Blog written by Bill Stadwiser, WCG Youth Program Director
Ask around, and you’ll find that pressure cookers have a reputation for being loud, expensive, and dangerous. While this reputation was true for many of our parents’ (or perhaps grandparents) generation, modern pressure cookers are truly a delight to use. And while modern units have largely ditched the issues that have plagued the models of yesteryear, they’ve kept and even improved upon the tremendous time, energy, water, and nutritional efficiencies that make pressure-cooking attractive in the first place.
So if you’re interested in learning about pressure cookers, read on …
A Brief History of Pressure Cooking:
Pressure cookers have been around since the late 17th century. Original models were made out of a hodge-podge of materials, were prone to exploding, and were considered by many to be more of a scientific curiosity than a useful tool for the masses. By the mid-1800s, a German inventor had made the first stove-top pressure cooker out of thinned cast iron, although these, too, acquired a dubious reputation as temperamental and, at times, dangerous.
It wasn’t until the 1900s that pressure-cooking underwent a renaissance of sorts with the introduction of mass-produced models made from 20th-century metalworking technology. In vogue nearing mid-century, you might remember a parent or grandparent cooking with one of these lightweight, portable, and notoriously noisy contraptions. Like their predecessors, these “first-generation” pressure cookers also had a reputation for exploding, although less frequently, perhaps, than before.
The failings of all previous pressure cookers can be distilled down to four main issues:
- inability to precisely regulate pressure/temperature
- manufacturing imperfections
- absence of redundant safety mechanisms
- user error
Fortunately for us, manufacturers of modern pressure cookers have addressed all of these issues to create a variety of reliable, effective, adjustable, and, ultimately, safe products. In short, if you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and safety precautions, the most dangerous part of owning a modern pressure cooker will likely be driving to and from the store to pick it up.
Advantages to Modern Stove-top Pressure Cookers
- Foods cook much faster than with any other cooking methods
- You use much less energy than that of conventional cooking
- Fewer vitamins and minerals are leached (dissolved) away by water compared to traditional boiling and cooking
- Due to shorter cook times, food retains more vitamins during pressure cooking
- Pressure cookers achieve a temperature higher than water’s boiling point, which kills many microorganisms
- You can even use a full-size pressure cooker to sterilize for canning jars and glass baby bottles
- Pressure cookers speed up high-altitude cooking substantially because lower atmospheric pressure reduces water’s boiling point
- Modern pressure cookers are super durable, safe, and often come with a 10-year warranty or better
Disadvantages to Modern Stove-top Pressure Cookers
- High-quality pressure cookers tend to be slightly more expensive than other cookware of the same size/quality, although there are some great mid-range options available that break this rule
- You must thoroughly clean food particles from the gasket/valves after every use (not complicated, but important to do)
- You need to replace the sealing ring every one to two years (usually about a $10 expense)
- In order to inspect your food during cooking, you would have to open the pressure cooker, which stops the cooking process and increases cook times (this is why it’s best to always take careful notes until you get the precise timing for your favorite recipe)
- You’ll need to use more liquid (typically water or broth) for foods with longer cook times, which isn’t always ideal for some foods/dishes that traditionally call for less liquid (although many pressure-cooker-specific recipes these days account for and neutralize this drawback)
Tips on Selecting a Modern Stove-top Pressure Cooker:
Modern pressure cookers come in all shapes, sizes, and price points. Some manufacturers are even making electric models (not specifically covered in this post, but an intriguing development, nonetheless). That said, there are some common features to insist on when it comes time to select your new pressure cooker:
- High-quality stainless steel body (avoid all-aluminum models, which don’t last as long, score easier, and may even impart an aluminum taste into your food)
- Multiple, redundant, proven safety features built into the unit (believe it or not, cheap, first-generation pressure cookers with few safety features are still available; avoid these, and insist on a modern, second-generation model from a reputable manufacturer)
- Consider a model with more than one pressure setting; at the very least, your unit should have a 15 psi setting, but some units also let you select for 6, 7, or 9 psi, which can useful (although not always essential) for some dishes
As always, read online reviews before purchasing so you know all the pluses and minuses of the particular model you’re considering. Hope we have helped ease the intimidation of pressure cooking, and now you are inspired to cook under pressure.