The Butter Trick That Will Stop Pots From Boiling Over

Nothing is more tedious than waiting for a watched pot to boil. But you typically do need to stay by water as it's heating up, or else you risk your pot boiling over and the panic that ensues. However, if you have a little butter in your fridge, you can avoid the whole mess completely. The next time you're boiling a pot of water, either add a little butter into the pot itself or brush it around the rim. This should keep your water in the pot, so you're free to glance away from your stove occasionally without worry.

Why do these tricks work so well? You probably know by now that oil and water don't exactly get along. So when you use butter, which contains up to 20% vegetable oil, it doesn't absorb into the water — it sits on the surface. Not only does it pop bubbles as they chaotically rise to the top, but it disturbs the foaming process and creates a less aggressive boil. 

This tip may be a revelation to us today, but it's really nothing new. All the way back in 1923, a New York cookbook explained the science by saying, "The butter acts the same as oil on troubled waters and keeps it calm and manageable" (via A Hundred Years Ago).

A little butter goes a long way

While using butter is an effective way to prevent your water from boiling over, there are a few things to keep in mind here. This trick works great if you're heating water to cook beans, potatoes, or other veggies — and in these cases, feel free to throw your butter straight into the pot. If you're cooking pasta, however, you may want to proceed with caution. Adding a fat to the water can make your noodles slippery, which may prevent your sauce from clinging to your cooked pasta. You may be able to get around this by keeping the butter on the pot's rim, but when in doubt, keep an eye on your pot in this one instance.

And if you don't have any butter or just don't want to waste your good stuff on boiling water, you can also use cooking oil. Just like with butter, the molecules in oil will turn your foamy overflow into slippery bubbles that pop instead of spill. You may need a couple tablespoons of oil for a big pot of water, or if you're sticking with butter, a few teaspoons if it's going straight into the pot.