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Should You Put a Lid on Boiling Water?

Need to boil a liquid and wondering if you should put a lid on it? We’ve got you covered! Let’s figure it out.

Cooking with the lid on or off is something that many TV chefs and cookbook authors often assume as common knowledge and might not mention explicitly in their recipes. As a result, many home cooks like yourself often find themselves searching the Internet for answers.

If you’re following a recipe and you’re not quite sure if you should cover the pot with a lid or leave it uncovered, don’t worry—it’s actually easier to decide than you might think.

This guide is here to help you make that choice with confidence.

When to Put the Lid on the Pot

Cover the pot with the lid when you want to keep the moisture and heat in, like when you’re bringing water to a rolling boil, boiling eggs, rice, beans, or pasta, or stewing meat.

When it comes to cooking, there are several reasons why you might want to cover the pot. Let’s go through each of them to help you understand the why’s and how’s.

Covering the pot helps the water boil faster: Water in a covered pot reaches a rolling boil faster than in an uncovered pot, helping you save time and reduce energy bills (over the long haul).

Covering the pot retains moisture: The water will evaporate and turn to steam—but instead of escaping into the air, it will condense into droplets on the interior of the lid before dripping back into the cooking liquid.

Covering the pot also traps the heat in: The air that’s sandwiched between the cooking liquid and the pot’s lid will also be hotter, and any food that’s not completely submerged in the liquid will cook more evenly than it would without a lid.

When to Leave the Lid Off

Leave the lid off whenever you want to reduce the cooking liquid and concentrate the flavors, like when you’re thickening a sauce or simmering a soup.

Let’s go through the reasons why, just as we did with putting the lid on.

Leaving the lid off lets the moisture escape: When you’re boiling a liquid in an uncovered pot, the liquid evaporates and escapes into the air as steam. This thickens the cooking liquid, and its aromas and flavors intensify because there are more flavor compounds per milliliter of water.

Cooking without a lid allows for a gentler boil: It takes energy for the moisture to turn into steam and escape from the pot. This loss of energy results in evaporative cooling—the same reason a steak sweats when seared on the grill or a turkey releases its juices in the oven—and causes the liquid to boil more gently.

It’s easier to see and stir without a lid: It’s easier to observe the cooking process inside the pot without a lid, and you have the flexibility to stir the cooking liquid as needed—either occasionally or continuously. While this might not be necessary for certain recipes, it’s an essential step for others.

How to Cook in a Covered And Uncovered Pot

Cooking up a delicious dish is about more than just deciding whether to cover the pot or not.

Here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind when boiling liquids:

Cooking in a Covered Pot

When using a covered pot, cook foods that tend to float at medium to medium-high heat to prevent the cooking liquid from spilling over. For foods that sink to the bottom of the pot, use medium-low to medium heat to avoid burning them.

Cooking in An Uncovered Pot

When using an uncovered pot, be cautious about cooking starchy foods like grains, legumes, and pasta over high heat. High heat can cause these starches to absorb water too quickly, create big foamy bubbles, and potentially boil over.

Be mindful of stirring starchy ingredients like rice or quinoa too frequently, unless the recipe specifically instructs you to do so. Excessive stirring can cause these ingredients to release more of their surface starches, resulting in a sticky and mushy texture. While this might be desired for dishes like risotto, it’s best to avoid it in most other cases.

Tying It All Together

Cooking with a covered pot helps retain moisture and heat, making it ideal for simmering soups, braising meats, and boiling dry ingredients.

On the other hand, leaving the pot uncovered allows moisture to escape and is suitable for reducing liquids or intensifying flavors. This is a commonly used cooking technique to concentrate flavors and achieve the desired texture for these dishes.

Now, you know when to put the lid on the pot and when to leave the pot uncovered!

Know your author

Written by

Dim is a food writer, cookbook author, and the editor of Home Cook World. His first book, Cooking Methods & Techniques, was published in 2022. He is a certified food handler with Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates in Food Hygiene and Safety for Catering, and a trained cook with a Level 3 Professional Chef Diploma.