Long before there were microwaves, folks used pressure cookers to get supper on the table in a hurry. But vintage models had a bit of a bad reputation: take the scene in Breakfast at Tiffany's when Holly Golightly's chicken erupts all over the kitchen. It was enough to give anyone pause.
Now, pressure cookers are back—and better than ever. New models boast improvements such as secure-lock lids and quick-release functions while still cooking ingredients faster than stove-top simmering (brown rice and dried beans can be ready in 15 minutes, for example). Read on for our foolproof advice, plus tasty recipes, to master the art of the easy, eco-friendly dinner.
5 SECRETS TO SUCCESS
1. Fill a pressure cooker two-thirds full, max, and only halfway for items that expand and foam, such as beans and grains.
2. When adapting recipes for a pressure cooker, start by cutting cooking times by one-third.
3. Time your cooking from the moment the cooker reaches pressure.
4. Always tilt the lid away from you when opening—the steam is hot.
5. To store your pressure cooker, dry it well, and set the lid on it upside down to prevent trapping smells in the cooker.
Depressurizing a pressure cooker isn't rocket science; all you have to do is cool down the pot or let off the steam.
Natural release Simply remove the cooker from the heat source, and let the pressure drop naturally. This can take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes.
Best for Soups and stews where cooking time doesn't have to be exact.
Automatic quick release Available on most modern pressure cookers; press the button to release pressure in up to 5 minutes.
Best for Vegetables, to stop cooking, or for items that need to be checked for doneness.
Cool-water release Transfer the cooker to the sink, and run cool water over the rim to release pressure in 2 to 3 minutes.
Best for Older models that don't have a quick-release button.
Here are the three most important features to look for in a pressure cooker, plus a rundown of some of our favorite models:
Stainless steel These cost a bit more than aluminum, but they're sturdy and nonreactive—perfect for browning or sautéing ingredients before initiating the pressure.
15 psi This means the cooker provides 15 pounds of pressure per square inch (psi), the norm for high-pressure cooking. Some models have settings of 8 psi (low—good for vegetables) as well.
6- or 8-quart capacity This size is plenty big for everyday family cooking; 10-quart models are best for cooking large quantities.
Kuhn Rikon Duromatic 6.3-qt. stainless steel stockpot $230
PROS Sleek and attractive; quiet; two pressure levels; easy-to-read pressure indicator
CONS Handles get hot; manual quick-release button
Cuisinart 6-qt. Electric Pressure Cooker $149
PROS Ideal for frequent use. Unit has automatic timer, pressure selection, and pressure release
CONS A big appliance; takes up a lot of counter or cabinet space
Fagor Duo 6-qt. stainless steel $119.95
PROS Two pressure levels; bright yellow pop-up pressure indicator; convenient automatic quick pressure release; quiet
CONS Heavy for its size
Presto 6-qt. stainless steel $74.99
PROS Affordable, solid, basic
CONS No automatic pressure-release function