How Does a Pressure Cooker Work? | Pressure Cooker Pros
Pressure Cooker Pros

How Does a Pressure Cooker Work?

Pressure cookers use high levels of contained pressure to cook food from the inside out. Sometimes this method of cooking can be dangerous, but if your pressure cooker has at least one of these three safety mechanisms, and they are functional, there is no need to worry.

  1. Automatic or weighted pressure release valve
  2. Safety locking lid that only allows the cooker to open when the pressure is at a safe level
  3. A pressure indicator light that shows when the pressure is too high

Pressure cookers are a better alternative to conventional cooking methods.

Conventional, meaning the slow and rudimentary process that comes with cooking in a standard oven or a pot on the stove. It is not to say that these methods do not work; they are just not the most convenient.

To better understand how pressure cookers cook food so quickly, you must look at how they work.

How Does a Pressure Cooker Work?

Pressure cookers are not too different from cooking in a lid-covered pot on the stove. However, pressure cookers are more effective and cook food faster because they trap in steam more successfully.

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Usually, while cooking in a pot with a lid on it, a small amount of steam seeps out from the edges of the cover or a steam-venting hole offset to the center handle. The steam leakage does not keep the food from cooking, but it makes it take a whole lot longer.

Even for cooking rice, some steam releases from a hole in the lid, but it is still not much.

Pressure cookers work by containing every bit of steam inside the inner pot. That steam starts to build up and creates pressure, which, in turn, cooks the food all the way through.

Mistakes People Make While Using a Pressure Cooker

1. Not enough liquid

The most common mistake people make while using a pressure cooker to cook their food is not adding enough liquid in with the chunks of food. There should always be more liquid than the solid food.

In order to work, a pressure cooker must have water or a water-based liquid to generate the steam. Without steam, there is no pressure to cook the food.

To avoid this mistake, remember that each time you use your pressure cooker, there should be either water or broth covering the meat, vegetables, or any other food items.

2. Filling the cooker too full

Never fill a pressure cooker with too much food and liquid. Especially with adding liquids to the food, you must be careful with how much you add. If, for some reason, the pressure cooker became too full, and it overflows, the liquid will be searing hot.

For the best results, fill the pressure cooker no more than two-thirds of the way with liquid and solid foods.

Just like with any other means of cooking, pressure cookers cause food to expand as it cooks.

This expansion can become incredibly dangerous with a pressure cooker if it has too much food in it in the first place. Since the pressure and steam have nowhere to escape, it can cause the pressure cooker to burst. Thankfully most pressure cookers nowadays have safety measures in place that prevent an explosion from happening.

3. Using pieces of food that are too big

Most of the time, pressure cooker recipes use pieces of food that are no bigger than a cubic inch. When it comes to thicker meats and vegetables, they will not cook all the way through if the pieces are too big.

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Potatoes, for example, should never be put into a pressure cooker, whole. Large potatoes, like Russet, Ratte, or sweet potatoes, need to be cut down into smaller chunks.

Large-capacity pressure cookers work better for larger pieces of food since they have more room to build pressure, but if you can avoid using too big of pieces, the resulting cooked food will turn out better.

Are Pressure Cookers Dangerous?

Even the older pressure cookers and simpler stovetop pressure cookers have either a pressure gauge or a pressure level indicator that allows the cook to know if the pressure is becoming too high – before it is too late.

It is crucial to be aware of the pressure level while pressure cooking. If the pressure becomes way too high, the pot could burst open and spray boiling food, which will burn anyone standing nearby.

Even though this possibility sounds incredibly dangerous and may make someone hesitant about ever buying a pressure cooker, explosions rarely happen because of the advancement in safety features.

Most electric pressure cookers have at least one type of safety mechanism incorporated for the user’s safety, if not three. These safety mechanisms include an automatic pressure release valve, a safety locking lid, and a pressure indicator light. Some pressure cookers have additional safety features, but these are the most common.

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A safety locking lid is standard with pressure cookers, since they need to hold in an immense level of pressure.

The safest way to avoid an accident with a pressure cooker is to buy one that has all three of these safety mechanisms installed – an automatic pressure release valve, a safety locking lid, and a pressure indicator light.


Pressure cookers use a more complicated method of cooking food, compared to stovetop pots and cooking in the oven. Steam is the secret to how pressure cookers cook so fast.

Without the steam, a pressure cooker will not work any differently than a regular pot. That is why it is essential to always take care of your pressure cooker by keeping it clean and replacing old or damaged parts as soon as you see one. Otherwise, it will not be long before a full replacement of the pressure cooker is necessary.

Pressure cookers can significantly reduce the amount of time you spend in the kitchen, and they certainly make multi-tasking more feasible. Use it correctly, and you can create super tasty dishes that are much harder to accomplish with other ways of cooking.

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