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How to Use Your Pressure Cooker

5 tips for pressure cooker safety; plus: how to release the pressure.

Modern pressure cookers have multiple built-in safety features that make it impossible for too much pressure to build up in the cooker, eliminating the old risk of the lid blowing off. But it is still important to pay attention to certain details.

  1. Be sure to read your pressure cooker manual carefully.
  2. Before cooking, make sure that the inner part of the lid rim, outer rim of the pot and the valve are clean. Check that the gasket is flexible and not dried out; replace if necessary.
  3. Do not fill the cooker more than two-thirds full (or half full for foods that may froth, e.g., beans and grains, or are mostly liquid).
  4. Once the cooker reaches high pressure, it is important to lower the heat immediately. If left over high heat, the food may become overcooked. If using an electric stove, use the two-burner system: While the cooker comes to high pressure over high heat, heat a second burner to medium-low or low heat. When the cooker reaches high pressure, move it to the second burner and keep it just hot enough to maintain high pressure.
  5. When removing the lid, tilt it away from you to protect yourself from the escaping steam.

How To Release the Pressure

Use one of these three ways to release the pressure before opening the lid.

When you have finished cooking, you must release the pressure before you can open the lid to the cooker. There are three ways to do this. The appropriate method for releasing pressure depends on the type of food you are cooking. Follow recipe instructions.

Natural Release Method: This method is recommended for meat, foods that may froth and those that are mostly liquid. Simply remove the cooker from the heat and let the pressure drop naturally. Allow 5 to 20 minutes for this process.

Cold-Water Release Method: This is the fastest method for releasing pressure and a good option for cooking certain vegetables when you want to stop the cooking quickly to prevent overcooking. Place the pressure cooker in the sink. Hold the cooker at a slight angle and run cold water over the outer edge of the lid so that it flows over the lid and down the sides. Do not let water run directly over the vent or valve.

Quick Release Method: This method is useful when you wish to ­stagger the addition of ingredients—a stew in which the vegetables are added toward the end of cooking, for example. Modern pressure cookers have a special valve that can be used to release pressure quickly. (We show the quick release method, using a spoon to press the valve, in the photo below.) Don’t use this method for foods that are mostly liquid or tend to froth—the froth might clog the valve. And avoid this method with meat, because the rapid release of pressure may cause the meat to toughen.

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