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Aug 29, 2009 08:17 AM

Are all pressure cookers made equal?

I am very interested in getting a pressure cooker so that I can cook indian dishes using dal beans and chickpeas that usually would require 24+ hours of soaking. Many Indians that I've spoken to have told me that is their secret to making these dishes at home.

But my wife has told me that some pressure cookers can explode. Does anyone have any guidelines on buying these? Any I should look out for or any that are exceptionally well made?

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  1. There are safeguards against explosions, and these have been in use since European models became popular more than 30 years ago. Some older domestic models still available used will not have safeguards, and some of them did explode, but that era is long gone.
    I use both Lagostina and Fagor. The Lagostina is sturdier, really well built, but achieves a lower pressure level. (11 bbar).
    The Fagor will go up to 15bbar but has a lighter build. Either one should be OK for beans, but do not overfill as they may foam up but won't explode.
    Mine were 7 litre models, both under $100. There is a more expensive brand, Kuhn Rikon which is designed like the Fagor but probably a heavier build. I haven't used it, but it may be worthwhile if you can spare $250.

    I use the p.c. for soups, stews, stocks, oatmeal, tomato sauce, potatoes, vegs, and many other things, ranging from 7 minutes (two steamed lobsters) to 1 hr. (beef stock).

    2 Replies
    1. re: jayt90

      I had one nearly 40 years ago that had a rubber plug which would have blown out had the steam vent become plugged, so even one THAT old could not have exploded. However, with any pressure cooker you have to be sure to let the pressure release before opening, or you'll get a food volcano. That's pretty unlikely, since you'd have to apply a LOT of force to get it open before the pressures equalized. Thinking about my old one reminds me of my long-gone Siamese cat, Gideon, who was irresistably drawn to the jiggling weight atop it. He'd s..l..o..w..l..y approach, screwing up his nerve to smack it with a paw, then execute a high-flying backwards leap when the "dragon" hissed its steam at him. It always scared him but he always did it again.

      1. re: greygarious

        Some of the popular PCs in India have a weight that not only jiggles, but also lifts up a bit, and releases a serious burst of steam.

        Miss Vickie has an interesting description of this Indian style of whistling pressure cookers

        I have small Indian Hawkins PC (1.5L), used mainly for small meals while camping. It works well enough, given its small size. I have no reason to doubt its safety. Another nice thing about Hawkins - the cookbook that came with it includes a section of Indian recipes.

        Fagor is a well regarded Spanish brad (not nearly as expensive as the KR and WMF). It's a lot quieter than either the Hawkins or Presto jiggle top. In ways, though, that's a problem. It is harder to tell when it is up to pressure. And I just had to send my Fagor back for warranty claim because the welds holding the main handle on broke.

        My advise - go with what you can afford, and don't worry too much about safety. Everything now has safety valves, and perhaps more importantly, interlocks that prevent opening while there is pressure inside.

    2. As a child, my family had a pressure cooker that I found really scary, with one of those wobbling caps on top.

      I have been using a WMF pressure cooker for the last decade or so, and I really like it. They are certainly more pricey than many, and as I don't have experience with cheaper options, I can't address whether the added cost is worth it, though I suspect probably not. It was a gift, though...

      By the way, I cook lots of legumes in it, but I still soak them overnight. A pressure cooker speeds up the cooking process, but soaking makes that shorter still. Plus, it's more energy efficient, uses less fuel, etc. I find that if I soak chickpeas, for example, put them in the pressure cooker, bring it up close to maximum pressure (judging by the lines on the guide), turn the heat to low so it stays there for about 3 - 5 minutes, and then turn the burner off and let the pressure subside naturally, the chickpeas will be perfect. Lentils are even faster and don't require being held at low for any amount of time. Just bring the pressure up and turn the burner off.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Full tummy

        The WMF appears to have the same light weight SS lid design as the Fagor.
        My Fagor is now experiencing a small split lip (the curved flange that bayonets onto the pot), i.e., a separation that will eventually make my lid useless. I suspect the warranty is over, but haven't checked. A new lid will be $50 or more, but that is where I am headed with Fagor, for safety's sake. (ed.: Just checked, and there is a 10 year warranty, mine being two years old!)
        My Lagostina is well designed and won't have this problem, as there is no bayonet fitting. This retailer frequently discounts the 7 liter to $90.

        1. re: jayt90

          Luckily, my WMF is still in good shape. I will keep an eye on that, though.

      2. I have 2 Fagors, a 4-5 qt and a 10 qt and I use them quite a bit. I especially like cooking dried beans in them - garbanzos are so much better than canned and are ready in a fraction of the time when cooked conventionally. As others have said, they have a couple of fail-safes built into them to prevent explosions!

        Coincidentally, this week Costco has a special in their on-line flyer - check it out, it's a good deal:

        1. If you search the Cookware board, you'll find several additional threads on pressure cookers, though probably most of the important points made there have already been made here. I have a Kuhn-Rikon and a Fagor (different sizes), use them often, and am happy with both of them. Both are stainless steel with aluminum sandwich bottoms, have a top pressure of 15 lbs, operate quietly, and have multiple safety features. For reasons expressed in my posts on the other threads, I prefer the K-R--but not to the point where I'd advocate spending the extra money (mine was a gift). The Fagor set at Costco, mentioned by RWCFoodie, looks like a great deal. That model has only one pressure setting (15 lbs), but personally I've never felt the need for a lower setting. However, if you're considering a top-of-the-line pressure cooker, you might look not only at K-R, but at WMF (see Full tummy's post) and another German brand, Fissler, which is supposedly very high-quality and seems to have recently expanded its US distribution network.

          By the way, if you search "pressure cooker" on YouTube, you'll find many instructional videos (including some produced by the manufacturers) that will give you a pretty good idea of how to use one, and may help reassure you about safety.

          1. Others have posted some good info, but for the basics...

            A first-generation pressure cooker uses a weight on top of a steam vent. When the cooker reaches the desired pressure, superheated steam begins to escape, lifting the weight and making it jiggle. You adjust the heat so that the weight jiggles every minute or so.

            First-generation cookers tend to have a safety system consisting of a rubber plug that will blow out in the event of overpressure. Having that plug blow can be scary, messy, and potentially dangerous, but not nearly so bad as having the entire pot explode.

            Second-generation cookers use a spring valve to create the pressure. Most of them have an indicator that shows how much pressure has built up, so you adjust the heat **before** the cooker starts venting steam into the kitchen. So a second-generation cooker is significantly quiter and more efficient than a jiggle-top. It's also more flexible - for example, you can pressure-steam with a very small amount of water (check the owner's manual for the minimum amount).

            Second-generation cookers tend to have at least two safety devices. There's typically a secondary spring valve that will vent steam if the primary valve becomes clogged, and the lids are designed so that the gasket unseats if the safety valve malfunctions. That will certainly create a mess, but at least the mess is directed down instead of up.

            As far as materials, stainless is preferable to aluminum if you're going to be cooking anything acidic. But an aluminum bottom (or a bottom with a sandwich layer of aluminum or copper) will produce better heat distribution and minimize hot spots.

            Unless you're seriously cash-strapped, I'd recommend going with a stainless second-generation cooker with a sandwich bottom. Heavy is better than light. Kuhn-Rikon is considered the best, although Fagor and Magefesa also make very good - and much less expensive - cookers.

            Another thing - things like beans, dal, and chickpeas generate foam that can clog the pressure valve, so you should never fill the cooker more than 1/3 to 1/2 full when cooking them. So make sure to get a cooker with enough capacity to handle your recipes; I'd be reluctant to go below 6 quarts.

            Once you've started using a pressure cooker, you'll wonder how you ever got along without it. Tough chunks of meat are cooked tender in half or one-third of the time they'd take on the stove, with no risk of burning because the liquid boiled off. I like to use shredded chicken to fill tacos, enchiladas, etc; a 5-pound bird pressure-steams in 25 minutes. Beans are done in 30 minutes to an hour. Artichokes pressure-steam in 12 minutes. 90 minutes extracts all the goodness from a chicken carcass into stock. No doubt you'll find plenty of other applications, too.

            1 Reply
            1. re: alanbarnes

              Some great information here, thanks.

              My pressure cooker is a 3 quart WMF, and I have found it absolutely large enough for most of my cooking needs. Of course, I can't cook whole birds, but I have never wanted to, either. My pot allows me too cook enough chickpeas for a curry for six, plus a week of hummus for two people.

              Determining the appropriate size of pressure cooker to buy will depend largely on what kinds of foods will be cooked in it, how many people the meals are for, how many nights of leftovers you can stand (haha), and how much storage space you have for the pot.

              I recently purchased a larger pressure cooker (maybe about 8 quarts), for the purpose of making larger quantities of food and freezing portions, but I haven't put that one to use yet. Will try to get on it this fall though, with cabbage rolls and other goodies.