Help! Why Does My Food Burn?

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Experience is the best cook. The best way to minimize burned on, scorched food is to use heavy, good quality cookware. A 10/18 stainless steel pressure cooker with a 3 ply, sandwiched bottom (stainless-aluminum -stainless) will distribute heat evenly, this is the only type of pot that is effective in minimizing and avoiding scorched food.

Foods high in sugar and thick, tomato based sauces are notorious for scorching in the low-end aluminum and plain stainless steel pressure cookers. This was such a common problem before the arrival of the modern pressure cookers that cooks developed all sorts of "tricks", like shaking the cooker, or frequently rotating it, to try to keep their dinner from scorching. Despite these drawbacks, no one was willing to give their pressure cookers.



Things have certainly changed with the arrival of the new pressure cookers that have a heavy 3-ply base. Lets look at the before and after photos of my very thick Garden Ragu Sauce. In the past, cooks might have avoided cooking this type of tomato based sauce in their pressure cookers, but now its easy and there is no risk of burning.

The encapsulated base distributes the heat evenly across the bottom, allowing my delicious sauce to cook for 8 minutes without scorching.

The slight bit of scorching you see on the side of the pot was the result of my own user error in not making sure my pressure cooker was positioned squarely on the burner. That allowed the high flame at the initial pressurizaion stage to creep up the side of the pot where there is no layered protection.


Burner Size

Flames should never "reach" up the sides of the pan you're using. Make sure the flame or heat source fits the pot and use a smaller burner rather than a larger one. Avoid super heat burners with high BTUs.

Over heating, which leads to over-pressurizing, is the primary cause of scorched, burned on foods on the bottom of the pressure cooker. To minimize the problem of scorched foods always adjust the heat once the pot comes to pressure and immediately adjust the heat to the lowest possible setting that will still maintain pressure. Practice, or try out various heat settings by using the Test Drive to determine what combination works best with your stove and cooker.

Pressure Cookers and Electricity

Owners of electric pressure cookers and electric or glass top stoves share a common problem - foods burn much more easily! The heating elements retain heat for long periods of time, even after the appliance is turned off or the heat is lowered the heat is slow to dissipate. More...

What to Avoid and Some Solutions

  •   Some thick sauces like spaghetti, are prone to burning. It may help to slowly bring the pot to a boil using only a regular lid, stirring often. Once the sauce is at a boil then lock the lid in place and bring it to pressure. This will bring the pressure up very quickly, and then you can lower the heat sooner.
  • Do not add flour, cornstarch or other thickeners at the start of cooking. Wait until the food is done and then add thickeners to the open pot.
  • Do not over fill the pot! If you load the cooker close to the max full level the pot takes more time to come to pressure and increases the likelihood of burning foods/sauces.
  • Unless you are cooking a custard, cheesecake or similar type of egg dish, do not add milk, cream, cheese or other dairy products at the start of cooking because it will either "set", or separate and look curdled.  Its best to wait until the food is done and then add milk products AFTER the pressure cooking is over.
  • Aluminum pots and cheaper, plain stainless steel models will develop hotspots that burn food. Try using a flame tamer, also called a heat diffuser, which is a metal plate that sits between the bottom of the cooker and the heat source. These are available online and in some kitchen, gourmet and BBQ or camping stores.
  • Do not cook on super high heat burners or use hobs that are bigger than the pot's base.
  • Electric stoves are noted for scorching and burning problems. See more tips on how to manage heat on electric stoves.
  • Foods high in sugar will burn.
  • If you don't want foods to burn, stick or scorch, try my PIP cooking method with insert pans.
  • Rotate the pressure cooker every 2-3 minutes to minimise hot spots. Turn the pressure cooker a quarter turn to redirect the heat.
  • As soon as the desired pressure setting is reached, immediately reduce the heat to the lowest level needed to keep the pressure up.
  • Do not leave pressure cooking unattended, if you smell the odor of burned food immediately remove the unit from the heat and use the cold water release method stop the cooking.
  • Use a rack or steamer basket in the pressure cooker, even when cooking soups, stews, beans, etc., this will keep most of the food away from the bottom of the pot.
  • Be sure to try using my unique recipes for PIP meals. Miss Vickie's PIP (Pan In the Pot) cooking method allows you to cook foods in a smaller pan, a foil packet or heat proof bowl inside your pressure cooker so food cannot burn.

The Best Way to Remove Burned on Food

Remove burned on foods as soon as possible. Use the Deglazing Technique to quickly and easily remove even the worst burned on foods. This method works EVERY time! You may have to repeat the process more than once, but this method is the easiest way to remove even the most stubborn burned on foods.

While the pot is still hot add about a cup of cold water and heat over a medium flame. This is just like deglazing when you are browning meats.  As the pot heats up, the burned on foods are lifted up and off the bottom as steam heat loosens the crusty patches. Use a flat edged metal scraper or spatula to loosen the burned food as it heats. Continue heating and scraping as needed, when the water gets too dirty replace it until the blackened patches have been removed.

To remove lighter sticky, burned on grease spots try using Dawn's new Power Degreaser. Its very effective, just spray it on a wait a few minutes. Really bad areas that are almost like varnish may need more than one treatment.

Do not use harsh, abrasive scouring pads or grainy cleansers on bright finishes. Try Bon Ami or some other none abrasive cleanser on the occasional stubborn spot. Use Bar Keepers Friend to restore the shine, its an excellent product to polish stainless steel.


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