A Few Notes on Pressure Cooking

General guidelines for SPC (stovetop pressure cookers) and IP (Instant Pot, but includes all electric models):

  1. Read the manual. Read the manual. Read the manual. Every pressure cooker has its own special features, so get familiar with the ins and outs of your own cooker first. Specifically, you’ll want to know what your cooker’s safety features are, what its minimum volume is, how pressure is indicated, how to safely release pressure, and how to adjust your cooking time at high elevations.
  2. The most important thing to learn about your pressure cooker is determining whether your cooker is actually cooking under pressure. This sounds weird but sometimes electronic gizmos don’t work, and sometimes valves and rings can age or malfunction. Every manual has testing directions, where you will bring water up to high pressure and down again. It is worth your time to run it once before using a cooker for the first time, and testing occasionally as it ages, to determine wear and tear.
  3. All pressure cooking lids have plastic rings to make them function properly. They all have a limited lifespan. Even if you are not using your pressure cooker regularly, it is a good idea to replace it every 18 months.
  4. Standard pressure cookers have a higher PSI than electrics like the IP. This means if you are using a standard pressure cooker recipe, you’ll need to add about 5 to 7 minutes to your electric’s cooking time if using a manual setting. One way to avoid the calculation fuss is to use the pre-set buttons on your electric cooker, or use a recipe that is written specifically for an electric.
  5. In general, do not fill either a SPC or IP over two-thirds full. Pressure cookers need room to build the steam it traps to quickly cook food. This is a good rule of thumb for all ingredients that remain about the same size before and after cooking, such as meat and vegetables. If youre cooking something that does increase in size due to moisture absorption you’ll want to read tip number six.
  6. When cooking beans, rice and grains, do not fill more than half full. Overfilling can cause the moisture in the cooker to bubble up through the release valve and create a giant foamy mess. If you are combining an absorbent item with a non-absorbent one (like chili con carne), you can go for the 2/3 rule safely.
  7. Start small, then tackle larger projects. Cook with tested recipes first before you convert non pressure-cooked recipes.
  8. Though you can do low-water pressure canning in your pressure cooker, you want to stick to high-acid canning. Those are your standard things like raspberry jam and pickles… stuff like tuna and fresh vegetables and other goodies without a pickling agent/lots of acid are not recommended by the USDA, regardless of what your grandpa says. AVOID LOW ACID CANNING in any kind of vessel other than an actual electric canner.
  9. Since we’re talking about canning. Ahem. Always follow a tested, verified recipe for your canning adventures, whether you’re high or low acid canning. Your best bet is to use a book or site produced by an accredited university or cooking school, and search out publications authored by or citing the USDA or agricultural programs like Washington State University Extention’s agriculture program.


Like Julia said, you must have the courage of your convictions when cooking. Be curious and careful: there is a lot to be learned with a pressure cooker, and so much fun to be had. Even if you have an electric model, it’s not going to do all the thinking for you (just most of it). However you slice it, it’s pretty darned easy to handle once you’ve played with it a couple times.  Pressure On!


My favorite pressure cooking sites:

Hippressurecooking.com by Laura Pazzaglia.  Great text and videos for both standard and electric models. Excellent timing charts.

Pressurecookingwithlornasass.com-The author of the definitive Cooking Under Pressure, Lorna Sass, has carefully researched and written recipes, and very clear guidelines.

Jeffrey Eisner of pressureluckcooking.com. This guy likes gadgets and tinkering.

Theveggiequeen.com-Jill Nussnow’s vegan pressure cooking, pretty much the best on the Interwebs.

twosleevers.com by Urvashi Pitre. If you love calculations and diagrams, this is for you. Also, delicious Indian food has been made in pressure cookers for YEARS, all the tips and tricks are here.


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