There’s more than one way to open a pressure cooker and each way has its own effect on what’s inside. What might work for a stovetop pressure cooker, might not work for an electric pressure cooker. We’re sharing the “how’s” for each of these pressure cooker opening methods to get beginners started and the “why’s” for expert cooks to sharpen their skills. [table id=28 /]
How to Choose an Opening Method
Using the wrong opening method can give you limp veggies, bean mush or rock-hard dry meats – here are a three principles that you must know to choose the right opening method for your pressure cooker recipe:
The food is still cooking even when it isn’t “cooking”.
When the pressure cooker is both building and releasing pressure, the temperature inside is near or above the boiling point, which means the food is actually cooking during this time, too. This is generally fine for meats, legumes and desserts. It is not fine for vegetables that you may want to have more al dente as they continue to cook during this time- choose the fastest release method for veggies while more robust foods will benefit from a longer opening method.
The faster the release, the more movement.
The speed at which pressure is released is directly related to how much movement is inside the pressure cooker – more speed gives the food more movement. When pressure is released, the equilibrium that suppressed the bubbles of the boil during pressure cooking is broken and they begin breaking to the surface again. A fast release will violently release these bubbles, forcefully flinging bits of food and foam onto the underside of the lid and safety valves, while slow opening method, such as Natural release, delicately allows the bubbles to rise into a slow lazy simmer. For foods which you intend to keep whole (like beans) or clear (like stock) use the slowest opening method to get the least amount of movement.
The hotter the food, the faster the evaporation.
The difference in temperature between the food that comes out of the pressure cooker and the environment can affect the speed of evaporation. The faster opening methods will yield the hottest food with an accelerated evaporation of the food’s cooking liquids and juices. While the slowest opening method will have given the food a chance to cool down and the liquids will evaporate at the speed of conventional boiling. So for foods which you intend to keep juicy (like roasts) use a slow opening method; while, foods which need reduction after pressure cooking (like a sauce), use a fast opening method.
If this is starting to sound complicated, don’t worry: all of the recipes on this website (and my cookbook) already call for the appropriate opening method. Let’s get into the “how’s”.
Pressure Cooker Opening Methods
This list includes an opening method I came up with (Slow Normal) and another that has been unofficially around for many years (10-minute Natural) – they add more options to your pressure cookery. We start the list with the fastest opening method and conclude with the slowest. Further down, there’s an opening method we no longer recommend and one that used to be OK for older cookers but should not be used on modern stainless steel pressure cookers.
NORMAL pressure release
Sometimes this method is called Quick, Manual and, confusingly, Automatic. This is a fast opening method that can take 2 to 3 minutes. Normal pressure release means that the cook should use the valve, or pressure releasing mechanism particular to their cooker (such as a button to push, a lever to twist, or a slide to pull), to release pressure. For thick recipes such as a chili or a risotto the still unopened pressure cooker should be given a few small jolts to release any super-heated seam pockets in the food after pressure is released. This release method is used for quick-cooking foods and vegetables. It should not be used for most legume, rice and fruit-based recipes. It can be used for meat stew-type recipes (where the meat is completely covered with liquid) – but not ones where tossing the other ingredients around would mush them.
Weighted or jiggle-type pressure cookers may not have this kind of release – we recommend either using Natural Release (see below) or simply using a fork tines to gently lift the weight and release pressure.
SLOW NORMAL pressure release
This is a relatively fast opening method and can take from 5 to 6 minutes depending on the pressure cooker type (the element in electrics still retains heat after turning off) and fill level (more food will retain more heat). Similar to Normal release, this method releases pressure using the cooker’s valve, or the pressure releasing mechanism, but pressure should be released very slowly. If the valve only allows for pressure to release full-throttle, the cook should release it in very short bursts- if anything other than steam sprays out of the valve (like foam), the valve should be closed for 10 seconds before the next slow release or short burst. The Slow Normal release is for occasions where it’s just not practical or convenient to wait for the full Natural or 10-Minute Natural release or for tricky foods (grains, legumes and fruits).
10-MINUTE NATURAL pressure release
This is a slow and somewhat delicate pressure release, and as the name suggests, takes only 10 minutes – a little more if there is still pressure in the cooker that needs to be released (usually with electrics). The 10-Minute Natural release allows for pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes and then, if there is any remaining pressure, it is released using the Slow Normal method. Conversely, if the pressure in the cooker goes down before the 10 minutes are up, the lid must remain closed and the cooker undisturbed for the full 10 minutes. This method is recommended for grains which continue to cook in the residual steam locked inside the cooker without any additional heat. The 10-Minute Natural can also be used in place of Natural Release.
NATURAL pressure release
This is the slowest and most delicate pressure release method, it can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes depending on the pressure cooker type (electrics take longer due to their thermos-like construction) and fill level (fuller pressure cookers will take longer). The Natural release lets pressure release slowly from the cooker once the heat (or cooking program) is turned off . It’s most recommended opening for tricky foods that tend to foam or expand like grains, legumes and fruits to prevent the food or its foam from spraying out of the valve; foods that need to cool down slowly such as braised and steamed meats and desserts to prevent their moisture from evaporating too quickly; and, stocks to keep the food from tossing the ingredients around in a way that would cloud it.
Two Opening Methods We DO NOT Recommend
Some opening methods can fall out of fashion because they are either too problematic or the materials used to make the cookers (such as 100% aluminum) are no longer popular.
COLD-WATER QUICK pressure release
This method releases pressure by carrying a stove top the pressure cooker to a sink and turning on the tap to drizzle onto the lid without wetting the pressure or safety valves. This method was historically recommended for cookers that had no other way to release pressure – and did not have a way to alert the cook if pressure is still inside. We do not recommend this opening method anymore for the following reasons: the path to the sink may be filled with obstacles (kids, pets) that could trip the cook holding a pressurized cooker; water could block the valves and cause a reverse-suction (from the quick loss of volume from condensed steam) that could bend and damage the metal of the cooker; and lastly, the safety systems cannot properly detect a pocket of pressurized food that may not be released until after the lid is removed causing an eruption of super-heated food onto the cook. Unfortunately, modern pressure cooker manuals and cookbooks still call for this opening method – but we don’t recommend using it. For any recipe that calls for the Cold-Water Quick release, use the Normal pressure release instead.
BASE IMMERSION pressure release
This method releases pressure by carrying a stove top the pressure cooker to a sink or basin, that is partially filled with water, and lowering it to partially submerge the base. We do not recommend this method because the cooker could slip out of the cook’s hands and damage both the sink and cooker; and, the thermal shock could warp the metals eventually separating the aluminum base sandwich of modern pressure cookers. Manufacturers stopped calling for this opening method more than 20 years ago – however, vintage cookers or chefs who have been taught from previous generations may still use this opening method. For any recipe that calls for using Base Immersion, use the Normal pressure release instead.
Using the right opening method can help a recipe end on the right note but it’s also a question of safety. The wrong opening method could clog the safety valves or even damage the pressure cooker.