A stovetop pressure cooker is what most people might consider the classic. And it was the first commercial pressure cooker that was widely available. Rather than having an on board heat source like an electric pressure cooker the stove top version uses the heat from a hob to cook.
The stove top version works in exactly the same way as every other pressure cooker. A small amount of water is put into a sealed vessel and is heated up. The water heats up and turns into steam, causing a large pressure inside the cooker. Because of the higher pressure inside, the heat inside the vessel is much higher than the 100 degrees that water boils at and is capable of cooking food much quicker than is usually possible.
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).
Stovetop Pressure Cooker vs Electric
Both electric and stove pressure cookers have advantages and disadvantages that you might want to consider.
The first obvious advantage of a stovetop cooker is the price. They are generally much cheaper than an electric version due to the lack of any heating element and electronics. This also leaves a lot less to go wrong. There are very few failures possible with a stove device.
Another advantage is that you can buy a much bigger cooker, with XL pressure cookers readily available. However, before you go out and buy your 25 quart pressure cooker, you should consider how much space one of these would take up!
A stovetop cooker will cook your food much quicker than an electric due to the higher temperatures and higher pressures that can be obtained.
A major disadvantage with a stovetop pressure cooker is the lack of any control. There are no cooking programs or timers and the unit can generally only be used as a a pressure cooker. An electric unit is also often multi-functional and can be used as a slow cooker for example, as well as a pressure cooker.
It does actually take a little more skill to use a stovetop pressure cooker. An electric cooker will set the temperature for you, no fiddling required. A stovetop cooker requires a lot more control, with the chef adjusting the temperature manually as the food cooks.
How To Use A Stovetop Pressure Cooker
Using a pressure cooker is relatively easy. They all work in roughly the same way. You always place some kind of liquid in the pressure vessel, usually water but sometimes its oil. You should keep in mind that it isn’t the hot water that cooks the food, its the steam. With this in mind you should never fill the vessel more than 2/3 full. This allows room for the steam to be generated.
Next the food is placed in a basket that is placed in the cooker. The lid is sealed on and the heat is applied. Put your pressure cooker on the stove and wait. Steam will start to come out of the valve on the top, this is completely normal and means the food inside is cooking!
The key to cooking with the stove top version is to maintain the pressure inside. With an electric cooker this is done by the microprocessor but with the stovetop version you need to do this manually. This is done by adjusting the heat under the pot. Most pressure cookers have a pressure valve that indicates what is going on.
When your cooking time is up, its time to get your food out. You can’t just yank the lid open, the pressure inside is high. You need to release the pressure slowly first. Most old pressure cookers have a release button that lets the pressure out as fast as possible and reasonably safely. It will still take a few minutes to get the pressure down to the point where you can open the lid.
Which are the best stovetop pressure cookers?
The best stove cooker for you will vary depending on your needs. If your family is small then you might be better off going for an electric version. If however you need a larger unit you will probably be best going for the stovetop version as it will be cheaper. As a good guide, a stovetop cooker will be roughly a third of the price of a larger unit might be and if you want a larger cooker an electric version might not even be available.
What should you look for?
People usually look for a unit that is big enough for your needs. And look for a good warranty. You should look for a quality manufacturer with a good reputation. If all of this checks out then you should read all the pressure cooker reviews on Amazon and other shopping sites as this is usually a great indication.
As well as the actually cooking capacity you should check the physical size of the unit. Will it take up most of your kitchen or will it slot nicely into that empty cupboard?
Pressure cookers can be an unbelievable addition to your kitchen but there are lots of things to consider first.