Simmering is a basic day-to-day cooking method that we use in most of our kitchens. This form of cooking is closely related to, but often confused with boiling.

Even though the two methods are variations of the same process, a simmer is less aggressive compared to a boil. This means that using one in place of the other will have a different effect on your food 

This article contains a more detailed explanation of what simmer means in cooking. Read on to learn.

What does simmer mean in cooking?

What does simmer mean in cooking?

Simmer may sound like a fancy and complicated cooking term but it’s simply a culinary art technique that uses a specific heat range(low to moderate) to slowly and gently cook your food.

When a recipe calls for a simmer, it generally requires you to cook the food in a hot liquid kept a notch below the boiling point of water. That’ll be around 180 F to 205 F. If you prefer your degrees in Celsius, it’ll be around 82-88.

Simmering is the perfect choice for preparing stocks, sauces, soup and delicate foods like fish, vegetables, and chicken, that will otherwise disintegrate under aggressive temperatures. You can also simmer large cuts of meat.

The slow and gentle nature of simmering allows all your favorite ingredients and seasonings to perfectly combine and blend together inside your dish.

What does a simmer look like?

You can most easily tell if something is simmering by keenly observing the:

  •  amount of tiny bubbles occasionally forming and rising from the bottom of the pot to the surface of the liquid.
  • small wisps of steam breaking free from the pot.

At the beginning stage of a simmer i.e low simmer, there’s minimal, if not zero movement. You’ll only notice a stray bubble or two forming at a time and rising to the top of the liquid. If you’re lucky and keen enough, a little shred of steam will not escape your eye.

As the process progresses to a full simmer, you’ll most likely notice the bubbles, still small yes, but multiplying quickly and occasionally breaking the surface of the liquid. The liquid will flicker as if to move but that’s just it. Most of the motion prevails under the surface.

What stove setting is simmer?

Different stove manufacturers have different stove settings. Some stove brands have a labeled simmer setting; how lucky of you if you have one of this kind. 

However, the majority of stoves rely on the numbers on the temperature control knob. That makes it a little difficult to pinpoint the exact simmering setting. In such a case, you’ll have to experiment and observe the signs of a simmer.

To help with the experiment, start by moving your control knob to medium-low heat. This will of course differ from one stovetop to the other. 

Medium-low heat basically falls between low heat and medium heat. So, If you are wondering what stove setting to use for simmering, try the medium-low setting. 

This is because a simmer is lower than medium heat but a notch higher than low heat.

Stove heat settings knob

How to simmer.

First off, it’s worth knowing that your choice of pot/pan and your stove-top type will determine how successful your simmer will turn out.  

A perfect simmer is achieved on a heavy-bottomed pot. Also, gas stoves heat differently from their electric counterparts

There are two approaches to simmering. One is adjusting the temperature control knob to medium-low heat and allowing your dish to simmer.

The most common approach however, is where you bring your dish to a boil first then lower the heat to maintain a steady simmer.

Either way, to simmer:

  • Fill up your pot/pan with water/liquid. The water/liquid should be enough to immerse all the ingredients.
  • With the pan on the burner, refer to your recipe once again. If the recipe calls for a direct simmer, adjust the temperature control knob to medium-low heat.

If on the other hand your recipe instructs you to first bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer;

  • Set the temperature at medium then lower the heat when you see vigorous bubbles.
  • Adjust the temperature regularly to maintain a steady simmer. A simmer can quickly turn into a rapid boil or worse, the heat drops significantly after adding your ingredients. You need to occasionally check your dish to ensure that the simmer remains steady.

Simmer vs boil: the difference,

Most people tend to get confused by these two cooking techniques. Thus they end up using one in place of the other. It comes without saying that the results are always undesired.

Yes, simmering and boiling are closely related but they are not the same. A simmer is more gentle than a boil.

For a simmer, low to moderate heat is enough to penetrate your food and soften it. This alone gives your ingredients and seasonings a chance to fully blend and mix together perfectly.

On the other hand, a boil is more rapid. It uses higher temperatures to break down and softens food.


In cooking, simmer means cooking the liquid or cooking in a hot liquid kept at a temperature that’s a notch below the boiling of water. Water boils at 212 F. A simmer will be around 180 F to 202 F, or 82 to 88 degrees celsius.

A simmer is usually characterized by a small amount of bubbles forming and rising from the bottom of your pot to the surface of the liquid. You can also spot a little shred of steam.

To simmer is the same as to cook on medium-low heat for a specified period of time. You can simmer directly by adjusting your knob to medium low. Or you can use medium heat to bring your pot to a boil then lower the heat to medium-low to maintain a steady simmer.

Be advised though, a simmer can quickly turn into a boil. A boil is more aggressive than a simmer, so always aim to monitor your pot.