Cooking Under Pressure

You may have seen a pressure cooker in your grandmother’s kitchen, and perhaps your mother’s, but in the latter part of the twentieth century it was abandoned in favor of the microwave and slow cooker. However, in recent years pressure cookers have made a major comeback, and today it is one of the most popular kitchen appliances on the market.

How do Pressure Cookers Work?

A pressure cooker is basically a pot with a lockable lid, and a valve on top that controls the amount of steam pressure within. The lid has a tight seal to keep the pressure from escaping the pot. Food and a liquid such as water, wine, stock, or broth is placed inside the cooker on the bottom. A wire basket, rack, or trivet can be used to raise the food above the liquid so it’s cooked by steam alone. Racks and trivets can create multiple layers as well for cooking different items at one time.

Setting the pressure cooker on a high heat with the lid locked in place causes steam to build up. The steam increases the atmospheric pressure inside the cooker by 15 pounds per square inch (psi), which also increases the boiling point of water from 212°F to 250°F. The higher temperature causes the food to cook faster, in addition to the steam that is being forced through the food and keeping it hydrated.

Once the cooker has reached its full pressure, usually indicated by a pop-up button on the lid, a valve opens and regulates the release of steam for maintaining a constant temperature inside the cooker. When cooking is finished, pressure in the cooker must be released before the lid can be opened.

The type of pressure release method used impacts the food inside, and some recipes will indicate which one to use. Quick or rapid release consists of opening the pressure valve on the lid. A natural release is just waiting after the heat or cooking program is turned off until the pressure has completely dissipated, and the lid-lock has disengaged. As a general guide:

  • Use the quick or rapid release when cooking eggs, vegetables, delicate foods, or ingredients that don’t benefit from additional cooking time.
  • Use the natural release when cooking meat, dried beans and legumes, rice, soup, and other foods that are mostly liquid.

Types of Pressure Cookers

There are two types of pressure cookers today: standard (stovetop) and electric. The stovetop is an updated version of your grandmother’s cooker, and the electric pressure cooker is one of the functions of a multicooker appliance.

Some of the basic differences between the two types of pressure cookers include:

  1. Cooking pressures. A stovetop pressure cooker generally has two heat settings, with the low one around 6-8 psi, and the high around 13-15 psi. An electric cooker can have three pressure settings of low, medium, and high. The low operates from 5.8-7.2 psi, the medium from 10.2-11.6 psi, and the high at 15 psi. Even though electric cookers reach 15 psi while building up pressure, they actually operate at 11.6 psi while cooking. Therefore, cooking times will be longer when you use an electric cooker.
  2. Heat regulation. It can take a while to find the exact heat level with a stovetop to keep it from losing pressure or over-pressurizing. The electric cooker doesn’t need constant adjustment — just press the desired pressure or program, the cooking time, and “start”.
  3. Cook times. On average, a stovetop cooker will cook around three times faster than regular cooking, while an electric cooker will cook around two times faster.
  4. Opening pressure cooker methods. Stovetops generally take less time to release pressure than electric cookers. Stovetop rapid release takes about 2 minutes, and natural about 10-15 minutes. For electric cookers, rapid release takes about 3 minutes, and natural about 20-30 minutes.
  5. Scheduling features, cooking programs, and timer. Most stovetop pressure cookers don’t have an integrated timer, cooking programs or scheduling features.

Electric pressure cookers have an integrated timer that keeps track of cooking time. The most modern ones use micro-computer controlled smart cooking programs that interact with a pressure sensor and thermostat to control heating intensity, temperature, pressure, and duration. Some can now be controlled through a WiFi app.

Are Stovetop Pressure Cookers Safe?

After the second world war, the demand for pressure cookers was tremendous. Long-lasting stainless-steel cookers were being produced, but many new manufacturers were also selling cheap ones made with substandard materials. These inferior products, combined with improper use, resulted in accidents that damaged the appliance’s reputation for generations to come.

Today’s stovetop pressure cookers are now fail-safe with multiple safety features:

  • Special lid locking device that must be engaged before the pressure builds and won’t open until the pressure has been released.
  • Main pressure release valve with escape holes at the base for excess steam.
  • Safety hole in the lid for excess pressure.
  • Lid gasket that dislodges to allow more steam to escape should excess pressure continue.
  • Pop-up button to indicate when chosen pressure has been reached. 
  • Safety handles — one long handle on one side and a shorter one on the opposite side for ease of lifting and moving.
  • Instructions outlining operating procedures for safe use.

Safety Features for Multicooker Pressure Cooking

  • Lid protections. Pressurization won’t start if the lid’s not on correctly, the silicone sealing ring isn’t in place, or the steam release valve isn’t closed properly. The lid won’t open if the pressure isn’t first dissipated using either the quick or natural opening release method.
  • Anti-block shield over the opening to the steam release vent on the underside of the lid to prevent food from blocking it so steam can be released.
  • High temperature warning. If the multicooker overheats the pressure will discontinue.
  • A special fuse disconnects power should the temperature rise to a level that could damage the electronics, or the cooker is trying to draw an unusually high level of electricity.
  • Automatic pressure control keeps the pressure at a safe level.
  • Pressure regulation protection. If the pressure goes over 15.23 psi, the steam release automatically opens to release steam. 
  • Excess pressure protection. The inner pot drops to release steam around the rim of the lid if the pressure is getting too high and the pressure regulator isn’t working properly.

Advantages of Cooking with a Pressure Cooker

  1. Reduces cooking time and is convenient for busy schedules.
  2. Tenderizes tougher cuts of meat.
  3. Uses less energy than other appliances and saves money because of faster cooking times.
  4. Less mess and cleanup with only one appliance.
  5. You can brown, boil, poach, steam roast, braise, stew, roast, make yogurt, or even bake with a pressure cooker.
  6. Pressure-cooked food retains more nutrition value than boiling and steaming.
  7. Better flavor — extra high heat promotes caramelization and browning.
  8. Cooks frozen meat without thawing.

As good as they are, pressure cookers and multicookers will never replace your stove.  To keep your stove and other major appliances operating at their best, call C&W Appliance for the very best in repair and maintenance.  Call us at (855) 358-1496 or submit our online service request form for prompt, reliable service.

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