This Brilliant Hack Solves That Really Annoying Spaghetti Problem

Breaking spaghetti in half

It’s an average weeknight and you’re trying to get dinner on the table. Spaghetti is relatively quick and easy to make, so you grab your pot and pull the noodles out of the pantry. You put the water on to boil, and decide it would be easier to cook the noodles if you broke them in half first. (You’re using a normal-sized sauce pot after all, not a giant stock pot.) You bend a handful of noodles to snap them in half, but as they break, they send tiny broken noodle bits shooting all over your kitchen.

Related: 10 Things You Can Make With A Jar Of Pasta Sauce

I’m guessing that scene feels a bit familiar? It certainly does to me, since I feel like I’ve lived through it dozens of times. But I never knew there was anything I could do about it until very recently! And in case you’re wondering, no, the solution is NOT to simply keep your spaghetti noodles whole. I think there are some good reasons to prefer shorter noodles, like the fact that they fit better in pots and they’re often easier to eat. So how do you break spaghetti in half without creating a mess of tiny noodle bits? The secret is in the twist!

Related: 7 Of The Most Common Mistakes People Make With Pasta

Breaking spaghetti in half

How Science Solved The Spaghetti Problem

The spaghetti problem was confounding enough to attract the attention of researchers at MIT. They conducted a thorough study on the matter, and concluded that the most effective way to get a clean break was to twist the spaghetti and THEN bend it. According to an article from MIT News, “…they found that by first twisting the spaghetti at almost 360 degrees, then slowly bringing the two [ends] together to bend it, the stick snapped exactly in two.”

Breaking spaghetti in half

How Does It Work In Real Life?

After reading that article about the MIT study, I was curious to see how it would work in “real life.” After all, the MIT researchers were working with individual pieces of spaghetti. But I don’t know of any busy parent who would have the patience to snap each piece of spaghetti individually before cooking them! I thought that if I could achieve similar results using several noodles at once, that this would be a hack worth sharing.

So I grabbed about a dozen spaghetti noodles from the kitchen and gave it a try. I twisted and bent them, just like they did in the study. And to my surprise, it worked pretty well! I still ended up with a couple of broken noodle bits, but that’s far fewer than I would have had if I’d just bent them as usual!

cooking spaghetti in a small pot

The best part about this hack is that it only takes about a second to do. So even if you were cooking spaghetti for a large crowd, it would still take under a minute to divide the uncooked noodles up into smaller batches and use the twist-and-bend method to break them.

The fact that this hack eliminates the need for me to sweep my whole kitchen after cooking makes it more than worthwhile, in my opinion! :-)

cooking spaghetti in a small pot

I owe a big “thank you!” to the researchers at MIT for taking the time to solve the spaghetti problem! It may not change the world, but has made my life (and hopefully yours) just a little bit easier!

Related: 9 Sneaky Pasta Sauce Hacks That Will Make Your Spaghetti Taste Amazing

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

MORE IDEAS FROM

Bright Ideas

  • Chefs have been breaking pasta in half or indeed into tiny pieces (for minestrone soup etc) for decades, simply roll the spaghetti in a clean tea towel, hold it well so it doesn’t unravel, then press against the edge of your kitchen units so it snaps in half, more times if you want smaller pieces; if for soup, press against the unit at one end of the spaghetti bundle then press and drag to the other end of the bundle.
    Pour the shortened spaghetti straight into your pan from the tea towel, couldn’t be easier.

  • Don’t break the spaghetti – or linguini or angel hair or whatever. It’s much easier to twist around your fork if it’s left long. I just out it into the pot and within a few seconds the end if the pasta thats in the pot softens and you can push the rest into the water.

  • May I offer this tweak. Hands touching each other twist or break the spaghetti downards. The “chards” have little place to go, but in the pot.

  • It is easier and faster to just use a large saucepan. Put the noodles in whole in the cold water and heat. Stir with tongs frequently to prevent sticking

  • Just like Janice you can get the small boxes in Phoenix, AZ, but before that I always broke it and never had the problem of pieces going all over the place. Mainly because I bent them in the direction of the pan and that is where they ended up and not on the floor. As for how much to cook I think its a best guess but mine always got eaten the next day if there was leftovers. Love the comments as much as the solutions.

  • I guess if one has small children or someone with a dexterity problems, half-sticks make sense. I like spag the old-fashioned way: long and “twirlable” around my fork.

  • OK….
    I HAVE the real answer…. break them while still in the box! Seriously, just put the box on the edge of the counter or table … the edge being in the middle and gently push down on the half hanging over the counter… they break in the box! No MESS at ALL.
    Your welcome….

  • My daughter taught me an even easier way to break pasta. Just leave the pasta in the unopened box, place the middle of the box on the edge of your counter, and press on each end to as if to push the ends together. The pasta will break in half in the box, Just pour the contents into the pot…..no mess.

  • I recently watched my mom break spaghetti in half and said NOOOOO! Cringe. LOL I’m thinking she did that to make more spaghetti. I think it was Scott Conant, a Chopped judge, who did a quick video about making spaghetti. Once boiling, salt the water to make it like the sea. Let the hot water soften the pasta first and then stir. Then you save the pasta water to marry the sauce and pasta together. I will never make pasta with sauce any other way it tastes so good this way. I think it’s the salted water that makes the difference in flavor.

  • I saw this tip, and had read it on a site called Atlas Obscura. It’s a fun spot that brings out the strange, wonderful, rare, and unusual things around the world. (A fun place to go)

    I have two questions…..

    #1 Which direction are you supposed to bend the spaghetti…..Up, or Down?

    #2 I Understand that generations of Italians have been keeping their spaghetti whole…I get that. My question is, “What is the Reason behind this”?

    I will add #3….Why not just Buy the spaghetti shaped (Oval) pot/pan, that one of the female TV chefs has?

    Thanks! And thanks for your site.

    • 1. The direction doesn’t matter, just be sure to twist with the bend!
      2. I assume that Italians are mostly working with homemade pasta – so you just don’t want to do anything to mess with the integrity of the perfect noodle!
      3. I don’t necessarily want to buy another pot just for pasta, but you definitely could if you want to! :-)

      • no, not homemade pasta, any pasta… you do not break the noodle, and more important, a pot as small as the one you are using in the pictures contains to few water and too few salt to properly make the pasta, you will have too much starch and spagetti will be too cooked. You need space for the pasta to move freely in the boiling salt water fro a perfect taste. It is worth using a bigger pot always.
        Greetings from Italy :)

  • I’ve never broken spaghetti noodles in half, preferring them long. I take as many noodles as I need, divide them into two bunches. I lay one bunch in the boiling water with half of it standing on one side of the pot, I place the next bunch on the opposite side of the pot. As the noodles cook they begin to slump into the pot which I help along by carefully pushing on the stiff ends. When all is in I take a wooden spoon and stir them up, turn the heat down to a rolling boil. Takes no time at all and there’s no mess.
    The pot I use isn’t huge unless I’m cooking for a crowd. Also the Italian trick of adding a ladle full of cooking water to the sauce is a must. Adding oil to the water is an old idea from the 70’s that prevents the sauce from clinging to the pasta. As someone from the “Sopranos” would say “It’sa fougazi”!

  • As someone who was married to an Italian, and his maternal grandmother was famous for her Italian cooking in Brooklyn, I was told you never break the spaghetti in half as it releases too much starch into the water. Also never add oil to the water either, it causes the sauce to slip off.
    That being said- I always save a little of the pasta water to add to the pasta, especially for butter/garlic/cheese sauces. Makes it so creamy!

  • I wonder why the spaghetti makers didn’t see the problem years ago and just make a package half the size of the current ones. The best solution to the spaghetti problem is so easy. Keep the spaghetti in the cellophane package (a box is harder to do); Measure or “eyeball” the middle of the spaghetti in the package, and cut it in half using a serrated knife with a “sawing” motion. I only have two people to cook for so this makes it easy to put one if the halves, package and all, in a sandwich bag to use later. Try it. You’ll like it!

    • All spagetti, noodles, shells, etc, come though a die first and are cut by a rotating knife against the die, timed to cut the item to the required length for production, guess they could speed it up for quicker cuts for spagetti, resulting in shorter spagetti pieces, but that is production cost, etc for you.

  • MIT students are usually young. They use their research for things that make our life better. That means everyday problems that they have in their own lives are looked at. You never know what will connect in someone’s mind. This probably fun exercise may help solve some other major question. I know that the man who discovered how to make smooth flat glass, got his brainstorm while doing the dishes! For more twists on how seemingly different subjects have connections read “Messy The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives” by Tim Harford. Besides we need some fun to be able to stand the harder stuff. Thanks for the tip Jillee. Now the mice won’t have the pieces that fly behind the stove to eat!

  • I solve the problem by bending the spaghetti up instead of down over the kettle of water. Then the little bits fall into the water instead of flying to the floor! BTW I didn’t go to MIT! LOL

  • I snap the whole package before I open the package of spaghetti. I buy spaghetti that comes wrapped in plastic, just center spaghetti over edge of counter and press down. All the pieces stay inside, then I cut open the end of the plastic wrapping and remove amount needed. No mess. I also usually cook the whole package at once.. Then cool and bag what I don’t need for dinner, place the remaining bare spaghetti in large baggy for a quick lunch or dinner later in the week, just add sauce or vegetables and heat. Meal is ready in a couple of minutes.

  • My guess is that the folks at MIT needed a little break from the more technical stuff. They can’t be serious ALL the time. I break my spaghetti in the plastic wrapper.

  • I’m not Italian so my Spaghetti noodles are broken 3-4 times. I divide my LB. of Spaghetti by about 5 and break them without any problem. Been doing it for years – takes less than 30 seconds – and my family prefers it this way! Far better than cleaning all the spattered clothing from us ‘not so graceful’ spaghetti lovers ;)

  • Um. Don’t they have more important “problems” to deal with? More importantly to a foodie, you should cook pasta in ample boiling water, not try to shrink your pasta to fit a measly pot. That will only make for pasta that sticks together. And it’s easier to eat when it’s long, as you can’t twist tiny bits round your fork. My Italian father used to cringe inside when my British cousin would cut his up and eat it with a soup spoon, well we all did. Heresy

    • That much spaghetti requires 4 quarts of salty boiling water, otherwise is going to be a sticky mush. Try it and you will see and taste the difference and know why Italians cook their spaghetti the way they do. And that goes for all pasta. Oh and BTW, don’t rinse is under cold water. After you drain, sprinkle some olive oil over it then either stir into the sauce or serve your own plate and put on how much sauce you like.

  • I leave the spaghetti in the box, place it halfway over the counter edge, and press on each end, snapping it in half. Open the box, take out what you need, and store the rest in your container. Works just as well if you put it in a Ziploc bag… you can break a large amount in no time with no condoms.

    • Me too, only I break mine into thirds. I haven’t tried it with a box, but the plastic covering it comes in is super easy! Lay it on the edge of the counter where I want it broken *push!* done.

  • Oh please do we actually need MIT researchers to do a study to figure this out? I figured out this method a long time ago in about five minutes one day when I was frustrated about the flying bits. I usually cook my spaghetti whole but when I want or need to snap it for a recipe I’ve been using the twist and snap for a long time! Come on!

  • My solution for the breaking of spaghetti issue (I’ve been breaking it for years) is to make sure I break it over my sink with my hands just below the top of the sink. That way if there are any small pieces flying they always land in the sink and not all over the counter or my floor! Happy breaking!

  • Well it may be sacrilegious to pasta purists but I still break my spaghetti, even when I use a big pot. Just way more practical. Pasta is pasta (it is all yummy) — so I seldom use spaghetti but when I do I just pop it into a plastic bag and snap it in half. Then dump contents of bag into the pot. No flying bits, no waste.
    MIT? Really? Running out of other first world problems to study are we?

  • I saw an article a couple of years ago about cooking spaghetti noodles in a frying pan instead of a whole pot of water and waiting for it to boil….start the noodles in a frying pan of cold water, bring to a boil and cook until desired tenderness. (I prefer al dente) Drain and add your sauce. Takes less than half the time of the old way and you don’t have to break them!

  • I just break the spaghetti over the pot, cracking them towards to water. If you’re afraid of steam burns, then just snap them over your wastebasket or the sink. I’ll definitely use this twisting technique because it sounds like it’ll reduce those tiny annoying pieces of spaghetti that you can never pick up with your fork, but if you don’t want pieces of spaghetti all over your kitchen floor, then don’t snap them over your kitchen floor.

  • I’ve also always just pointed the breaking end towards my pot and I only get a couple of strays. And I know of Italians who do break the spaghetti. It’s easier to twirl when it’s not so long. But the fact that a university, especially one as prestigious as MIT studied this truly shows the world has gone mad. What a waste of time and $.

  • We have a gadget that helps for measuring how much spaghetti noodles based on the number of people. You just insert the noodles and then break them in half. I’m not sure where my mom got this gadget. It may have been one of her garage sale finds.

  • I break the spaghetti with an underhand grip. It launches the broken bits that usually fly all over the place into the pan(I still get one or two on the stove but much less), and I feel like I can break a bigger bunch that way.

  • No Italian that I know of breaks spaghetti. That’s blasphemy. Lol. We will cut it for small children after it’s cooked and mixed with sauce. Can be broken into small pieces and used when making soup. Delicious.

  • What I do is to drop the spaghetti bunch vertically right in the middle of the pot. They fall in a spiral toward the edges of the pot. They’re still standing at this point, but the ends at the bottom of the pot start to soften and they can then be all pushed down and swirled. No breaking into 2 bunches or splintering into a million pieces.

  • I wonder why doing such a mess of a wonderful product! Have you ever asked youself why spaghetti are long? If you break them you lost the best of them! Buy an higher pot instead. Americans…..

    • My thought exactly! Jillie, a million Italian ghosts are going to haunt your nights if you keep breaking spaghetti, each of them individually shrieking “Nooooooo! Don’t break spaghetti! Sacrilege! Horror!” ;-)

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