Hey! This site is reader-supported and we earn commissions if you purchase products from retailers after clicking on a link from our site.

So many recipes call for simmering, but what does it mean to let food simmer?  Do you simmer with lid on or off?  If you’re not sure what the right answer to this question is, you’re not alone.  Cooking can be confusing, and many people share your same questions.  I know I certainly didn’t know everything about simmering when I was first starting!  

Let’s dive right in and take a look at what exactly simmering is, how it is used in various recipes, and whether simmering with the lid on or off is best.

Simmering:  What is it?

Simmering refers to a cooking technique.  When you simmer food, the food cooks slowly.  When compared to the roaring bubbles you see when boiling water or other liquids, the simmering process is gentler.  Instead, you leave the food cooking at a temperature a little below the point of boiling.  

When simmering food, you want to avoid letting it get going fast enough to come to a boil.  For this reason, simmering can be a little more difficult than boiling, because it requires closer supervision to make sure the food you’re cooking doesn’t get going too fast.

How does simmering cook food?

So, how does simmering cook food?  Even though simmering is slower than boiling, the liquid is still moving around.  This movement, along with the heat in the pan, ensures that the foods cook and that all the different flavors and seasonings in the recipe become mixed together.

What are the benefits of simmering?

Simmering offers a myriad of benefits when cooking different types of food.  Here are just a few of these benefits:

  • Simmering can help improve the way food tastes.  When you simmer ingredients together and give the flavors time to combine, you can really taste the difference.  For example, beans, vegetables, and meats can absorb the flavors of the other ingredients in the pot, enhancing the way they taste.
  • Simmering foods can also help improve their texture.  When meats or beans are simmered, they’ll turn out more tender.  Simmering also helps leave rice and other grains softer and more enjoyable to eat.
  • Simmering is an easy cooking method that can be adapted to different time constraints.  You can adjust how quickly the food is simmering if you need to slightly speed up or slow down the cooking process.
  • Simmering can also eliminate the need to add additional fat and calories to the foods you’re cooking.  Since you cook foods in liquid when simmering them, there is less need to add butter or oil.

Is all simmering at the same temperature?

No, all simmering is not necessarily done at the same temperature.  When you simmer foods, the temperature may be between about 185 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit (remember, that water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit).  

Simmering at higher and lower temperatures each have their own uses.  Additionally, you don’t always have to use a thermometer to verify the exact temperature of the contents of your pan.  Rather, you can look at the food in the pan and assess the amount of steam or bubbles you see.

  • When the contents of the pot barely appear to be moving, aside from a few bubbles every now and then, and there is only a little bit of steam, it is considered a slow simmer.  Braises and stocks are most commonly cooked over a slower simmer.
  • If there are some gentle bubbles in the pot, and you’re cooking over medium-low heat, this is more of a standard simmering temperature.  Sauces, stews, soups, and some braises will call for a standard simmer.
  • If there are a fair amount of bubbles in the pot, and you’re cooking over a higher temperature (between medium and medium-high), it is called a rapid simmer.  As the contents are bubbling more, this will lead to more evaporation.  Therefore, a rapid simmer is best when you need to reduce a sauce.
do you simmer with lid on or off

Should you simmer with lid on or off?

So, do you simmer with or without lid?  The correct way to simmer foods is to leave the lid off.  If you leave the lid on foods while they’re simmering, it can cause too much heat to get trapped in the pot.  This will cause the foods to cook too quickly.

Additionally, leaving the lid on will also trap the moisture in the pot.  This isn’t ideal when you’re trying to reduce sauces or allow some of the liquid to evaporate.  As you’re thinking about whether to simmer soup covered or uncovered, remember that many soups need to reduce or thicken.  Leaving the pot uncovered will allow this to occur.

When cooking with the lid on, excess moisture can also collect on the inside of the lid and drop back in the pan as it cools, which could have a negative impact on the way your recipe tastes.

Remember, the goal of simmering is to keep the ingredients  cooking at a temperature just below boiling.  Covering the pot can increase the heat and cause the food to boil, which will cook it too quickly.  Cooking too quickly could be too rough for more delicate foods, such as beans, and it could also leave meat chewy and tough.  A more gentle, and slow cooking speed is necessary when simmering. 

When to Leave the Lid On

While you’ll want to leave the lid off in most cases while simmering, there are a few instances where leaving the lid on will be the better choice.  For example, if you’re cooking something like rice where you don’t want any of the water to evaporate, you should leave the lid on.  To understand why this is the case, think about this question:  does water evaporate faster with lid on or off?

Water evaporates much more quickly when the lid is off.  When cooking rice, it is essential that you have the right ratio of water to the grains of rice.  If some of that water ends up evaporating, your rice will end up crunchy or hard, instead of light and fluffy.

The other time you may want to leave the lid on when cooking is if you want to reduce the cooking time.  Cooking with the lid on increases the temperature of the pot and your foods, and can help them cook more quickly.  However, remember that some foods may not turn out tender enough if cooked too quickly, so try not to rush recipes that call for a slow simmer.

simmer covered or uncovered

The Best Foods to Simmer

Now, simmering is a wonderful cooking method for many types of foods, but it isn’t for everything.  Here are some of the best foods to simmer.  Simmering these foods can help you create flavorful, tender, and delicious meals.

  • Sweet potatoes, potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, and other starchy root vegetables can taste good when simmered and allowed to cook until tender..
  • Meats and poultry can be simmered, via braising or poaching.  Simmering works well for meats if you want to cook the meat in a sauce or broth.
  • Larger roasts or cuts of meat can become tender when cooking.  Pot roast is one example of a tougher cut of meat (chuck roast) that becomes very tender when simmered for hours.
  • Grains, such as quinoa, barley, millet, and faro can taste delicious when simmered with spices or aromatics.
  • Lentils and beans turn out perfect for stews or chili when simmered on the stovetop.
  • You can also poach fish and other delicate foods using a slow simmer.  This cooking method will help prevent the food from falling apart from cooking too quickly.

Does food cook faster with the lid on or off?

As I mentioned above, when the lid is on, foods cook more quickly.  Leaving the lid on a pan prevents heat from escaping and keeps the contents hotter.  This speeds up the cooking process for the foods in the pot.

So, when you’re thinking about whether to cook soup covered or uncovered, remember that uncovered is typically best.  This will prevent the soup from getting too hot and sticking to the pot.  It will also allow a little of the liquid to evaporate, which can help thicken the soup.

simmer with or without lid

Where should I set my stove to simmer?

Every stove is different, so there isn’t necessarily one exactly correct answer.  You’ll want to watch the contents of the pot to see how quickly they’re bubbling to ensure you have the heat set correctly.  In most cases, simmering will be done over low or medium-low heat.

What causes a pot to boil over?

If you’ve ever had a pot boil over on the stove, you know how nerve-wracking it can be.  Not only does the liquid run onto the burner and create a big mess, but it can mess with the ratio of ingredients in the pan.

So, why do pots boil over sometimes?  One reason may be that you have too much liquid in the pot, and it is too close to the top edge.  Once the liquid gets boiling, some of the excess can spill over the edge of the pot.

Starchy foods are more likely to boil over than other types of food.  If you’re cooking something like pasta or boiling potatoes, the bubbling starch molecules will form quickly.  This can leave a layer of starch across the top of the pot, which can trap the steam.  When the steam is trapped, it can cause the water to boil over.

A pot is much more likely to boil over if it is covered.  With the lid on, more steam and heat will be trapped, which will make it more likely for the contents to boil over the sides of the pot.  

To prevent a pot from boiling over, don’t cover starchy foods while they cook.  If your uncovered pot looks to be ready to boil over, try placing a wooden spoon over the top and turning the heat down.  The wooden spoon can break the surface tension and buy you some time to get the contents a bit cooler before they spill over the edges.

Do You Simmer with Lid On or Off?

Is simmering better than boiling?

Depending on what you’re cooking, simmering can be better than boiling.  Boiling can cook foods too quickly, which can leave some foods, particularly tougher cuts of meat, chewy.  Conversely, when you simmer tough cuts of meat, they cook more slowly and can turn out moist and tender.

Boiling can also be too rough on more delicate foods, such as beans or fish.  With the more gentle bubbles when simmering, these foods won’t get damaged or destroyed as they cook.

What’s simmering on your stove?

Learning whether to simmer covered or uncovered is the first step in cooking up a delicious meal.  So, now that you know that simmering should be done with the lid off, what recipe are you going to try?  I’m sure that you’ll be able to use your new-found knowledge to ensure that it turns out flavorful and delicious!