Why Is Tomato Sauce So Prone To Splattering?

Whether you cook your own quick tomato sauce or warm up one of the many good prepared choices from the store, you've doubtless faced the problem of needing to scrub splattered red splotches off your stovetop, backsplash, and maybe even your clothes. The process starts innocently — the red sauce bubbles gently as it starts to warm but when it becomes a bit hotter, small volcanic explosions begin to erupt across the surface of the liquid eventually flying out of the pan and staining everything nearby. The cause is steam bubbles from water in the sauce pushing through the dense tomato puree, and while you can't prevent the process from happening, there are some steps you can take to keep the splatters contained.

Tomato sauce is simply a mixture of crushed tomato solids and water. When water gets hot enough, it turns into steam bubbles. You can see these bubbles form in a clear pot of boiling water — the same process is happening in the pot of tomato sauce, hidden from view by the sauce. The steam bubbles rise easily in water, but tomato sauce resists, not allowing the bubbles to surface until finally, enough force builds up to pop them through, causing that dramatic splash of sauce as they exit.

Keeping the tomato sauce contained in the pot

Although popping tomato sauce bubbles are unavoidable if you want your sauce fully heated, you can still keep the sauce where it belongs by following a few general guidelines. The most practical one is choosing a pot with higher sides when you heat tomato sauce, one that's a bit larger than you think you need for the amount in the pan. When the splatters happen, they'll stay down in the pot. Try warming the sauce on low heat — that will create fewer steam bubbles early in the heating process, so there's less mess overall.

You might be tempted to just pop a lid on your tomato sauce, but if you're trying to cook it down to thicken the sauce, the lid will prevent the water in the sauce from evaporating and also make it harder to stir. If you're simply giving the sauce a light warm-up, you can cover the pot partially with a lid, but one of the best solutions for mess-free cooking all around is a splatter screen. The flat mesh top will catch the spluttering spots of sauce, and you can pop it right in the dishwasher when you're done with it.