A pressure cooker is a pot that boils at the core. However, it has a lid and valve that control the pressure inside. The pressure cooker creates steam when heated. This steam traps inside and causes pressure. High pressure raises the boiling point of water from 212°F to as high as 250°F. Many manufacturers claim that high pressure cooking speeds can reduce the time it takes to cook food by as much as 70%. After cooking is done, you have two options: release the pressure quickly using the manual pressure release valve, or allow it to drop naturally (natural pressure release).

You probably think of the Instant Pot when you think about a pressure cooker. It’s fast becoming a household favorite. But there are many pressure cookers available today. There are many options, from large electric countertop cookers to smaller stovetop models with all the bells and whistles.

Here are some things to consider when shopping for a pressure cooker

These are the attributes to consider when shopping for a pressure cooker:

Stovetop vs. electric: There are two main types of pressure cookers. Stovetop models have a more traditional design, but are more complicated and require more attention. To maintain the correct temperature and PSI, they need to be heated occasionally. They are popular among professionals because they can sear meats well, achieve high pressure levels, and can be used as a regular cook pot.

Electric pressure cookers will be easier to use for novice and beginner home chefs. They are more similar to slow cookers. Despite being bulky, these countertop appliances are easy to use, have clear LCD screens, and convenient presets. Many can be used as multi-cookers and do everything, from slow cooking to browning — even air-frying with a lid.

Size: The majority of pressure cookers can hold 6 quarts. This is a good size for most families, but some models can hold 8-10 quarts. There are also smaller models that can be used by couples or individuals. Remember that a pressure cooker can only hold 2/3 of its capacity, so a 6-quart model will not yield 6 quarts.

PSI: Pressure is measured as a pound per square inch (Psi). Many electric pressure cookers can be set to either low or high PSI. Although specific PSI settings can vary from model to model, low will typically be between 5 and 7, while high will usually be around 10 to 12, but could reach as high as 15 PSI. Low is better for rice or items that have a lot starch. These can cause splatters and overflow. High is best for tough meats and quick results. High-quality models with a PSI of over 15 are recommended for creating concentrated and intense flavours (think bone broth or canning).

Additional features: A pressure cooker can be used for most tasks as long as it has both high- and low settings. It is not limited to “poultry” and “rice”. Pre-programmed settings are a good option for beginners. It takes the guesswork out and helps you get the hang of it. Multi-cooking capabilities are a plus with these more customizable models. Many can steam, slow cook, saute, and even air fry or sous vide. Some models have smart functionality that allows you to control your pressure cooker using WiFi or Bluetooth. This can be very useful for parents or busy professionals.

How to use a Pressure Cooker

Safety is paramount when using a pressure cooker. Remember that the pressure cooker’s operation is based on the pressure of the steam. If handled incorrectly, this can pose a safety risk. Before you start cooking, make sure to read the instructions.

Browning food before cooking is a good idea. It adds flavour and depth to the dish. Next, add enough liquid such as broth or water to allow the pressure cooker heat, steam, and create pressure. Pressure cookers typically require between 1/2 and 1 cup of liquid. However, it is important to read the instructions and consult the owner’s manual. Important to remember: A pressure cooker shouldn’t be fuller than two-thirds of the liquid it needs. This is because steam can build up.

The cooking time can also vary. You can expect to cook for shorter times depending on the recipe. However, you can expect more time for hard meats and large soups that are rich in flavour.

After cooking is completed, you must release the pressure before opening the lid. Some pressure cookers come with a quick-release valve that speeds up the process, while others may require natural release which can take upwards of 20-30 minutes. You should check that the pressure regulator valve is in good condition before you open the pressure cooker. If there are any steam remnants, don’t be alarmed if the lid opens with a slight hiss.