Natural release and rapid release are two common methods used to depressurize a pressure cooker once active cooking is complete. While some recipes indicate which method to use, many don't, and the method you choose can have a big impact on the food inside. Here's what you need to know.
In short, pressure cookers use steam pressure that builds up inside the closed pot to cook food. As it heats up, the liquid inside forms steam, which raises the pressure in the pot, ultimately cooking food at double to triple the normal rate.
After active cooking is complete, the pressure built up inside the cooker needs to be released. Most electric pressure cookers have a safety mechanism that prevents the lid from opening until the pressure has been lowered. There's two ways this can be done with electric pressure cookers: natural release and rapid release. While both depressurize the cooker, the process for each differs, and has an impact on the food inside.
How Natural Release Works and When to Use It
Natural release works exactly the way it sounds. Using this method, there's really nothing you have to depressurize your pressure cooker. Once active cooking is finished, the pressure will automatically slowly drop inside the electric pressure cooker. Because of this slow drop in pressure and heat, when using natural release, food continues cooking even though active cooking is complete.
Use this method when cooking meat, foods that increase in volume or foam (like dried beans and legumes), soups, or any other foods that are primarily liquid.
Timing for natural release varies, and will differ based on the model of pressure cooker you use, the type of food, and the level of fill. Overall it can take between 10 and 30 minutes.
How Rapid Release Works and When to Use It
All electric pressure cookers have a pressure-release valve on the lid. Rapid release works by turning, lifting, or pressing the valve once active cooking is complete. This process takes an extra degree of care, as a loud burst of steam is released from the valve. Rapid release takes no more than a minute or two, and works best with foods, like eggs, vegetables, or delicate ingredients that don't benefit from any extra cook time. This method is also helpful when you need to check the doneness of food or add additional ingredients to the pressure cooker, as you might with a stew.
It's best to avoid using rapid release when cooking foods that increase in volume, froth, or foam, like legumes, or those that are mostly liquid, like soup, as the liquid can boil up and vent through the release valve.
Does It Really Make a Difference Which One You Use?
Yes, the method you use to depressurize your pressure cooker makes a difference. In addition to having an impact on the food inside, it can affect the safety of the operation of the pressure cooker. The method you use to release the pressure all comes down to what you are cooking.
Follow This Rule
- Use natural release when cooking meat, dried beans and legumes, rice, soup, and other foods that are mostly liquid.
- Use rapid release when adding additional ingredients to the pot (like with a stew), or cooking eggs, vegetables, delicate foods, or ingredients that don't benefit from additional cook time.
(Image credits: Kelli Foster)