"Pressure cooker" redirects here. For other uses, see Pressure cooker (disambiguation).
Pressure cooking is the process of cooking food, using water or other cooking liquid, in a sealed vessel known as a pressure cooker.
Pressure is created by boiling a liquid, such as water or broth, inside the closed pressure cooker. The trapped steam increases the internal pressure and allows the temperature to rise. After use, the pressure is slowly released so that the vessel can be opened safely.
Pressure cooking can be used for quick simulation of the effects of long braising. Almost any food which can be cooked in steam or water-based liquids can be cooked in a pressure cooker.
In 1679, French physicist Denis Papin, better known for his studies on steam, invented the steam digester in an attempt to reduce the cooking time of food. His airtight cooker used steam pressure to raise the water's boiling point, thus cooking food more quickly. In 1681, Papin presented his invention to the Royal Society of London, but the Society's members treated his invention as a scientific study. They granted him permission to become a member of the Society afterwards.
In 1864, Georg Gutbrod of Stuttgart began manufacturing pressure cookers made of tinned cast iron.
In 1918, Spain granted a patent for the pressure cooker to Jose Alix Martínez from Zaragoza. Martínez named it the olla exprés, literally "express cooking pot", under patent number 71143 in the Boletín Oficial de la Propiedad Industrial. In 1924, the first pressure cooking pot recipe book was published, written by José Alix and titled "360 fórmulas de cocina Para guisar con la 'olla expres'", or 360 recipes for cooking with a pressure cooker.
In 1938, Alfred Vischer presented his invention, the Flex-Seal Speed Cooker, in New York City. Vischer's pressure cooker was the first designed for home use, and its success led to competition among American and European manufacturers. At the 1939 New York World's Fair, the National Pressure Cooker Company, later renamed National Presto Industries, introduced its own pressure cooker.
Also known as "old type" pressure cookers, these operate with a weight-modified or "jiggler" valve, which releases pressure during operation. Some people consider them loud because the valve rattles as excess steam is released. Pressure cookers typically offer only one pressure level. Some newer pressure cookers allow the operator to change the weight of the valve, thus changing the pressure.
Today, most pressure cookers, including those manufactured by Presto are variations on the first-generation cookers, with the addition of new safety features such as a mechanism which prevents the cooker from being opened until it is entirely depressurized.
These operate with a spring-loaded valve that is often hidden from view in a proprietary mechanism. This generation is characterized by two or more pressure settings. Some of these pressure cookers do not release any steam during operation (non-venting) and instead use a rising indicator with markings to show the pressure level. These only release steam when the pan is opened, or as a safety precaution if the heat source is not reduced enough when the pan reaches the required cooking pressure. Others use a dial that the operator can advance by a few clicks (which alters the spring tension) to change the pressure setting or release pressure; these release steam during operation (venting).
Electric pressure cookers
After the stove-top pressure cookers, in 1991 came the electric pressure cookers, called the "third generation" pressure cookers.
These include an electric heat source that is automatically regulated to maintain the operating pressure. They also include a spring-loaded valve (as described above). This type of pressure cooker cannot be opened with a cold water quick-release method and should be operated with caution when releasing vapour through the valve, especially while cooking foamy foods and liquids (lentils, beans, grains, milk, gravy, etc.)
An electric pressure cooker integrates a timer. Depending on cooking control capability, there are three generations of electric pressure cookers:
- First-generation, with mechanical timer. There is no delayed cooking capability.
- Second-generation, with digital controller. Delayed cooking becomes possible and the controller shows a countdown timer when working pressure is reached.
- Third-generation, with smart programming, which includes pre-set cooking times and settings based on heating intensity, temperature, pressure and duration.
Some cookers are multifunctional (multicookers): pressure cooker, saute/browning, slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, steamer and stockpot warmer that can also be used to keep cooked food warm.
In an ordinary, non-pressurized cooking vessel, the boiling point of water is 100 °C (212 °F) at standard pressure; the temperature of food is limited by the boiling point of water because excess heat causes boiling water to vaporize into steam. In a sealed pressure cooker, the boiling point of water increases as the pressure rises, resulting in superheated water. At a pressure of 1 bar or approximately 15 psi (pounds per square inch) above the existing atmospheric pressure, water in a pressure cooker will reach a temperature of 121 °C (250 °F). The boiling temperature of water (and water-based liquids) is determined by the ambient atmospheric pressure. Pressure cookers always require liquid in order to cook food under pressure. Inside a pressure cooker, once the water (liquid) is boiling and the steam is trapped, the pressure from the steam increases and pushes on the liquid, which increases its boiling temperature. The heat applied to the liquid by the heat source continues to create more steam pressure, and increases the temperature of the liquid. Both the liquid and steam are at the same temperature. Once the selected pressure level is reached, the pressure regulator on the lid releases any excess steam, and the heat can be lowered to maintain the pressure and save energy, since the pressure will increase no further.
As a general rule, increasing the temperature of chemical reactions by 10 degrees doubles the rate of reaction. Thus a pressure cooker, which can maintain an internal temperature of 120 °C (248 °F), can complete the cooking four times faster than ordinary boiling.
Because of a much higher heat capacity, steam and liquids transfer heat more rapidly than air. For example, the hot air inside an oven at 200 °C (392 °F) will not immediately burn your skin, but the steam from a boiling kettle at 100 °C (212 °F) will scald skin almost instantly and feel hotter, despite the steam (and water) in the kettle being at a lower temperature than the air inside a hot oven. Thus the internal temperature of material in a pressure cooker will rise to the desired value much more quickly than if it were in an oven.
Some recipes, which require browning to develop flavors during roasting or frying, require temperatures higher than those in a pressure cooker. Pre-frying ingredients in the open pressure cooker is sometimes recommended before the actual pressure cooking process is begun.
A pressure cooker can be used to compensate for lower atmospheric pressure at high elevations. The boiling point of water drops by approximately 1 °C per every 294 metres of altitude (1 °F per every 540 feet (160 m) of altitude), causing the boiling point of water to be significantly below the 100 °C (212 °F) at standard pressure. Without the use of a pressure cooker, boiled foods may be undercooked, as described in Charles Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle (chapter XV, March 20, 1835):
Having crossed the Peuquenes [Piuquenes], we descended into a mountainous country, intermediate between the two main ranges, and then took up our quarters for the night. We were now in the republic of Mendoza. The elevation was probably not under 11,000 feet (3,400 m) [...]. At the place where we slept water necessarily boiled, from the diminished pressure of the atmosphere, at a lower temperature than it does in a less lofty country; the case being the converse of that of a Papin's digester. Hence the potatoes, after remaining for some hours in the boiling water, were nearly as hard as ever. The pot was left on the fire all night, and next morning it was boiled again, but yet the potatoes were not cooked.
At higher altitudes, the boiling point of liquid in the pressure cooker will be slightly lower than it would be at sea level. When pressure cooking at high altitudes, cooking times need to be increased by approximately 5% for every 300 m (980 ft) above 610 m (2,000 ft) elevation. The absolute pressure in a pressure cooker will always be lower at higher altitudes, since the differential pressure remains the same (if one were to travel high enough the pressure within the cooker would drop below sea-level pressure). Since weight is one of the major concerns, mountaineering pressure cookers may be designed to operate at a much lower differential pressure than regular units so that thinner, lighter construction can be used. Generally, the goal is to raise the cooking temperature enough to make cooking possible and to conserve fuel by reducing heat lost through boiling.
Lightweight pressure cookers as small as 1.5 litres (0.40 US gal) weighing 1.28 kilograms (2.8 lb) are available for mountain climbers. Sherpas often use pressure cookers in base camp.
Some food toxins can be reduced by pressure cooking. A Korean study of aflatoxins in rice (associated with Aspergillus fungus) showed that pressure cooking was capable of reducing aflatoxin concentrations to 12–22% of the amount in the uncooked rice. Pressure cookers are not guaranteed to destroy all harmful microorganisms in food, especially when used for short periods of time.
Foods unsuitable for pressure cooking
Some foods are not recommended for pressure cooking. Foods such as noodles, pasta, cranberries, cereals and oatmeal could expand too much, froth, and sputter, which can block the steam vent.
Pressure cookers are available in different capacities for cooking larger or smaller amounts, with 6 litres' capacity being common. The maximum capacity of food is less than the advertised capacity because pressure cookers can only be filled up to 2/3 full, depending on ingredients and liquid (see Safety features section).
- Metal pan body
- Pan handles, usually one each on opposite ends, for carrying the cooker with both hands
- Lid handle, usually with a locking device button or slider which "clicks" shut and prevents removal while cooking
- Gasket (also known as a "sealing ring") which seals the cooker airtight
- Steam vent with a pressure regulator on top (either a weight or spring device) which maintains the pressure level in the pan
- Pressure indicator pin, for showing the presence or absence of any pressure, however slight
- Safety devices on the lid (typically over-pressure and/or over-temperature pressure release valves)
- Pressure gauge (usually absent but included on some costlier models)
- Steamer basket
- Trivet for keeping the steamer basket above liquid
- Metal divider, for separating different foods in the steamer basket e.g. vegetables
Pressure cookers are typically made of aluminum (aluminium) or stainless steel. Aluminum pressure cookers may be stamped, polished, or anodized, but all are unsuitable for the dishwasher. They are cheaper, but the aluminum is reactive to acidic foods, whose flavors are changed in the reactions, and less durable than stainless steel pressure cookers.
Higher-quality stainless steel pressure cookers are made with heavy, three-layer, or copper-clad bottoms (heat spreader) for uniform heating because stainless steel has lower thermal conductivity. Most modern stainless steel cookers are dishwasher safe, although some manufacturers may recommend washing by hand. Some pressure cookers have a non-stick interior.
A gasket or sealing ring, made from either rubber or silicone, forms a gas-tight seal that does not allow air or steam to escape between the lid and pan. Normally, the only way steam can escape is through a regulator on the lid while the cooker is pressurized. If the regulator becomes blocked, a safety valve provides a backup escape route for steam.
To seal the gasket there are several main methods used. Each determines the design of the pressure cooker:
- The twist-on design has slots on the lid engaging with flanges on the body, similar to a lid on a glass jar, that works by placing the lid on the pot and twisting it about 30° to lock it in place. A common modern design, it has easily implemented locking features that prevent the removal of the lid while under pressure.
- The center screw design has a bar that is slotted in place over the lid and a screw tightened downward to hold the lid on. Though an older design, it is still produced due to its ease of construction and simplicity.
- The bolt-down design has flanges on both its lid and its body for bolts to be passed through, and usually uses wingnuts that hinge on the body and so are never fully removed from the cooker; this sealing design is typically used for larger units such as canning retorts and autoclaves. It is very simple to produce, and it can seal with simple and inexpensive gaskets.
- The internally fitted lid design employs an oval lid that is placed inside and presses outward; the user inserts the lid at an angle, then turns the lid to align it with the pot opening on top because the lid is larger than the opening. A spring arrangement holds the lid in place until the pressure forms and holds the lid tightly against the body, preventing removal until the pressure is released.
Because of the forces that pressure cookers must withstand, they are usually heavier than conventional pots of similar size.
Early pressure cookers equipped with only a primary safety valve risked explosion from food blocking the release valve. On modern pressure cookers, food residues blocking the steam vent or the liquid boiling dry will trigger additional safety devices. Modern pressure cookers sold from reputable manufacturers have sufficient safety features to prevent the pressure cooker itself from exploding. When excess pressure is released by a safety mechanism, debris of food being cooked may also be ejected with the steam—which is loud and forceful. This can be avoided if the pressure cooker is regularly cleaned and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions and never overfilled with food and/or liquid.
Modern pressure cookers typically have two or three redundant safety valves and additional safety features, such as an interlock lid that prevents the user from opening the lid when the internal pressure exceeds atmospheric pressure, preventing accidents from a sudden release of hot liquid, steam and food. If safety mechanisms are not correctly in place, the cooker will not pressurize the contents. Pressure cookers should be operated only after reading the instruction manual, to ensure correct usage. Pressure cooker failure is dangerous: a large quantity of scalding steam and water will be forcefully ejected and if the lid separates it may be propelled with considerable force. Some cookers with an internally fitted lid may be particularly dangerous upon failure as the lid fits tighter with increasing pressure, preventing the lid from deforming and venting around the edges. Due to these dangers pressure cookers are generally over-engineered in a safety regard and some countries even have regulations to prevent the sale of non-compliant cookers.
For first generation pressure cookers with a weighted valve or "jiggler", the primary safety valve or regulator is usually a weighted stopper, commonly called "the rocker" or "vent weight". This weighted stopper is lifted by the steam pressure, allowing excess pressure to be released. There is a backup pressure release mechanism that releases pressure quickly if the primary pressure release mechanism fails (e.g., food jams the steam discharge path). One such method is a hole in the lid that is blocked by a low melting point alloy plug and another is a rubber grommet with a metal insert at the center. At a sufficiently high pressure, the grommet will distort and the insert will blow out of its mounting hole to release pressure. If the pressure continues to increase, the grommet itself will blow out to release pressure. These safety devices usually require replacement when activated by excess pressure. Newer pressure cookers may have a self-resettable spring device, fixed onto the lid, that releases excess pressure.
On second generation pressure cookers, a common safety feature is the gasket, which expands to release excess pressure downward between the lid and the pot. This release of excess pressure is forceful and sufficient to extinguish the flame of a gas stove.
Pressure cookers sold in the European Union (EU) must comply with the Pressure Equipment Directive.
Maximum fill levels
The recommended maximum fill levels of food/liquid avoids blockage of the steam valve or developing excess pressure: two-thirds full with solid food, half full for liquids and foods that foam and froth (e.g., rice, pasta); adding a tablespoon of cooking oil minimises foaming., and no more than one-third full for pulses (e.g., lentils).
Pressure cooking always requires liquid. Pressure cooking cannot be used for cooking methods that produce little steam such as roasting, pan frying, or deep frying. Thick sauces do not contain enough liquid to vaporize and create pressure, so they usually burn onto the interior base of the pressure cooker after prolonged heating. Sauces should be thickened after pressure cooking.
Bringing to pressure (stove top pressure cookers)
Food is placed inside the pressure cooker with a small amount of water or other liquid such as stock. Food is either cooked in the liquid or above the liquid to be steamed; the latter method prevents the transfer of flavors from the liquid. The lid is closed, the pressure setting is chosen and the pressure cooker is placed on a stove on the highest heat (less than high for induction cooking to allow air to be vented). Once the cooker reaches full pressure, the heat is lowered to maintain pressure; timing the recipe begins at this point. Recipes for foods using raising agents such as steamed puddings call for gentle pre-steaming, without pressure, in order to activate the raising agents prior to cooking and achieve a light, fluffy texture.
It takes several minutes for the pressure cooker to reach the selected pressure level. It can take around 10 minutes or longer depending on: the quantity of food, the temperature of the food (cold or frozen food delays pressurization), the amount of liquid, the power of the heat source and the size of the pressure cooker.
A common mistake is for the user to start timing when a colored pop-up indicator rises, which happens when there is the slightest increase in pressure, instead of waiting for the cooker to reach its selected pressure level. The typical pop-up indicator only shows that the cooker has pressure inside, which does not reliably signal that the cooker has reached the selected pressure. This pop-up indicator often acts as an interlock, preventing the lid from being opened while there is internal pressure. Manufacturers may use their own terminology for it, such as calling it a "locking indicator."
As the internal temperature rises, the pressure also rises until it reaches the design gauge pressure. Timing the recipe begins when the selected pressure is reached. With first generation designs, the pressure regulator weight begins levitating above its nozzle, allowing excess steam to escape. In second generation pressure cookers, either a relief valve subsequently opens, releasing steam to prevent the pressure from rising any further or a rod rises with markers to indicate the pressure level, without constantly venting steam. At this stage, the heat source is reduced to the lowest possible heat that still maintains pressure, as extra heat wastes energy and increases liquid loss.
Removal of air
Before the pressure cooker lid is sealed airtight, the internal air has to be mostly replaced by steam. Steam has a much higher specific heat than air, and the presence of steam rather than air inside the pressure cooker is how it is able to transfer sufficient heat into the parts of the food that are not submerged in liquid, such as a pot roast. If the lid is sealed before enough air has been removed, not enough heat can be transferred to the food, and food may be undercooked; the presence of air would make the food cook more like it is in an oven than a pressure cooker. To remove the air, steam is vented for several minutes to replace the volume of air inside the cooker. This is why a pressure cooker takes about 10 minutes to reach pressure. For pressure cookers with a weight, the weight is placed over the steam vent pipe while steam is being emitted to ensure the air inside has escaped. The newer generation pressure cookers, which have no weights, automatically expel air from inside for several minutes before a coloured pop-up indicator pin rises to seal the lid airtight; pressure then builds in the now airtight cooker. If the pressure cooker is already hot or a stovetop pressure cooker is placed on a very strong heat source, such as induction on too high a setting, the lid can seal airtight too quickly before the air inside has been removed. In these situations, a slightly lower heat setting can be used to allow the water to boil slower in order to vent the air.
Small containers such as plastic pudding containers, can be used in a pressure cooker, if the containers (and any covering used) can withstand temperatures of 130 °C (266 °F) and are not placed directly on the interior base. The containers can be used for cooking foods that are prone to burning on the base of the pressure cooker. A lid for the container may be used if the lid allows some steam to come into contact with the food and the lid is securely fitted; an example is foil or greaseproof paper, pleated in the center and tied securely with string. Containers that are cracked or have otherwise sustained damage are not suitable. Cooking time is longer when using covered containers because the food is not in direct contact with the steam. Since non-metal containers are poorer heat conductors, the type of container material stated in the recipe cannot be substituted without affecting the outcome. For example, if the recipe time is calculated using a stainless steel container and a plastic container is used instead, the recipe will be undercooked, unless the cooking time is increased. Containers with thicker sides, e.g., oven-proof glass or ceramic containers, which are slower to conduct heat, will add about 10 minutes to the cooking time. Liquid can be added inside the container when pressure cooking foods such as rice, which need to absorb liquid in order to cook properly.
The flavor of some foods, such as meat and onions, can be improved by gently cooking with a little pre-heated cooking oil, butter or other fat in the open pressure cooker over medium heat for stove-top models (unless the manufacturer advises against this) before pressure cooking, while avoiding overheating the empty pressure cooker not heating the empty cooker with the lid and gasket in place to avoid damage. Electric pressure cookers usually have a "saute" or "brown" option for frying ingredients. The pressure cooker needs to cool briefly before adding liquid; otherwise some of the liquid will evaporate instantly, possibly leaving insufficient liquid for the entire pressure cooking time; if deglazing the pan, more liquid may need to be added.
Pressure release methods
After cooking, there are three ways of releasing the pressure, either quickly or slowly, before the lid can be opened. Recipes for pressure cookers state which release method is required at the end of the cooking time for proper results. Failure to follow the recommendation may result in food that is under-cooked or over-cooked.
To avoid opening the pressure cooker too often while cooking different vegetables with varying cooking times, the vegetables that take longer to cook can be cut into smaller pieces and vegetables that cook faster can be cut into thicker pieces.
Manual, normal, regular, or automatic release
This method is sometimes called a quick release, not to be confused with the cold water release (mentioned below). It involves the quick release of vapor by gradually lifting (or removing) the valve, pushing a button, or turning a dial. It is most suitable to interrupt cooking to add food that cooks faster than what is already in the cooker. For example, since meat takes longer to cook than vegetables, it is necessary to add vegetables to stew later so that it will cook only for the last few minutes. Unlike the cold water release method, this release method does not cool down the pressure cooker. Releasing the steam with care avoids the risk of being scalded by the rapid release of hot steam. This release method is not suitable for foods that foam and froth while cooking; the hot contents might spray outwards due to the pressure released from the steam vent. This release method takes about two minutes to release the pressure before the lid can be opened.
The natural release method allows the pressure to drop slowly; this is achieved by removing the pressure cooker from the heat source and allowing the pressure to lower without action. It takes approximately 10 to 15 minutes (possibly longer) for the pressure to disappear before the lid can be opened. On many pressure cookers, a coloured indicator pin will drop when the pressure has gone. This natural release method is recommended for foods that foam and froth during cooking, such as rice, legumes, or recipes with raising agents such as steamed puddings. The texture and tenderness of meat cooked in a pressure cooker can be improved by using the natural release method. The natural release method finishes cooking foods or recipes that have longer cooking times because the inside of the pressure cooker stays hot. This method is not recommended for foods that require very short cooking times, otherwise the food overcooks.
Cold water quick release
This method is the fastest way of releasing pressure with portable pressure cookers, but can be dangerous if performed incorrectly. It is therefore safer to release pressure by following the other methods. The manufacturer's instruction book may advise against the cold water release or require it to be performed differently.
The cold water release method involves using slow running cold tap water, over the edge of the pressure cooker lid, being careful to avoid the steam vent or any other valves or outlets and never immersing the pressure cooker under water, otherwise steam can be ejected from under the lid, which could cause scalding injury to the user; also the pressure cooker lid can be permanently damaged by an internal vacuum if water gets sucked into the pressure cooker, since the incoming water blocks the inrush of air.
The cold water release is most suitable for foods with short cooking times. It takes about 20 seconds for the cooker to cool down enough to lower the pressure so that it can be safely opened. This method is not suitable for electric pressure cookers, as they are not "immersible."
The cold water release method is not recommended when cooking pulses e.g. red kidney beans, as the sudden release of pressure can cause the bean to burst its skin.
Most pressure cookers have a cooking (operating) pressure setting between 0.8–1 bar (11.6–15 psi) (gauge) so the pressure cooker operates at 1.8 to 2.0 bar (absolute). The standard cooking pressure of 15 psi gauge was determined by the United States Department of Agriculture in 1917. At this pressure, water boils at 121 °C (250 °F) (described in vapour pressure of water article).
The higher temperature causes food to cook faster; cooking times can typically be reduced to one-third of the time for conventional cooking methods. The actual cooking time also depends on the pressure release method used after timing (see Pressure release methods for details) and the thickness and density of the food, since thicker (and denser) foods take longer to cook. Meat joints and some other foods like sponge puddings and Christmas puddings are typically timed according to their weight. Frozen foods need extra cooking time to allow for thawing.
When pressure cooking at 1 bar/15 psi (gauge), approximate cooking times are one minute for shredded cabbage, seven minutes for boiled potatoes (if cut small, not diced) and three minutes for fresh green beans. If the pressure is released naturally after timing (see Pressure release methods for details), cooking times are even shorter. Food cooks more quickly when cut into smaller pieces.
Some recipes may require cooking at lower than 1 bar/15 psi (gauge) e.g. fresh vegetables, as these can easily overcook. Many pressure cookers have 2 or more selectable pressure settings or weights.
Some pressure cookers have a lower or higher maximum pressure than 1 bar/15 psi (gauge) or can be adjusted to different pressures for some recipes; cooking times will increase or decrease accordingly. This is typically done by having different regulator weights or different pressure settings. If the recipe is devised for a higher pressure and the pressure cooker does not reach that pressure, the cooking time can be increased slightly to compensate. Electric pressure cookers operate at lower pressures than stovetop pressure cookers.
Advantages and disadvantages
Foods cook much faster with pressure cooking than with other methods (except for small quantities in microwave ovens). Pressure cooking requires much less water than conventional boiling, so food can be ready sooner. Less energy is required than that of boiling, steaming, or oven cooking. Since less water or liquid has to be heated, the food reaches its cooking temperature faster. Using more liquid than necessary wastes energy because it takes longer to heat up; the liquid quantity is stated in the recipe. Pressure cookers can use much less liquid than the amount required for boiling or steaming in an ordinary saucepan. It is not necessary to immerse food in water. The minimum quantity of water or liquid used in the recipe to keep the pressure cooker filled with steam is sufficient. Because of this, vitamins and minerals are not leached (dissolved) away by water, as they would be if food were boiled in large amounts of water. Due to the shorter cooking time, vitamins are preserved relatively well during pressure cooking.
Several foods can be cooked together in the pressure cooker, either for the same amount of time or added later for different times. Manufacturers provide steamer baskets to allow more foods to be cooked together inside the pressure cooker.
Food is cooked more quickly in a pressure cooker because at the higher pressure (15 psi), the boiling point of water rises from 212°F to 250°F. More importantly, the temperature of the steam also rises to 250°F, at which point it is called super-heated steam. This super-heated steam (that is, steam under pressure) is able to transmit its thermal energy to the food at a dramatically increased rate. The higher water temperature has little effect on cooking time, it is the steam that is doing the work. One may consider a steam locomotive. The big tank of boiling water (the boiler) is only the source of the steam. It is the steam itself that does the work of driving the pistons and moving the locomotive forward. Not only is this steam energy transmitted quickly to food, it is also transmitted rapidly to any micro-organisms that are present, easily killing even the deadliest types which are able to survive at the boiling point. Because of this enhanced germ killing ability, a pressure cooker can be used as an effective sterilizer for jam pots, glass baby bottles, or for water while camping. In fact, the autoclave, used in hospitals to sterilize surgical instruments, is really just a more precise and technical version of the ordinary pressure cooker.
Pressure cookers are considerably more expensive than conventional saucepans of the same size. The additional gasket (sealing ring) requires special care when cleaning (e.g., not washed with kitchen knives), unlike a standard lid for a saucepan. Food debris must be cleaned from the gasket after every use. The gasket/sealing ring needs replacing with a new one about once a year (or sooner if it is damaged e.g. a small split). A very dry gasket can make it difficult or impossible to close the lid, however smearing the gasket sparingly with vegetable oil alleviates this problem (using too much vegetable oil can make the gasket swell and prevent it sealing properly). A gasket which has lost its flexibility makes bringing the cooker up to pressure difficult as steam can escape before sufficient pressure is generated to provide an adequate seal; this is usually a sign that the gasket needs replacing with a new one. Oiling the gasket with vegetable oil may alleviate the problem temporarily, but a new gasket is often required. Pressure cooker manufacturers sell replacement gaskets and recommend their replacement at regular intervals e.g. annually. If the pressure cooker has not been used for a long time, the gasket and other rubber or silicone parts will dry out and will likely need replacing.
In order to inspect the food, the pressure cooker needs to be opened, which halts the cooking process. With a conventional saucepan, this can be done in a matter of seconds by visually inspecting the food. As a result, accurate timing is essential for the recipe e.g. with an audible timer.
The increased weight of conventional pressure cookers makes them unsuitable for applications in which saving weight is a priority, such as camping. However, small, lightweight pressure cookers are available for mountain climbers (see Use at high altitudes).
A minimum quantity of liquid is required to create and maintain pressure, as indicated in the manufacturer's instruction manual. More liquid is required for longer cooking times. This is not desirable for food requiring much less liquid, but recipes and books for pressure cookers take this into account.
Use as weapons
Main article: Pressure cooker bomb
The appliance has been adapted as a crude type of bomb, which has been used in terrorist attacks.
An autoclave is a type of pressure cooker used by laboratories and hospitals to sterilize equipment.
Large pressure cookers are often called pressure canners in the United States, because of their capacity to hold jars used in canning. Pressure canners are specifically designed for home canning, whereas ordinary pressure cookers are not recommended for canning due to the risk of botulism poisoning, because pressure canners hold heat and pressure for much longer than ordinary pressure cookers; these factors are a critical part of the total processing time required to destroy harmful microbes.
Pressure fryers are used for deep fat frying under pressure, because ordinary pressure cookers are not suitable for pressure frying.
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See also: furnace
An oven is a thermally insulated chamber used for the heating, baking, or drying of a substance, and most commonly used for cooking. Kilns and furnaces are special-purpose ovens, used in pottery and metalworking, respectively.
The earliest ovens were found in Central Europe, and dated to 29,000 BC. They were roasting and boiling pits inside yurts used to cook mammoth. In Ukraine from 20,000 BC they used pits with hot coals covered in ashes. The food was wrapped in leaves and set on top, then covered with earth. In camps found in Mezhirich, each mammoth bone house had a hearth used for heating and cooking. Ovens were used by cultures who lived in the Indus Valley and in pre-dynastic Egypt. By 3200 BC, each mud-brick house had an oven in settlements across the Indus Valley. Ovens were used to cook food and to make bricks. Pre-dynastic civilizations in Egypt used kilns around 5000–4000 BC to make pottery.
Culinary historians credit the Greeks for developing bread baking significantly. Front-loaded bread ovens were developed in ancient Greece. The Greeks created a wide variety of doughs, loaf shapes, and styles of serving bread with other foods. Baking developed as a trade and profession as bread increasingly was prepared outside of the family home by specially trained workers to be sold to the public.
During the Middle Ages, instead of earth and ceramic ovens, Europeans used fireplaces in conjunction with large cauldrons. These were similar to the Dutch oven. Following the Middle-Ages, ovens underwent many changes over time from wood, iron, coal, gas, and even electric. Each design had its own motivation and purpose. The wood burning stoves saw improvement through the addition of fire chambers that allowed better containment and release of smoke. Another recognizable oven would be the cast-iron stove. These were first used around the early 1700s when they themselves underwent several variations including the Stewart Oberlin iron stove that was smaller and had its own chimney.
In the early part of the 19th century, coal ovens were developed. Its shape was cylindrical and was made of heavy cast-iron. The gas oven saw its first use as early as the beginning of the 19th century as well. Gas stoves became very common household ovens once gas lines were available to most houses and neighborhoods. James Sharp patented one of the first gas stoves in 1826. Other various improvements to the gas stove included the AGA cooker invented in 1922 by Gustaf Dalén. The first electric ovens were invented in the very late 19th century, however, like many electrical inventions destined for commercial use, mass ownership of electrical ovens could not be a reality until better and more efficient use of electricity was available.
More recently, ovens have become slightly more high-tech in terms of cooking strategy. The microwave as a cooking tool was discovered by Percy Spencer in 1946, and with the help from engineers, the microwave oven was patented. The microwave oven uses microwave radiation to excite the molecules in food causing friction, thus producing heat.
Types of ovens
Further information: List of ovens
- Double oven: a built-in oven fixture that has either two ovens, or one oven and one microwave oven. It is usually built into the kitchen cabinet.
- Earth oven: An earth oven is a pit dug into the ground and then heated, usually by rocks or smoldering debris. Historically these have been used by many cultures for cooking. Cooking times are usually long, and the process is usually cooking by slow roasting the food. Earth ovens are among the most common things archaeologists look for at an anthropological dig, as they are one of the key indicators of human civilization and static society.
- Ceramic oven: The ceramic oven is an oven constructed of clay or any other ceramic material and takes different forms depending on the culture. The Indians refer to it as a tandoor, and use it for cooking. They can be dated back as far as 3,000 BC, and they have been argued to have their origins in the Indus Valley. Brick ovens are also another ceramic type oven. A culture most notable for the use of brick ovens is Italy and its intimate history with pizza. However, its history also dates further back to Roman times, wherein the brick oven was used not only for commercial use but household use as well.
- Gas oven: One of the first recorded uses of a gas stove and oven referenced a dinner party in 1802 hosted by Zachaus Winzler, where all the food was prepared either on a gas stove or in its oven compartment. In 1834, British inventor James Sharp began to commercially produce gas ovens after installing one in his own house. In 1851, the Bower's Registered Gas Stove was displayed at the Great Exhibition. This stove would set the standard and basis for the modern gas oven. Notable improvements to the gas stove since include the addition of the thermostat which assisted in temperature regulation; also an enamel coating was added to the production of gas stoves and ovens in order to help with easier cleaning.
- Masonry oven: Masonry ovens consist of a baking chamber made of fireproof brick, concrete, stone, or clay. Though traditionally wood-fired, coal-fired ovens were common in the 19th century. Modern masonry ovens are often fired with natural gas or even electricity, and are closely associated with artisanal bread and pizza. In the past, however, they were also used for any cooking task that required baking.
- Microwave oven: An oven that uses micro radiation waves as a source of heat in order to cook food as opposed to a fire source. Conceptualized in 1946, Dr. Percy Spencer allegedly discovered the heating properties of microwaves while studying the magnetron. By 1947, the first commercial microwave was in use in Boston, Mass.
- Toaster oven: Toaster ovens are small electric ovens with a front door, wire rack and removable baking pan. To toast bread with a toaster oven, slices of bread are placed horizontally on the rack. When the toast is done, the toaster turns off, but in most cases the door must be opened manually. Most toaster ovens are significantly larger than toasters, but are capable of performing most of the functions of electric ovens, albeit on a much smaller scale.
- Wall oven: Wall ovens make it easier to work with large roasting pans and Dutch ovens. A width is typically 24, 27, or 30 inches. Mounted at waist or eye level, a wall oven eliminates bending. However, it can be nested under a countertop to save space. A separate wall oven is expensive compared with a range.
In cooking, the conventional oven is a kitchen appliance used for roasting and heating. Foods normally cooked in this manner include meat, casseroles and baked goods such as bread, cake and other desserts. In modern times, the oven is used to cook and heat food in many households across the globe.
Modern ovens are typically fueled by either natural gas or electricity, with bottle gas models available but not common. When an oven is contained in a complete stove, the fuel used for the oven may be the same as or different from the fuel used for the burners on top of the stove.
Ovens usually can use a variety of methods to cook. The most common may be to heat the oven from below. This is commonly used for baking and roasting. The oven may also be able to heat from the top to provide broiling (US) or grilling (UK/Commonwealth). In order to provide faster, evener cooking, a fan oven, which has a fan with a heating element around, that provides the heat. Or a fan-assisted oven that uses a small fan to circulate the air in the cooking chamber, can be used. Both are also known as convection ovens. An oven may also provide an integrated rotisserie.
Ovens also vary in the way that they are controlled. The simplest ovens (for example, the AGA cooker) may not have any controls at all; the ovens simply run continuously at various temperatures. More conventional ovens have a simple thermostat which turns the oven on and off and selects the temperature at which it will operate. Set to the highest setting, this may also enable the broiler element. A timer may allow the oven to be turned on and off automatically at pre-set times. More sophisticated ovens may have complex, computer-based controls allowing a wide variety of operating modes and special features including the use of a temperature probe to automatically shut the oven off when the food is completely cooked to the desired degree.
Some ovens provide various aids to cleaning. Continuous cleaning ovens have the oven chamber coated with a catalytic surface that helps break down (oxidize) food splatters and spills over time. Self-cleaning ovens use pyrolytic decomposition (extreme heat) to oxidize dirt. Steam ovens may provide a wet-soak cycle to loosen dirt, allowing easier manual removal. In the absence of any special methods, chemical oven cleaners are sometimes used or just scrubbing.
Industrial, scientific, and artisanal use
Outside the culinary world, ovens are used for a number of purposes.
- A furnace can be used either to provide heat to a building or used to melt substances such as glass or metal for further processing. A blast furnace is a particular type of furnace generally associated with metal smelting (particularly steel manufacture) using refined coke or similar hot-burning substance as a fuel, with air pumped in under pressure to increase the temperature of the fire. A blacksmith uses a temporarily blown furnace, the smith's heart to heat iron to a glowing red to yellow temperature.
- A kiln is a high-temperature oven used in wood drying, ceramics and cement manufacturing to convert mineral feedstock (in the form of clay or calcium or aluminum rocks) into a glassier, more solid form. In the case of ceramic kilns, a shaped clay object is the final result, while cement kilns produce a substance called clinker that is crushed to make the final cement product. (Certain types of drying ovens used in food manufacture, especially those used in malting, are also referred to as kilns.)
- An autoclave is an oven-like device with features similar to a pressure cooker that allows the heating of aqueous solutions to higher temperatures than water's boiling point in order to sterilize the contents of the autoclave.
- Industrial ovens are similar to their culinary equivalents and are used for a number of different applications that do not require the high temperatures of a kiln or furnace.
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