Everything You Ever Needed To Know About Safely Using a Pressure Cooker And Finding The Best Pressure Cooker For You
- What is a pressure cooker?
- Who invented the pressure cooker and when?
- How does a pressure cooker work?
- What about PSI?
- Why use a pressure cooker?
- Is pressure cooking healthy?
- Which foods can you cook in a pressure cooker?
- Doesn’t food taste better when cooked slow vs. super-fast in a pressure cooker?
- Are pressure cookers safe?
- Stove top or Electric? Pros and Cons
- Is there any electric pressure cooker that doesn’t have a Teflon non-stick coating?
- What are some common mistakes to avoid with using pressure cookers?
- Which is the best pressure cooker?
Are you on the fence about using a pressure cooker in your kitchen?
For the longest time, so was I.
In fact, using a pressure cooker was just NOT on my list of approved kitchen tools. You see, my earliest memory of pressure cookers involves explosions in the kitchen and a vision of tomato paste stuck all over the ceiling. I remember when the pressure cooker was on in the kitchen, my mom would not allow any of us kids into the kitchen. Back then, that was the best safety precaution.
No wonder I had successfully convinced myself that a pressure cooker is inessential in my kitchen and life is quite complete without it.
That is, until recently, when a close friend of mind started raving about her Cuisinart pressure cooker and how much time and energy it helps her save. One look at her latest kitchen tool and I realized pressure cookers have come a long way since my childhood. Today’s pressure cookers are definitely not your mother or grandmothers pressure cookers.
I realized it’s time to demystify the pressure cooker!
If something can potentially save you cooking time, energy, AND help food retain more vitamins, it’s definitely worth taking a second look and pinpointing the best pressure cooker.
According to Google, a pressure cooker is an airtight pot in which food can be cooked quickly under steam pressure. The lid of a pressure cooker is fitted with a rubber gasket, which, when locked into place, forms an airtight seal, raising the pressure of the steam inside.
You’ll be amazed to know that the first pressure cooker was invented way back in 1679 by a French physicist called Denis Papin. Very aptly, the original name of his contraption was Papins Digester
Papin was trying to reduce cooking time by the use of steam in an airtight cooker.
At that time, Papin’s invention was treated more like a scientific study rather than an invention and he lived and died in relative obscurity. Little did he know that his invention would live on and become a crucial tool in many a kitchen.
Now I’m no science major so I needed to understand this in plain English. Here’s a really simplified understanding of the science behind a pressure cooker:
- Pressure cooking always requires liquid (i.e. water)
- Water normally boils at 100 C or 212 F at normal air pressure (i.e. at sea level). At this level, no matter how much heat is supplied to the water, the temperature will not go above 100 C/212 F.
- When we go higher than sea level (e.g. a mountain), the air pressure is lower, hence water boils at a lower temperature. This means cooking takes longer, because now it is taking longer for the food to reach the internal temperature required to cook it.
- Conversely, if we go lower than sea level, air pressure is higher and temperature at which water boils is much higher temperature, which means cooking is much quicker.
- In a pressure cooker, once the airtight lid is snapped in, the steam from the liquid builds up the pressure to a maximum of 15 psi (read below to understand psi), raising the water’s boiling point. Now the same water that normally boils at 100 C/212F is much hotter, and cooks the food much more quickly.
This is where it starts getting technical. So let me see if I can break it down.
Pressure is measured in psi (pounds per square inch). At sea level, normal atmospheric pressure is 14.7 psi and any discussion regarding the pressure in a pressure cooker refers to psi above normal atmospheric pressure. So the psi in an open pan is 0 psi and water boils at 100 C/212 F at this psi.
The higher the pressure, the higher the boiling point of water and thus the quicker the food will cook. Many of the earlier, stove top models of pressure cookers have a standard psi of 15 which is the maximum as determined by the USDA in 1917. Once this pressure is attained, the steam release kicks in to maintain this pressure.
Today, however, pressure cookers cook at various psi, with many models giving you a range or option of pressure settings. Here is how the temperature goes up with the pressure:
0 psi – the cooking temperature reaches 100 C/212 F
5 psi – the cooking temperature reaches 104 C/ 220 F
10 psi – the cooking temperature reaches 113 C/235 F
15 psi – the cooking temperature reaches 121 C/250 F
3 reasons. Saves time, saves energy and saves nutrients.
Time: Since a pressure cooker elevates the boiling point of water inside it, food cooks much much faster, resulting in a time saving of up to 50%.
Energy: Since the cooking time is shorter and the temperature is higher, this results in an energy saving of up to 70% according to Fastcooking.ca
Nutrients: One of the other reasons why I never wanted to use a pressure cooker (apart from the fear of explosions) was that I always thought cooking at super high temperatures kills the nutrition in food. I was surprised to find out that the opposite is true.
In a study done by Nestle in 2006, it was found that with pressure cooking, food lost only 5-10% of its vitamins vs 35-60% for boiling and 10-25% for steaming.
In short, yes! With more nutrient retention and less cooking time for food to lose nutrients, it seems to be a winner.
Two things to keep in mind here. ALL cooking methods will make food lose some nutrition. So unless you are into raw food, know that cooked food will have lower nutrients and vitamins than food in its raw state.
In pressure cooking, the nutrients lost from the food are not lost but actually end up in the liquid. So be sure to use up that liquid in some way.
Judging from the number of cookbooks on pressure cooking, just about anything! From everyday basics like meat, stews and beans to soups, boiled eggs and lasagna. One of my favorite cookbooks on pressure cooking is Great Food Fast by QVC personality Bob Warden.
Practically speaking, pressure cookers are great for food that normally takes a long time to get tender, like red meats and beans.
Ahh the debate of the slow cooker vs the pressure cooker! Which is better? While each appliance has its place in a kitchen, haven’t we always heard of how much better food tastes if it is cooked for long on a low heat, eg in a slow cooker?
Turns out, this is another pressure cooker myth. Most cooks agree that food cooked in a pressure cooker tastes as good if not better because there is less time and less water to lose / dilute the flavor.
This is the million-dollar question and was my main concern when I started my review of pressure cookers!
What I found is that today’s models are nearly foolproof with enough safety features to make them fail safe.
Most stove top pressure cookers now have a back-up vent to release extra pressure even if you forget to turn down the heat once the pot is full pressure or if the vent is blocked.
As for electric pressure cookers, they come equipped with digital sensors that accurately monitor and maintain the pressure inside the cooker. As an example, the Instant Pot electric pressure cooker (which is on my list of recommended pressure cookers) comes with a list of 10 proven safety mechanisms.
In conclusion, exploding pressure cookers are really a thing of the past and modern cookers are quite safe.
Back when my mom used a pressure cooker, there were no electric pressure cookers so all I knew was the stove top contraption that rocked and whistled for the whole house to hear. In fact, electric pressure cookers didn’t come out till 1991 and personally I wasn’t aware of them till my aforementioned friend wouldn’t stop talking about her new electric Cuisinart pressure cooker.
Today, there is a daunting selection in pressure cookers, and if you are searching for the best pressure cooker, you will find them ranging from simple stove top ones to multi-functional electric ones with timers and settings. So which one to choose? As with any cooking accessory, there is no one-size-fits-all and a lot depends on your cooking style and budget. So let’s lay out the pros and cons of each and see which one appeals to you.
Stove Top Pressure Cooker – Pros and Cons
|1. Usually cooks at the maximum pressure of 15 psi which means food cooks faster.||1. Needs supervision, cannot leave home with a pressure cooker on the stove.|
|2. No digital electrical circuits so less things to go wrong.||2. Manual adjustment of heat and time required|
|3. Will not be affected by power outages and can function on any heat source e.g. electric, gas, induction, ceramic cooktops and even BBQ|
|4. Tend to last a long time with only the rubber/silicone gasket needing replacement|
|5. Usually stainless steel, which means no coating to come off or leach into the food.|
|6. Easy to find replacement parts|
Electric Pressure Cooker – Pros and Cons
|1. Many models are multifunctional which can replace slow cookers, rice cookers, saute pans to name a few.|
|1. Takes longer to cook as electric pressure cookers operate at lower pressures than stovetop pressure cookers. Usually, the highest pressure setting in an electric cooker is about 10 psi vs 15 psi for stove top pressure cookers.|
|2. Hands off operation, automatic heat adjustment. Literally set it and forget it.|
|2. Depends on power source to cook.|
|3. No hot flame in the summer months that warms up the whole house.||3. Takes up more counter space|
|4. As with any electronic device, has a limited life vs manual one which can last decades.|
|4. The cooking pans of many digital cookers are nonstick-coated (read Teflon). While I have nothing against Teflon coated pans, I know a lot of my readers do and for many it would be a deal breaker, despite the convenience of set it and forget it. Luckily there are options with stainless steel inserts.|
Buy an electric pressure cooker if: you are a hands off person who loves the convenience and doesn’t mind the extra time it takes for an electric pressure cooker to cook food.
Buy a stove top pressure cooker if: you are an involved chef who is comfortable with making heat adjustments and wants speed in cooking.
If you’re looking for an electric pressure cooker with a stainless steel insert instead of non-stick, the best option is Instant Pot.
What are some common mistakes to avoid with using pressure cookers?
Here are some common but entirely avoidable mistakes that are made with pressure cooking.
- Cooking with too much liquid. While pressure cooking must have liquid to operate, too much can leave your food mushy and tasteless.
- Cooking with too little liquid.
- Overfilling the pressure cooker
- Cooking different ingredients that need different cooking times together e.g. meat and vegetables
- Incorrect locking of a stove top pressure cooker
- Too much cooking time resulting in overcooked, mushy food
- Transplanting regular recipes to pressure cooking without modifying
We have narrowed down a selection in both electric and stove-top versions as what we think is the best pressure cooker.
Best pressure cooker – Electric
- Comes in 5, 6 and 8 qt sizes
- Tri-ply stainless steel insert, so no worry about non-stick coating wearing off
- 10 proven safety mechanisms for uncompromised safety
- 7-in-1: pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, sauté/browning, yogurt maker, steamer & warmer
- Two pressure settings. High pressure from 10.2 – 11.6 psi and Low pressure from 5.8 – 7.2 psi
- Programmable so you can truly set it and forget it.
- Canadian product, made in China
- One year warranty
- Comes with non-stick cooking pot for easy cleaning by hand or dishwasher. The pot is made of aluminum and coated with Xylan. Read here for a guide to nonstick coatings.
- Safety mechanism: cooker must be fully locked for pressure to build, and it will remain locked until the pressure inside drops to zero
- 5 functions: pressure cooking, browning, simmering, sautéing, and warming
- Two pressure settings. High pressure is 10 psi, low pressure is 6 psi
- Made in China
- 3 year warranty
Best pressure cooker – Stove Top
- Comes in 5, 6,7 and 8 qt sizes
- Stainless steel with aluminum sandwiched in base for quick, even heat.
- Five safety steam release systems
- Two pressure settings 8 psi and 15 psi
- Fairly quiet operation
- Made in Switzerland
- 10 year warranty
- Comes in 4, 6, 8 and 10 qt sizes
- Made of 18/10 stainless steel
- Includes a visual pressure indicator andauto pressure release
- Two pressure settings 8 psi and 15 psi
- Comes with a basket insert
- Made in China
- 10 year warranty
- Comes in 4, 6 and 8qt sizes
- Strong heavy guage aluminum
- Includes pop-up pressure indicator, a steam release mechanism and an overpressure plug to release excess steam
- Cooks at pressure of 15 psi
- Made in China
- 12 year warranty