5 Mistakes to Avoid When Using an Electric Pressure Cooker

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

It could be the growing emphasis on getting meals on the table faster with less planning, or the convenience of setting it and walking away (no supervision like the stovetop version). Or perhaps we’re just looking to try something new in the kitchen. Regardless, electric pressure cookers have been on the rise, and I’m totally on board.

From beans and grains to meats and dessert, this appliance is a game-changer for getting good food on the table fast. But learning to use it isn’t exactly intuitive. Here are five mistakes to avoid when using an electric pressure cooker.

1. Adding the ingredients to the pressure cooker without any liquid.

When adding the ingredients to your electric pressure cooker, don’t forget the liquid. Electric pressure cookers work by trapping steam inside the sealed pot. The steam builds up, ultimately creating a high-pressure environment that cooks food faster. But in order for this to work, you must add a liquid, like water or stock, to the bowl of the cooker.

Follow this tip: Your electric pressure cooker needs liquid to function properly; this is what creates the steam pressure that ultimately cooks the food. Amounts will vary between pressure cookers and recipes, but in general, 1/2 to 1 cup of liquid is need to get cooking.

2. Using too much liquid.

While your pressure cooker needs liquid to function properly, beware of adding too much. Because food is cooked in a closed environment in the electric pressure cooker, there’s significantly less evaporation than there would otherwise be in an open pot on the stove. Adding too much liquid can leave you with a finished dish that lacks flavor, or a sauce that’s too thin.

Follow this tip: While at least 1/2 to 1 cup of liquid is essential to well-cooked food in the pressure cooker, too much liquid will pull the flavor out of foods. Unless otherwise specified in the recipe, use just enough liquid to bring the cooker to pressure.

3. Overfilling the pressure cooker.

Despite its size, your pressure cooker isn’t meant to be filled all the way. Packing in ingredients too tight and loading the cooker with too much can result in uneven cooking. It can take significantly longer for it to come to pressure, or if it’s too full, it might not come to pressure at all.

Follow this tip: When cooking beans or other foods that expand, fill no more than halfway, and for all other foods, fill the cooker no more than two-thirds of the way full. Your pressure needs open space for the pressure to build in order for it to function.

4. Cooking all foods at the same time.

While it may seem tempting to throw all the ingredients into the pressure cooker at the same time, this is a mistake that will lead to overcooking part of your meal. Just as with stovetop cooking, ingredients that vary in size and texture (like meat and vegetables) will have different cook times.

Follow this tip: When cooking recipes that include a combination of meat and vegetables, or ingredients that significantly vary in size, opt for cooking in phases; it will make for a more evenly cooked and flavorful recipe. Start by cooking the large-cut ingredients or meat, release the pressure, then add the vegetables or small-cut ingredients. Then bring the cooker back to pressure, and resume the final stage of cooking.

5. Adding thickeners, like cornstarch or a roux, to the pressure cooker.

Pressure cookers thrive off of the steam pulled from the liquid that’s trapped inside. When cooking a thick sauce, soup, or stew, adding a roux or cornstarch to the mix too soon can have a negative effect on the way it cooks, as less steam is released from the thicker liquid.

Follow this tip: For the best results when making thick soups and sauces in the pressure cooker, always plan to add the thickener (like cornstarch or a roux) after it’s cooked — not before.