A Beginner's Guide to Pressure Cookers

Pressure cookers are an excellent addition to any kitchen. They can be used for a wide variety of food, making cooking faster and more efficient. This blog post is designed to act as a beginner’s guide to pressure cookers, but even if you have been a pressure cooker user for some time, you may pick up one or two valuable nuggets as well.

Over the years, pressure cookers have obtained a fearsome reputation, and the fear factor of using one for many people is real. Old wives ‘ tales of pressure cookers exploding and burning people have led to people being terrified of them. But a lot has changed since the invention of pressure cookers in 1679 by French physicist Denis Papin, and using them is now much less dangerous than they were in the past! In fact, I would say they are now one of the safest kitchen appliances.


Modern-day pressure cookersBeginner's Guide to Pressure Cookers-3 come with a whole host of safety features (such as a steam release handle, pressure indicator, pressure valve, automatic shut-off, twist and click lids, etc.). They are now better at keeping the pressure inside than they were in the past. They use a rubber sealing ring (also known as a rubber gasket) to contain all of the steam created while cooking food under high pressure, up to 12-15 pounds per square inch!

Virtually anything can be cooked in a pressure cooker, including main course foods and desserts. Such food includes, but is not limited to, grains, meat, vegetables, potatoes, and fish. Better yet, pressure cooking allows you to prepare foods up to 70% faster than other cooking methods do. Modern-day pressure cookers are multi-functional and can be used for slow cooking, yogurt making, steaming, browning, and some (such as the Ninja Foodi) even work as an air fryer.

So let’s now look at getting the most from your pressure cooker. This blog post will give you an insight into how a pressure cooker works, the terminology used, and what it means, as well as some tips on getting the most from your appliance.

Brand New Owner of A Pressure Cooker?

Brand New Owner of A Pressure Cooker?

Here are a few tips/recommendations if you are a brand new owner of a pressure cooker and never used one before.

Pressure Cooker Water Test

The Water Test

The pressure cooker water test is a way to try out your new pressure cooker and get used to what it does without the risk our ruining a meal. Place three cups of water in the pressure cooker and secure the lid. Your pressure cooker needs to be turned to the sealed position, not the steam release function.

If you are unsure how to do this with your pressure cooker, check the user manual that it comes with. Use either the manual mode or a short general cook time, like rice or fish.

Now just keep an eye on the process your pressure cooker goes through. The first thing your pressure cooker will do is start to heat the water inside the inner pot and begin to build pressure.

Once the pressure is reached, the timer will then start, and you will see the display on your appliance start to count down (if your electric pressure cooker has such a display, most electric pressure cookers do).

When the timer for a pressure cooker has finished, wait 10 minutes before you release the valve. This is what’s called a natural pressure release. In the next section, I’ll explore different ways to do this. The water test is a practical way to check for any potential problems with your cooker before you begin.

Natural Release & Quick Release

Natural Release & Quick Release

Essentially, natural pressure release means you just leave the valve in its sealed position and do nothing for about 10-30 minutes after your timer has gone off. As the name suggests, pressure is released more slowly and naturally.

If you use a stovetop pressure cooker, you must turn the heat off when the timer is finished. An electric pressure cooker will switch itself off when the timer has counted down. If you prefer to release the pressure quickly, you can move the valve to the venting/steam release setting.

A quick-release occurs when you switch the valve to the venting/steam setting once the timer has counted down. This method is used for cooking delicate vegetables, rice, or any dishes that you want to be sure not to overcook. Please ensure you use oven gloves when doing this, as when pressure cookers quickly release steam, there is a chance you could burn yourself if not careful.

There are so many buttons - Power Pressure Cooker

There are so many buttons.

Do not let this scare you! The majority of pressure cookers operate in the same fashion – you choose the desired time. The majority of the other buttons are just preset and programmed timed buttons.

Explore the different pressure cooking settings to see their cook times. This will help you know which setting is closest to the time needed in a recipe, and if you need to adjust it manually, you can.

The number of minutes refers to how long a pressure cooker will cook once the appliance has achieved its desired pressure. – however, the whole process will take somewhat longer as the pressure cooker will need time to reach pressure, cook at pressure, and release pressure naturally.

It is worth bearing this in mind when following a recipe. If a recipe calls for 10 mins cooking time, just keep in mind this may be nearer to 25mins in total.

Don't Forget The Liquid boiling point

Don't Forget The Liquid.

It is essential to follow the recipe carefully when using a pressure cooker, as there needs to be a certain amount of liquid for the pressure cooker to work. Pressure cookers rely on steam to produce pressure and heat up, so you will not get the desired results if there is no liquid or not enough liquid.

On the other hand, too much liquid is also not good. The maximum fill line should be respected to assure that the pressure cooker is safe. Make sure liquids do not exceed the 1/2 mark! 


Pressure Cooker Terminology

Pressure Cooker Terminology.

With any new device, there may be a few unfamiliar words and terms to get familiar with. A pressure cooker can be an intimidating piece of equipment (though there is nothing to be afraid of), but getting acquainted with its basic terminology will help.

EPC = Electric Pressure Cooker

There are many electric pressure cooker brands on the market, with the most popular being the Instant Pot (also referred to as IP).

HP & LP = High Pressure & Low Pressure

Pressure cooking modes range from high pressure (10.2 to 11.6 psi) to low pressure (5.8 – 7.2 psi.).

Natural Release (NR) or Natural Pressure Release (NPR)

Let the electric pressure cooker release the pressure on its own before opening.

Quick Release (QR) or Quick Pressure Release (QPR)

All-electric pressure cookers now come with a quick-release valve which allows you to quickly release the pressure inside the pot without having to wait for it to release naturally.

Each brand may call this something slightly different. On the Instant Pot, you do this by moving the Venting Knob from Sealing Position to Venting Position and then wait until the Floating Valve (metal pin) completely drops before opening the lid.

High Altitude (HA)

The altitude at which you cook affects the optimal pressure cooking time. So, if you live in a high altitude city over 3000 ft above sea level, adjust the cooking times for your recipes using a pressure cooker high altitude cooking timer chart such as the one below.


Pot in Pot or Pan in Pot (PIP)

The Pot-In-Pot Method is a cooking technique built around the principle that you can cook more than one dish at a time.

You can do this by setting an oven-safe container on a rack in the pressure cooker and filling it with ingredients, separating them from the liquid. For instance, you can cook your main meal and at the same time cook rice in the same pressure cooker.

11 Tips for Successful Pressure Cooking

11 Tips for Successful Pressure Cooking

A pressure cooker can help you prepare delicious recipes faster than ever while also saving money and preserving nutrients. Pressure cookers require some adjustments, but following these basic tips will make cooking with a pressure cooker easier.

Brown meats, poultry, and vegetables before deglazing.

Add a small amount of oil to your stovetop pressure cooker and heat it over medium-high heat. Add the food in manageable batches and brown the food on all sides before adding additional batches.

After the time is up, remove the food to a bowl and set it aside. Once the food’s removed, deglaze the pot with a small amount of wine, broth, or water, this will add so much flavor to your dish.

Now return the food you cooked earlier back into the pot, along with all the other ingredients you need for your meal, and cook under pressure for the required cook time. If you own an electric pressure cooker, follow the same steps as above but select the browning setting on your appliance during the first stage.

Don't add too much liquid. 

Using a pressure cooker allows you to use less liquid than when cooking with other methods. The lack of evaporation in a sealed, closed pot means you should not need as much cooking liquid (such as water or vegetable or chicken broth).

One of the most common questions around pressure cookers is about liquid. There are some general rules to follow, but you need to check your owner’s manual for exact measurements and types of liquids as they may vary depending on what brand of cooker you have.

You’ve probably heard that a good rule of thumb is at least 1 cup of liquid. It is crucial never to fill the pot more than half full with liquid.

Don't add too much food. 

Never fill a pressure cooker more than two-thirds full with food, or else it will overflow when you start cooking. Also, avoid packing food tightly into a pressure cooker during the cooking process as this impacts its safety by making it difficult for the pressure to be maintained.

Follow these basic guidelines using a pressure cooker to ensure that the pressure can adequately raise and the food cooks correctly.

Try to make food even in size. 

Chop food into uniform-sized pieces before cooking to ensure even, consistent cooking times.

For great results, stop and go.

When cooking foods that require different cooking times, start with slow-to-cook food such as meat. Release the pressure with a quick-release method (using the steam release valve). Add the quicker-cooking ingredients — such as tender stem broccoli or peas — to the meat. Bring pressure up and finish together.

Start high and finish up low. 

Stove-top: Start cooking over high heat and lower the burner as soon as you reach pressure. Electric pressure cookers: You don’t have to worry about adjusting the heat because the appliance automatically does it for you.

Stovetop burner tactics

Stovetop burner tactics. 

When you reach full pressure over high heat for a gas stove, turn the burner down to a simmer. The stove will often take a while before it reacts for an electric stove, so by the time your desired temperature is reached, it might be too late.

If you have an electric stove, use one burner on high heat to reach pressure and a second set on low to maintain the pressure.

When the pressure cooker reaches the desired high temperature, move the pressure cooker over to the low setting burner.

Suggested Pressure-Cooker Cooking Times

Use a timer.

Have a kitchen timer at hand to set it to the time according to the recipe after achieving the desired pressure. Electric pressure cookers have a built-in digital timer, which is one of their great benefits.

Electric pressure cookers for hands-off pressure cooking. 

To utilize the high or low-pressure settings, press either the high-pressure button on the control panel or the low-pressure button. Then, set the cooking time you want by pressing the high or low button for differing amounts of time.

Then, press Start. The pressure cooker starts counting down the time when it reaches your desired pressure level. Once finished, it beeps, telling you that your food is ready to eat!

Cooking at altitude. 

To ensure your food is cooked thoroughly, there is a general rule for adapting cooking times. Increase this by 5% for every 1,000 feet or 0.5 miles above 2,000 feet that you live at.

Release pressure. 

Use an appropriate pressure-release method as directed in your recipe. This could be a natural release, which means leaving the pot to sit and letting the pressure inside release by itself. Or by using a quick release which would involve using a quick steam release (switch, nozzle, etc.) to let the hot steam out quickly. Be sure to use an oven mitt when doing this, as it is easy to burn yourself.

Suggested Pressure-Cooker Cooking Times

The following cooking times should begin once the pressure cooker reaches pressure. Bring your stovetop pressure cooker up to pressure over high heat, and then lower the heat so that it stabilizes at the desired cooking level.

Your electric pressure cooker automatically does this for you. Always start with the shortest time and, if necessary, add on minutes as needed.

Pressure Cooker Cooking Times
Tips for Pressure Cooking Meat and Poultry

Tips for Pressure Cooking Meat and Poultry

A pressure cooker is an excellent tool for cooking meats because it’s much quicker than conventional methods. It is even possible to cook a whole chicken if you have a big enough inner pot.

Follow these tips to ensure your pressure-cooked meats and poultry always turn out tasty:

  • Always pat meat and poultry dry before seasoning with salt and ground black pepper.
  • Browning in hot oil gives the best flavor and texture unless the recipe says differently.
  • Poultry can be cooked with the skin on or off.
  • Tough, less expensive meats are better for the pressure cooker because cooking under pressure breaks the fibers into a tender texture.
  • When roasts and whole poultry are cooked, let them rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving.

Frequently Asked Questions

In basic terms, a pressure cooker is a pot with a sealed lid and trapped steam that creates enough pressure to enable food to cook faster. It can either be stovetop or electric powered.

The price of a pressure cooker will vary depending on the type and quality. On average, they range from $80 to over $100. I would generally avoid going for the cheapest models. Do your research and see which one would suit your needs. Click here for some reviews of pressure cookers we would recommend

Pressure cookers allow for cooking times to be shortened by up to 70% when using a pressure cooker than conventional methods. The flavor may also be better because of more intense contact between the ingredients and liquid.

The most obvious drawback is that you cannot open it during cooking. Some people may not be comfortable with this, and others might find the sound quite loud when under pressure (if using a stovetop model that whistles).

It's pretty easy to learn how to use a pressure cooker. It takes time and practice, but it is not difficult. The first thing you need to do is read the manual that came with your model to know how much liquid you should add for different types of foods and the recommended cooking times.

That depends on your needs and budget, but in general, it's advisable if buying a stovetop model that you get one with a thick base to ensure less heat is lost during cooking. A well-made model should also have an indicator light if it is electric and a tight-fitting lid, and a safety valve in case of over-pressure. A few recommended brands are Instant Pot, Ninja, and All American, 

Always read the manual first to see what type of materials are safe for cleaning. Read this article on how to maintain your pressure cooker. 

My Kitchen Essentials

I get a lot of messages asking what kitchen utensils I use so here is a list and link to some of the things I have in my kitchen.

6 Great Pressure Cookers

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Instant Pot Duo

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Yedi 9-in-1 Cooker

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Ninja Foodi 8-Quart

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All American 921

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Instant Pot Duo Evo Plus

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Breville Fast Slow Pro