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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

        http://missvickie.com/library/whistli...

        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...

      http://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&n...

      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!)
        http://www.cookware.com/Fagor-9180607...
        My Lagostina is well designed and won't have this problem, as there is no bayonet fitting.
        http://reviews.canadiantire.ca/9045/0... 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:

        http://www.costco.com/Browse/Product....

        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.

            2. I like Presto stainless steel. You can find them at Amazon. 4 quart model is good. I have cooked chickpeas many times in mine. I have four of them. 2x 6 quart and 2x 4 quart. Just accumulated them (all are stainless) through the years

              I would still soak the chickpeas 24 hours, at least 12
              Chickpeas can get old and resistant to cooking
              Buy where there is good turnover

              Usually the chickpeas are nice and soft in 35 minutes. That is by soaking first and then subjecting them to heat and pressure. I don't toss out the soaking water. Put salt in after they are cooked. Throw in some whole black peppercorns, onion and garlic before cooking for that Indian thing.

              2 Replies
              1. re: zzDan

                And cloves, black cardamom, bay leaves, cinnamon bark. Just did that tonight for channa masala. Turned out great.

                1. re: Full tummy

                  I have all those except cardamon. I will try it next time. All those ingredients need long cooking. Maybe soaking along with the chickpeas will help the spices too

                  In the final product I like biting into a whole peppercorn every one in a while rather than ground up pepper dispersed through out. Try adding nutritional yeast at the end for a meaty boost. Teaspoon or two or four

              2. I have a Presto I purchased in 1988 that works great. Never any problem.
                However, I was watching Jacque Pepin on TV recently and he had an electric, programmable unit which appeared to have a removable crock - similar to the style of a slow cooker. This variety seems as though it would take much of the intimidation factor out of using one.

                7 Replies
                1. re: meatn3

                  The programmed electric pc's are convenient and safe. They work much like a rice cooker: after the cooking cycle is finished, they revert to a warm/hold setting.
                  The only disadvantage is the lower level of steam pressure (10 psi ) but they should work well for most cooking, and they are less intimidating than the manual types.

                  1. re: meatn3

                    Prestos work great. I have never bought one of the new types. I only buy stainless steel Prestos and they are made in America unlike the newer brands out there. They have thick bottoms to minimize chance of burning things

                    Some people are just scared of stuff being under pressure
                    Due my neglect I once had a Presto blow on me. It did not create a huge mess. The safety release popped out and food bubbled out of it. I had to clean up the stove but not walls and ceiling like most people imagine

                    1. re: zzDan

                      A Model T Ford will get you from point A to point B, but a modern car will do it more quickly, more reliably, more comfortably, more safely, and more efficiently. Same goes for pressure cookers: although a jiggle-top can get the job done, a second-generation cooker is safer, quieter, and more efficient.

                      I say this from experience, having used first-generation cookers for 30+ years. I still use one (a 23-quart canner) periodically. But for the last 10 years or so I've been using a 7-quart Swiss-made Kuhn Rikon on a near-daily basis and have never looked back. It just works better.

                      As far as blowing the safety plug goes, just because you didn't end up with food all over the ceiling doesn't mean it can't happen. Just ask my mother-in-law. We were discovering bits of beef stew for weeks.

                      That's not to say that you should rush out and replace your Prestos. They work for you. But for a first-time purchaser, it just makes more sense to start with a second-generation model.

                      1. re: alanbarnes

                        Is there evidence the Fagor or KR is safer than (a current) Presto?

                        Yes, Fagor is quieter. But in some ways that is a disadvantage. I could tell by sound when my Presto was up to pressure, and whether I needed to adjust the heat. After 6 mths I was still guessing with my Fagor. It has an interlock pin that pops up when the lid is locked, but that does not mean it is up to pressure. The Presto has a lid interlock that also pops up.

                        Once the Fagor is up to pressure, and the heat remains high, the control valve pops up a bit, releasing steam. That's no more quiet than the rapidly jiggling Presto, or a whistling Hawkins.

                        With an electric stove, Fagor suggests transferring the cooker to a second preheated burner once it is up to pressure. That's because electric coils cool down so slowly.

                        As to efficiency, the spring models might release less steam, and hence cook with a bit less water. But I don't find the water loss with the Presto (or Hawkins) to be significant.

                        Last winter I was debating between getting a Fagor v. a Presto 6qt stainless. I ended up with the Fagor. While it worked the Fagor did replace my older 4qt aluminum Presto, but I'm almost wish I'd stuck with Presto. For now I'm waiting to see what Fagor does about the warranty replacement.

                        I switched to this so called 'second generation' with some skepticism, and I remain somewhat skeptical.

                        1. re: paulj

                          Can't speak to Fagor, since I don't own one.

                          The KR is definitely safer than a first-generation Presto. In the event of overpressure, the Presto blows the safety plug and can potentially send a shower of superheated liquid shooting out of the top of the pot. That's what happened with my MIL's. On the KR, the first safety mechanism (the spring valve) vents steam, but the aperture is too small to allow anything to leave the pot. The second safety device (the gasket) directs any overpressure down toward the stovetop instead of up at the cook. Last night I was looking at my cooker and noticed a third safety device; the overpressure spring valve is held in place by a silicone gasket, and presumably could blow out just like the plug on a Presto. But you'll only get to that point after the first two safety mechanisms have failed.

                          With the KR, there's no guessing as to how much pressure you've got inside. The indicator rod is marked at 10 and 15 psi. With more pressure, the rod continues to rise until eventually the cooker releases steam, which is almost as noisy as when a jiggle-top blows off pressure. But you can avoid that noise entirely by keeping an eye on the indicator and lowering the heat when the cooker hits the desired pressure.

                          As far as efficiency goes, water loss isn't that big a deal for me except when pressure steaming. The KR works with just a few tablespoons of water, so you can cook artichokes, or a chicken, or a banana-leaf-wrapped hunk of kalua pig without losing flavor to the cooking liquid. But by keeping the steam in the pot you not only minimize water loss, you also minimize fuel use. If you're not releasing superheated steam into the kitchen on a regular basis, your burner is going to use less energy. And I can say unequivocally that the KR doesn't heat the kitchen up as much as my old Presto used to.

                          Sounds like you've had mixed experiences with your Fagor. I guess that makes me feel better about having spent too much money on the Kuhn-Rikon. I've got nothing but good things to say about it.

                          1. re: alanbarnes

                            Pressure cookers really help with whole artichokes. Speeds up cooking. I don't get those people who slice away artichoke petals and just use the heart. I'm not going to waste any part of that delicious vegetable. Even the stem is partly edible.... Just dip it and the rest in oil/lemon/salt/pepper/garlic mixture

                        2. re: alanbarnes

                          Hi
                          I did a quick check on prices and the Kuhn Rikon will cost double what a Presto stainless will. You are a serious pressure cooker user and want the best. What are you cooking may I ask? Pressure cookers are the most underrated cooking appliances

                          I would still recommend a Presto stainless but would tell the person the dos and don'ts. The biggest hazard is bean skins and foam clogging up the steam outlet. Second comes the person who turns it on high then gets on the phone and forgets he or she has something cooking. They should hear the loud jiggling of the regulator but maybe they are outside talking to a neighbor. Third comes the fool who manages to open up the Presto but the pressure isn't down

                          I will admit I have never used a Kuhn Rikon or other second generation (I think) though I used an exotic Italian model a long time ago. I think it used a regulator

                    2. One more opinion from an Indian who has just purchased a new pressure cooker precisely to cook peas, beans, split dals that foam. What is desirable is depth, i.e. an 8 quart size. While a 2nd generation Kuhn Rikon is wonderful if you have the money, there are PLENTY of safeguards IF you follow directions that you will NEVER blow ANYTHING. There are 3 safety outlets in a 1st generation cooker, one of which is an overpressure window on the gasket and lid rim that ensures things do not endup on your face or ceiling.

                      But we are speaking of ABSURDITIES here, that NEVER will happen unless one is foolhardy & stubborn, refusing to follow common sense and manufacturer directions. For example, in an 8 quart vessel that is more than 12 inches deep, one never cooks more than 2-2.5 cups of legumes in just the water volume they indicate in a table 5-6 cups [ this much cooked dal is enough for a very large recipe portion, needing to be thinned].

                      Recently, in the Amazon markdowns section, a Wearever [Mirro] stainless steel 8 quart has been steadily decreasing in price from $40 to $32 now in 10 days. This cooker makes only 10 psi, not 15 psi. For the price, it is an ok [not terrific] buy, if you throw in free shipping. A good way to find out if you like pressure cooking and a good depth for dals. Compared to the $90-100 price for Fagor or Kuhn, not a bad place to start, if dals are your main goal. That price may decrease further in the days ahead.

                      They recommend pre-soaking in boiling water for 1 hour for all beans except cowpeas & lentils. However, many Indian legume preparations that require pre-sauteeing the dal in oil and spices gelatinizes them enough so that they do not foam.

                      Also, adding a tiny pinch of baking soda to the raw dal where it is cooked PLAIN, besides the spoonful of oil suggested by the manufcturers, will reduce the time taken to soften.

                      Raw whole beans & chickpeas foam considerably less than the split dals like red lentils, split black urad etc. Even these can easily be tamed by being brought to a quick boil before the cover is put on.

                      No overfilling and you are good to go. The foam can never ever rise high enough to clog up anything, and it does NOT have the mechanical strength to rise 10 inches and sustain itself as a solid, pernicious column, bent on blowing your cooker. Sheer nonsense. IF you were to fill your cooker halfway, AH, that would be a very different story indeed, but you would not be so foolish, would you, now? That is WHY you use an 8 quart cooker even for a small family. No mistakes.

                      For $60, Amazon sells a 6qt. stainless Presto that is a very good value, and a very reputabe company. This is also an excellent size to have, and the shape is vey good for all types of cooking.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: GTM

                        While I appreciate the added safety of a large pot, would it not take longer to build up pressure in such a pot, with only a few inches of beans and water? I have two WMF pots, one about 3 qt and one 8 qt. I have only ever used the 3qt (the 8 qt is a relatively new addition to the household) and find that it comes up to full pressure in a matter of 3 - 4 minutes. I have never had a clog or foam problems, and I cook beans all the time. Perhaps the 1st generation are more finicky. Maybe you could share your experience with bringing an 8qt pressure cooker up to pressure with a small amount of food in it.

                        1. re: Full tummy

                          It certainly takes more time to generate enough steam to pressurize an 8-quart pot than a 3-quart pot, but the bigger difference is the quantity of liquid. When I use my 7-quart cooker for steaming, I typically put in 4 tablespoons of water, and it comes up to pressure in just a few minutes. But with a couple of chicken carcasses and a gallon of water, it seems to take forever. So a half-full 3-quart pot will pressurize a whole lot faster than half-full 7-quart pot, but only slightly faster than a 7-quart pot with 1.5 quarts of liquid.

                        2. re: GTM

                          At Amazon there is an open box 6qt stainless Presto. Including shipping --$50. Nice deal but I have what what I need

                        3. I have an electric Cuisinart model that i absolutely love. I am sure that electric isn't for everyone but I can't tell you how much I love to be able to set it and walk away. No monitoring. It beeps when it is done and that is that!

                          I also have the ability to leave the house while it is on so that is doubly great when i want to throw on some beans for dinner when i get home from work but I have an errand to run...

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Allice98

                            I think you're talking about this one:

                            http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/produ...

                            If so, I love that one. We use it in the restaurant all the time.

                          2. Since the OP has disappeared, one more suggestion cannot do any more harm than any that have preceded this! A small "crockpot" 4 quart, does a magnificent job of cooking whole beans and any dals without fuss. NO SOAKING required. DRY beans, e.g. pinto, navy, chickpeas, washed, up to 1 lb placed in ceramic pot, covered in water, warm or cool, covered, set on high. Generally, no replensihment of water is needed, but be prepared to top up water after 4-5 hr. Basically done at that point, continue for a couple more hours if you like your legumes very soft. This is a great device for less than $30. You have to plan ahead, BUT can freeze portions of cooked legumes for ex tempore meals. Great for hummus. Great for other slow cooker recipes, stocks, soups, stews, obviously, and NO fears about explosions.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: GTM

                              I make dried beans a couple of times a week, and agree that the crock pot is the best way to cook them if you have the time and **if you live near sea level.** The beans cook evenly and tend to stay intact even when fairly soft.

                              But in the mountains, all beans become hard-to-cook beans. You can simmer them for days and somtimes they'll still be hard as little rocks. There's a reason that pressure cookers are favored by people who live at high altitudes. (The average Swiss household has something like 2.4 pressure cookers.)

                              Pressure cookers have a couple of other advantages, as well. They use less fuel than open cooking methods, and, of course, they cook much more quickly. If you want to serve dinner in an hour, the pressure cooker is your only viable option for cooking most whole dried beans.

                              The best way to allay fear of explosions (or any other kitchen hazards) is to use good tools, inform yourself as to how to use them, use them properly, and above all, use common sense. There's lots of dangerous stuff in the kitchen. You're a lot more likely to cause significant injury or property damage with a knife or a skillet full of hot oil than with a pressure cooker. The fear of pressure cookers comes more from unfamiliarity and inexperience than from any real danger.

                            2. I use a 5.7 Ltr. Mirro that I picked up 3 years ago for under $30 at the local grocery store. I make stew frequently and I also use it to cook beans. It's a pretty simple device with no pressure meters etc. So this is the bottom of the range but gets stuff done. That being said it is a wonderful to get the tasty but tough cuts of meat fork tender. Fall is here . . . stew season!!!