Step By Step Instructions for Using a Pressure Cooker

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    These basic steps serve as a simplified guide to using a pressure cooker. They are not intended, however, to be a substitute for the manufacturer's instructions which accompany your pressure cooker model.

about_history_glam.gif For safety and to ensure quality results, read the manufacturers manual completely before starting to cook with your pressure cooker. If you have lost the original owners manual that came with your cooker usually replacements are available at little or no cost by contacting the manufacturer. If you need to find specific operating instructions for your particular cooker please post your requests in the FORUM. If you own a pressure cooker and would like to share the basic operating instructions from the owners manual many readers would appreciate your help.

If you cannot locate a manual these are very basic instructions, although beginners should familiarize yourself with the terminology and techniques used in pressure cookery before proceeding. A good place to start is reading the articles in the Workshop Section of this website, also the FAQs and then do the Test Drive, this is a must do for novice pressure cooker users.

For Owners of Electric Pressure Cookers

The makers of electric pressure cookers do not adhere to any standard. Instructions vary widely with all the various makes and models so I do not propose to give detailed operating instructions one each and every one of them. In general, you can use the BROWN setting to do any initial cooking. Program the cooker for HIGH PRESSURE and set the timer for the same amount of time recommended in the recipe. If the recipe calls for a cold water release by putting the cooker under cold running water, ignore this instruction. Instead, press the pressure release button in very short spurts, taking care to keep your hand and head away from the escaping steam. If liquid is ejected from the valve, wait a minute longer before proceeding. Use the Quick release mechanism if this is called for in the recipe. Natural release means to wait until the pressure drops on its own. Use the BROWN setting to do any finish cooking after pressure is released.

If you need to find specific operating instructions for your particular cooker please post your requests in the FORUM. If you own an electric pressure cooker and would like to share the basic operating instructions from the owners manual many readers would appreciate your help.

Before You Begin

All pressure cookers have the same principles of operation. Heat produces steam in an a closed container which raises the boiling point to cook foods faster. A pressure cooker cooks food in superheated steam, it is not  a boiler so there is no reason to submerge foods in water. 

There are two basic types of pressure cookers. The old style, first generation pressure cooker with some type of weighted, or "jiggle top" pressure regulator which sits a top the vent pipe on the lid, or the newer style, the second generation which is a closed system and uses spring valves.

Every time you use any pressure cooker it should be thoroughly inspected. The cooker should be clean, inside and out, with no food particles or debris on the rim of the pot, or the lid. There should be no sign of warping, dents or dings, or any other damage to the rim of the cooker or lid. Remove and examine the gasket. The gasket should be in good condition with no signs of cracking, tears or other deterioration such as gumminess or brittleness. Replace the rubber/silicon parts at the first sign of deterioration. The gasket should fit snugly in its place in the lid. If using a jiggle top pressure cooker always check the vent pipe to make sure it is clear and open. On a valve type cooker, lift or turn the valve to make sure it moves freely and the inside connecting screw is tight. Periodically check the handles and tightened the screws as necessary. Read more about the care and cleaning for your pressure cooker, the lid and gasket.

Filling The Pressure Cooker

Before you cook anything in a pressure cooker there must be some sort of liquid inside the pot. For most recipes this will be water. The minimum amount of water for a jiggle top pressure cooker is 1 cup, and for the newer valve type it is 1/2 cup. This amount of water is usually sufficient for approximately 20 minutes of cooking time, but I strongly recommend using the Test Drive to determine what is best for your brand. If your recipe takes longer, add more water accordingly. See more about liquids, and infusion to learn about pressure cooking methods and techniques.

The pressure cooker must never be filled more than 2/3 full, the unused space is needed to produce pressure. When cooking dried beans or other foods that may foam or froth, or liquids such as broth or stock, do not fill the cooker more than 1/2 full.

Many recipes call for the use of a rack or trivet. This is usually a metal insert which is placed in the bottom up the cooker to raise the food above the water for steaming. Once you have placed the rack, add water to the cooker. Place the food on the rack.

Achieving Pressure

If you are using a jiggle top cooker, remove the weighted pressure regulator before closing and locking the lid securely. Place the pressure cooker on the correct size burner on your stove. Do not use a super high heat setting, or extra large hobs as found on some stoves. Set the heat on high to bring the cooker to pressure. For the jiggle top models watch for steam to come out of the vent pipe and then replace the pressure regulator on top. Find out more about how do achieve and maintain pressure

You can tell when your jiggle top pressure cooker reaches cooking pressure when the pressure regulator begins to rock, or jiggle thus the nickname). The weight should be rocking about 3 to 5 times per minute.

A more accurate means of determining pressure is found of the new valve type cookers. Marks on the valve stem indicates pressure. The first mark to appear as the stem rises is the lowest pressure setting. On standard pressure cookers these marks will indicate 10 PSI and 15 PSI. Depending on your make and model, you might have three pressure settings, this is usually 5 PSI, 10 PSI, and 15 PSI. 15 PSI is the pressure cooker standard, and the majority of pressure cookers and recipes use this setting as the de facto cooking standard. There are some pressure cookers, however, that do not conform to this standard and use lower PSI settings so you will have to adjust any recipes accordingly. See more information about pressure settings.

Cooking and Timing

Once pressure is reached, you must immediately lower the heat to a setting that will just maintain pressure. If you've done the Test Drive then you have marked this setting on your stove. Begin timing the recipe at this point. Find out more about the pressure cooking times for individual food items by referring to the cooking time  charts. As in many other forms of cooking, such as frying, broiling, or grilling, the pressure cooker should not be left unattended. It may be necessary to periodically adjust the heat setting to maintain the desired pressure, this is especially true of the jiggle top pressure cookers, or cookers that do not have the 3 ply base for even heat distribution.

Begin timing after lowering the heat, and ALWAYS use a bell timer when using a pressure cooker. Do not overcook, a couple of extra minutes could turn your recipe into mushy baby food. When the cooking time is up, remove the pressure cooker from the heat source.

How To Release Pressure

You cannot remove the lid from a pressure cooker until all the pressure inside has been released. There are three methods to lower the pressure, and you must not attempt to take off the lid if there is pressure inside. Never try to force open the lid of a pressure cooker as this usually indicates there is still pressure inside.

Pressure cooking recipes will state a particular method to release the pressure to complete the cooking process. There are three ways to do this. The longest method is called the natural release method which allows longer cooking foods like roasts to continue cooking while the pressure gradually reduces on its own. This could take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. The next method is the fastest way of reducing pressure, this is the cold water release, which means taking the cooker to the sink and running a stream of cold water over the lid until the pressure drops. Do not run the water directly over the vent or pressure regulator, and do not use this method if you have an electric pressure cooker. The third method is the quick release method,which is a feature found on some first-generation cookers and all second-generation cookers. This method uses a that all located on the lid to manually release the pressure and takes less time than the natural release method, but longer than the cold water release method.

You can easily tell when all the pressure has been removed from inside the cooker. On a jiggle top, if you move the pressure regulator there will be no sound of escaping steam. Once all the pressure has been removed from the pressure cooker it is now safe to open the lid. First remove the weight to avoid dropping it and then open the lid.

On a valve type or second-generation pressure cooker there will be no sound of escaping steam when the valve stem is moved. Once all the pressure has been removed from the pressure cooker it is now safe to open the lid.  





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