Double boilers can be a great tool for the home cook, but they’re not always the most convenient or budget-friendly option.
Here are some alternatives to double boilers that you can try out in your kitchen.
What is a double boiler?
A double boiler is a set of two pots that work together to create gentle, steady heat. The bottom pot can be filled with water or another liquid, and the top pot can be filled with whatever you’re cooking.
It helps you make sauces and melt chocolate without burning them. You use the double boiler by putting one container inside another container filled with water. This way, your food can be gently heated while keeping it at a safe temperature.
It’s important to check the water level in the bottom pot and add more as needed.
What is a double boiler for?
A double boiler consists of two pots: a smaller inner pot that sits inside a larger one.
The smaller pot is used to hold the ingredient being heated, while the larger pot contains boiling water.
This setup allows for gentle, even heat that won’t scorch or burn the ingredients.
Double boilers are often used to melt chocolate since chocolate can easily burn when heated directly.
They can also be used to keep side dishes warm during a meal or to make custards and sauces that need to be cooked slowly and gently.
How to set up a double boiler
- Fill the larger pot with enough water to come up around the sides of the smaller pot, but not so much that it will boil over when the water is heated.
- Place the smaller pot into the larger one, and bring the water to a simmer over medium heat.
- Reduce the heat to low once it reaches a simmer, and add your ingredients to the small inner pot.
- Stir frequently until melted or warmed through.
- Remove from heat and carefully remove the inner pot from the outer one before serving.
Double boiler alternatives
Alternatively, if you don’t have two pots that fit together like a double boiler, you can improvise one by placing a heat-safe bowl on top of a pot of simmering water.
Just be sure that the bowl is large enough that it doesn’t touch the water in the pot.
You can also use the microwave to gently melt ingredients like chocolate.
Place the ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl or cup, and heat in short bursts, stirring between each burst until melted.
Here are six of the most common alternatives to double boiling.
1. One small pot inside one bigger pot
Not everyone has a double boiler just lying around. Luckily, there are some alternatives that can be used that are just as effective but that do not require you to own any special types of pots or pans.
The first, and one that you have likely seen, is a smaller pot inside of a larger pot. The smaller pot needs to be just small enough that it can fit inside the mouth of the larger pot without falling in.
The idea is to suspend the smaller pot above the water that is inside the larger pot without it touching the water below.
You want to use the steam from the boiling water below to heat the bottom of the smaller pan without direct heat from a burner or other heat source.
2. A mixing bowl inside a pot
Another alternative that you might want to try is a mixing bowl inside a larger pot.
Again, you want to ensure that the bowl is only going to rest on the lip of the pot and that it can be suspended above the water that is boiling in the bottom pot.
You also want to make sure you pay attention to what type of bowl you are using. You want to use either a glass, oven-safe bowl, or a metal bowl.
No matter what bowl you are using, you do want to get something to help protect your hands. You can get burned very easily with a bowl that has been used on a double boiler.
You want to make sure it is a heat-safe bowl no matter what sort of bowl you are using, as a plastic bowl can melt.
3. A mason jar
You can also use a mason jar for your double boiler.
The way that you do this is to put whatever it is that you are trying to heat or melt and then submerge it in the boiling water.
You do have to be super careful with this method, however. It can easily burn whatever it is that you are trying to melt, and it can make the jar very hot and impossible to handle.
If you are using a mason jar as a double boiler, you need either an oven mitt or other heat-safe glove to pull the jar out, or a mason jar holder to pull it out.
You also want to make sure you are taking the time to really be careful and check the food as it heats to prevent burning.
4. The Bain Marie
You can also use the Bain Marie method, or what most people refer to as a water bath.
With a water bath, you do need to take the time to be really careful and make sure you have the right items to make a water bath and to make it successful.
For a water bath, you need a large pan in which you can put smaller pans and into which you can also pour water.
You can either heat the water up prior to putting it into the pan, or you can put warm water in and then cook the food in the oven. It is up to you and up to the recipe that you are using.
First, get your larger pan and place the smaller pans or smaller dishes, ramekins are a great option.
You then get warm or boiling water, a teapot is a great way to pour, and then pour the water into the larger pan around the smaller dishes. The warm water will then melt or cook the food that is in the smaller pans.
5. Use a microwave
You can also use a microwave as a double boiler of sorts, but only really If you are going to do something like melt chocolate.
To do that, you need to put the food that you are melting into a microwave-safe bowl and then microwave it in intervals of about 20 seconds, stirring between each, until it gets melted totally.
6. Use a slow cooker
You can use a slow cooker if you want, this will very slowly heat up whatever it is that you are cooking.
With a slow cooker, put whatever it is that you are trying to heat into the slow cooker and then stir it often to ensure that it is not going to stick to the bottom of the slow cooker.
Tips when using double boiler alternatives
Don’t overfill the pot with water
If you overfill the pot with water, it can boil over and cause a mess of scalding water all over the kitchen.
It’s important to keep the water level in the pot low. However, we recommend no more than halfway. However, it does depend on the size of the inner container.
Also, remember to adjust the heat accordingly to avoid boiling.
Additionally, always use oven mitts when handling the hot bowl of water.
Handle with extreme care
They become very hot with time and it’s really easy to spill if you’re carrying a double boiler. The container inside is prone to moving back and forth during transportation so we recommend keeping it in one place.
Also, make sure to fill the pot slowly to avoid spilling hot water.
It’s important that you maintain a simmer by adjusting the stovetop cooking temperature. Boiling over is quite common in double boilers since the inner container is often taking up so much space causing the water in the bottom bowl to overfill.
Can you use a plastic bowl as a double boiler?
A plastic bowl is not ideal for a double boiler for a few reasons. First, the plastic can leach into whatever it is that you are cooking.
They can melt, they can disfigure, and they can be dangerous. You should not use a plastic bowl as a double boiler. If you have a microwave-safe bowl, you may be able to use it for a few seconds in a pinch, but it is not ideal.
Can a Pyrex bowl be used as a double boiler?
Pyrex bowls are great for a double boiler. They can be used without having to worry about them melting or becoming damaged and they can be used in the oven as well.
Can a metal bowl be used as a double boiler?
A metal bowl can be used as a double boiler, but you do have to be very careful of this method as the bowl can become very hot and can burn you very easily.
You need to make sure that you are taking the time to get something to protect your hands if you are going to be using a metal bowl for the double boiler.
Can a ceramic bowl be used as a double boiler?
If you are using a ceramic bowl, you do need to make sure that it is oven safe. They can crack or chip if they are not. You need to make sure you are using an oven-safe or heat-safe ceramic bowl and that you protect your hands.
Can a glass bowl be used as a double boiler?
You can also use a glass bowl, but you do need to make sure it is heat-safe and oven-safe before you try to heat it up or use it as a double boiler.
Can you use a microwave instead of a double boiler?
Using a microwave to melt chocolate is a quick and easy way to get the job done. However, there are some things to keep in mind when using this method.
First, microwaves can cause hotspots in the chocolate, so it’s important to stir it frequently while it’s melting.
Second, microwaves can also cause the chocolate to seize up if it gets too hot, so be careful not to overheat it.
Overall, though, using a microwave is a perfectly acceptable way to melt chocolate for your double boiler needs.
Double boilers vs all the alternatives
It all “boils” down to convenience.
A traditional double boiler is made with two pots that actually fit within each other. They help with stability and keeping the water inside.
A proper double boiler set will usually be made of stainless steel and the stainless steel is often thin enough for the heat of the water to transfer over.
Another difference here is that, with alternatives, you’re going to struggle with finding pots that fit within each other.
However, if you don’t mind the small mishaps of not having a traditional double boiler, then an alternative would be just as effective.
What can’t you use as a double boiler substitute?
There are a few lessons herein using a double boiler substitute.
For one thing, when picking and choosing the types of contains (both bottom and top) search for one that is heat-resistant.
The water you’re using should be hot and simmering and using a bowl that could easily melt may spell trouble.
For example, if you are using a thin plastic bowl and boiling hot water under it, the plastic may warp and even melt in front of your eyes while the water heats it up.
To avoid this issue, use harder, heat-resistant material.
Another recommendation we have for you is to avoid containers that are too thick. Thick-topped containers that hold the food may be a bit resistant to transferring heat over to cook it.
For example, you wouldn’t want to put a heavy, thick cast iron pot at the top of a double boiler. The heat from the hot water might never transfer over, and you’ll be waiting a long time before your food gets cooked or your chocolate gets melted.
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