Electric pressure cookers have become essential kitchen appliances, thanks to the Instant Pot. We carry a range of Zavor multi-cookers that have a pressure cooking function, along with slow cooking, rice, and yogurt-making. But Zavor also offers traditional stovetop pressure cookers, which have also surged in popularity in recent years. In this post, we’ll discuss why pressure cookers used to be considered dangerous, the safety features of today’s models, and reasons to consider adding a stovetop pressure cooker to your own kitchen.
History of Stovetop Pressure Cookers
While many of us remember the older sort of pressure cookers -- the ones that gave pressure cookers a dangerous reputation -- the original concept dates back to the 1600’s. French scientist Denis Papin created a “steam digester” that functioned much the same as more modern pressure cookers. Papin even incorporated a release valve to regulate the pressure inside the steam digester.
Stovetop pressure cookers became commonplace in home kitchens starting in the 1930’s. While design improvements have been made over the decades, the basic concept remains the same.
How Pressure Cookers Work
Physics is behind the success of pressure cooking. If you’re feeling especially studious, you might remember the Ideal Gas Law, which describes the relationship between pressure, volume, and temperature. In short, pressure and temperature have a direct relationship -- when pressure increases, the boiling point of water also increases.
But what does that have to do with cooking? When liquid is heated, steam is created. Steam collects inside the sealed cooking vessel, which increases the pressure. That pressure increase raises the boiling point of the liquid, and the food inside the cooking vessel reaches a higher temperature than under normal pressure conditions. The higher temperature speeds up the chemical reactions of cooking, and the higher boiling point of water prevents evaporation of liquid.
What are normal pressure conditions? That’s the pressure of the atmosphere all around us. Atmospheric pressure is just under 15 pounds per square inch (psi) at sea level. At higher altitudes, such as where we are in Colorado, atmospheric pressure is slightly lower at 12 psi. Cooking food in a pressure cooker nearly doubles the psi. In fact, stovetop pressure cookers generate more pressure than electric ones: An electric pressure cooker reaches 9-12 psi versus a stovetop cooker at 15 psi.
Modern Pressure Cooker Safety
Pressure cookers have had a reputation for bursting open, causing kitchen disasters and even injuries. But newer models include multiple safety features to help ensure smooth operation. Lids must be securely locked in place or pressure won’t increase. Conversely, pressure must dissipate before lids can be opened. Finally, spring-loaded valves regulate the pressure inside stovetop cookers, preventing it from reaching dangerous levels. While older pressure cookers also had pressure release valves, they were less precise in their operation.
Even with all the built-in safety features of modern pressure cookers, it’s still important to take a few precautions of your own:
- Always add liquid. Remember that steam creates pressure, and steam is generated by heating liquid.
- Don’t add oil. Super-heated oil is dangerous and can damage your cooker.
- Fill the cooker between halfway and two-thirds at most. The steam needs space to collect.
- Some foods expand and froth more than others, such as beans and grains. Allow more space when cooking these foods.
- Shield your face and hands when releasing steam or opening the lid.
- Keep the rubber gasket clean, and replace it if it’s dry or cracked.
- Thoroughly clean all parts of the cooker, including the rim and valves.
Why Use a Stovetop Pressure Cooker
Earlier in this post, we touched on a big advantage of pressure cookers: Raising the boiling point of water results in a higher temperature in the cooking vessel and faster cooking time for the food in it. A related advantage of stovetop pressure cookers is the greater pressure they create, compared to electric pressure cookers. While that means they need more liquid, it also means reduced cooking time.
Pressure cookers are especially well-suited to cooking cuts of beef that require wet heat, such as roasts and brisket. However, because the liquid doesn’t evaporate, you’ll need to reduce it after cooking by simmering the contents uncovered before serving.
Ready to give a stovetop pressure cooker a chance? Check out our selection from Zavor.