10 Things You Need to Know Before Using an Electric Pressure Cooker

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Ariel Knutson)

Electric pressure cookers are not an intuitive kitchen gadget. There were terms and ideas that were completely new to me when I started using one in my own kitchen, and it took me some time to figure out what it all meant. Things like: What is natural pressure release? And how much liquid do you need to add to the pot before cooking? It’s all a little confusing.

But please, don’t be intimidated! If you’re thinking about making the leap and trying an electric pressure cooker, here’s a neat little list of the essential things I learned about using an electric pressure cooker in my kitchen. It’s not so scary, promise.

10 Pressure Cooking Terms You Should Know

Quick & Natural Release

After you are done cooking, you have two options in releasing pressure from your electric pressure cooker: quick release and natural release. What you use will depend on what you’re cooking.

  • Quick release means you will release the pressure immediately after active cooking by turning, or lifting, or pressing the pressure release valve. You will usually use this release method for foods that don’t benefit from extra cooking time, like eggs. The pressure release (accompanied by a loud burst of steam) should take about 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Natural release means you let the pressure drop slowly from your electric pressure cooker. In most cases, you don’t have to do anything to make this happen; it will drop automatically. This method is particularly good for foods that foam during cooking, like dried beans. Most electric pressure cooker models have an indicator pin that will drop when the pressure has been released. Otherwise, depending on your model and the heat you’ve been cooking at, this could take 10 to 15 minutes to complete.

High, Medium & Low Pressure

Depending on what you’re cooking, you will want to use high, medium, or low pressure. Not all electric pressure cookers have a medium pressure option. The manual that came with your electric pressure cooker should indicate which type of pressure to use for which type of food.

Generally for stove top pressure cookers, low pressure means 6 to 8PSI and high pressure means 13 to 15PSI. This will have a great range for electric.

PSI stands for “pounds per square inch.”

This may change, however, based on whether you have a standard or non-standard electric pressure cooker. If you have a non-standard pressure cooker, it will affect your cooking time. Always check your manual to see what low pressure and high pressure means for your model.

Pressure Indicator

The pressure indicator is located on the lid of your electric pressure cooker. It is generally a tiny pin that will pop up to let you know when your electric pressure cooker has reached the correct pressure. It will also let you know when pressure has dropped when the pin drops down.

The pressure indicator often acts as a locking agent for your electric pressure cooker as well. As a result, it is sometimes called the “locking indicator.”

Pressure Release Valve

The pressure release valve is located on the lid of your electric pressure cooker. By pressing, turning, or lifting this valve, you will release the pressure from your electric pressure cooker after you are done cooking.

Take caution! When you want to release pressure from your electric pressure cooker, try and use another tool – like a long wooden spoon – to turn or press down on the release valve. That way you will avoid getting your hand in contact with hot steam. Take it from someone who has burned themselves while releasing steam – it’s not fun.

Steam Condensation Collector

The steam condensation collector is a small, usually plastic, container that locks to the side of your electric pressure cooker. It will hold and collect the extra condensation during cooking.

Silicone Sealing Ring

The silicone sealing ring, or gasket ring, is located on the inside of your electric pressure cooker’s lid. This ring creates a gas-tight seal that will not let any steam or air escape when you are cooking.

Trivet and Steam Basket

Your electric pressure cooker might come with a trivet and possibly a steam basket. These are used to keep food from touching the bottom of the cooker. I found the trivet by itself was totally fine to use for cooking hard-boiled eggs.

(Image credit: Ariel Knutson)

Important Lessons in Pressure Cooking

1. Timing how long something will take to cook

This is where your cooking intuition generally goes out the window. Don’t let that freak you out. Cooking time will vary depending on the PSI of your low and high pressure setting of your electric pressure cooker. You should refer to your electric pressure cooker manual for the general cooking times of whatever you want to make.

If something is underdone, it’s easy to fix: just add a couple more minutes and bring your cooker back to pressure.

2. The minimum and maximum liquid or food required

Your electric pressure cooker will require a minimum amount of liquid to work, as well as a maximum amount of food and liquid that it can hold. This should be clearly marked in your manual. Generally, you shouldn’t fill your electric pressure cooker more than 2/3 full.

3. Don’t try to open the pressure cooker while cooking!

Most modern electric pressure cookers make it impossible for someone to open the cooker while internal pressure exceeds outside pressure. But regardless – just don’t attempt to open it while in use. Turn off your pressure cooker if you need to, and release pressure before opening.

Still Need Help?

When I was testing electric pressure cookers for the first time, I found that Hip Pressure Cooking was an excellent, detailed resource for extra information that my manuals did not provide.

Are there any terms or ideas you think are essential for using an electric pressure cooker that aren’t on this list? I’d love to hear what you’ve found helpful in your kitchen!