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Is it a good or a bad idea to cover food that is cooling? For example I have bolognese cooling in a tupperware container but don't know whether I should cover it and refrigerate or leave uncovered out for a while?

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Really covering it (airtight containers) enables you to cool it REALLY quick by submerging the whole container in a cold water bath, or running cold water over it - just be careful that your container does not lose tightness with underpressure inside, drawing the cooling water in! – rackandboneman Nov 15 '15 at 12:02
up vote 7 down vote accepted

There are two factors to consider, both related to the evaporation of water from the cooling dish:

  • Evaporative cooling: if the water vapor can leave the container, the food will cool faster, but may dry out slightly
  • Condensation: if the water vapor cannot leave the container, it will condense on the lid, and possibly drip back down onto the food

Modern refrigerators are very powerful, so if a little water dripping back is not a problem (which it would not be for a bolognese for example), go ahead and cover the item and place in refrigerator.

On the other hand, if water dripping back onto the dish would mar the surface (of a pumpkin pie, for example), you will want to cool it without a cover until it is no longer steaming.

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Great answer and well explained! Thank you I've been wondering about that for ages. I had it in my head for some reason that it wasn't a good idea to cover food when it was hot but now I know. – doovers Jan 28 '14 at 7:46
A pie would probably be ruined anyway if you cooled it covered, pastry tends to get soggy in no time... – rackandboneman Nov 15 '15 at 11:59

When the food you've been cooking involves some kinds of vegetables (cabbage relatives, mostly, and some other green leafy things), then one thing to worry about is the collection of sulphur compounds. If you cover the pan, then you can concentrate some sulfide (not a chemist) compounds that you might prefer to have evaporate out through your vent hood.

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Interesting, could that lead to a soup for example tasting slightly sour after cooling while covered? Or is that just another old wives tale :) – doovers Jan 28 '14 at 21:37
Well in my experience it's not so much sourness, though I suppose that's possible. Usually the problem is that the food develops an "overcooked cabbage" smell. It's hard to describe; the easiest way to get the idea is to overcook some broccoli in a covered pan :) – Pointy Jan 28 '14 at 21:40

You should not cover foods while cooling. It will slow down the cooling and also cause a higher chance of bacteria forming. Best way to cool foods is in a refrigerator or if thats not possible at a cool space in a fairly flat container.

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If you put it in the fridge should you leave it uncovered? – doovers Feb 1 '14 at 5:54

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