I Tried the Wooden Spoon Trick for Boiling Pasta Water, and Was Surprised by the Results

updated Feb 24, 2021
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Credit: Ashley Abramson

It happens almost every time I make pasta (which, truth be told, is a lot): I add water to the pot, wait 10 minutes for a rolling boil, and pour the noodles in, only to watch the bubbles overflow onto the stovetop shortly after. I’ve tried most tricks in the book, including adding more salt to the pasta water (thanks, Grandma!) and using less pasta. But nothing seemed to work — at least until recently.

Last week I stumbled on a tip on TikTok that changed how I cook pasta forever. Here it is: To prevent bubbles from flowing over the pot and onto your stovetop and counter, just rest your wooden spoon on the top as your pasta cooks. 

As you can see in the video, the spoon somehow attracts the bubbles, which end up sticking to it instead of exiting the pot. Some of the commenters say it has to do with the actual wood (and, further, that this hack won’t work with certain types of wood spoons). Other commenters argue the spoon just creates a visual cue that reminds you to keep an eye on the water and turn the stove down if it starts boiling over. I obviously had to investigate for myself.

Here’s What Science Has to Say About This TikTok Tip

According to Dr. Michelle Dickinson, author of The Kitchen Science Cookbook, the bubbles in a pot of boiling pasta are made of water, air, and starch molecules. The starch and water form a “sandwich layer,” which Dickinson says creates a structure that traps the air and steam inside them. As the pot gets hotter, more steam-filled bubbles form underneath the existing ones, eventually leading them to take up more space than the pot can contain. This is when your pot starts to overflow with starchy pasta water.

Dickinson says that when it comes to using this TikTok trick, the material of the spoon is important: Wooden spoons are insulators, which mean they don’t conduct heat well. So when you place the spoon on top of the pot, it remains cooler than the pot and bubbles. Thanks to the temperature and rough and dry texture, the spoon causes the bubbles to burst. Then, the bursting bubbles release steam that instantly cools, creating a small, cooling air current.

While only one bubble might pop from touching the spoon, the surrounding bubbles can also burst either from the physical shockwave created by the bursting bubble or the cooling air current disrupting the bubbles’ surface, leading to lots of bubbles popping. “This reduces the number of bubbles at the top of the pile, and as long as they pop faster than the new ones can form, your pot should never boil over,” Dickinson says.

Credit: Ashley Abramson

I Tried the Wooden Spoon Trick from TikTok and Here’s What Happened

Of course, knowing it was more science than magic at play, I had to try it for myself on my kids’ mac and cheese. After pouring the noodles into the boiling water, I propped a wooden spoon on the pot, then stood and waited, hoping I had found a hack that I could pass down to my grandchildren (or at least generously share in a duet to my two TikTok followers).

It didn’t take long to see the trick worked. The water bubbled excessively as soon as I added the noodles, then the smallest amount boiled over. But wait: The spoon contained the rest of the water from bubbling outside the pot! The water got close to edging over a few more times, but the spoon served as a perfect barrier.

I’ll definitely try the science experiment again with another kind of pasta — maybe my rice noodles or even just plain rice. Along with discovering a hack I’m excited to share with anyone who’ll hear it, I’m also happy to have found an excuse not to invest in a spoon rest.

Have you ever tried this trick? Let us know in the comments!