7 Of The Most Common Mistakes People Make With Pasta

Pasta Mistakes

7 Pasta Mistakes That Are Surprisingly Common

Who doesn’t love a good bowl of pasta? Pasta is there for us in our times of need, like when we forget about dinner and people are starting to get hangry. Noodles, meet sauce—and dinner is served!

But here’s the thing about our favorite quick and easy dinner: with a few low-effort changes to our cooking, we can all make pasta that is perfectly cooked and genuinely delicious! All it takes is avoiding a few key pasta mistakes.

So today I’ll be sharing 7 of the most common pasta mistakes we all tend to make. By avoiding these behaviors, you can take your pasta dishes from a pile of noodles to a gourmet meal! :-)

Check out my video for a delicious Baked Feta Pasta at the end of this post.

Pasta Mistakes

Pasta Mistake #1: Using A Too-Small Pot

Sure, it can be a bit of pain to wash your big pasta pot, but it’s no excuse to use a smaller pot! You’ll always get better results cooking your pasta in a big pot with lots of water than a small pot with less water.

The extra space gives the pasta room to move around while it cooks. And the more it can move, the less likely it is you’ll end up with sticky, unevenly cooked pasta globs.

Pasta Mistakes

Pasta Mistake #2: Pouring Sauce On The Pasta

The final stages of the cooking process can make or break a pasta dish! The simple act of marrying your pasta and sauce together on your stovetop can make the difference between a delicious, gourmet pasta dish and a bowl of sauced noodles.

While the pasta is cooking, make or warm your sauce in a wide pan on your stovetop. When the pasta is 1-2 minutes shy of being done, move it over to the sauce and finish cooking it there.

It only takes a couple of extra minutes, and you’ll love the difference it makes!

Pasta Mistakes

Pasta Mistake #3: Not Using The Pasta Water

That salty, starchy pasta water can make a big difference in your finished dish! The starchiness will help add body to your sauce, and help the sauce stick to the noodles themselves.

You can either save a small amount of the pasta water to add to your sauce, or just make sure your noodles are still a bit wet when you transfer them over to your sauce.

Pasta Mistakes

Pasta Mistake #4: Adding Oil To The Cooking Water

You don’t need to add oil to your pasta water. Some people do this to prevent long noodles from sticking together, but noodles are supposed to be sticky and starchy! (If they aren’t, the sauce won’t really adhere to them.)

And if you finish your pasta in the sauce, you won’t have to worry about the noodles sticking together anyway. So skip the oil!

Pasta Mistakes

Pasta Mistake #5: Serving Pasta On A Plate

Even if you have a relatively thick pasta sauce, it’s still a good idea to serve pasta in a bowl instead of on a plate. The curved bowl will keep your pasta warmer for longer than a plate, and it usually makes it a bit easier to eat.

Pasta Mistakes

Pasta Mistake #6: Not Waiting For The Water To Boil

I realize that as an impatient person myself, it’s a bit rich for me to be advocating for patience. But we should all be a bit more patient when it comes to bringing our pasta water to a boil!

If you add your noodles to the water before it starts boiling, it will take even longer to get it up to the boiling point. And until that happens, your noodles will just be steeping in warm water and their texture will likely suffer for it.

Pasta Mistakes

Pasta Mistake #7: Putting Pasta In Your Garbage Disposal

Leftover pasta should go in your fridge, the trash can, or really anywhere other than your garbage disposal! Pasta expands considerably when wet, and anything that expands spells out bad news for a garbage disposal.

So avoid those potentially nasty clogs and expensive repairs by making your disposal a No Pasta Zone!

What’s the best pasta dish you’ve ever eaten?

YouTube video
There’s a really good reason this recipe went viral!! Because it’s delizioso! 😋

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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


Food & Recipes

  • Just reading this today. Being in an Italian family, we add salt AFTER the water has started to boil….lot of it, like around 3 tablespoons. Don’t worry, the macaroni and gravy won’t taste over salted.

    As for the gravy (what we call it), we NEVER add the macaroni to it, but instead we keep the pot of macaroni plain, add a little gravy to it, stir and then plate it or put it in a bowl, which depends on the type of macaroni you’re using.

    The reason is if you dump the entire pot of macaroni into the gravy, you won’t have very much left over to add any additional gravy to your plate (or bowl), AND you won’t be able to save any extra gravy for another night.

    I don’t know one Italian that adds some macaroni water to their gravy; that’s a modern invention. All that does is add starch–and diluted carbs and salted water–to your gravy. If you were to store that concoction overnight, it would be like thick glue, since the starch water would coagulate the gravy. It would ruin the leftover gravy and the next time you want to use it, you would have to add water in order to not have it so thick.

    Lastly, the reason why we call it “gravy,” and not sauce is an Italian thing: Gravy means sauce that contains meat in it, such as meatballs and sausage; if no meat, then we still call it gravy. In over 65 years, I’ve yet to hear any Italian call it sauce; we still call it gravy. It’s known as macaroni and gravy, with the exception of spaghetti, linguine, pappardelle and fettucine. They are called by their respective names.

  • Hey, different strokes for different folks.
    I have found that if I cook the pasta, spaghetti, noodles, macaroni whatever you wish to call it, to be al Dente, drain the pasta and have the sauce simmering on the burner, that my family prefers to add the sauce, gravy, call it what you choose, themselves.
    Some like a lot of sauce, so I am sure that I have prepared enough.
    Some like their pasta with just a small amount of sauce and some butter or olive oil.
    One member only wants butter on hers.
    Thus, I serve the pasta separately from the sauce.
    Remember, what “is sauce for the goose may NOT be sauce for the gander.”

    • Thanks K-I had never heard that before. I have made the mistake of salting the water before it boils though and having some sad pit marks in my pot. The things you learn! Great tip!

  • I’ve been guilty of #’s 1 and 2…I consider myself a food snob in many respects, but apparently I don’t take my pasta as seriously as some! Six quarts of water (or whatever the recipe specifies) to cook 12 oz of pasta always seemed excessive, and I reasoned that if I used less water and simply put the lid on the pot I would have less boil-off. But lately to save time I have been transferring the cooked pasta directly from the pot to the skillet where the sauce has been simmering. I didn’t realize that this is actually the correct way to serve it.

    I cook down the pasta water after draining and keep it to use as the liquid in homemade breads. I’m not sure what the chemical process is, but the yeast apparently loves it! I do this after boiling potatoes too.

    As for putting pasta down the garbage disposal, my question is not who does this but who throws out perfectly edible food? Unless something has been in my fridge for so long that it’s ready to walk out under its own power (which is less likely with my small fridge), I’m going to eat it.

  • I agree, I cook the pasta al dente, but keep the sauce separate. Some people like a lot of sauce and some folks prefer just a small amount of sauce. Then there is my lovely granddaughter who wants just butter and parmesan cheese on her pasta. I like my guests to have a choice.

  • Coming from a Sicilian background, we add gravy ….. (we call it gravy) or sauce to the pasta and then top with additional gravy. We do not add pasta to the red sauce. Yes, use a little salted water. And, “long noodles” are spaghetti other shapes are macaroni. We NEVER refer to pasta as noodles! Noodles are for Chinese or other types of cuisine…..never for Italian Cuisine.

    • You Sicilians can EAT! Years ago I and some friends were guests at a house in Catania. On our first night we were served bowls of ziti(?) tossed with a simple red sauce and topped with slices of sauteed eggplant. It was a meal in itself, but when we were finished our hosts brought out the entree! We learned to pace ourselves after that :).

  • Thank you for posting this. I am rarely happy with the way my pasta turns out and have been using oil each time. Also, I’m not good about using a big enough pot, so next time I’ll make the effort to use your tips.

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