Modern pressure cookers are safe to use, without the dangers of “blowing up” that they had 50 years ago. Locking lids, easy-to-read pressure indications and pressure relief valves all make them safer. Most feature a quick pressure release mechanism so that you don’t have to use precious water to cool them down.
I’ll be honest: I don’t use a pressure cooker that often, and when I do, it’s more because it has a locking lid. It’s just not my style. But I do see a lot of advantages in one, particularly in using less propane (or other cooking fuel).
That said, I have used one on occasion for most of our cruising years, and want to include some points to consider if you want to buy one. It’s not that I think there is anything wrong with them; they just don’t fit my cooking style as much as other things, such as a Thermal Cooker
The size pressure cooker you need is dependent on several factors: number of people on board, what you want to cook in the pressure cooker and the stowage space available. For two of us, I bought an 8-quart pressure cooker and it was just too big – the food filled it less than half full and I had no convenient place to store it and thus didn’t use it many times when it would have been helpful.
A very important safety consideration is not to buy a bigger pot than will fit in your pot restraints – you absolutely don’t want a pressure cooker flying across the boat!
I’ve seen pressure cookers ranging in size from very small (1-1/2 quarts) to large enough for home canning. Pressure cookers can be filled no more than 2/3 full – they need at least 1/3 air space to work correctly. The most useful size for two people is probably 4 or 6 quarts (visualize a gallon — 4-quart — milk jug and think if it’d be large enough for what you’d want to cook). If you’re going to use recipes designed for a pressure cooker, most are designed for a 6-quart size. If you’re simply going to adapt your own recipes, or ones designed for stove top cooking, you can use whatever size best fits. Are you going to want to cook a whole chicken? If so, and if you have room to stow it, you’ll need a larger pressure cooker.
Pressure. The better pressure cookers use 15 pounds of pressure, meaning that foods cook at 257 degrees Farenheit. More importantly, unless stated otherwise, pressure cooker recipes assume 15 psi in their timing. Many cheaper pressure cookers use 12 psi and cooking times in recipes have to be increased by 20%.
Some pressure cookers have two pressure settings: one at 15 psi and another lower setting for “delicate” foods. In general, those “delicate” foods are generally better cooked traditionally, but if your goal is simply reducing cooking time for everything, they are worth looking at.
It’s helpful if the cooker has an easy-to-read pressure indicator. This lets you know that things are working correctly AND when it’s safe to open the pressure cooker. Older ones just used the “jiggling” of the pressure weight to show if there was pressure, which was hard for novices to correctly interpret.
Material. As always with things to be used in a boat galley, high quality stainless steel is best. Many pressure cookers are stainless, but some are still aluminum. Aluminum pans can’t be used with acidic foods such as tomatoes as the acidity in the tomato will cause a reaction with the aluminum, causing the tomatoes to absorb some of the aluminum and the aluminum to pit. I’ve never seen a pressure cooker with a non-stick interior.
Safety Features. Most of the following are common sense, but they gain added importance aboard a boat.
- Don’t buy a pressure cooker that is too big for your pot restraints. A pressure cooker flying around the boat is even more dangerous than a regular pan.
- Don’t buy a pressure cooker that is too large for you to comfortably lift when fully loaded, even if the boat is rolling some.
- Make sure the cooker has two handles so you can lift it with both hands.
- The lid must lock.
Other Features. Some pressure cookers have steamer inserts, pasta baskets and trivets for cooking special items.
Best Pressure Cookers (available from Amazon.com):
- Fagor Duo Stainless Pressure Cookers, available in a variety of sizes, have heavy bottoms, with less tendency to scorch food when browning it, two pressure settings, high-quality stainless steel construction and good handles for lifting heavy pots, particularly if the boat is rolling a bit.
- Best Budget Pressure Cookers: The Presto Stainless Steel Pressure Cookers cost about 1/3 less than the Fagor Duo for the same size. The sacrifice is that the bottoms aren’t as heavy and require more attention if you’re pre-browning food so it doesn’t scorch, the handles aren’t as convenient, and there is just one pressure setting.
- Small Pressure Cookers: If you really need a small pressure cooker and don’t mind aluminum (or don’t intend to use it with acidic foods like tomatoes), the Hawkins Aluminum pressure cookers come in sizes as small as 1-1/2 quarts.