How to Use Pressure Cookers, and Everything You Need to Know as a New Owner

cooker on a countertop surface

Pressure cookers are the buzz. They cook faster than regular pots, are able to produce more flavorful results, and bring convenience into the kitchen.

Maybe you’re considering getting one, but aren’t quite there yet. You need more information, more explanation of how it actually works. You’re also not sure how to make use of it or what the standard way of operating a pressure cooker is.

If any of that’s true, this article is for you. We talk about how pressure cookers work in general, how safe they are in regards to concerns over high pressure risk, and how to properly use one.

How do Pressure Cookers Work?

Now the basic part, how do pressure cookers actually work? And what makes them cook faster than regular pots?

A common misconception is that the pressure somehow compresses the food and makes it cook quicker. Well, something like that. But not exactly.

What the high pressure actually does is, it raises the temperature of the boiling point. While water usually boils at 212°F, with a pressure cooker at around 15 PSI, it is able to go up to 250°F. Without going into too much chemistry theory, this happens because at higher pressures, air molecules are denser together, which results in more heat being produced.

You can already see where this is going. Because of higher temperatures, the cooking process moves along quicker. Because cooking takes place by superheated steam, instead of boiling water, this also results in more flavor. Very little moisture escapes from the fast cooking process, which is why it retains more flavor. That being said, don’t compare it to slow-cooking methods, as those are still the king of bringing out flavors.

boiling water in a pot
Water boils and stays at 212°F at normal pressure on sea level. In pressure cookers, it is able to go up to 250°F.

How Safe Are Pressure Cookers?

While some people are concerned about the safety of pressure cookers, due to the high pressure it is holding in, it is actually very safe when used properly.

Basically, make sure you seal the cooker is properly before starting the cooking process. At the end of it, ensure that you release all pressure before opening the lid. With these simple rules, nothing can go wrong with using a pressure cooker.

In real-world use though, you mostly don’t even have to worry about those basic rules. Most, if not all models nowadays come with basic safety features. The most common one includes the inability to start the unit without properly sealing it. The cookers also normally don’t allow you to open the lid, without first depressurizing the unit.

How to Use A Pressure Cooker?

Starting the process

Before using a pressure cooker for the first time, make sure to read the instruction manuals! It is such a simple task with so many benefits, yet many tend to neglect it. The manual often contains valuable info on how to use and care for your unit, and the instructions differ from model to model.

Generally though, this is how you would use a stovetop pressure cooker. You would put whatever food you intend to cook into the cooker, and then add some water into it. The specific amount depends on what you’re cooking, how much you’re cooking, and your particular model and its size. Then, set the desired pressure level, close the lid, lock it, and let it sit on the heat. Note that the pressure level that corresponds to each level of pressure settings can be found in your instruction manuals. Typically, the highest setting is how you would get the pressure cooker to 15 PSI, which is the ‘standard’ of pressure cooking.

After a few minutes, the valve, or pressure indicator on the lid should pop up. What this means is, the unit has built up pressure. From here on, do not attempt to take off the lid without first depressurizing the cooker!

close up of a cooker's pressure indicator
Stovetop pressure cookers would have some sort of indicator like this, that pops up when it’s pressurized. Credits:

Finishing up

After waiting for the amount of time needed to cook your specific type of food, turn off the heat and release the pressure. The method might differ from model to model, but usually it’s by turning a valve to let it out. You can tell by the pressure indicator that all pressure has been released, as it’ll go back down once that happens. You can then safely open the lid and enjoy the results.

This process is largely the same for when using a pressure cooker for meat, for vegetables, or for anything, even canning. That being said, it is not recommended to use a pressure cooker for canning, as the process requires more stringent pressure monitoring due to involving food safety. Be sure to check out our article If you’re interested in learning more about that and the best pressure canners out there.

Anyway, a video might be better for you visual learners out there:

How to Use An Electric Pressure Cooker?

If you know how to operate a stovetop pressure cooker, it really isn’t hard to use an electric one. With the standard LED screen and some buttons, it’s controlled pretty much the same way as any other electrical kitchen appliance.

First, put the food and sufficient water (which should be stated in the manual for each type of food) into the cooker. Then, close the lid, lock it, and set the controls on the unit. This would normally be the pressure level, and the time to cook, on the most basic level.

Now, simply wait for the timer to go off, and you can depressurize the unit. Again, the exact method differs from model to model, but usually it would be some form of valve that you can open for a quick release of the built-up steam. Then, open the lid, and enjoy!

What Can You Cook In It?

Pretty much anything, really. As it is using heat to cook food, just like any other cooking styles, we are able to adapt recipes for use in a pressure cooker.

There are some challenges though unique to pressure cookers though. For one, you won’t know if the time you’ve set is undercooking, overcooking, or cooking the food just nice. Because you won’t be able to peek into the interior as well, a miscalculation could ruin your cooking.

Because of that, it’s important to experiment with your particular model of cooker and get familiar with it. If in doubt, search online as well for the typical cooking times for specific types of foods. Only then you’d be able to get a ballpark figure of how long you should set the cooking to run for.

pressure cooker on a stove
How do you tell if the food is cooked or not if you can’t peek in?

Wrap Up

Using a pressure cooker isn’t difficult nor scary at all. As long as you know the principles of how it works, and how to operate it correctly, pressure cookers are no more dangerous than a regular pot.

Once you’ve got past that learning curve though, these appliances are able to do wonders. Effectively cutting down a huge chunk of your cooking time in the kitchen, while matching or even doing better flavors than regular cooking methods, it really is a double win.

If you’re interested in checking out more write-ups from us, the air fryer is another great appliance to have in the kitchen, and we have a list of the best of them. Maybe you might also be interested in getting a robust yet affordable toaster oven, or even an electric skillet for ultimate convenience.

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