Pressure cookers and how to use them

Our food editor, Barney, talks us through the merits of one of his favourite pieces of kitchen kit - a hob-top pressure cooker.

Last year, I discovered the joys of pressure cooking when a clever food stylist, stuck for time, ignored the instructions to slow-roast some ribs for three hours and simply popped them in her new pressure cooker for just 30 minutes. The ribs were so tender, the meat literally slipped off the bones. They were the best ribs I’d ever tasted and, straight after the shoot, I went off and bought a pressure cooker.

Since then, it has become one of my most-used bits of kitchen kit, and revolutionised the way I cook on weeknights. I’m as short of time as anyone else, but I can now make a stew, casserole or braise meat in under an hour, and a risotto can be on the table in half the usual time, with very little stirring. Speed isn’t the only advantage of pressure cookers – they also preserve nutrients and vitamins, as well as being a more economical way to cook.

Buy the best

Pressure cookerIf you still think of pressure cookers as that pan rattling away on the stove, about to blow a gasket, then think again. Today’s pressure cookers have been updated and are simple to use.

• There are some high-tech models on the market that come with detachable timers and easy-lock systems. These are good, but I find a good-quality, simple pan with a long handle more versatile, as you can also use it as a large saucepan.

• All pressure cookers work on the same principle, but they can differ hugely in price. As a pressure cooker is just an extension of a saucepan, the same quality points apply. Generally, the more expensive models are made of better quality metal and have a thicker base.

• Pressure cookers come in a range of sizes, but as they are ideal for batch cooking, it doesn’t make sense to buy one any smaller than 5 litres.

Kuhn Riko

The one I use at home for my family of four is the Swiss-made 5-litre Kuhn Rikon Duromatic Inox pressure cooker, which costs about £100. It’s big enough for a whole chicken or to make enough stew for 12 servings.

It’s worth buying a trivet or steamer basket, so you can also cook ingredients that don’t need to be in direct contact with liquid, like a steamed pudding.

Read our review: The best pressure cookers

Get the best out of it

Slow cooker ribsWhile they are invaluable when it comes to braising, stewing and transforming tough cuts of meat, and cooking ingredients like dried pulses from scratch, pressure cookers are less successful with delicate foods like fish or green veg, as they use such a high heat. There are ways around it though. You can add fish to your dish at the end of the cooking time (simmer it gently without pressure), after the other ingredients are done, for example.

With pressure cooker recipes, all cooking times should be taken only from when the level of pressure is reached, at which point you should lower the heat but try to maintain the same level of pressure for the time stated. This can involve turning the heat up and down during the cooking process or moving the pan to different sized gas rings.

• Remember that pressure cooking is a wet cooking method and you should never try to cook anything in a pressure cooker without at least a 2cm layer of liquid in the bottom of it.

• Pressure cookers are great for stews and making tough cuts tender but the liquid used doesn’t reduce while cooking, so be prepared to simmer things down to intensify the flavour once the lid comes off.

• For a pressure cooker to work there needs to be space for steam to build into pressure, so never fill it up any more than half way.

• With stovetop pressure cookers there are two ways of releasing the pressure. Firstly you can let the pressure drop naturally which will mean that the food continues to cook as the pressure drops. When you want the pressure to drop quickly, place the pan under the cold tap.

How it saves money

Money in pile• Food cooks in around a third of the usual time, so you use less fuel.

If you favour cheaper cuts of meat over more quick-to-cook (and pricier) cuts, this is where your pressure cooker will help, by stewing or braising in about the same time it takes to roast or pan-fry.

Pressure cookers are ideal for cooking very cheap ingredients like dried beans and pulses from scratch – saving on cooked or canned varieties.

Barney's top tip

It’s essential to use the timer, as the food cooks so quickly that just one or two minutes can be the difference between a perfect or ruined dish – especially when cooking with vegetables.

Try one of our pressure cooker recipes...

Prawn risottoLemony prawn & pea risotto

A pressure cooker delivers the creamiest risotto without constant stirring - and it takes only 20 minutes to cook.

Asian short ribs with herb salad

I’m convinced that a pressure cooker is the best way to cook cheap cuts like these short ribs (above left), and braising them with Asian flavours makes a change from the norm. This has been a big success at dinner parties. When people ask how I got the meat so tender, I proudly say: ‘With my pressure cooker!’

Do you use a pressure cooker? We'd love to hear how you use it. Plus, if you're a fan of kitchen kit, we have a guide to slow cookers, too... 

Comments, questions and tips

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Comments (8)

goodfoodteam's picture

Following the feedback below, we've added some more tips for using a pressure cooker to the guide - you'll find them under the 'get the best out of it' header. If you'd like to know anything else, please email us at and we can ask our cookery team to help. Thanks for your comments - keep them coming! 

hungrybaker's picture

I had a stove-top pressure cooker decades ago but recently bought an electric one so I'm effectively a novice - I found this site very helpful for how to use a pressure cooker, with tips, recipes and cooking time charts, explains difference between Natural Release (of pressure), Quick Release and for which foods each applies: and demos/recipes on YouTube. Thanks to Amazon UK customer reviews on several pressure cookers I chose (and recommend) the Instant Pot IP-Duo60 6 litre. I had to get used to (1) using less liquid (all is kept inside the sealed unit, none boils off as on a hob) (2) foods such as macaroni, cranberries, cereals and oatmeal are unsuitable as they could expand too much, froth, and sputter, which can block the steam vent (3) half-full for legumes, two-thirds otherwise, to allow steam to circulate (4) thicken gravy only after cooking (flour/starch binds food to the steam so it bursts out of the valve) (5) checking which food requires High or Low pressure. This is the sort of info I expected in this article.

dazzer1001's picture

This article is not very informative, more like a description of a pressure cooker.
Why how to use them is in the title eludes me!
If it's of any use to anyone I work on a rule that any recipes cooking time I reduce to approximately one third when I use my pressure cooker.

cal6moni's picture

I have a Prestige pressure cooker which is now about 35 years old and still working perfectly. Have always managed to get spare parts on the internet such as new gaskets and safety valves. I use the cooker every week for meat, stocks and veg dishes along with steamed pud`s. Will one day have to get a new one but for now the one I have is brilliant, buy one and you won`t be disappointed.

bazouteast's picture

I was hoping for a little more too - like can a pressure cooker be used on an old fashioned electric cooker with circular hotplates. As you say, back to the internet....

cal6moni's picture

Yes they can, my mum used hers on the same sort of hob for years

evemary's picture

I have a pressure cooker with appallingly bad instructions and I was hoping this article would help me to use it .... but it doesn't so back to the internet!

cal6moni's picture

Hi evemary, I`ve had a prestige pressure cooker for more years than I can remember, and I think they are brilliant pieces of kitchen kit. Stick with it and you will love it. I must say, Prestige instructions are clear and precise.

Questions (3)

tonymalony's picture

I am considering buying a pressure cooker. I only have calor type gas for cooking and would like to know the pros and cons of using a pressure cooker on a gas stove

lindac1's picture

How do I stop food burning on the bottom of my pressure cooker?

goodfoodteam's picture

Hi lindac1, thanks for your question, once the pan has come up to pressure make sure you turn the heat down low. Also, don't add any ingredients to the pan which could catch on the bottom such as flour or sugar - it's best to thicken or sweeten the liquid at the end of cooking. Hope this helps. 

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