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I have never owned a pressure cooker, nor been in a kitchen which has one. But they have been a topic around the site and the blog lately, so I got curious. When I took a look, I noticed that they looked differently. I am not yet in the market for one, but I would like to know more about them.

  • What different types are there?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of each type?
  • Beyond type, what other attributes make a pressure cooker a good cooker?
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Are you wanting to cook or preserve food, or both? –  baka Jul 30 '12 at 20:44
    
@baka I didn't even know that you can preserve food in them. So I would like to hear about both kinds, just to know about them. –  rumtscho Jul 30 '12 at 21:41
    
@rumtscho: With respect to pressure canning, see food acidity and processing methods and using pressure canners from the NCHFP. –  Jefromi Jul 30 '12 at 23:27
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1 Answer

Types

There are many different designs, but in general they all achieve the same result. The style you get comes down to personal preference

lid captured under the internal rim

Personally I do not like the type with the lid that is captured under the internal rim on the pot, as they seem awkward to get the lid on and off

simple quarter turn screw down lid

The quarter turn screw down lid (like a jar lid) seems easier to me

Pressure cookers work by increasing the internal atmospheric pressure so water has a higher boiling point, therefore you can fully cook something in water/steam in a shorter time frame. That's it, there is no magic. High pressure wet steam is very effective at transferring heat, so it cooks very evenly and rapidly. The pressure increase is not enough to significantly change the way things cook in terms of flavour absorption

Most pressure cookers come with at least two different pressure settings, medium pressure around 110°C, and high pressure around 120°C. Other than that, get the size you want

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There are also the Electric pressure cookers, which are normal pressure cookers with built in computer controller heating and timing systems. These appear to be good idea, but the usually warning of fiddly electronics right next to heat and moisture apply. Some models have a variety of multi-stage cooking timers; including cooking while releasing steam (browning), keeping warm, time delay etc. A common complaint is that they cannot get hot enough, and are often rated at only 110°C

Cooking With

For cooking their main use is the "set and forget" type cooking, with the main goal being to save cooking time and energy consumption

Example #1: To cook a large (1Kg+) frozen corned beef, add about 500 ml water, two whole onions, spices and lock lid down. Place on stove on high heat until pressure come up (indicator pops out), and then set to medium heat and leave for a fixed time and it will be fully cooked with nothing raw or burnt. That takes about 50 minutes per 1Kg in our cooker; each cooker is different depending on exact pressure

Example #2: To cook rice risotto quicker. Use your pressure cooker pot to fry rice and get to the point you would normally start adding stock. Add stock and any other ingredients you would use in the first two thirds of your normal risotto cooking process time into the pressure cooker, lock the lid down, and quickly bring up to pressure. Cook for less than half the time that step would normally take. Run cold water over the lid to release the pressure and remove the lid, and continue your normal risotto recipe. This process can save a whole 10 minutes! Don't get too excited with this one, unless you have a lot of separate risotto batches to do, as you can bulk the pressure cooker step, and then finish a few separate risottos

Preserving With

In some cultures it is popular to preserve food using pressure bottling (canning). This should be the recommended method for anything without a high acid content (e.g. fruits)

Pressure cookers designed for preserving are significantly larger and stronger than their cooking counterparts, and will have a pressure and/or temperature dial on it. The idea being you can load a number of jars or cans into it at once, and bring it up to a higher pressure and therefore temperature. Most of these can be used for cooking too, if you have a large volume of food to do

For safe bottling (canning) of non-acidic foods you need to know that the entire contents of the jars have been brought up to a sufficient temperature for sufficient time to destroy all the bacteria. Typically this is just over 120°C for at least three continuous minutes for the entire contents of the jar. The whole pressure bottling process involves slowly and steadily raising the temperature to this point, and then slowly returning it to room temperature. Sudden changes in temperature will cause problems such as jar seal leaks.

Altitude has an effect on pressure bottling, and must be taken into account. Your local government food safety department should publish guidelines on the temperature and process suitable for your environment and culture

Notes

The main thing that tends to go wrong is that the lids pressure seal deteriorates over time (10+ years). So at the same time you but your cooker, order a spare and store in an airtight bag in a dark place until needed. They might not be available in ten years’ time!

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I have a 20 year old Presto pressure cooker and can still get seals for it anywhere. Additionally some brands, such as All American, have metal on metal lids that don't require seals. –  Sobachatina Jul 31 '12 at 3:35
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Another note- not worth my own answer. I use the pressure cooker to speed up boiling not for "set and forget". For example lentils are done in 10 minutes. Beans and wheat take 30-40 minutes instead of 4-5 hours. Stock is less than an hour. They are used very extensively in Indian cuisine. –  Sobachatina Jul 31 '12 at 3:39
    
@Sobachatina Good to see, I live in country where brands don't mean as much, and suppliers come and go, which has it's disadvantages. Set and forget, as in you put it on, you don't have to check it or stir it etc. Yes it save time –  TFD Jul 31 '12 at 4:40
    
Add a section on pressure canning, and I'll nominate for the answers contest. –  yossarian Jul 31 '12 at 14:56
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See cookingissues.com/2009/11/22/… ; apparently venting (jiggler) vs. non-venting matters for some things. (I've heard Modernist Cuisine goes into this as well, but I don't have a copy.) –  derobert Jul 31 '12 at 15:42
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