My very first pressure cooker was made by Presto, and when it finally bit the dust, I asked for a new one. Santa Claus obliged, and I found myself the proud owner of an updated model with one extra-nice, new feature.
Using a pressure cooker is probably my favorite method for getting a full-on, meat and potatoes meal on the table after work. I reach for that baby at least a couple of times a month for 3 reasons:
- Nothing cooks faster
- Nothing makes meat more tender
- I usually only have to use one pan
This my go-to pan for stews, ribs, pot roast and barbequed pork.
How It Works
Pressure makes extra heat. You put your food in the pan, add water or broth (or juice, or any other liquid), then lock on the lid to create a tight seal, and pop the pressure regulator on top of the vent in the middle of the lid. Turn on the stove and you’re good to go. The heat creates steam inside the pan, which in turn creates pressure, and that causes the temperature to shoot up beyond the normal boiling point. It’s the extra heat that makes your food cook faster.
You start timing from the point where the pressure regulator starts to rattle and hiss. If you’ve started with the heat on High, you should turn it down to Medium at this point, too.
The key elements of this pan are all on the lid. If you look on the inside, you’ll find a gasket or sealing ring tucked inside the rim. On the outside there’s a vent pipe, a pressure regulator, and an overpressure plug. There’s an additional air vent that pops up to let you know the pan has been fully pressurized. It’s on the lid on the older models, but on the newer models it’s located in the middle of the locked handles, which prevents you from opening the lid until it’s safe to do so.
If this all sounds terribly involved, it’s not. It’s only the science behind the cooking method and the pan, and believe it or not, there’s really not much you can do to screw it up.
Are Pressure Cookers Safe?
Pressure cookers are safer than ever today! You don’t have to worry about cleaning barbecue sauce off your ceiling anymore, because modern pressure cookers have loads of safety features that prevent accidents from happening. Frankly, I never thought the old ones were especially intimidating. I started cooking with one decades ago, and never had a single incident.
You still have to pay attention however, just like you have to watch when you’re cooking something on the top of the stove. I know some old horror stories persist, and that scares off some every day cooks who don’t feel experienced enough to give it a try. Courage, sisters (and brothers). There are but a few considerations and precautions to keep in mind:
- Don’t overfill your pan. You need at LEAST a half of cup of liquid to create steam (I generally use at least a full cup), but if you go over, say two-thirds of the capacity, you run the risk of clogging the vent. If you’re cooking something that’s going to swell up or froth, like beans for example, fill it up even less.
2. Check your vent and your gasket regularly. If your gasket (sealing ring) is cracked or damaged, your lid won’t lock tightly enough to create the pressure you want. Your vent has to be clear to release excess steam for safe, even cooking.
3. Don’t try to pressure fry anything. Just don’t.
4. If you want to release the pressure quickly, do it by either setting the pan in a bit of cold water, or running water over the top of it. If there’ a quick release valve, of course you can use that, but DON’T try to just pop the regulator off the top. If it hisses at you angrily when you give it a nudge, just leave it alone. It’ll calm down when it’s ready.
Old vs. New: What’s different?
I liked my old Presto pressure cooker just fine, but the new one is better. Here is the change I like, the one I don’t, and two that make me say whatever.
Locking Pin. This is the best! It pops up right in the middle of the handle and lets you know the pan has been fully pressurized. It drops back down when the lid is safe to remove. On my old cooker, I had to rely on a valve that resembled the pop-up button on a turkey, which didn’t prevent me from prematurely opening the lid, and I always felt compelled to flick the regulator just to double check.
Etching. The two places the imprints on the pan are really important just got harder to find. First is the arrow on the lid that tells you where to line it up with the pan before you give it the final, locking twist. Easy to see on the old pan, not so much on the new one.
The etching that irritated me is the model number. On the old pan it is plainly and deeply stamped on the bottom of the pan, right where you’d expect it to be.
On the new one however, it’s etched under the handle. I had to look all over the place on line to figure that out, and when I finally nailed down the location, I still couldn’t see it right away.
Regulator. The pressure regulators are different, and I like the new one better for 2 reasons. First, it looks nicer. Second, the flat shape of it seems to stay on the lid better when I store it, and it doesn’t get lost as easily. Maybe that’s just me.
- Pressure Relief Valve. On the new model this part is blue. OK.
Presto Replacement parts
The good news is that parts are readily available from the Presto company website, even for many vintage or obsolete models. Plugs and gaskets are also available from Amazon, but be sure to check your model number so you get exactly the right ones.
I had asked for a whole new pan because the handle of my old one had completely cracked off, and I didn’t think it was worth trying to fix it. However, a year and a half later I suddenly noticed the overpressure plug from the lid of my new pan had mysteriously disappeared. The part is a little rubber piece that I could easily have thrown away without realizing what it was, but I was annoyed by the fact that it had dislodged itself at all, considering it wasn’t that old. Nevertheless, I decided to order another one, because how much trouble could that be?
Well. The first thing I needed was the model number, because Presto makes a lot of different pressure cookers, and I wanted to make sure I got the part exactly right. I couldn’t find the number anywhere on the pan, so I Googled Imaged it, found the one that looked just like mine, and tracked down the number that way. (Later I discovered that the number is etched into the pan, ever so faintly, just under the handle. I had to look twice, but it’s there.)
Armed with the right number, I went straight to Amazon, as usual. They didn’t seem to carry the part for my particular model, and I searched deep. So I went to the Presto company website, wade through the parts pages, and finally came up with the plug I needed. It’s only sold as a set with an extra sealing ring. Just under $10, but with shipping, nearly $14. I didn’t see what else I could do, so I placed my order.
True to their word, the correct part show up exactly two weeks later.
Why I Picked Presto Twice
When I declared my old pan officially dead, I did not shop around for a replacement. In fact, I was brand-specific when I asked for my new one. Why? Well, silly as it might sound, I have real-deal relationships with my kitchen and everything in it. If you think about it, you probably do, too. You’ve come to expect a certain level of performance from the things you use all the time. Having to break in a new and different piece of equipment in order to get the same, tried and true result is just annoying.
Are You Up For It?
I hope I’ve given you some insight about how and why you might like using a pressure cooker in your kitchen. It’s fast. It’s easy. It’s healthy, too. I think Presto makes a great product for the price!