How To Know When Pasta Is Done (Or Al Dente)

Pasta is one of the most popular dishes in America and many countries worldwide. It’s also very versatile, and you can eat it with various dishes.

But how do you know when the pasta is done? Does it matter if you cook it al dente? How long should you cook pasta?

Keep reading to discover the answers to all your questions and more.

How to know when pasta is done

There are five main ways to know when pasta is done:

1. Bite into it

The best way to know if your pasta is done is to bite into it. When you bite into it, your pasta should be soft but still have some chew to it. If it’s hard and crunchy, it’s not ready yet; if it’s too soft or mushy, then you’ve overcooked it.

2. Stick a fork into it

Another way to know if your pasta is ready is to stick a fork into it. If there is just a little resistance, your pasta is ready. If there is no resistance at all, your pasta isn’t ready yet.

3. Check for floating

If your pasta floats on top of the water, it’s probably ready. Cooked pasta floats in water because it has less density than the boiling water around it.

SEE: How Long Should You Cook Dry Tortellini?

4. Press it with your fingers

Another easy way to check if your pasta is ready is by using the “finger test” method. If the pasta sticks together when you press it with your fingers, it’s ready to eat.

5. Inspect the pasta water

The water in the pot should be clear, not yellowed from overcooking. If there’s too much water, drain off any excess liquid before serving.

SEE: What Is The Correct Water to Pasta Ratio?

How to know when pasta is al dente

The best way to know when your pasta is al dente is to bite into it. If it has a little bite and chew to it, but not so much that it’s hard to chew, then it’s al dente.

Al dente means “to the tooth.” This term refers to how firm you can bite a piece of cooked pasta without it breaking apart.

When you cook pasta al dente, the center of each strand holds its shape when you bite into it, while the outside releases easily from the teeth.

This is important because if you cook your pasta too long, it will begin to lose its flavor and nutrients — which defeats the purpose of eating pasta in the first place.

SEE: Can You Eat Raw Pasta or Not?

How long should you cook pasta?

The cooking time for pasta varies depending on the type of pasta you’re using and how soft you want your pasta to be.

In general, it will take about 7 to 12 minutes to cook pasta properly (al dente that is). If you want to cook your pasta longer, you can simply leave it in the water for 5 minutes or so and then drain it in a colander before serving.

Pasta is just like other foods; the more time you allow it to sit in the water, the more tender it will be.

How can you tell if pasta is overcooked?

You can tell if pasta is overcooked by biting into it. If the pasta is completely soft and soggy, then you’ve overcooked it. This test also works for other foods like grains and vegetables; just bite into them, and you’ll know if they are good to go or not.

Another good way to tell if you’ve overcooked your pasta is to take one piece and poke it with a fork. If it loses its shape and becomes mushy, you’ve overcooked it.

How can you tell if pasta is undercooked?

The best way to tell if your pasta is undercooked is by checking the texture of the pasta. If it’s still hard and crunchy, then you’ve undercooked it, and you should leave it in boiling water for a little longer.

Another easy way to tell if you’ve undercooked your pasta is by pressing it with your fingers. If the pasta doesn’t break and stick together when you press it, then it’s not ready yet.

NOTE: Never undercook your pasta. Pasta is best when it’s soft on the outside but still firm and slightly chewy inside.

How to cook pasta

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium heat (add salt if you desire).
  • Add the pasta and cook until it is tender but still firm to the bite (about 7 to 12 minutes).
  • When ready, drain all excess water from the pasta in a colander.
  • Return the drained pasta to the pot, add your sauce, and mix until you’ve coated the pasta evenly with sauce.
  • Serve and enjoy.

SEE: Differences And Similarities Between Pasta And Bread

How to tell if pasta is bad

Smell it

You can tell if pasta is bad by the smell. If the pasta smells like it has been sitting around for a while, or if it smells rotten, then it’s bad.

Check the color

If the pasta looks brown, or if it has black spots, then it’s bad. Fresh pasta should have a bright white or yellowish-white color, with no spots. The shape of the pasta should also be smooth and uniform throughout.

Taste it

If the pasta tastes bitter or metallic, then it’s bad. If it’s homemade pasta, try checking your ingredients to see if any of them have gone bad.

Feel it

The pasta should be dry and firm when you hold it with your fingers. If it feels wet or slimy (which usually occurs before mold growth), the pasta is bad.

NOTE: If you suspect your pasta is bad, don’t waste time cooking it — throw it out instead. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bad pasta is more likely to grow bacteria and other harmful microorganisms that could cause illness.

SEE: How Long Does Pico de Gallo Last Before It Goes Bad?


Should you add oil to pasta water?

No, you shouldn’t. When cooking pasta, don’t add oil to your pasta water, as this will result in mushy and sticky pasta instead of al dente pasta.

Does al dente and done mean the same thing?

No, they don’t. Done is how you want your pasta to be, regardless of the texture while al dente (which means to the tooth) is the perfect texture for pasta.

It’s better to cook your pasta al dente because the starch in the pasta will still be intact after cooking. This means that it won’t become mushy when you add sauce or other ingredients to it.

Can you boil pasta in a stockpot?

Yes, you can. You can also boil pasta in other kinds of pots, including soup pots and Dutch ovens. The trick is to use whichever pot works best for you and your family.

Can you make pasta from scratch at home?

Yes, you can. For best results, use fresh eggs and finely ground semolina (which you can buy at grocery stores like Food Lion when making pasta at home.


The best way to know when pasta is done (that I would recommend) is to bite into it. The pasta should be tender but still have some bite and chew to it.

You can also know if your pasta is ready through other methods, such as pressing it with your fingers and sticking a fork into it. Just use whichever method you think will work best for you (and your pasta).

Thanks for reading.

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