Does Food Cook Faster Covered or Uncovered? (Lid on vs Off)


If you are a frequent cook, you probably often wonder whether having a lid on the pot makes the food cook faster. While recipes usually tell you whether to put a lid on or not, does having one actually contribute to the cooking speed?

Food generally cooks faster when covered since the lid prevents energy loss. Also, food produces steam while cooking, which will circulate inside the pot with the lid on, and contribute to the food cooking more quickly.

However, you’ll get different results depending on if you leave the lid on or off. Also, not all of the foods will work with both cooking methods. Let’s explore it a bit more.

Does Covering a Pan Make It Cook Faster?

It’s all about energy retention.

Hot air is lighter than cold air and will rise above it – kind of the way hot air balloons work. This means that the heat from your stove (or any other heat source) travels up through the pan and food and up towards the ceiling. Once a lid is introduced, it stops most of that hot air from escaping and keeps it stuck in the pan with the food you’re cooking.

Depending on the moisture content, there may be even some significant amount of steam. In any case, not only is heat coming from the stove but also all that energy that got trapped once you placed the lid on.

Which Foods Do You Cover When Cooking?

Choosing to cook covered or uncovered is not only about speed and energy efficiency.

Cooking with a lid is usually associated with foods that you want to moisten or soften while cooking. This stays true whether you are cooking on a stove or in the oven. Though ovens create dry heat, so the effects of placing a lid become even more pronounced.

That being said, just because a food is moist, it doesn’t always require a lid. Sometimes, placing a lid on can end in a mess by making it more likely to boil over. If you’ve ever boiled milk or any type of sauce, you know what I’m talking about.

In short, anything that doesn’t need babysitting or where water evaporation is the name of the game. For example, don’t put a lid on milk or anything that contains it since it tends to bubble over. Or, when you’re creating a pan sauce, skip the lid and feel free to kick the heat up a (single) notch to make it reduce faster.

To give you an idea of which foods should have a lid and which should not, I put together this table for you.

Foods to Cook Covered vs. Uncovered:

Cook These Foods CoveredCook These Foods Uncovered
Boiled eggsCaramel
Soups and brothsBraises
StewsMilk
RicePilau and risotto
Pin oatsRolled oats
Apple butter and jamSauces
Root veggies (potatoes, carrots, etc.)Pot roast
LegumesPasta

Does Meat Cook Faster With the Lid On?

Whether or not to put a lid on cooking meat is a common question. As with anything, it depends.

Meat cooks faster with a lid on, but doing so will significantly impact the texture. Cooking techniques that usually include a lid and meat in the same scenario aim to make said meat fork-tender. So that would be stews, braises – usually recipes that are designed to soften tough or cheaper cuts of meat.

Even though you sear the meat beforehand, each piece will be soft, and there will be no crust in sight. But can you use a lid to speed up the cooking of a pork chop or a chicken breast? Yes.

Place the lid over the pan every time you turn the meat. This way, it’s cooking on both sides – through direct contact with the hot pan below and with steam that’s trapped by the lid.

Does Water Boil Faster If Covered?

Most people boil water without a lid. But what if you threw one on?

Covering water with a lid will make it boil faster. When you’re boiling water uncovered, some of the energy (heat) escapes with the vapor.

An electric kettle is usually the best tool for this job. Not only does it come with a tight-fitting lid, but also usually features an induction heater and a shape that is designed to minimize vapor release.

Should You Cover Boiling Potatoes?

I’ve noticed that half of all people I’ve cooked with cover their potatoes and half don’t. Which is the correct way?

Boiling potatoes should be covered with a lid. Due to heat circulating better with a lid, a covered pot will help all root vegetables cook faster. However, make sure not to overfill the pot, or else the water can quickly boil over.

Pro Tip: To ensure that you will not ruin your beautiful glass stove, keep the pot at half capacity. You’ll need only enough water to cover the spuds by an inch or so. But if you want to stay on the safe side, crack the lid open to create a vent or get your hands on a no-overspill lid.

Potatoes have a lot of starch, and they will release a lot of it into the water while they cook. Starchy water behaves very similar to milk and is prone to bubbling like crazy when covered with a lid. Of course, the amount of starch will depend on the type of potato, with Russets (the ones that are best for mash) being the starchiest of them all.

Do You Put a Lid on Boiling Pasta?

I have never covered pasta, personally, but I’ve seen people do it. While I always assumed it didn’t matter, I was never sure. So I had to ask a few other chefs their thoughts on the matter. There was a pretty strong consensus as they all said the same thing.

There is no need to put a lid on when cooking pasta. Since it is completely submerged in water, it will cook just as quickly uncovered. However, if you put the pasta in before the water is boiling, it may cook faster with a lid since water boils faster when covered.

Pasta also releases some starch into the water, and covering it may cause it to spill. That being said, put a lid on while you’re boiling water to make that happen faster.

Do You Cover Rice When Cooking?

Most recipes state that rice should be covered when cooking. However, there is a bit of gray area.

Generally, rice should be covered while cooking. However, there is a bit of an unresolved debate about covering it completely or leaving a vent. You can use both methods to cook any type of rice, but it may affect the cooking time or how much liquid you’ll have to use. Unless the recipe says otherwise, put on a lid.

Pot Cooking Risotto
A Pot Cooking Rice

However, that’s only in the case of plain rice. If we’re talking about rice dishes, things become a bit more interesting.

Dishes that include already cooked rice like risotto or rice pudding do not need a cover, even though you are sometimes making the rice from scratch. In the case of the risotto, it’s because the lid is not compatible with consistent stirring. On the other hand, traditional rice pudding is made with milk, and that’s a spill waiting to happen if you cover the pot.

A pilau/pilaf may or may not need a lid, depending on where the recipe comes from. The basic recipe is simple: rice, stock, and probably some meat and veg. Usually, ones that are cooked on the stove will require a lid, while the ones that are baked in the oven do not need one at all.

Will My Sauce Reduce Faster With a Lid?

Sauce will not reduce faster with a lid on the pot. In fact, having a covering could slow down the process. When you’re creating a reduction, you’re looking to evaporate as much of the liquid as possible. That liquid becomes steam, and a lid would return it into the pot or pan.

Does Lid Type Matter?

There are a variety of different lid types. And, if you are like me, you sometimes forget which lid went with which pot.

For the most part, the type of lid does not significantly affect how the food is cooked. The main factor to consider is how good the seal is. The more heat escapes, the slower the food will cook. However, this is usually marginal one way or the other.

Do I Have to Use the Lid That Is Designed for My Pot?

You do not have to use the lid that was specifically designed for a pot. As long as it fits properly and has a reasonably good seal, heat retention will be adequate. If you have a pot that came without a lid, you can always pick up one of the many models of universal lids.

We purchased a large glass lid a few years ago that will lay nicely on top of anything from a small saucepan all the way up to our giant wok.

Do Lids With a Special Shape (Tagine, Dome, Etc) Affect Cooking Time?

“Special” shape or “3D” lids are supposed to capture the steam and return it into the dish, especially in recipes that contain less liquid. Other than that, they have the same impact on cooking time as any other lid.

Do No-Spillover Lids Affect Cooking Time?

A no-spillover lid is a concave lid with vents in the middle. If the liquid in the pot starts boiling over, it will pass through those vents and stay on the lid, not spill all over your stove or cooking range.

No-spillover lids will only have an impact on slow-cooked dishes (i.e., the ones that need at least 6 hours to cook). They will not do much to change the cooking time of other dishes.

Do Otoshibuta or Cartouche Affect Cooking Time?

These types of lids are lowered into the pot and are in contact with the food itself. Cartouche is usually made from parchment paper, while otoshibuta can be made of wood as well.

For the most part, otoshibuta or cartouche will not affect cooking times. However, both will do an excellent job of keeping most of the steam inside the pot and preventing evaporation. Even so, only the wooden otoshibuta will help retain heat and potentially help food cook faster.

Can I Get a Lid That Will Cook My Food Under Pressure/Faster?

The only way to cook food under pressure on the stove is with a stovetop pressure cooker. Most companies that specialize in making them will offer regular lids that will fit the pot, so you that can get more use out of it.

My 40+ Year-Old Pressure Cooker

Glass vs. Metal Lids – Which One Will Help the Food Cook Faster?

I have two saucepans. One has a metal lid, and one has a glass lid. I prefer the glass lid since I can see what’s going on inside the pot. But does one type allow the food to cook faster?

Neither glass nor metal lids cook more quickly than the other. Any difference in cooking time between individual lid types will be marginal. The most important thing that affects cooking speed is that the lid fits properly over the pot.

If the lid doesn’t fit properly, it will allow heat and steam to escape the pot. While this may not be a big deal when you’re cooking rice or another quick dish, it will mess with your timing when you’re cooking something low and slow.

Can You Use Foil Instead of a Lid?

Foil can be used instead of a lid, but it will not help quite as much with heat retention. It will, however, keep most of the steam from escaping and thus help the food cook a bit more quickly.

You don’t use foil when cooking the same way you would when stashing the leftovers in the fridge. This means that you should not even attempt to wrap it across the edge of the pan – not only will the steam lift it and separate it, but you’re also bound to burn yourself at some point.

Also, you don’t use just any foil. Spring out for that slightly better stuff that doesn’t tear apart easily.

  • First, tear away a sheet of foil that is significantly larger than the pot.
  • Then scrunch it to create wrinkles all over the sheet. Try to scrunch it in a way that mimics the shape and size of the pan.
  • Instead of placing the foil on top of the pot, place it directly on the food.
  • If you want the sauce to thicken slightly while cooking, cut away a hole in the middle to release more steam.

Will the Food Cook Faster If I Wrap the Lid With Foil or Cloth?

Wrapping a lid in foil or cloth will not make food cook faster. Cover it this way can help bulk up a lid, create a better seal with a pot on a lid that is a bit too small, but it will do no more than that.

Covering a lid with a towel is something that you would do to prevent excess steam/liquid from going back into the food. It’s primariliy used when you’re trying to bake on the stove or in a slow cooker. But, it will not speed up the cooking process at all.

Does Food Take Longer to Cook Wrapped in Foil?

Aluminum foil will not make food wrapped in it take longer to cook. Foil is too thin to impact cooking time one way or the other. However, it can be used to help soften food as it cooks. A good example is wrapping ribs in foil while they are being cooked or smoked on the grill.

Cool Fact: En papillote is a cooking technique that does precisely that – cooks food in a pouch. Traditionally, the pouch is made out of parchment paper, but tin foil will do in a pinch. Parcels are positioned on a baking tray and cooked in an oven.

But, you can use foil for cooking on a stove (which you’d probably prefer if you’re cooking for only one or two people). To do so, place a steaming rack in a large pot, add 2-3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Place the parcels on the rack and cover the pot with a lid.

This method will give you the speed and efficiency of cooking with a lid, while the food will not become too soggy (compare to poaching and simmering).

Does the Shape of the Pan Matter?

The shape of the pan definitely matters. Otherwise, there will be no need for multiple pan types and styles.

Pots and pans with large bottom surfaces are great when you need to heat food quickly, while the narrow ones are better at retaining it. This is why stockpots and saucepans are shaped the way they are.

In any case, a lid will help with heat retention no matter what the shape of the vessel, but those results will only be better when comparing the same vessel without a lid.

What that translates to is that if you need to cook a quick meal, you can do so in a wide-covered pan, but if you’re cooking bone broth and you want to shave an hour or two, cover the stockpot with a lid.

My Heavy-Glazed Ceramic Pot

Final Thoughts

In this article, we established that food definitely cooks faster when covered. However, speed of cooking is not the most important consideration. The type of food is the deciding factor when choosing to lid your food or not.

I hope this article has been helpful! If so, please share it with your friends. Thanks for stoppin’ by!

For more, don’t miss Is It Safe to Heat Food in Ziploc Bags?

Anne James

Hi, I'm Anne but my grandchildren call me Jelly Grandma. I have over 50 years of experience as a Southern cook and am a retired librarian. I love sharing what I have learned. You can find me on YouTube as well! Just click the link at the bottom of your page. I hope your visit here has been a sweet one.

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