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Should I get a pressure cooker?

I love cooking soups, braises, stews...often with beans and meats that require long time cooking. I generally make these in one of my Le Creuset Dutch ovens, and let it simmer all day. I have a Crock Pot, but do not like it. Somehow everything coming out of it has a similar taste...probably just me, but I don't like it a bit and therefore rarely use it. Recently I have been thinking more about getting one of the new high-tech pressure cookers to use for these long cooking dishes. Is it likely that I will prefer the results over those I get with a Crock Pot, or does a pressure cooker simply do the same thing, but much faster. I generally don't mind having something simmer on the stove for hours, but am wondering if I would really like a pressure cooker....or, if like my Crock Pot, it would it wind up in the garage. Any thoughts?

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  1. i love my pressure cooker, though i go through periods when i use it all the time, and periods when i don't touch it.

    but short answer - yes

    1. To me:

      Pressure cooker: mainly for the initial step of cooking beans and other dried legumes, and tough meats for further incorporation in a final dish (e.g., pressure cooked beans are cooked in just water, with all other ingredients being added in a final cooking step).

      Braising: a complete slow-cooked dish that includes various ingredients and steps (e.g., coq au vin or boeuf a la bourguignonne).

      Crock pot/slow cooker: great for 1 - 2 cooking: prep stew or "BBQ" shredded meat ingredients, throw in pot, turn on, go away for the day, come back, voila!

      1. I recently got a pressure cooker and I do like it, although, I don't yet consider myself super experienced at it, yet, so I can only give you a beginner's perspective. I also have a crockpot that I use quite a bit during winter when we want hearty, warm foods.

        I felt I was somewhat misinformed about some of the "hype" (if you can call it that) about a pressure cooker, ie., that it's so fast. The rule of thumb I've heard is the pressure cooker takes 1/3 the time that it takes to cook whatever it is using conventional methods. But, 1/3 is the amount of cooking time needed "under pressure". But, you also need to plan in the amount of time it takes to come to pressure (which for me has been averaging about 8 minutes) and to come down from pressure (which takes about 15 minutes). It depends on the recipe and your pressure cooker, of course, but while it's quicker than conventional methods, 25 minutes is not the same as 7 minutes...so, you need to allow for that.

        Also, you can't really go far from your kitchen (or at least I don't yet feel comfortable doing so) while using your pressure cooker. You can definitely do other kitchen chores, but, you need to be there when it reaches pressure (so you can adjust the heat down) and, when its time under pressure is complete (so you can turn the heat off)... And, you have to have a constant awareness of what it's doing while under pressure in case some adjustment is needed. You can more or less walk away from a crockpot or even a Dutch oven and go do some gardening or your laundry, but you really can't with a pressure cooker. During that time I find myself puttering about cleaning up the kitchen, getting other parts of the meal ready, or getting lunches ready for the next day. The pace feels very relaxed to me, which is a good thing.

        Honestly, I still find myself doing things like beans and rice a day or two in advance (like before) on weeknights, just like before. But it is still time efficient and energy efficient.

        Here are a couple of posts about recipes I adapted for my pressure cooker and how they came out (soup) http://www.chowhound.com/topics/52451... and (pork loin) http://www.chowhound.com/topics/52451...

        Hope that helps!

        ~TDQ

        3 Replies
        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          TDQ mentions pressure time coming up or down as a factor. Quite right, but coming up, over a strong burner or induction is fast, as only a small amount of food and water in a confined space has to reach pressure, usually less than a crock pot or dutch oven. Each situation is different, but time coming up is no biggie, just needs a careful watch for a few minutes.
          Time coming down does not take long with quick release, maybe two minutes. But I have watched cooks or chefs put a very hot pressure cooker under a stream of water in the sink to achieve immediate low pressure. It is quite amazing to observe, and I don't know if the warranty applies, but it works, and those carrots or greens come out perfectly coloured.

          1. re: jayt90

            I've read that a major factor in "better" pressure cookers is how much water they vent before comming up to pressure (and in holding pressure). Less loss means you can start with less water which means they come up to temperature faster so the whole cycle can be quicker.

            To really optimize you probably need to experiment a bit with just how much your pressure cooker vents over time. If you put 4" of water in your PC, heat it to full pressure, and hold it there for an hour, then cool it, how much water is left? If you have 3" left, well, maybe you could have started with just over 1" and quartered your heat-up time. Of course... don't cut things that close because you don't want the thing to run dry.

            Water loss rate is my main complaint with the tramontina PC compared to the Fagor -- it doesn't seal very well (the regulator passes more steam all the time and the gasket they included is too stiff or something so it doesn't always seal perfectly) so I need more water to start so... well, it's fine if I'm cooking a big pot of beans but I don't use it otherwise. I got it cheap so I'm not complaining.

            As for cooling the cooker in water at the end... the manual that came with my Fagor specifically allows/recommends the practice but also says you should not do that with older pressure cookers because they can draw a vacuum and suck water in IIRC...so it probably depends on the cooker.

            1. re: jayt90

              I've tried beans using both an induction burner and a regular gas burner with 4 different pressure cookers (2 prestos, 2 Fagors) and it's taken about 5 minutes every time, one time almost 10 minutes, to come to pressure.

              And, isn't the decision as to whether to "quick release" the pressure vs. letting it come down to pressure sort of built into the particular recipe? If you look at the recipes in the booklet that come with your pressure cooker or at Lorna Sass' recipes, they will specifically tell you whether to let the pressure come down naturally or whether to quick release. If the recipe calls for the pressure to come down naturally and you use quick release, won't your product be slightly underdone compared to what the recipe intended? I've heard you can compensate for using quick release vs. coming down from pressure naturally by cooking just a smidge longer under pressure, but I'm still learning the particular personality of my pressure cooker and haven't tried fiddling with that yet.

              ~TDQ

          2. Sam has nailed it (as usual): use the pressure cooker as a quick tool in constructing a dish that might take hours of conventional cooking.
            The p.c. is great for stock as well, especially chicken or vegetable. The temp. is a bit high for fish or veal.
            And it is great to experiment with it, as in steamed dishes, or Boston brown bread. (I haven't done that yet, but when I do it will only take a few minutes, and the recent models of p.c. are fail safe.)

            1. As someone who teaches pressure cooking, I can elaborate on why you might want to use a pressure cooker, reiterating some of the responses below -- time savings, energy savings, and add that generally the nutrition value is higher because of the faster cooking, and usually using the liquid that you've cooked in. But for me one of the top reasons that I use the pressure cooker has to do with the texture and flavor of the food that comes out of it.
              You can cook carrots in about 2 minutes at pressure (and it really only takes about 1 minute to get it there) and quick release the pressure, and you will see bright orange carrots that are still in the shape which you cut them. The flavor is more intense, and if you add seasonings of any kind they tend to get infused into the food rather than being on top of the food. Lorna Sass, my pressure cooking mentor, summed it up in one of her books, "Two hour taste in just 20 minutes." (Or less, depending upon what you are cooking.)
              To address the issue of staying the in kitchen, you do need to stay nearby and have a timer to remind you to go back to turn off the pot. If you prefer not to think about it, you can get an electric pressure cooker that shuts itself off but so far I have not found one that I really like. I am still looking.
              I highly encourage you to get a pressure cooker as it sounds as if it will surely meet your needs.

              5 Replies
              1. re: The Veggie Queen

                I think you have convinced me. Being the expert you are could you please 1) recommend a size...I generally cook for two, and never for more than four, and 2) with cost not being a significant factor...I generally like to get the best product for something like this which should last a long time...what brand is your favorite, and what would be your second choice?

                Thanks!

                1. re: josephnl

                  I highly recommend Fagor as being the best value for the cost. You want to likely either get a Duo or Futuro, the latter being the more sleek, European-type pot. A good all around size is a 6-quart, although you can do just 1 cup of rice or beans in an 8-quart.
                  Some people really like their Kuhn Rikon cookers and others WMF. I have use the KR and they are good but more expensive than Fagor. I have no experience with WMF. Magefesa can also be OK but you have to have a good idea of which model you want and I can't very easily discern one from the other.
                  After about 5 years of almost daily use, I finally had to replace a gasket in one of my Fagor cookers. Your cooker can last you a lifetime as it basically does not have moving parts. The gasket is about it.
                  You will likely be happy that you got a cooker. It changed my cooking life.

                2. re: The Veggie Queen

                  Forgive my confusion, but doesn't the amount of time it takes to come to pressure depend? I can see that carrots, which don't take that long to cook even conventionally, would only take a minute to come to pressure and need a couple of minutes under pressure, but the things I've been cooking have been beans (of several different varieties now), rice, soups, and a pork roast. I've experimented with 4 different types of pressure cookers. It takes a good five minutes for the beans and soup stock to come to pressure because you've got to heat all that water up enough to produce the pressure.

                  And as far as coming down from pressure naturally vs. using quick release--doesn't that depend on the particular recipe you're using? I guess it's just my bad luck in which recipes I've chosen, but haven't had a single recipe using either Lorna Sass' book, the booklet that came with my pressure cooker, or the recipes I got from a friend of mine who teaches pressure cooking that calls for quick releasing the pressure. I imagine recipes for cooking vegetables (which are so delicate) would call for quick release, but I haven't used my pressure cooker to cook a lot of vegetables yet (except for the soup I linked to) because I just don't find that vegetables don't take that long to cook conventionally, at least, not the kinds of vegetables you see this time of year. (I've only had my pressure cooker about 3 months...)

                  Don't get me wrong, I think pressure cookers are great and good for the earth (because of the energy efficiency) and I wish everyone would use them, but I think it's important for people to have the complete facts so their expectations are set appropriately. I personally haven't found owning a pressure cooker life-changing, but I don't teach pressure cooking either. :). I think it's a great tool in the kitchen for cooking legumes and beans in particular.

                  ~TDQ

                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    You are correct that vegetables don't take that long conventionally versus the pressure cooker. But when you can make vegetable soup in 3 minutes at pressure with all the vegetables looking vibrant, it's amazing. Yes, it does take some time to get to pressure but that's what cooking is about.
                    I have to admit that I usually use less liquid than the recipes call for and the pressure comes up rather quickly.
                    The quick release is for foods that would overcook if you left them too long which I recently accidentally did with some new potatoes which really only required 2 minutes at pressure, not the usual 3. I had mashed potatoes --- delicious but not what I had in mind.
                    Keep using your cooker, you might warm up to using it more.

                    1. re: The Veggie Queen

                      I'm not complaining about pressure cooking or "cool" to using my pressure cooker; rather, I'm just trying to impart enough information to the OP so he can have some realistic expectations about how long it really takes to cook things. He specifically mentioned an interest in cooking beans, meats and stews. To suggest that everything takes one minute to come to pressure or even that one minute is typical of anything other than vegetables or that quick release is used most of the time is not very helpful to someone trying to make a decision about what's right for them.

                      ~TDQ