An Intro to Pressure Cookers

An Intro to Pressure Cookers

Have you been trying to decide if you need to jump on this whole pressure cooking bandwagon that's sweeping the nation?  Or do you have one, but it hasn't quite made it out of the box yet?  Over the next few months I am going to bring you several new blog posts focusing on pressure cooking - and I'll be releasing some of the over 200 recipes I've developed for these fun new appliances.  They rank high on my "recommend" list, but there are some things you should know before buying.

Electric Pressure cookers go by many names; electric pressure cooker, multi-cooker, hot pot and more.  The most popular brand currently being Instant Pot.  Know that Instant Pot is a brand, and not a type of product.  It’s like calling tissue Kleenex or a food processor a Cuisinart.  You may also see them marketed by other brand names (Zavor, Fagor, Cuisinart, Elite, Power, Bella, etc). Buyer beware – quality varies greatly by brand and in this instance you get what you pay for.  And do you really want to risk it with an appliance that's entire purpose is to build up pressure?

And the past few years have brought innovation and big changes to this helpful appliance.  Let me start at the beginning…


I started my career at CHEFS Catalog in 2005, 14 years ago.  And I can tell you that at that time one of our very best sellers was an electric pressure cooker.  Believe it or not, electric pressure cookers have been around for over 20 years.  The latest Instant Pot craze is based on a phenomenal marketing program and a now solid product.  But there is a history – both Cuisinart and the now bankrupt Fagor (the new company is Zavor) have been making high quality electric pressure cookers for years.  And because of this they top my list.  They’ve had the proper amount of time to better engineer and “work out the kinks”, if you will. 


I will admit, having been an appliance buyer for 10 years, I was hesitant to jump on the Instant Pot bandwagon.

Here came an un-heard of brand name, with a made for TV marketing platform.  Generally, not a product that I would support from a quality standpoint.  I tested the first generation and wasn’t impressed.  So we took a pass on selling it at CHEFS.  Then they had some challenges – poor industry rankings and reviews and a pretty significant recall.  But they came back swinging.  And I have to admit, they made leaps and bounds in new product development.  I now own two and regularly use them in our Under Pressure classes.


I would caution you to pay attention to the model and the retailer selling the Instant Pot.  The market has been flooded with "exclusive" models for retailers.  Which usually means it's in a different color or has a special setting or button that other units don't have (Porridge, anyone?).  Again, the retailer matters.  Look for upper level brands and you'll get a better overall product.  Remember, a lower price might be attractive, but that means that those $$ came out of the overall manufacturing of the unit.  Sometimes that means lesser quality components (the guts) or cheaper exteriors and less functionality.


Below are my unbiased recommendations, based on using them multiple times a week, over the past 2-3 years.  I’m happy with all of these brands and would use one (and do!) any day of the week.


My recommended brands (in order of recommendation) are*:  Cuisinart Electric Pressure Cooker, Zavor (formerly Fagor), Fagor Lux, Instant Pot Duo. 


Pressure Cooker Terminology:


There’s a lot of special lingo around pressure cooking.  In these pressure cooking blog posts, I’ll be breaking down some of the terminology into easy to understand definitions.

  • Natural Release:To let the pressure cooker release naturally.  This means once the time has gone off,
  • you leave it alone and it will release the pressure naturally.There is no need to touch it or change any settings, this will occur without any task on your part.
  • Quick Release:  This is forcing the pressure out by moving the pressure valve to steam or release the pressure.  Make sure to pull from the side, never putting your hand or arm over the valve, or looking down into the valve.  It will shoot hot steam out the valve as it releases pressure.  Suggestions for when to use quick release:  Anytime you are cooking delicate foods like fish, vegetables or mac and cheese.  Think about the fact that you want to stop the cooking process with a quick release.  Never use quick release on soups as it can pull the liquid with the air as it is releasing pressure and will shoot hot liquid out of the valve.


*None of these endorsements are based on paid advertising or paid product.  These are independent recommendations from an industry expert.

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