Project Guide

How to Use a Pressure Cooker

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How Does a Pressure Cooker Work?
Steam is vented from a pressure cooker alongside cooked white rice.

Usually made of stainless steel or aluminum, pressure cookers come equipped with a pressure valve and a lockable lid with a seal. When the cooker is placed on a stovetop, or an electric cooker is turned on, the liquid in the pot heats to a boiling point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit, creating steam. The cooker’s lid traps the steam in the enclosed space, causing the temperature to rise above the point at which water boils, so the food will cook more quickly. The safety valve releases the pressure as needed. 

Pressure cooker accessories such as a steamer basket or trivet come with many models. 

Before Cooking, Inspect the Cooker
A steam escapes from a "jiggle top" pressure cooker.
  • Before preparing food, identify the kind of cooker you have. The older style of pressure cooker (sometimes called a “jiggle top”) has a weighted pressure regulator that sits atop the vent pipe on the lid. The more recent type has a closed system and uses spring valves. 
  • Make sure the cooker is not dented or cracked, which could cause it to release steam unexpectedly and not only diminish performance, but could risk burning someone. 
Prepare Foods for Pressure Cooking
A person browning meat in a pan.
  • Many foods require or can benefit from simple preparation before pressure cooking. Make sure you follow the appropriate recipe. 
  • Meats and poultry can be seasoned and browned at medium high heat with a small amount of cooking oil, whether in the cooker itself or in a separate pan or skillet. 
  • Seafoods can be washed and placed on the steamer basket in the cooker. Brush the steamer basket with vegetable oil to prevent food from sticking. 
  • Chickpeas, dry beans and some grains should be soaked in warm water for at least four hours, with specific times varying for each ingredient. 
  • Fruit and vegetables, whether fresh or frozen, should be washed and cooked in the steamer basket.
Add Liquid
Water is poured into a stovetop cooker.
  • Pressure cookers require liquid, usually water, to generate steam. “Jiggle top” cookers need a minimum of one cup of water, while valve cookers need at least half a cup. Put food in the cooker first, then add water. 
  • When learning how to use a pressure cooker, make sure the unit is never more than two-thirds full of liquid, so the steam has enough space to accumulate. 
Close Lid and Apply Heat
A person activates a pressure cooker via the front panel.
  • Once the food and water have been added, close the lid, taking off the safety valve or weighted pressure regulator. 
  • Lock the lid. 
  • When determining how to use an electric pressure cooker, turn on the heat as directed by the recipe. 
  • When using a stovetop cooker, place it on a burner and turn it to high. 
Monitor the Pressure and Reduce When Simmering
A person releases steam from a pressure cooker.
  • As the heat and pressure rise, the steam will begin to simmer the food. In older models, steam comes out of the vent and the weighted regular will jiggle, so place the safety valve on the nozzle when you see the steam coming out. In newer models, a pressure indicator shows conditions inside the cooker. 
  • Reduce the heat to maintain an even pressure while cooking and set the timer as directed. 
Complete Cooking and Release the Pressure
Cooked tamales stand on a plate and inside a pressure cooker.
  • Pressure cooker times can vary based on the recipe. When the cooking time is complete, turn off the heat and release the pressure. Most of the cookers have a quick release button on the lid. 
  • Confirm that the pressure has been released with the cooker’s pressure regulator or valve stem. Any remaining steam will make a hissing noise when escaping. 
  • Remove food from the cooker and serve. 
Other Types of Cookers
A slow cooker stands on a counter alongside cooked mussels.

Using a pressure cooker is no substitute for related types of food cookers that specialize in different or additional techniques. 

  • Slow cookers, as the name suggests, allows food to be cooked over greater durations, which can bring out richness of flavors of items such as grains. Programmable slow cookers make it particularly easy to add ingredients and let them cook for as much as 4-8 hours with minimal supervision. A crock pot is a popular kind of slow cooker. 
  • Multi-cookers are kitchen appliances that can serve as an electric cooker, fryer, steamer and more. 
  • Instant pressure cookers combine the functions of pressure cookers, slower cookers, yogurt makers and more. 

Home chefs should find a pressure cooker to be an easy-to-clean and reliable device as long as they follow all safety instructions. Learning how to use a pressure cooker in order to make soup, broth or other delicious meals can be a great way to let off steam.