking the beans in water for a few hours. the recipe says to simmer for a few hours. i always thought i knew what simmering was however i am getting paranoid that possibly the heat is too low. usually what i would do is just turn the heat down all the way, using a gas stove by the way, however after reading that when you simmer you SHOULD see small bubbles i am not convinced i am actually simmering. when i turn it down to the lowest setting the water just sits there, there looks like there are some bubbles on the edge but they aren't "bubbling" per se, it looks more like a permanent white-ish bubble circle, with no movement.

i read that for a proper simmer you should at least see a bubble come up every few seconds, yet i find im having to turn the heat up almost to medium-high to get there, this is just confusing me even more!!!

can someone help me out? thank you very much :) have a good one

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  1. Ignore the settings and look at the simmer. Define it by what you see, not what the knobs say.

    1. per Wikipedia:

      Simmering is a food preparation technique in which foods are cooked in hot liquids kept at or just below the boiling point of water[1] (which is 100 °C or 212 °F at average sea level air pressure), but higher than poaching temperature. To keep a pot simmering, one brings it to a boil and then reduces the heat to a point where the formation of steam bubbles has all but ceased, typically a water temperature of about 94 °C (200 °F).

      I think you should get your pans out and pour cold water in them, one at a time, and practice bringing water to the boil, and then finding where the simmer is. Each stove is different. I wish I'd done that myself years ago. It think you'd feel more confident of how your stove heats things if you did that. If you had a thermometer, that would also help.

      At any rate, your heat goes down to where there is only an occasional bubbling up, if I understand this correctly.

      1. ok guys that helped a bit but i still don't know what to look for! the water is moving slightly, no bubbles however the water is swaying as if there was a gentle breeze. there looks to be some scumm-ish type permanent bubbles on the left and right but they aren't typical bubbles per se in the sense that they aren't moving or "bubbling" . . i assume this is just scum from the beans then . . .
        would you agree with what i read that a proper simmer is where you will see a bubble break the surface every few seconds.. ??
        sorry guys i don't know WHAT to look for

        7 Replies
        1. re: certifiedhumane

          simmering is a verb, the water should be moving. Yes, a bubble should break the surface.

          1. re: wyogal

            ok man thank you do i sense a sort of tone in that voice of yours? don't you backtalk to me man

            1. re: certifiedhumane

              excuse me? Just trying to be helpful. Take it or leave it.

              1. re: wyogal

                just messing with you man that video you posted was awesome! i totally get it now, just making sure you aren't getting lippy with me or anything :) peace out have a good one then

                1. re: certifiedhumane

                  whatever......... your humor font isn't working.

                  1. re: certifiedhumane

                    I agree. Just think of simmering as barely boiling or slightly below barely boiling. Keep in mind that there is a difference between the lid on and the lid off. When I bring the liquid to barely boiling with the lid on, the liquid will stop simmering as I open the lid. Conversely, when you bring the liquid to a simmer with a lid on, it will start to boil after you put on the lid.

                  2. re: wyogal

                    Thank you for posting that very clear explanation of a simmer. I have been doing it correctly all these 47 years of cooking, but sometimes wondered if those bubbles meant it was too high.

            2. Yes, you do need to see those tiny bubbles toward the middle of the pot, not just at the edge. There needs to be movement. But the bubbles need to be tiny, and they should only be popping up every so often, not rapidly.

              As Wyogal said, go by what you see in the pot, not by the setting of the stove's burner dial.

              Alton Brown has a chapter on Simmering in his book, "I'm Just Here for the Food" (which is a great book, by the way).
              He discusses the ambiguity of the term simmering, noting that two common definitions depend on inherently subjective words ("about" and "gently"):
              1. To heat water (or a water-type liquid) to about 195ºF or until tiny bubbles form on the bottom of the pan then travel to the surface.
              2. To cook foods gently in a liquid held at about the temperature mentioned above.

              He also points out that that 195ºF can vary depending on a number of factors, like the pot, the weather, and what is being cooked in the liquid.

              He says that he does all of his simmering in an oven rather than on the stove top because the oven is much better at maintaining even temperatures for long periods, and the oven allows heat to enter the pot from all sides without needing stirring.

              He says that he generally simmers at 250ºF for the first hour then 225ºF for the rest of the cook time. (His chapter includes a beans recipe in which presoaked beans are cooked at 250ºF for 1½ hours though.)

              1. I always get nervous about simmering stuff on the stove, as it is a constant check and stir and make sure nothing is getting stuck. Plus, I don't like to leave a pot on the stove unattended.
                If I need to simmer for a few hours, what I do is turn on my oven to 250F, bring the pot on the stove up to a boil, then put it in the oven for a few hours. I check on it periodically to make sure it is simmering (aka bubbles showing up, small and slow), but in the oven, I can leave this unattended and not worry at all. And since the heat is all the way around the pot vice heat on the bottom of the pot to cook the food, I don't worry about burning or sticking.
                And HA! I posted this before I read above LOL...nice to see AB has the same sort of advice...