What Is A Pressure Cooker?

what is a pressure cooker

If you have been wondering what a pressure cooker is and what they are used for, then you have come to right place.

Pressure cookers have actually been around for centuries, but if you don’t have one yourself, you may be in the dark about what it is and whether you might want one in your kitchen.

By the end of this post all your questions about pressure cookers will be answered. I'll also explain the details of how they work, the different kinds, and the pros and cons of cooking with them.

So let's get to it...​

Pressure Cooker Basics

what is a pressure cooker

​First things first, let’s answer the basic question: what is a pressure cooker? In essence, a pressure cooker is a sealed pot that uses steam to build up pressure inside the pot.

It has a sealed lid that traps air, steam, and pressure inside. It uses a valve to control the pressure inside by releasing small amounts of steam.

​When you use a pressure cooker, the liquid inside of it forms steam. Instead of being released (as in a normal pot), the steam is trapped inside the pressure cooker.

How A Pressure Cooker Works

what is a pressure cooker

The increased pressure inside the pot has a couple of effects on the food. First, it raises the boiling point of water from 100 °C up to 120 °C. Because the water (and food) can cook at a higher temperature, it cooks significantly faster.

Second, the high pressure also forces heat and liquid into the food you’re cooking. This contributes to a faster cooking time and makes food tender and moist. For some foods, the high heat and pressure can also lead to browning and caramelization.

Lastly, the valve on a pressure cooker regulates the pressure inside, keeping it at an optimal level without getting too high. When the pressure inside rises above the set gauge pressure (usually between 10 and 15 psi), the valve will release bursts of steam to lower the pressure.

Stove Top Pressure Cookers

what is a pressure cooker

Stovetop pressure cookers look pretty similar to your basic stovetop pot, with the addition of a steam valve and usually some kind of locking mechanism over the lid.

They can be used on all kinds of stovetops (gas, electric, etc.) or even on a barbecue or campfire. They are faster than electric pressure cookers to get up to optimal pressure, and most models have multiple pressure settings to allow for more flexibility.

When cooking with a stovetop pressure cooker, you’ll need to start on high heat until it gets up to high pressure, and then lower the heat to medium-low.

You may sometimes see stovetop pressure cookers referred to as either “first generation” or “second generation.” The primary difference is in the steam release valve.

In first generation cookers, the valve is weight-modified and releases pressure suddenly, with an accompanying whistle sound. Second generation stovetop cookers (the more modern ones) use spring loaded valves than can adjust for multiple pressure options.

For a more in-depth overview of the different pressure cooker generations, you can check out an explanation on Pressure Cooker Gurus.

Electric Pressure Cookers

what is a pressure cooker

Electric pressure cookers work using a self-contained electric coil. Electric pressure cookers monitor their own temperature and pressure level, meaning that the cooking process is entirely automated.

Unlike with a stovetop cooker, you don’t need to adjust anything to keep the pressure at the right level. Electric pressure cookers are also equipped with timers to let you know when the food is ready.

The downside is that most electric cookers only come with one or two preset pressure levels, providing less flexibility than stovetop cookers. They also take longer to build pressure and to cook, and they need more time for the lid to be ready for release.

For a more detailed examination of the pros and cons of stovetop and electric pressure cookers, take a look at this article on Hip Pressure Cooking.

The Pros To Pressure Cooking

what is a pressure cooker

The biggest pro to using a pressure cooker is the faster cooker time. You can cook most meals more quickly than you’d be able to on the stove or in the oven. With most pressure cookers, you can cook rice in about 10 minutes, much faster than is possible in a normal pot on the stove.

Pressure cookers also preserve moisture and natural juices, keeping foods flavorful and tender. This can make them great for cooking meat. In addition, they’ll retain more nutrients because nothing is leaving the food as you cook it.

The Cons of Pressure Cooking

what is a pressure cooker

​There are a couple of downsides to cooking with a pressure cooker. The biggest is that opening the lid once your food is done cooking can be a bit tricky. Because pressure has built up inside the pressure cooker, the lid is tightly sealed.

Most pressure cookers include a mechanism to release the pressure through the valve, which will take a few minutes. You can also allow the cooker to cool down enough to be able to remove the lid naturally, helping the food to retain all of its moisture, but this usually takes about 20 minutes.

The fastest option is to move the pressure cooker to the sink and role cold water over it, but you’ll have to be comfortable carrying a heavy cooker. In itself, this issue may not be too problematic. If you are preparing a meal that has ingredients with different cooking times, however, it becomes more complicated.

You’ll have to release the pressure and then build it back up again each time you need to add a new ingredient, meaning that pressure cookers are much better suited to recipes that have just one cooking time.


what is a pressure cooker

Pressure cookers are a healthy and fast way to cook. Either the electric or stove top models cook food faster than traditional baking or frying methods. Both model options  also create moist and tender foods reducing or eliminating the need for fattening cooking oils. 

​I hope this article has answered the question "what is a pressure cooker?" and given you a solid overview of what a pressure cooker is so that you can decide if you might want to add one to your own kitchen one day.

If you have any unanswered questions, leave them in the comments below. And if you’ve used a pressure cooker yourself, let us know what your experience with it has been.

We’d love to hear if you have any tips, advice, or favorite recipes to prepare using a pressure cooker.

About the author

Meghan Woolley

Meghan is a graduate of Hamilton College and has a Masters from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She enjoys trying new foods, exploring tasty recipes, and writing about her experiences.

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