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.

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