How Does a Pressure Cooker Work?

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Whether you own a pressure cooker or you are in the market for one, you may be asking, “How does a pressure cooker work?” As you would guess from its name, a pressure cooker relies on pressure in order to cook food more quickly than you can on a conventional stovetop.

Pressure Cooker

By Stefan-Xp (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The appliance was invented in the seventeenth century by Denis Papin, a Frenchman who originally named it the “Digester.” It took some time for the pressure cooker to make it to the popular market, since there were a number of safety concerns than needed to be worked out. Today, all of those concerns have been addressed, and the pressure cooker has become a staple of the kitchen.

So how does a pressure cooker work? It comes down to a sealed system. Water is boiled inside the cooker, which causes steam to build up. That buildup of steam in a sealed environment creates pressure inside the pot. The pressure usually builds up to around 15 pounds per square inch (psi). This trapped steam makes it possible for the temperature inside your pressure cooker to rise to a higher temperature than would be possible in an uncovered pot on your stovetop.

Normal boiling water will never exceed 212 ºF, but the temperature inside a pressure cooker can reach around 250 ºF. That is quite a substantial difference, and allows you to cook much more quickly and efficiently.

The question, “How does a pressure cooker work?” could also refer to how you use a pressure cooker. Most pressure cookers will give you precision control over both temperature and cook time. This allows you to cook any food to perfection, whether it is tough or tender. You are given considerably more control than you would experience cooking in an open pot on a stovetop.

Many pressure cookers can be used not only as pressure cookers, but also as slow cookers, browners, soup makers, and more. Many include 6 or 7 different functions in one simple device! You will have a harder time finding a better bang for your buck anywhere. Add to that the fact that a pressure cooker can last for decades and you have an excellent investment.

As you can see, the answer is pretty simple to the question, “How does a pressure cooker work?” The physics principles involved are all quite elementary, and you can easily see why safety features are so important when you are shopping for a pressure cooker. Modern pressure cookers include a number of locking mechanisms which keep the lid tightly on no matter how much pressure builds up inside the chamber. This is essential so that the lid does not spring free.

Now you will know the answer next time someone asks you, “How does a pressure cooker work?” You now can understand why a pressure cooker is faster than a slow cooker, but provides you with a tastier meal than a microwave. And if you still do not own your own pressure cooker, now you can understand the need for one! A high-quality pressure cooker will make your life in the kitchen so much easier!

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