Shiitake mushroom (Lentinula edodes) caps were puffed using pulsed microwave-vacuum puffing (PMVP), microwave-vacuum puffing (MVP) and microwave puffing (MP). The response surface method was used to optimise the process parameters for using PMVP to puff mushroom caps. The experiments were conducted using a central composite design to determine the visual appearance and initial moisture content (30–50%) of the mushroom caps. The initial moisture content and microwave power intensity showed highly significant linear relations with the expansion ratio and sensory evaluation. The optimal conditions for puffing mushroom caps were initial moisture content, microwave intensity, vacuum pressure and pulse ratio of 35%, 40 W g−1, 77.5 ± 1.5 kPa and 1.35, which resulted in an optimal expansion ratio and sensory score of 163.2% and 6.83, respectively. The caps puffed using PMVP showed better textures, sensory scores and microstructures than those puffed using either MP or MVP.