Pressure Cooker Buying Guide

pressure-cooker-buying-guide

pressure-cooker-buying-guide

Pressure Cooking Is in Vogue

It is hard to dispute that the allure of pressure cooking is in vogue with a vengeance with everyone so pressing for time and trying to squeeze every penny out of the grocery budget.

But choosing a pressure cooker is not as easy as a walk in a park. This Pressure Cooker Buying Guide will provide you with a few parameters to zoom in on what to look for.

Whenever I thought about a pressure cooker, the image conjured up in my mind was a heavy metal pot with a funny topper on the top. Steam spewed out from the jiggle accompanied by a menacing “hissing” sound. When it was done cooking, it was placed in a sink under running water.

In the end, the lid was opened ever so gingerly by a very skillful hand and a pot of goodness was revealed with melt-in-your-mouth meat and juicy vegetables packed full of intense flavors and nutrients.

For the longest time, I tried to shy away from buying a pressure cooker because I associated it with risk, danger, even explosion. In fact, I’ve never seen an explosion of a pressure cooker (knock on wood) or even heard of a horrible story like that. I was just a victim of my own perception and imagination.

Why Pressure Cooking?

Little did I know that a pressure cooker can be so useful as a kitchen tool in saving time, energy and money. Not to mention the nutrients, vitamins and minerals are all preserved by pressure-cooking.

What Is a Pressure Cooker?

A pressure cooker consists of two parts: a cooking pot and a lid. The cooking pot is generally made of aluminum or stainless steel or a combination of both metals. This cooking pot is just like any other ordinary pot.

The lid is where the magic begins. Inside of the lid is a gasket or a sealing ring to form an air-tight seal between the lid and the pressure cooker during cooking. On top of the lid, there are a vent pipe, a pressure regulator or valve, a redundant overpressure valve and a handle.

The vent pipe allows the excess pressure to escape. Sitting on top of the vent pipe, the pressure regulator controls and maintains the pressure level inside the cooker. When the ideal pressure reaches to an desired pressure level, 5, 10 or 15 psi (pounds per square inch), the pressure regulator starts to rock. This is also the time when you begin to time the cooking per many recipes.

The overpressure plug or valve acts as another safety measure to release excess pressure in the event that the vent pipe is plugged or clogged.

On the handle, there might  be an interlocking mechanism to ensure the lid is completely locked and remains to be so during cooking and until the pressure is fully released from the pot after cooking.

How Does a Pressure Cooker Work?

A pressure cooker is a completely sealed vessel that air or liquids can’t escape below a pre-defined pressure such as 10 or 15 psi (pound per square inch).

When water or broth is boiled inside of a pressure cooker, steam is created. As the steam builds up, pressure increases. Both the water and the steam cause the temperature to rise as high as 250 degrees F. The elevated water temperature and the steam effect faster cooking and quicker break-down of the fibers. Pressure cooking can cut down cooking time by 1/3 to as much as 2/3.

Types of Pressure Cookers

Pressure cookers have been around for centuries. During the past few hundred years, they have evolved with time, technology and better and safer design. There are mainly two generations of pressure cookers. The significant change or improvement is in the valve.

The first generation of pressure cookers owned by our grandmas or moms has a weighted valve, (aka a jiggling top) to regulate the pressure in the cooker. It is loud and obnoxious at times. This type of pressure cookers is often designed with an “open” system as opposed to the fully “enclosed/closed” system in the modern pressure cookers.

The new generation of pressure cookers is designed with a spring-loaded valve. This generation of pressure cookers often times have two or more pressure settings. Some are equipped with a visual pressure indicator to show pressure levels during the cooking process.

Other noticeable differences between the old and the new pressure cooker design are in the noise level during the cooking process. The modern pressure cookers are quieter as everything is encapsulated inside versus the steam and the hissing of the old ones.

Another convenient feature in the newer pressure cookers can be found in the pressure release methods. Besides the tried-and-true “cold water” and “natural release” methods, an automatic release method is added to allow the people to turn on a dial to release the pressure automatically and quickly.

In recent years, there have been models of electric pressure cookers on the market. If you’d asked a serious pressure cooker enthusiast, he or she would have told you that the electric pressure cookers shouldn’t be considered as real pressure cookers. For one, the pressure level can’t reach to the industry standard of 15 psi. For another, the cooking pot is often made of non-stick material which is not hygienic or healthy as the substance in the non-stick coating may decompose at high temperature and it may leach into your food. 

Brands of Pressure Cookers

Like many cookware, there is no shortage of brands in the pressure cooker market space. The well-known brands are Kuhn Rikon, Fagor, All American, Presto, Hawkins, just to name a few. Each brand has a unique set of characteristics in product design, features and price point. A great place to start would be the Comparison Chart of all the best-rated pressure cookers. You may click on any product image that might be interest to you and read the in-depth review to figure out if it’s the right one for you.

What to Look for When Considering a Pressure Cooker?

Here are a few important questions you should ask yourself before buying a pressure cooker:

What Do You Use the Pressure Cooker for?

If you are going to use a pressure cooker to cook a meal fast, there is a set of criteria vs. a pressure cooker/canner to do lots of canning.

How Often?

Do you plan on using it on a weekly basis or just take it out from the storage room during the summer months to do some canning. This may help you determine how much to invest in the purchase.

Brand Name Matters

Since a pressure cooker will likely last for a lifetime or two, it’s very important to choose a reputable brand that has been in business in manufacturing and marketing pressure cookers for a long time. Not only has the company proven to produce quality design and built-to-last pressure cookers, but also will be there for you to order replacement parts and address any issues with your purchase over a long haul.

Capacity/Size

How many people do you cook for in your family? The pressure cookers come with different sizes from 4 quarts to 16 quarts. Some are measured in liter. The median size is between 6 to 8 quarts. So smaller than 6 to 8 quarts will be good for singles and couples; bigger than the median size is ideal for large families and canning purpose. When in doubt, always up the size as you can always cook more in a larger pot and then freeze the leftovers for later use. The opposite is impossible.

Materials

Pressure cookers are made of either aluminum or stainless steel. Some pressure cookers are made of aluminum and stainless steel infused together via a cladding process. Aluminum is light and conducts heat more efficiently, but it corrodes and reacts to acidic food. Stainless steel is durable, hygienic, but with poor heat conductivity and weighs more. The best of both worlds would be to have an aluminum disk in the base of the pot sandwiched between two layers of stainless steel for the above reasons. For those folks who do a lot of canning, the types of materials are even more important as lots of canned foods and sauces are acidic. Certainly, if you can the bottled foods, it doesn’t matter in an aluminum canner as there is no direct contact between the food and the cooking surface.

Features

Safety Valves

The first and foremost feature is the safety valve. Most pressure cookers these days are equipped with at least two pressure release valves as safety precautionary measures. Some have as many as 5 to 6 safety measures. So the more valves, the better assuming each safety feature works with the other flawlessly.

Different Pressure Levels

Some pressure cookers only have one setting such as 15 psi while others might offer multiple pressure settings from 5, 10 to 15. Depending on what you are going to use it for and the recipes, you may want to pay attention to the pressure setting options. The bottom line is to look for a pressure setting of 15 psi as a minimal.

Visual Pressure Indicators

Pressure indicator is another added bonus some of the pressure cookers have. It lets you know when the pressure starts to build up and what level of pressure the cooker has reached based on the recipe. This takes the guesswork out of pressure cooking and helps you count down the cooking time from that point forward.

Release Methods

How to release the pressure upon cooking is another feature to consider. There are several methods to release the pressure upon cooking. The first is the “cool cooker at once” method where the pressure cooker is placed in a sink under cold running water to release the pressure. The second is the “natural release method” where the pressure cooker is removed from the heat source and allowed to cool down naturally. Some of the pressure cookers are designed with a third option often called the “automatic release method”. Releasing the steam/or pressure can be done by lifting the vent pipe, turning a dial or pushing a button.

Buying a Single Unit or a Multiple-Piece Set

If you are like me who has grown to love pressure cooking, having one pressure cooker may not be enough. For example, if you want to cook a pot roast in one and mashed potato in another, it might be wise to buy a multiple-piece set that includes at least two cooking pots of varying sizes, two interchangeable lids and a steamer. You’d be paying an incremental cost for the set than a single unit, but you can replace many pots and pans in your kitchen. Not to mention the savings of storage space and the cost of buying multiple cookware.

Accessories

Some pressure cookers provide a few extras such as a steaming rack, a spare cooking pot. Are these accessories important to you or would you rather focus on the main features of the cooker?

Cleaning

Cleaning a pressure cooker should be part of the equation as well. Different materials and different design may entail different time to clean the cooker after each use.

Warranty and Replacement Parts

Obviously, the longer the warranty period is, the better. The median warranty seems to be around 10-year. Make sure you take a mental note of the duration.

Another consideration is the availability of replacement parts and the cost associated with ordering and shipping. The best advice is to look for manufacturers who offer replacement parts through multiple retailers and in your home country.

Budget

The price ranges of pressure cookers vary from $25 to hundreds of dollars. Decide how much you’d be willing to spend on a pressure cooker and then focus on those within your range. Certainly, if you use it very often, it’s easier to justify with spending more. Given the safety feature is utmost important, buying for quality.  Plus you will recoup the investment cost by saving time, energy and money over the lifetime of a pressure cooker.

I hope this guide is helpful for you to have the right frame of mind when thinking about buying a pressure cooker. The questions may spark your thinking to make a sound decision. As always, please do not hesitate to leave a comment or email me at PressureCookerQueen “at” DeliciousUnderPressure “dot” com with any questions or comments.

Enjoy delicious food under pressure!

 

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