What Foods Should You Simmer With The Lid On Or Off?

Simmering food on the hob can be confusing as it is not always clear whether you should leave the lid on or not. Using the lid can help some recipes cook faster and allow others to reduce their liquid. What recipes are best with the lid on? It’s time to uncover the secret to successful simmering.

Foods such as soup, curry, chili, or stock should be simmered with the lid off. Excess moisture will evaporate, resulting in a thicker sauce with a concentrated flavor. Keep the lid on for braising, boiling rice or simmering broth-based dishes. This will retain heat and moisture and reduce cooking time.

Somehow, lots of recipes tend to leave out this crucial detail! Nobody appreciates a watery Bolognese – or a completely dry and overcooked gumbo. I’ll discuss which recipes should be simmered with the lid on or off and why.

The Purpose Of A Saucepan Lid

If you thought a saucepan lid was just an unnecessary kitchen accessory that sits forgotten at the back of the cupboard or is simply used to boil a pot of water, think again.

The decision to cook with or without a lid will determine the final result of your dish. Covering your pot or saucepan with a lid helps generate and retain heat quickly and effectively. It will preserve moisture by preventing evaporation. Using a lid also saves time and energy because it speeds up the cooking time. 

When To Simmer With The Lid On (Or Off)?

Simmering is the technique of cooking food slowly and steadily in liquid or sauce over medium-low heat, just below boiling point. There should be small, occasional bubbles that surface from the bottom of the pot.

Simmer with the lid off to maintain slow, low, and gentle cooking. This prevents boiling and allows excess heat and moisture to escape, which helps to reduce and thicken a sauce. To speed up the cooking process, prevent moisture loss, or increase and maintain heat, simmer with the lid on.

Simmering with the lid on or off the saucepan essentially depends on:

  • What you are cooking
  • The stage of the cooking process
  • The results you would like to achieve.

Covering the saucepan will allow the temperature of the liquid to rise for quick and efficient heating. This step can be particularly helpful at the beginning stages of the cooking process or when you have added extra liquid or ingredients to the dish. For recipes that need to simmer for an extended period, pop the lid on to prevent the dish from drying out.

To thicken and reduce the sauce or liquid in a soup, stew, or curry, simmer uncovered so that excess moisture can evaporate. It is also easier to maintain a slow and steady temperature by removing the lid.

Additionally, choosing to simmer with the lid on or off will depend on your desired ratio of ingredients to liquid. A covered saucepan will maintain more liquid, while an uncovered one leads to a reduced or more concentrated liquid.

Should You Simmer Soup With Lid On Or Off?

Start by covering the pot to bring the soup to an initial simmer. The retained heat and moisture will start to soften the vegetables and infuse all the ingredients together. Uncover and continue to simmer, so that the soup can thicken and the contents won’t boil over.

For thick, rich, and luscious results, soups such as pumpkin, tomato, broccoli cheese, and cream of mushroom soup should be simmered with the lid off. Watery, broth-based soups like miso, chicken-noodle, and minestrone are more forgiving and can be simmered with the lid on or partially off.

Check out my article on simmering soup for too long for some more tips on the best simmered soups.

Do You Simmer Bolognese With Lid On Or Off?

There are no shortcuts to the ultimate Bolognese! Most recipes call for at least 1 ½ to 4 hours of simmering which helps break down the meat and enrich the sauce.

Low and steady simmering is key to a delicious, and truly authentic Bolognese sauce. Simmer Bolognese with the lid off so that the wine evaporates, and the sauce can reduce and thicken. Excess heat and moisture can escape, enabling the rich and complex flavors to meld together perfectly.

Do You Simmer Curry With Lid On Or Off?

The perfect curry sauce will be thin enough to spread over the rice and thick enough to coat the meat and vegetables. To achieve the ideal consistency, simmer curry with the lid off. When curry is simmered covered, trapped moisture drips into the pot, creating a watery sauce with diluted flavor.

Curry sauce and tougher cuts of meat will need to simmer uncovered for an extended period. To avoid mushy and nutrient-depleted vegetables, only add them in toward the end of the cooking process.

Check out my post on how to give curry depth which involves reducing it down for a flavorful sauce.

Do You Simmer Chili With Lid On Or Off?

Spicy, comforting, and irresistible, this dish requires a gentle simmering dance between popping the lid on and off as it cooks. 

Cook chili uncovered for the ground beef to brown and the canned tomatoes to cookout and caramelize. Then, simmer covered to retain the liquid so that the meat can cook without drying out. Finally, add the beans and simmer without a lid for a thick glossy sauce full of concentrated flavor.

Toward the end of the cooking process, simmer the chili uncovered until it has reached your preferred consistency.

Do You Simmer Stock With The Lid On Or Off?

Stock is the magical ingredient that adds instant richness and depth of flavor to many savory dishes. The perfect stock is a clear liquid with a rich, concentrated flavor and viscous consistency.

For best results, simmer stock low with the lid off. Steam and excess moisture need to disperse from the saucepan to form a flavorful, concentrated liquid. Simmering uncovered enables better temperature control and prevents the stock from boiling vigorously and becoming cloudy.

Do You Cover Gumbo While Cooking?

It is best to cover gumbo if you plan to leave it simmering all day. If you prefer a thinner, broth-like sauce, cover gumbo for most of the cooking process. For a thick and luscious stew, or to shorten cooking time, remove the lid to simmer gumbo uncovered.

Depending on how long you let it simmer and the consistency you prefer, you can cook gumbo covered or uncovered. If cooking the gumbo slowly for a few hours, make sure to cover it, so the roux does not thicken it too much. When the cooking time is short, simmer uncovered to reduce the stock.

Do You Braise With Lid On Or Off?

With the correct technique, perfectly braised meat will fall right off the bone and melt in your mouth.

Tougher cuts of meat are firstly pan-seared on high heat until golden brown. This locks in moisture and amplifies the flavor and texture of the finished dish.

Then the meat is partially submerged in water or broth and slow-cooked with aromatics and vegetables until succulent and tender. It’s usually placed in the oven for even heat but a low simmer works as well.

The seared meat and vegetables should be partially immersed in water or broth. Braise on low and steady heat with the lid on. A tight-fitting lid traps steam, which helps break down meat’s tough connective tissue and collagen.

Braising is usually done with the lid on but you can braise with the lid off to give a slightly different result. The exposed meat will roast in dry heat, rather than cook in the steam. This creates a delicious browning effect on the meat. It may need to be turned a few times if you are braising for a long period.

For a good recipe, try this braised beef in soy sauce. Or other tough cuts like some braised oxtail.


Hopefully you now know when to keep the lid on or off when cooking.

For a thick and rich texture or intensified flavor, simmer food with the lid off so that the steam and moisture can evaporate easily. This step is ideal for curry, Bolognese, soup, and stock. 

Covering food while it simmers prevents heat loss, ensures a thinner consistency, and prevents food from drying out. This method works well for broth-based dishes, gumbo, boiling rice, and braising meat.

Have any questions? Ask me in the comment section below and I’ll get back to you.

Tom Hambly

Tom Hambly is the founder of Boss The Kitchen. With a background in cooking and building websites, he enjoys running this site to help other cooks improve. About Tom Hambly.

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