Thursday, April 24, 2014

Pressure Cookers, Part 1: How I chose the one that's right for us

As regular readers of my blog (both of you) know, I made a resolution to try one new recipe a week in 2014.  I've mostly been doing that - missed a few weeks, but often will do two or three new recipes a week, so it all evens out.  But I have not been nearly as faithful about blogging my new recipes.  This is because many of them have been done in my pressure cooker, and I wanted to do  introductory posts on how to select and use one. 

Many of us mid-century kids grew up with our mom's pressure cookers.  They would rattle, hiss and rumor has it, some would blow up.  No mishaps to report at the Johansen homestead, but my mom made the most delicious porcupine meatballs in the pressure cooker.  Stew, too.  But by the '70s, the Crockpot had supplanted the pressure cooker for convenient cooking, and in the '80s, the microwave oven became the go-to appliance for quick meals.  Decades went by before I thought about the pressure cooker again.

A few years ago, I became a great fan of Food Network programs, including "Chopped." In that show, chefs - mostly professional, but some amateur cooks too - compete to make the best dish out of an eclectic mix of ingredients under time pressure.  A few would speed the process by using a pressure cooker.  I remembered my mom's porcupine meatballs, and thought that maybe it was time to add a pressure cooker to my culinary arsenal.  (Perhaps not the best metaphor, given that about the time I was shopping for mine, two terrorists killed and maimed innocent people at the Boston Marathon using a bomb made out of one.)

I was looking for a model that cost around $100.  I started and ended my research at America's Test Kitchen, and was sold by their recommendation of the Fagor Duo 8 Quart Steel Pressure Cooker. (OK, it came in second, but was more affordable than the winner.)  I found mine at Amazon and managed to catch a sale to get it for slightly less than $100.  Today it's a bit more expensive.  Macy's, Bed, Bath and Beyond, and other stores also have occasional sales, so if you have time, shop around. also has a helpful guide for selecting and using a pressure cooker.  Alas, they don't have a newsletter devoted to pressure cookers yet, but it appears to be included in its Busy Cooks and Home Cooking forums if you want recipes delivered.

Other reviews for each model can be found on the Amazon site, at Consumer Research, or just by googling "pressure cooker reviews."  And, of course, ask a friend.  We're very happy with our Fagor, and the 8-quart seems the right size for us - though if we do spend part of our retirement years in an RV, we might go for the 4-quart model. (Yes, we love ours so much we can't imagine being without it.)

Once you get yours - and I can't stress this enough - read the instructions, and refer to them each time you cook.  There are minimum and maximum amounts that can be cooked in the pressure cooker - see video above at the top of the blog - which is why it's important to choose the right size for your family.  (The maximum fill line is engraved inside the Fagor, but can be hard to see.)  My husband thought he could use the pressure cooker like a slow cooker and filled it nearly to the top with spaghetti sauce.  It never came to pressure, but burned on the bottom. 

For those who are more visual, Alton Brown demonstrates how to use a pressure cooker to make chicken stock in this handy videoFagor also has its own video, but the best I found specific to my model was this one on Helen's Kitchen Channel.

In my next blog on this subject, I'll recommend some cookbooks and other recipe sources.  If you can't wait to get started, my first stop was at my local library, where I checked out "Pressure Cookers for Dummies."  Not only did it have some good, basic pressure cooker dishes, but it also suggested how to convert traditional recipes.

Happy shopping!


  1. Stove top pressure cooker are cheaper but I got my electric pressure cooker on sale for $70. I love it.

    1. Good to know. What's your favorite dish to make it in?