How to Use a Pressure Cooker

This entry is part of a series, Pressure Cooking 101»

“We may live without friends; we may live without books, But civilized men cannot live without cooks.” – Edward Bulwer, British politician, poet (1803-1873)

How to Use a Pressure Cooker

Pressure cooking is certainly not hard, but there are a few extra steps that need to be taken each time you cook. This post explains exactly how to use a pressure cooker and familiarizes you with basic pressure cooking techniques. If you have any questions after reading please don’t hesitate to reach out.


Now that you have read your manual let’s begin with a pre-flight check.  Before using your pressure cooker it is important to give it a quick look over and make sure all the parts are clean and in good working order. Check the pressure valve and make sure it moves freely.  Check the vent pipe to make sure it is not obstructed.  Check the handles to make sure they are firmly attached.  Last and probably most important, check the gasket and make sure it does not show signs of deterioration such as cracks or brittleness.

Inspecting our new Fagor pressure cooker

Inspecting our new Fagor pressure cooker

Following the recipe and adding liquid

Be sure to use a pressure cooker recipe or pressure cooking timing charts and release methods when determining how to cook, otherwise the correct timing, fluids, and proportions will be a tough target to hit.  When it comes to fluids, a pressure cooker requires a minimum amount in order to generate the steam necessary to facilitate cooking.  This amount depends on two factors:

  1. The total cooking time
  2. The cooking method

A recipe will tell you everything you need to know about food and liquid amounts but 1/2 cup of water or other cooking liquids is often the minimum amount recommended.  It is important to check your pressure cooker manual to make sure this is the case.  Long cooking times (longer than 15 minutes) will often require a greater amount of liquids.

pressure cooker contents

pressure cooker a little over 1/3 full

Do not fill a pressure cooker more than two-thirds full, often referred to as a pressure cooker’s maximum fill level.  Foods that have a tendency to froth or foam like beans or rice should be taken into consideration and given more room when cooking.  A half-full pressure cooker is a good rule of thumb for these foods.


After adding all the ingredients and replacing and locking the lid it’s time to start cooking.  Use a stove burner that is similar in size to the base of the pressure cooker and initially heat the contents on high until the cooker is pressurized.  Once the pressure indicator shows that the pressure cooker has reached pressure (15 psi), immediately lower the heat to the lowest possible setting that will maintain that pressure.

Pressure indicator down

Yellow pressure cooker indicator down: Depressurized & Unlocked

Pressure cooker indicator up

Yellow Pressure cooker indicator up: Pressurized & Locked

Once the burner is lowered to this level start the recipe timing.


Once the recipe time is up, remove the pressure cooker from the heat source and follow the instructions for the release method specific to the recipe and food inside.  It is important to follow the directions during depressurization as the way the pot is cooled and depressurized has a large impact on how the food is cooked inside. There are three methods that a recipe might call for when releasing the pressure inside of a pressure cooker:

  1. Natural Release Method:  Just remove the pot from heat and let it alone. Often the most used and also the slowest release method, natural release allows the pressure to subside naturally.  The slow and gradual drop in pressure allows the foods to continue to cook.  Often used for meats, foods like beans and potatoes that have skins, and soups or broths.  The key with this method is to be patient.  A pressure cooker may take 10-15 minutes to cool and depressurize but as always it will be worth the wait.

  2. Cold Water Release Method:  This is the fastest release method and is often used for foods with very fast cooking times or when it is important to stop the cooking process abruptly.    Often used for delicate foods and fresh crisp vegetables.  Carefully (using both handles after making a kid and pet free path) carry the pressure cooker to the sink and place under a stream of cold water.  Tilt the pressure cooker at an angle as to slowly run water over the outer edge of the lid and side paying attention to avoid soaking the vent and valve.

  3. Quick Release Method:  In order to add certain ingredients at different times throughout the cooking process some recipes call for the quick release of pressure without lowering the temperature of the foods.  A special valve found on modern pressure cookers can be turned to allow the steam to be released quickly.  Do not use this method for foods that increase in volume or foam.

Opening the lid

Be sure the pressure cooker is completely depressurized by observing that the pressure indicator has dropped. Once this has happened a simple additional test would could be done by moving the pressure regulator and verifying that there is no escaping steam.  When you have double checked that there is no longer any pressure, unlock the lid and open it by tipping it away from you to avoid the escaping steam from a hot pot.

Opening the pressure cooker

Safely opening the pressure cooker

That’s it!  Add any additional ingredients and stir before serving.  We like to make extra servings to refrigerate for the next few days and always empty the pot into lunch sized portions.  Be sure to soak or clean everything in a timely manner to avoid tough scrubbing later.

It’s important that you familiarize yourself with the specific features and operation of the specific pressure cooker that you have purchased. Always read and follow your pressure cooker’s instruction manual.

Thanks for reading.

"I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate." ~Julia Child  
Why learn pressure cooking?
It's 7 pm. The end of the work day stomach rumbles...

In one hand, a take out menu. In the other hand, the refrigerator door...its contents staring back almost as blankly as we are towards them. We want a homemade meal, but also want something quick and simple to make.
1. Simple and quick recipes requiring basic skills to become proficient in the kitchen.
2. Quality ingredients, not necessarily 100% organic, but meals without artificials and chemistry class additives.
3. To understand more of the story of our food and take small steps towards self-reliance.

It's true, there are many benefits to pressure cooking: the time savings, the taste, a small step towards self-reliance, sustainability... but the real benefit is in what we learn as we redefine our relationship with food. Good food can be fast. Good food can be easy.

Pressure Cooker Recipes
Looking for more Pressure Cooker Recipes? We've got'em here.
   Get new recipes and videos in your inbox.
   Looking for a pressure cooker? Read our pressure cooker reviews.
   Our favorite Pressure Cooker Cookbooks including the
   food book that changed my life.

Similar Posts:

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Bev W January 17, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Just purchased a pressure cooker. If you are cutting a recipe in half, do you cut the time of cooking in half. Can’t find anything on this. Help please.

PressureCookerDiaries January 18, 2012 at 11:52 am

@Bev W – it depends on the recipe. Which one(s) are you looking at?

Jen September 16, 2012 at 7:26 pm

If using 1 can tomato soup for beef stew, do I need to add water also?
Thanx so much.

Karen October 3, 2012 at 12:41 pm

I was so excited to see that the chili recipe I needed for my pressure cooker actually had my pc in the pictures. BUT, how do I print the recipe for my files? Even when I emailed the recipe to myself I did not see a printer button. Can anyone tell me what I am missing?


Thomas Russell October 6, 2012 at 10:55 pm

when we use our 22 quart pressure cooker it pulls some of the contents out of the jars we are canning. What gives?
Please send your answers solutions Ihope to my email: [email protected]

many thanks

Leave a Comment

{ 10 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: