to allow steam to escape. Otherwise the expanding steam can either rattle the lid or knock it off the pot completely.
Probably not what you are seeing? but I include it for completeness: the big pots that you get for deep frying turkeys have a hole so you can stick a thermometer through so you can heat the oil appropriately with the big bunsen burner.
It is a vacuum release. Without it, you can't remove a tight fitting lid while it is hot.
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