how does a pressure cooker work

So how does a pressure cooker work? Understanding how pressure cookers operate makes it easier to determine the kind of meals they can produce, which is useful when planning out dishes.

The truth is that a pressure cooker employs a very simple process to cook whatever is inside. However, I will take you through the process step by step to make it easier to understand and how you can use it to your advantage. Aside from the technical and scientific aspects of pressure cooking, we will also tackle important measures to avoid accidents so you can enjoy a delectable meal without getting scalded.

What Is a Pressure Cooker?

gauge monitor on the top

As the name suggests, it is a pot that uses a huge amount of pressure to cook the ingredients that are sealed within it. It can reduce cooking times by a vast amount, and thanks to the pressure and steam, it can still cook quite delicate ingredients without damaging them.

A pressure cooker can work well with cheap ingredients and tough cuts of meat. Think about how a slow cooker can work on thoroughly cooking those tough cuts and making them tender. A pressure cooker can do the same thing but in a fraction of the time.

Isn’t a Pressure Cooker a Scary Item?

The problem with a pressure cooker is that it has had some bad press in the past, but that’s not the fault of the actual method.

Pressure cookers from years back were poorly made. They fascinated people, and it led to companies making them quickly, cheaply, and poorly as well.

The products came with poor-quality seals and inferior materials, resulting in some models exploding in kitchens all over the country. They were viewed as a liability and a dangerous way of cooking, but that’s not the case.

The modern pressure cooker is completely different. How they are manufactured is far superior to the older ones.

But let us proceed to explain more about how your pressure cooker works.

The Basic Concept

Pressure cooking involves placing your ingredients within the pot, which becomes a sealed chamber. The liquid in the pot is brought up to a boiling point, and when it reaches the boiling temperature, steam is produced.

However, be aware that there are both electric pressure cookers and stovetop pressure cookers. While both use the same concept, they go about it in slightly different ways. But we will look at how those different pressure cookers work later.

An Overview: How to Use Your Pressure Cooker

To use your pressure cooker, you need to add the ingredients according to the recipe. After that, you must close the lid to allow the cooking process to begin.

Cooking with a pressure cooker does require liquid. You cannot put dry ingredients in there, and also, don’t put in a minimal amount of liquid. Instead, follow the recipe to the letter and make sure it is designed for pressure cookers, as everything is measured out to perfection.

Select the higher pressure setting when starting. An electric model will do this for you and control everything, including a timer. In contrast, the stovetop version requires you to be present.

However, how does a pressure cooker work?

The Basics of Today’s Pressure Cookers

rubber seal on a pot's lid

So with a pressure cooker, you have a modified lid that will lock over a rubber seal. This makes it airtight, at least around that part of the pot. And it also contains a pressure regulator that will control the amount of pressure within the pot.

This seal is important. It keeps the heat and steam in one place. As pressure rises, so do the cooking temperatures. In just a few minutes, the temperature can go beyond the normal boiling point, which will speed up the cooking time.

The Role of Steam Pressure

So, at the heart of how pressure cookers work is the steam. And that’s the same whether you are talking about a modern pressure cooker or an older version.

After loading the ingredients and liquid into the pot, you need to build the pressure inside. Remember, a pressure cooker cooks food by forcing this high-pressure steam into the food, but it needs to get the cooking temperature right to achieve this.

Once closed and the lid is sealed, you start using heat to produce boiling water. As the temperature increases, the boiling liquid produces steam. As the lid is sealed closed, the steam builds inside, pushing the boiling point even higher.

The higher the temperature, the shorter the cooking time. That is why using a pressure cooker is so attractive, as it does mean you can produce some amazing meals in next to no time.

When Your Pressure Cooker Gets to the Right Temperature and Pressure

When you have the right steam pressure inside, these next-generation pressure cookers tell you when to turn things down to a lower heat.

There will be a gauge at the top of a stovetop pressure cooker. Some products will have a number on them, or there will be coloured lines for others. You need to know when that gauge moves to a certain point, as that indicates that it is time to turn things down.

Also, at that point, a release valve will open up. This action provides your pressure cooker with a perfectly controlled way of releasing a specific amount of steam at a certain level. That means you will end up with pressure-cooked foods and not something that has been blown up due to too much pressure inside the chamber.

Dealing With Excess Pressure

steam coming out of a pot

A pressure cooker works by using steam and pressure, but there’s a limit to what it can do. That is where excess pressure needs to be released from the pressure cooker. And you can do this via a special valve.

Now on modern pressure cookers, you may notice a gauge pressure monitor on them. This allows you to keep track of how much pressure is contained within the pot. Even though it’s cooking food inside, you need to watch the pressure regulator for any changes in those levels.

If it climbs too high, you need to do one of two things.

First, you may have to turn down the gas or reduce the cooking heat. Alternatively, you may review your user’s manual to determine how your pressure cooker releases excess pressure.

This may be done via an escape valve. But be aware that it will involve steam being let out in a controlled manner.

The Importance of Releasing the Pressure

While building the pressure is important, knowing how to release pressure when using an instant pot is also crucial.

Even though things are cooked under full pressure, there comes a time when you reach the end of the cooking time, and you need to get the food out before the pressure cooker destroys it. You can avoid this mishap by releasing the pressure via a valve.

What to Expect With Different Valve Types

Now, how this is achieved will depend on the make and model. On most, you will have a quick-release valve and a slow-release valve. Which one you use will depend on the recipe you are making, so check the instructions before proceeding.

The valve will often be capable of being moved between different release settings. That’s going to result in the pressure dropping in a controlled manner. However, be aware that this will involve steam coming out, so there is a danger of scalding yourself, especially with stovetop versions.

A Note On Electric Pressure Cookers

A quick mention about an electric pressure cooker since this approach is very easy, and it does require you to spend less time paying attention to what is going on.

An electric version will allow you to program what is going on regarding the pressure and even the cooking times. It will regulate things all on its own, and it will let the pressure drop naturally as the water boils.

Also, these pressure cookers make it easier to cook at a higher temperature. Different pressure-cooked foods taste better at various temperatures, and an electric cooker gives you the option to control this.

How the Pressure Cooker Cooks Food

The final point to cover is how all of this provides some cooked food at the end of the day. Well, it’s basic science.

You have not only high pressure but boiling water. The heat in the steam cooks the food, and the high pressure forces the heat energy into the food itself. Food cooks by being exposed to these different elements. And when you use a pressure cooker, you will also be using a higher cooking temperature than normal.

That is what speeds things up with a pressure cooker. Pressure cooks food in different ways, and unlike microwave cooking, it doesn’t use radiation or anything else. Instead, when you opt for a pressure cooker, you use a completely natural way of cooking things with water and steam.

Final Words of Advice

As you can see, pressure cookers work in a very simple manner. It uses the water’s boiling point to its advantage, which is quite amazing.

However, there are some tips you may want to keep in mind to get the best possible results.

1. Always follow the recipe’s measurements.

First, always make sure you have enough liquid. It needs liquid to build the pressure inside the cooker. Use too little liquid, and it’s not going to work. So, follow the recipe closely, and don’t make changes. It’s all measured out for a very specific reason.

2. Avoid possible accidents when releasing pressure.

Next, releasing pressure is another key point. However, keep safety in mind, as this is where you can run into problems. Cover your arms and hands with an oven glove for protection. The steam will leap out as soon as that valve is opened up more than it has been during cooking, so be ready for it.

3. Adhere strictly to the recommended cooking time.

Finally, pay close attention to the cooking time. Use a timer to your advantage because, as with the liquid, everything is done to perfection with this form of cooking. A timer lets you know when everything will be cooked. And there’s no doubt that your food will be ready at that exact moment. If your pressure cooker doesn’t have a timer installed, buy one you can operate yourself. Once again, refer to the recipe for details on how it should be set, and don’t try to cut corners. You can undo all of your hard work in the process.

How a Pressure Cooker Works

So, the next time someone asks you -“how does a pressure cooker work?” you can be confident that there is nothing complex about it. The main thing you need to be aware of when using your pressure cooker is the safety measures. As long as you are well-prepared, you shouldn’t run into any problems.

All you need to worry about is making sure that you pick some impressive recipes, then sit back and enjoy the food that can be produced using this amazing pressure cooking method.

Do you have any other useful tips on cooking in a pressure cooker? Perhaps you have some hacks that a budding cook would love to know. Please share your comments in the space below.

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