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Home & garden.

Updated: 18 May 2022

How to use a pressure cooker

Find out how to get started with your pressure cooker, plus pressure cooker safety and usage tips.
Lisa Galliers
Pressure Cooker 10

A pressure cooker is a great addition to your kitchen arsenal, allowing for quick and nutritious cooking. They can be a little intimidating at first, but it's worth taking the time to get to grips with it, as you'll be rewarded with tasty soups, stews and more in no time at all.

In this guide we answer some key questions about using pressure cookers, including how to use them safely and get the best results.

To discover the best pressure cookers from our test and get tips on choosing the one for you, see Best pressure cookers 2022: Which? Best Buys and expert buying advice

How do pressure cookers work?

Pressure cookers have been around for centuries, and their basic function hasn’t really changed. They essentially use a build-up of steam and pressure to raise the temperature in a sealed pot above boiling point, which cooks food more quickly than traditional methods.

The traditional pot is used on your hob, but you can now get microwave and automatic electric versions, too. 

How do you use a pressure cooker?

Cooked rice
It can vary slightly depending on which model you’ve bought, and you should always read the instructions thoroughly, but there are some general principles to follow when using your pressure cooker:
  1. Add your ingredients. You can brown meat or vegetables first if your electric pressure cooker has a sauté function, or in your stove-top pressure cooker with the lid off.
  2. Raise the heat to build pressure. On a stove-top pressure cooker you do this by fitting the lid and turning up the heat on your stove to the maximum, but electric pressure cookers do this automatically by triggering their built-in heating element. Make sure the valve is closed so steam can’t escape.
  3. Once pressure is reached, turn the heat down to the minimum (electric pressure cookers will do this automatically). You’ll then need to manually keep track of cooking time, unless your appliance has a built-in timer.
  4. When time is up, release the pressure. You usually do this turning off the heat and letting the pan gradually cool down, or by opening a valve. On some stove-top models you can use cold water – either run it over the lid or sit the pan in a sink of cold water. After the pressure has released, you can open the lid and serve your food.

Top tips for pressure cooking

Stove top pressure cooker
  • Never fill the pot higher than the recommended level. For most models, this is half or two thirds full. Otherwise there won't be enough space for pressure to build and you could get food escaping through the vents.
  • Don't skimp on the liquid. This is essential for the cooking process. Check your cooker instructions for the minimum amount required. 
  • Brown food first for extra flavour.
  • If cooking on an electric hob, be aware that the heat change isn't instant, so you might want to switch to a different hob for the low-heat setting, or twist the dial a few minutes earlier than specified.
  • Cooking times are from the moment pressure is reached. Some models take up to 10 minutes to reach pressure.
  • Look after the rubber seal and replace it if it looks worn or the lid isn't locking properly. Keep the valves on the lid clean, too.

What to make in your pressure cooker

Any recipe with enough liquid can be made in your pressure cooker. From braising to stewing, boiling or steaming, pressure cookers can tackle a wide range of cooking jobs.

All pressure cookers are different, and you will need to play around with yours initially to find the best-tasting recipes. It’s best to start with the meals in the instruction manual and work from there. There are lots of suggestions and pressure cooker recipe communities online, too. Some of the most popular things to cook in your pressure cooker are:

  • Soups
  • Meat or vegetable stews
  • Rice or risotto dishes
  • Tagines with beans or pulses
  • Steamed vegetables
  • Desserts (such as Christmas pudding)

Things that don't do so well in a pressure cooker are:

  • Fish
  • Fresh herbs
  • Dairy

If adding these, it's best to wait until near the end, after you've pressure-cooked your food.