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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...

                1. just curious, why or what do we use that simmer on the dial for?. Why would they put it there? I am a new cook too,when i did what the OP did it just sat there . so what is it for?I do understand what you all said on forget the dial, its whats happening in the pan.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: walnut

                    I start my stuff on a higher setting, then after it has come to a boil, I turn it down, using the simmer setting. It keeps it at a simmer. Starting something at that setting takes forever to heat up.

                    1. re: wyogal

                      interesting. i have never seen stove with a simmer setting.

                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                        I think it's kinda new. We replaced our oven/stove last year and it was included, even on the economy models. I like it, can heat up something quickly, then turn it way low. I tend to scorch things, so this setting is good for me! Also good for my CI round griddle, heat it up, then turn on the simmer, and it's great for warming tortillas.

                        1. re: wyogal

                          electric or gas? my gas stove is only a few years old.

                  2. when you say you bring it to a boil then turn it down on the simmer dial....is that for all things ,bec. like op says the beans just sat there?

                    1. You ought to be able to see small bubbles coming up from the middle of the pot not just around the edges. If you want to get really into 'inner-simmering' like they do in restaurants that make all their own stocks for soups/sauces once you are getting a proper simmer move the pot a bit off the burner then readjust the heat. This will cause a heat convection to happen where the the stock is actually moving.

                      1. wyogal..... turn to simmer and simmer is that for all things. bec. seems like for some things it would just sit there ...bec. not hot enough to heat it?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: walnut

                          I have the heat turned up, then turn it down, and it simmers. I'm not sure what you are asking. There is more than one "simmer" setting, a dial 1-4. Everything is probably a bit different. I use my eyes to check it, too, not just a number on a dial.

                          1. re: wyogal

                            thanks wyogal...my simmer dial or setting doesnt have any way i can set it...it stays one way.I didnt know you could set it differently

                        2. I/m not a cook, but it cracks me up when "experts" like Alton Brown says in his book that "195ºF can vary depending on a number of factors, like the pot, the weather, and what is being cooked in the liquid." Foks, 195 degrees is always going to be 195 degrees. This reminds me of the fiasco when everyone worried about "Y2K". They said your coffee pots would fail, your microwaves would fail. the truth is, 30 seconds was 30 seconds on Dec. 31, 1999 and 30 seconds was 30 seconds on Jan. 1, 2000. Water boiled at the same temperature in 1999 and in 2000.
                          Alton Brown needs to spend more time reading about physics and less time standing over a stove if he wants to sell serious books.
                          I do agree with the description of simmer, though. It occurs when there are slow bubbles rising to the surface. I offer one caution, though. If you use an electric stove, the coils have hot spots. That means the bubbles may appear anywhere, not just in the center.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: rlymanyoung

                            I think you misunderstood the 195 degrees point. It's not that 195 degrees is not 195 degrees under different settings. It's that the simmering point temperature varies in different settings. Yes, 195 degrees is always 195 degrees. But the simmering point will sometimes be 195 degrees while under other circumstances it might be 194 or 196 etc.