The Question

Many people looking for a way to diversify their plethora of cooking options will eventually have to ask themselves: how does a pressure cooker work?

Although most people tend to think of pressure cookers as being a “turn it on and walk away” type appliance, understanding how your pressure works is essential for maximizing the return on your investment. There is a lot that goes into heating the meals as well as keeping them healthy. There are also many possibilities when using a pressure cooker, but your access to those possibilities is severely limited if your knowledge of your pressure cooker is as well..

Below are five top pressure cookers.

Pressure Cooker Comparison Chart

NameFairWind FWPC6L 6.3 Quart Pressure Cooker With 8 Pre-programmed settings
GoWISE USA GW22620 4th-Generation Programmable Pressure Cooker, 6 QT
Cuisinart CPC-600AMZ 1000-Watt 6-Quart Electric Pressure Cooker, Brushed Stainless and Matte Black
Power Pressure Cooker XL - Silver
Instant Pot IP-DUO60 7-in-1 Programmable Pressure Cooker 6Qt/1000W, Stainless Steel Cooking Pot and Exterior
ManufacturerFairWindGoWISE USACuisinartPower Pressure Cooker XLDouble Insight Inc. DBA
Product Dimensions12 x 12 x 13.5 inches16.2 x 13 x 12.7 inches12.2 x 12.2 x 13.2 inches12.5 x 14 x 12.5 inches13 x 12.6 x 12.2 inches
Shipping Weight14.8 pounds15.6 pounds16.6 pounds14.2 pounds15.2 pounds
Customer Reviews4 out of 5 stars4.3 out of 5 stars4.4 out of 5 stars4.1 out of 5 stars4.7 out of 5 stars

What are the different parts that make up a pressure cooker?

While trial and error may be the method consumers are originally drawn to, spending the time to learn about your pressure cooker can make a huge difference.  Both the quality of your food and the overall life of the cooker can be very easily improved by arming yourself with the knowledge to stop problems before they occur.

These are the parts that are on a pressure cooker, according to Mrs. Vickie:

  • Sealing ring
  • Over pressure plug
  • Pressure regulator
  • Vent pipe
  • Air Vent/Cover lock
  • Lock pin
  • Cover handle
  • Cooking rack (inside)

How does a pressure cooker work?

A pressure cooker is essentially just a pot with a semi-sealed lockable lid and a valve that controls the pressure inside, according to Nathan of Modernist Cuisine.

A pressure cooker has “pressure” in the moniker for a reason. The semi-sealed lid and the valve work capture steam so it can’t escape. When steam can’t escape from a pot on the stove, it boils over. However, with a pressure cooker, it contains the steam and all of that steam builds up the pressure inside. This results in the increase of the boiling point of water and decrease the amount of needed cooking time, according to Nathan.

Now here is the step-by-step explanation of the magic behind pressure cookers, according to Modernist Cuisine:

  1. High-pressure steam rapidly transfers heat to the surface of any food not submerged in liquid.
  2. A spring-loaded valve is typically open so that air can escape. As heating begins, expanding vapor pushes this valve up, closing off the vent. (At very high pressures, it rises farther and reopens the vent to release excess steam.) The valve continues to monitor and regulate the pressure inside the cooker to a preset level: typically 0.7 or 1 bar / 10 or 15 psi above atmospheric pressure; this value is called the gauge pressure. At these elevated pressures, water boils at 114 °C or 121 °C / 237 °F or 250 °F, respectively. As soon as the cooker reaches the correct cooking pressure, reduce the heat to avoid overpressurizing it.
  3. The sealing ring, typically a rubber gasket, prevents steam and air from escaping as they expand. This causes the pressure in the vessel to build as the temperature rises. Any food particles stuck in the seal can cause it to leak steam, so check and clean the gasket regularly.
  4. The lid locks with a bayonet-style mechanism that pushes against the sides of the cooker. Frequent overpressurization can damage this mechanism and render the cooker useless. Other designs use bolts that clamp around the outside.
  5. The handle locks as well, to prevent the lid from opening while the contents are under pressure.
  6. There is too much liquid in this cooker. Generally, you should fill the pot no more than two-thirds full.
  7. Water vaporizes into steam, increasing the pressure inside the cooker as it heats.  Because the boiling point of water depends on pressure, it rises too—just enough to keep the water and steam temperature hovering around the boiling point for the higher pressure. The pressure continues to rise until it is stabilized by the valve.
  8. Add enough water to the pot, either around the food or under a container of food elevated above the bottom of the pot, to enable plenty of steam to form.

What are the different pressure release methods?

When you get your first pressure cooker, there is some terminology that you want to know and remember. There are three different pressure release methods.

According to the Pressure Cooker Critic, the first pressure release method is the natural release method. This takes the longest at about 10-15 minutes and is good for different meats and food that foam. This method does require you to take the pot from the heat source and let it cool down naturally.

The next method is the quick release method. This is good when you want to interrupt the pressure cooker to put in vegetables with your meats, or basically add anything in to a pre-existing stew..

The last method is the cold water release method. This takes about 20 seconds and is accomplished by simply removing the cooker and running it under cold water.. Avoid the vent and valve when doing this method. This is especially good for vegetables so they’re not overcooked.

How does this help my nutrition?

Pressure cookers make meals healthier by not destroying nutrients that typically escape in the steam through other cooking methods. According to Food Renegade, cooking foods for a shorter amount of time preserves nutrients more than cooking for a longer amount of time.

Less water translates directly into more nutrients to feed your bodies many needs. Pressure cookers also makes grains and legumes more digestible by reducing the amount of phytic acid and lectins.

Phytic acid binds minerals and other important nutrients in our digestive tract, keeping us from using them and by reducing the phytic acid content of grains and legumes, we increase their nutrient-availability and render them more digestible, according to Food Renegade.

Carcinogenic compounds such as acrylamides can be found in potatoes when cooked at high temperatures. However, these harmful compounds can’t form in a pressure cooker because of all the trapped steam, yet another significant positive about pressure cookers. Pressure cooking can also increase the digestibility of protein by 84 percent, according to Food Renegade.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late!

Nobody wants to be hosting a dinner party in a few hours and still having to ask how your pressure cooker works.  Arming yourself with the knowledge in this article is the first step in getting the most out of your pressure cooker.