What Does ‘Bring to a Simmer’ Mean When Cooking?

The soup is simmering and bubbling on the stove

Simmering is a cooking technique that involves heating a liquid to a temperature just below boiling, typically between 185°F (85°C) and 205°F (96°C). This gentle heat allows for slow and even cooking, resulting in tender and flavorful dishes. Simmering is characterized by the formation of small, gentle bubbles that break the surface of the liquid at a steady rate.

Key Facts

  • Definition: Simmering is the act of cooking a liquid just below the boiling point, typically between 185°F and 205°F (85°C to 96°C).
  • Temperature: Simmering occurs at a lower temperature than boiling, and it is important to keep the liquid within this temperature range to achieve the desired results.
  • Visual cues: A slow simmer is characterized by wisps of steam and a stray bubble or two, while a regular simmer has some gentle bubbling in the pot. A rapid simmer has more bubbles, but the bubbles should still be fairly small.
  • Cooking applications: Simmering is commonly used to make stocks, soups, stews, sauces, and braises. It is also useful for cooking starchy foods such as potatoes, pasta, legumes, and grains.
  • Benefits: Simmering can tenderize tough cuts of meat, infuse flavors into the liquid, and create rich and flavorful dishes. It is a versatile cooking method that can be used for quick recipes as well as longer, slow-cooked dishes.
  • Lid off or on: It is generally recommended to start cooking with the lid off to monitor the heat and ensure a steady simmer. Adding a lid can increase the heat and possibly cause the food to boil.
  • Maintaining a simmer: To maintain a simmer, you can adjust the heat by moving the pot to the side of the burner, stirring the liquid, or using a flame tamer ring to regulate the flame.

Process and Technique

Choosing the Right Liquid

When it comes to simmering, the selection of an appropriate liquid is crucial and depends on the specific recipe and desired flavor profile. Various options are available, including water, broth, stock, sauces, or even wine. Each liquid imparts its unique characteristics, contributing to the overall taste and complexity of the dish.

Heating the Liquid

To initiate the simmering process, the chosen liquid is placed in a suitable pot or saucepan and subjected to medium heat. This gradual increase in temperature allows the liquid to reach the desired simmering point without boiling too rapidly.

Monitoring the Temperature

To ensure precise temperature control during simmering, it is advisable to utilize a culinary thermometer. This tool allows for accurate monitoring of the liquid’s temperature, facilitating the maintenance of an optimal simmer.

Adjusting the Heat

Once the liquid has reached the desired temperature, the heat should be reduced to sustain a gentle simmer. This adjustment prevents the liquid from boiling vigorously, ensuring that the ingredients are cooked slowly and evenly.

Covering the Pot

Covering the pot during simmering serves a dual purpose. Firstly, it helps maintain a steady simmer by trapping heat and minimizing excessive evaporation. Secondly, the lid aids in the retention of flavors, allowing the ingredients to steep in the liquid and infuse it with their essence.

Stirring Occasionally

To prevent sticking and ensure even cooking, it is recommended to occasionally stir the liquid while it simmers. This practice redistributes heat and promotes the integration of flavors throughout the dish.

Purpose and Benefits of Simmering

Flavor Development

Simmering plays a crucial role in the development and melding of flavors over time, resulting in dishes that are rich and complex in taste. Aromatics, herbs, and spices release their essences into the liquid during the simmer, creating a symphony of flavors that enhance the overall culinary experience.

Tenderizing Ingredients

The gentle heat of simmering is particularly effective in breaking down tough fibers present in meat and vegetables. This slow cooking method gradually tenderizes the ingredients, rendering them succulent and pleasing to the palate. In the case of meat, simmering causes collagen, a connective tissue, to dissolve, resulting in a desirable fall-off-the-bone tenderness.

Thickening Liquids

Simmering serves as a means to reduce and thicken liquids, giving rise to flavorful sauces and gravies. As the liquid slowly evaporates during simmering, its flavors become concentrated, leading to a rich and velvety texture that enhances the overall mouthfeel of the dish.

Cooking Tips and Examples

Achieving and Maintaining a Simmer

To achieve and maintain a simmer effectively, several practical tips can be employed. First, select an appropriate pot or saucepan that accommodates the amount of liquid and ingredients required for the recipe. Next, place the chosen liquid in the pot and heat it gradually over medium heat. It is crucial to monitor the liquid’s temperature using a culinary thermometer for precise control. Once the liquid reaches the desired simmering temperature, reduce the heat to maintain a gentle bubbling. Covering the pot can help in maintaining a steady simmer and prevent excessive evaporation. Periodically stirring the liquid prevents sticking and ensures even cooking.

Examples of Simmering Recipes or Dishes

  1. Soups and Stews: Many soup and stew recipes require bringing the ingredients to a simmer. This allows the flavors to meld together and the ingredients to cook slowly and evenly. Examples include chicken noodle soup, beef stew, and tomato bisque.
  2. Sauces and Gravies: Simmering is often used to reduce and thicken sauces and gravies. It helps to concentrate the flavors and create a desired consistency. Recipes like marinara sauce, béchamel sauce, and mushroom gravy often call for simmering.
  3. Braised Meats: Simmering is a common technique used in braising, where meats are first seared and then cooked in liquid over low heat. This method helps tenderize tougher cuts of meat and infuse them with flavor. Examples include braised short ribs, pot roast, and coq au vin.
  4. Rice and Risotto: Simmering is crucial when cooking rice or making risotto. It allows the grains to absorb the liquid gradually and cook to a tender consistency. Recipes like pilaf, jambalaya, and mushroom risotto rely on simmering to achieve the desired results.
  5. Beans and Legumes: Simmering is essential when cooking dried beans and legumes. It helps soften them and allows flavors to penetrate. Recipes like chili con carne, lentil soup, and red beans and rice involve simmering to cook the legumes thoroughly.

Troubleshooting and Common Mistakes

Identifying Common Mistakes

While simmering is a straightforward technique, there are common mistakes that can hinder its success. One frequent error is allowing the liquid to reach a rapid boil instead of maintaining a gentle simmer. This can result in overcooking or unevenly cooked ingredients. Another mistake is insufficient heat, where the liquid fails to reach the desired simmering temperature, leading to undercooked or flavorless dishes. Additionally, inadequate monitoring of the liquid’s temperature or neglecting to stir occasionally can cause sticking, scorching, or uneven flavor distribution.

Tips for Troubleshooting Issues

To troubleshoot the issue of rapid boiling, it is essential to lower the heat gradually until the desired gentle simmer is achieved. If the liquid fails to reach the necessary simmering temperature, increasing the heat slightly while monitoring with a thermometer can rectify the situation. In cases of sticking or scorching, adjusting the heat, stirring more frequently, or adding more liquid can help prevent these problems.

Simmering vs. Boiling

Simmering and boiling are cooking techniques that differ in temperature, heat intensity, and culinary applications.


  • Simmering: Cooking food in liquid at a temperature range of 180°F (82°C) to 205°F (96°C).
  • Boiling: Cooking food in liquid at the boiling point, which is 212°F (100°C) at sea level.

Temperature and Heat Intensity:

  • Simmering occurs at a lower temperature and involves gentle, occasional bubbling.
  • Boiling happens at the boiling point with vigorous bubbling and constant motion.

Effects on Food:

  • Simmering is ideal for delicate foods, allowing slow and even cooking while preserving texture and flavor.
  • Boiling is suitable for rapid cooking or breaking down fibers in ingredients like pasta, hardy vegetables, or certain meats.

Control and Precision:

  • Simmering offers greater control, allowing cooks to adjust heat and maintain a consistent temperature.
  • Boiling is less controllable due to intense heat and active bubbling, requiring closer attention to prevent overcooking or boiling over.

Culinary Applications:

  • Simmering is commonly used for sauces, reductions, slow-cooked dishes, and infusing flavors into broths and stocks.
  • Boiling is essential for cooking pasta, blanching vegetables, and preparing stocks or soups that benefit from rapid ingredient breakdown.


“Bring to a simmer” remains a versatile and essential technique in cooking. While its precise definition may vary, simmering generally involves gentle heat and slow cooking to develop flavors and achieve desired textures. Whether you’re making soups, stews, sauces, braised meats, or rice dishes, mastering the art of simmering will elevate your culinary creations to new heights. Embrace the process, experiment with different recipes, and let the magic of simmering transform your dishes into delicious masterpieces.


What is simmering?

Simmering is a cooking technique that involves heating a liquid to a temperature just below boiling, typically between 185°F (85°C) and 205°F (96°C). It is characterized by the formation of small, gentle bubbles that break the surface of the liquid at a steady rate.

How do I bring a liquid to a boil?

  1. To bring a liquid to a boil, follow these steps:
  2. Select an appropriate pot or saucepan.
  3. Pour the liquid into the pot.
  4. Set the pot over medium heat.
  5. Use a thermometer to check the temperature of the liquid.
  6. When the liquid reaches the desired temperature, reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer.

What are the benefits of simmering?

There are several benefits to simmering, including:

Flavor development:

  • Simmering allows flavors to meld and develop over time, resulting in rich and complex dishes.
  • Tenderizing ingredients: The gentle heat of simmering helps break down tough fibers in meats and vegetables, making them tender and juicy.

Thickening liquids:

  • Simmering helps reduce and thicken liquids, creating flavorful sauces and gravies.

What dishes commonly use the simmering technique?

Simmering is a versatile technique used in a wide variety of dishes, including:

  • Soups and stews
  • Sauces and gravies
  • Braised meats
  • Rice and pasta dishes
  • Slow cooked dishes

How do I troubleshoot common simmering problems?

Some common simmering problems include:

  • Rapid boiling: If the liquid boils quickly, reduce the heat immediately to prevent overcooking and loss of flavor.
  • Inadequate heat: If the liquid is not simmering at all, increase the heat slightly until you see small bubbles forming.
  • Sticking: To prevent sticking, stir the liquid occasionally and use a heavy-bottomed pot.

What are some tips for achieving a perfect simmer?

Follow these tips to achieve a perfect simmer:

  • Use a heavy-bottomed pot to distribute heat evenly and prevent hot spots.
  • Cover the pot to maintain a steady simmer and prevent the liquid from evaporating.
  • Stir the liquid occasionally to prevent sticking and to ensure even cooking.
  • Use a thermometer to monitor the temperature of the liquid and adjust the heat if necessary.