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How to Make Spaghetti Noodles Not Stick and More Tips for Cooking Pasta

Stick to these rules for cooking pasta and you'll always know how to make spaghetti noodles not stick, how often to stir, the right sauce to use and more pasta guidelines.

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Yellow noodles or spaghetti cooking in boiling water pot.Nopadol Uengbunchoo/Getty Images

Do Always Add Pasta to Boiling Water

Most pasta recipes are relatively simple, but they do require patience while you wait for the water to boil. It can be hard to wait—especially when you’re hungry—but adding pasta to water that isn’t boiling is a bad idea. It will cause the noodles to stick together and you’ll end up with a gummy texture.

Here’s the real difference between boiling vs. simmering.

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Older Caucasian woman cooking in kitchenLumina Images/Getty Images

Don’t Forget to Stir

Unless you like clumps of spaghetti that stick together, you’ll want to stir the pasta while it’s cooking. Give the pasta a good stir once it hits the water and again in the middle and toward the end of the cooking time. The last thing you want to do is drop in your noodles and walk away for 10 minutes!

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Shot of an unrecognizable person cooking pasta in their kitchenAdene Sanchez/Getty Images

Don’t Add Olive Oil to the Water

If you’re not tossing your pasta with sauce, or you’re cooking it to reheat later, add a small drizzle of olive oil to the boiling water. The oil coats the noodles, ensuring they won’t stick together. We don’t recommend this tip for other situations, though, as oil will prevent the sauce from adhering to the noodles. That will lead to a pile of bare noodles surrounded by sauce.

Here’s what you should look for to find the best olive oil.

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Close-up image of homemade tagliatelle nest pasta dough dusted in flour and left to dry on floured wooden chopping board, Italian cuisine elevated viewmtreasure/Getty Images

Do Dust Fresh Noodles with Flour

When going the homemade pasta route, it’s crucial to use plenty of flour or semolina. The fresh dough will release moisture as it sits, causing the noodles to clump together irreparably. Dust the sheets before you cut them and flour the cut noodles again before portioning them.

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Don’t Cook the Pasta Too Early

If your noodles are done before the homemade pasta sauce is ready, they’re bound to stick together in the colander. You can toss the pasta with a small amount of oil, but that will prevent the sauce from clinging to the pasta. You could run the noodles under cold water, but that also rinses the starches that help the sauce adhere. Instead, time your cooking so you’re ready to combine the noodles with the sauce as soon as they come out of the boiling water.

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Cooking Italian pasta with cream sauce and Basil, at home. A girl or woman Cooks and Stirs Penne Pasta in a Pot. Vegetarian food. Step-by-step instructions, do it yourself. Step 4.Aleksandr Zubkov/Getty Images

Do Use Plenty of Water

Pasta cooks best when it has enough space to expand. Don’t force your favorite noodles into a tiny pot with barely enough water. The pasta will release starch into the water as it cooks, causing a sticky situation without enough water. We recommend 3 or 4 quarts of water per pound of pasta—and a pot that can hold it all without boiling over.

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Cooking Italian Pasta With Cream Sauce and Basil, at Home. Choice Of Macaroni. A girl or Woman Holds Raw Penne Rigate Pasta in a glass storage jar. vegetarian food. Step-by-step instructions, do it yourself. Step 1.Aleksandr Zubkov/Getty Images

Do Measure Your Pasta Portions

It’s easy to overestimate how much pasta you need. Instead of dumping in the whole box (and inevitably dumping the leftovers in the trash), take the time to measure proper portions. For small shapes, you’ll want about 1 heaping cup of dry pasta per person. For long noodles, use this nifty pasta measuring tool. You can also use a kitchen scale to weigh out servings —about 2 ounces—or test one of these hacks for how to measure pasta.

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Cooking Italian pasta with cream sauce and Basil, at home. A girl or woman Adds Salt to Boiling Water. Next to it, raw Macaroni In a Glass Jar. vegetarian food. Step-by-step instructions, do it yourself. Step 2.Aleksandr Zubkov/Getty Images

Don’t Skimp on Salt

It won’t help the pasta from sticking together, but you need to salt the cooking water to create flavorful pasta. A measly sprinkle isn’t going to cut it, either. Grab your measuring spoons and add about 1-1/2 tablespoons of salt for every pound of pasta. Learn more about how to salt pasta water the right way.

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Spaghetti pasta in potRidofranz/Getty Images

Do Keep Long Noodles Intact

Breaking long pasta, like spaghetti or linguine, does help it fit into the pot, but it’s not the best practice. Instead, place one end of the pasta in boiling water and use a spoon to gently submerge the noodles as they soften. You also want to make sure you have—you guessed it—a big enough pot. Use your new skill to whip up one of these lovely linguine recipes.

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Overhead view of wholegrain fusilli, penne and farfalle pastaOatmealStories/Getty Images

Do Match the Pasta Shape to the Sauce

Most of us know that fettuccine pairs well with thick, decadent sauces (hello, Alfredo sauce!). But what about other pastas? Make sure you’re pairing a complementary sauce to your noodles’ shape: wide noodles with rich sauces, thin noodles with delicate sauces and thick, tube-like pasta for baked dishes. Don’t miss our ultimate guide to pasta shapes.

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Draining Spaghettitornado98/Getty Images

Don’t Under (or Over) Cook the Pasta

We’re not sure which is worse: chewy, tough pasta with a hard center or mushy, soft pasta that’s completely overcooked. Find that sweet spot by learning to cook your pasta al dente. Keep an eye on the pasta as it boils and check it frequently. The suggested time stamped on the back of the box may not always be accurate. Practice your skills with our best pasta recipes.

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Woman preparing spaghetti, trying if they are ready to eatWestend61/Getty Images

Do Taste as You Go

Professional chefs are so good at what they do because they taste their creations all the time. Before you commit to draining an entire batch of pasta, sample a noodle or two to make sure it’s cooked to your liking. The easiest way to fish out a single strand of pasta? Grab a good pair of long-handled tongs.

Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.