Pressure Cooker Maximum Fill Levels

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Pressure Cooker Capacity: Frequently Asked Questions

Your pressure cooker and dinner can be ruined with too much food or too little liquid.  Too much food could block the pressure valve while too little liquid can permanently damage the cooker’s metal, bakelite and silicone fittings.  Here’s everything you need to know to keep your pressure cooker on the level and dinner coming.

What is a pressure cooker’s maximum capacity?

There are two maximum pressure cooker capacities and they depend on the ingredients being used.

Pressure Cooker Maximum Fill Levels
Pressure Cookers should only be filled to half when cooking beans, rice & grains and two-thirds for everything else.
  • Max 1/2 Full for Beans, Rice, Grains, Dehydrated Foods and Fruit – These foods either expand during cooking or generate lots of foam (or both). Beans can swell to twice their size during cooking and some grains, even more.  They also generate lots of foam and bubbles – which climb up the sides of the cooker to spray out of the valves – plugging them up.  This class of ingredients should also be opened using Natural Release method – which avoids the foamy starchy, bubbly, goo from spraying out of the valve during the pressure release, too.
  • Max 2/3 Full for Everything Else – Foods that don’t generally get any larger during cooking, bubble or foam are in this category and this includes meats, vegetables, soups and stocks.

If your recipe has lots of different ingredients, say a soup with vegetables and some beans, then you can go up to 2/3 full but if you’re cooking only one primary ingredient, say a bean chili, then you should respect that ingredient’s maximum capacity – 1/2 full .

Pasta and Chickpea Minestrone
Pressure cooked pasta & chickpea minestrone is mainly chickpeas, and should not go above 1/2  full.

Why should I care about my pressure cooker’s maximum capacity?

A pressure cooker’s maximum capacity is, in fact, a safety feature. In order for a pressure cooker to receive UL rating, their manual must contain text to this effect.

Excerpt of UL-136 Rating Guidelines for Pressure Cookers 2009, section 15 Important safeguards
Excerpt of UL-136 Rating Guidelines for Pressure Cookers 2009, section 15 Important Safeguards

Pressure cooker maximum capacities apply to all pressure cookers types (electric, jiggler, weight-modified and spring valves), shapes (pressure pans, stock pot- and braiser-type cookers), sizes (from 1 to 12L) and origins (Europe, Asia, America). That’s because all pressure cookers have valves and safety mechanisms placed in the lid.

The maximum capacity recommendations are in place to ensure neither food nor cooking liquid interfere with, or trigger, the safety systems located in the lid. The NUMBER ONE REASON for pressure cooker mishaps usually involves someone not familiar with pressure cooking filling the cooker beyond the cooker’s recommended maximum capacity – ultimately blocking the pressure release valve.

How can I figure out my pressure cooker’s maximum capacity?

Unfortunately, many pressure cookers do not have markings inside to delineate these maximums.  If your pressure cooker doesn’t, fill up the cooker with water to get a visual feel for the location. For example, my un-marked 6L Fagor Futuro is 2/3 full when the water is just under where the handles attach and 1/2 full just above where the round bottom starts to go straight.

Here’s a handy chart that lists the most common pressure cooker sizes, and how much a pressure cooker can hold at each maximum capacity.

Pressure Cooker Size and Capacity Chart

Pressure Cooker SizeMax 2/3 Full Capacity
 Max 1/2 Full capacity
 
(all other ingredients)(beans, rice, grains & fruit)
liters/quarts
(cup equivalent)
liters/quartscupsliters/quartscups
1 (4).662 1/2.052
1.5 (6)14.753
2 (8)1.3514
2.5 (10)1.66 1/21.255
3 (12)281.56
3.5 (14)2.391.757
4 (16)2.61028
4.5 (18)3122.259
5 (20)3.33132.510
5.5 (22)3.66142.7511
6 (24)416312
6.5 (26)4.33173.2513
7 (28)4.66183.514
7.5 (30)5203.7515
8 (32)5.3321416
8.5 (34)5.66224.2517
9 (36)6244.518
10 (40)6.6626520
11 (44)7.33295.522
12 (48)832624
Liters and quarts are used interchangeably by pressure cooker manufacturers. So when you purchase a 6 quart pressure cooker if it's made in the U.S. the cooker is exactly 6 quarts capacity, but if it's made in Europe or China, even if the size is stated in quarts, the pressure cooker is really 6L (which is actually 6.34 quarts).


Cups are roughly equivalent to 250ml, they rounded down to the nearest cup measurement in the maximum capacity calculations. Whether your pressure cooker is measured in quarts or liters the max-fill calculations in U.S. cups will work.

If your pressure cooker size is not listed above, simply multiply its size by .5 to calculate the cooker’s 1/2 capacity and .66 to calculate 2/3 capacity.

This is getting too technical, just tell me how much rice, beans or stock I can make in my pressure cooker!

For someone shopping for their first or second pressure cooker – the prime concern is how much food it will hold. Here is a table that describes the maximum capacity of some key representative ingredients. Remember that “Max” refers to both the ingredients and their cooking liquid.

Pressure Cooker Max Fill by Ingredient

Pressure Cooker SizeMax Soup/StockMax Dry Rice*Max Beans*
liters/quarts
1 2 1/2 cups (500ml)1/2 cup (125ml)1/4 cup (30ml)
1.5 4 cups (1L)1 cup (250ml)1/2 cup (125ml)
25 1/4 cups (1.25L)1 1/4 cups (300ml)3/4 cup (180ml)
2.56 1/2 cups (1.5L)1 1/2 cups (375ml)1 cup (250ml)
38 cups (2L)2 cups (500ml)1 1/8 cups (265ml)
3.59 cups (2.25L)2 1/4 cups (530ml)1 1/4 cups (280ml)
410 1/2 cups (2.5L)2 1/2 cups (625ml)1 1/2 cups (375ml)
4.511 3/4 cups (3L)3 cups (750ml)1 3/4 cups (430ml)
513 cups (3.25L)3 1/4 cups (780ml)2 cups (500ml)
5.514 1/2 cups (3.5L)3 1/2 cups (875ml)2 1/8 cups (515ml)
615 3/4 cups (4L)4 cups (1L)2 1/4 cups (530ml)
6.517 (4.25L)4 1/4 cups (1L)2 1/2 cups (625ml)
718 1/4 cups (4.5L)4 1/2 cups (1.125L)2 3/4 cups (680ml)
7.519 3/4 cups (4.75L)5 cups (1.250L)3 cups (750ml)
821 cups (5.25L)5 1/4 cups (1.28L)3 1/8 cups (765ml)
8.522 1/4 cups (5.5L)5 1/2 cups (1.375L)3 1/4 cups
923 3/4 cups (6L)6 cups (1.5L)3 1/2 cup (780ml)
1026 1/4 cups (6.5L)6 1/2 cups (1.625L)4 cups (1L)
1129 cups (7.25L)7 1/4 cups (1.780L)4 1/4 cups (1.3L)
1231 1/2 cups (8L)8 cups (2L)4 1/2 cups (1.125L)
Measurements are rounded down to the nearest sensible/usable cup or liter quantity.
One cup is roughly equivalent to the the dry ingredient reaching 250ml in a measuring pitcher (sorry we cannot give the quantities in grams as beans and rice differ in their weight between varieties).
*assumes no more than two cups (500ml) of liquid per cup of dry rice
**assumes no more than 4 cups (1L) of liquid per cup of dry beans OR no more than 2 cups 500ml) of liquid for one dry cup of soaked beans

Is there a minimum pressure cooker capacity?

inside_pressure_cooker_measuring_scale_aEvery pressure cooker needs a minimum amount of liquid to generate enough steam to pressurize the cooker. Each manufacturer has their own minimum liquid requirements – this minimum is calculated based on the size of the pressure cooker, type of pressure valve and, for cookers that must vent to maintain pressure, cooking time.

A larger pressure cooker will need more steam to pressurize and will also need more liquid to boil and generate that steam.  Some pressure valves vent by function or design. While a spring valve releases little or no steam to keep a cooker at pressure, instead, a weight-modified or jiggler-type valve must release pressure and steam rhythmically to maintain a set pressure. The extra venting means that a longer cooking time will evaporate more liquid, and the cooker will require more to keep it from running dry.

Some pressure cookers have a “min” line etched inside the cooker to make it easy to see if you’ve got enough liquid in them while others (usually the ones requiring more liquid) have a line with a 1/3 mark to indicate the minimum food and liquid requirement.

Refer to your pressure cooker’s manual to find its the minimum requirement.

Minimum liquid requirements excerpted from the manuals of Fagor, Silit and Fissler.
Minimum liquid requirements excerpted from the manuals of Fagor, Silit and Fissler (click to enlarge).

Can I use something other than water to reach my pressure cooker’s minimum liquid requirement?

You can reach your pressure cooker’s minimum liquid requirement with stock, fruit juice,  a little wine or beer –  but not hard liquor (large quantities of alcohol will evaporate through the valve and the vapor will ignite).

Using advanced pressure cooking techniques you can calculate the liquid released by a vegetable or piece or meat in a recipe during pressure cooking – and use those liquids maintain pressure.  Here’s a handy chart that will get you half-way there. This technique has enough caveats to merit its own article – so I won’t explain it here. Any well-written pressure cooker recipe from a trusted source will have already made these calculations to get the most flavor from the pressure cooker.

Vegetable Water Content Table

More Questions?

Leave a comment below, and we’ll do our best to find the answer.

 

 

Pressure Cooker Fill Levels

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41 Comments

  1. Laura, thank you for such an informative article, presented so clearly. Just one question:
    “… but not hard liquor (large quantities of alcohol will evaporate through the valve and the vapor will ignite).”
    Did you learn that the hard way?

    1. Yes. On a whim I replaced white wine with limoncello to braise chicken pieces. Bad idea. The pressure cooker was shooting flames and I turned it off just in time before it COMPLETELY melted the pressure-control mechanism. I can only imagine what could have happened if all of the safety and pressure controls had melted while the cooker was still pressurized with alcohol vapors! But, I would rather not.

      Ciao,

      L

  2. I think every pressure cooker recipe should state the maximum fill level i.e. 1/2 full or 2/3 full.

    Apparently some foamy foods can only be used up to 1/3 full – I think it’s pulses, due to the high amount of foam, expansion etc?

    1. I mention that at the top of each recipe in my new cookbook – because I want every recipe to work even if someone didn’t read the introduction and just opened the book in the middle.

      Ciao,

      L

      1. could you tell me how much water i need to add to two cups of dried pinto beans in a 6 quart electric pressure cooker .its a Faberware 7 in1

        1. To stay under the 1/2 full mark, you can add up to four cups of water (that’s two cups of water per cup of dried, un-soaked beans).

          Ciao,

          L

  3. Obviously no one will ever recommend the following method, but I have noticed that when a pressure cooker is used solely for steaming vegetables so that a typical English meat and two veg style meal can be prepared, it does not seem to matter how little space is left in the cooker (provided there is sufficient clearance (an inch) to allow the valves to function correctly), as steaming vegetables seems to result in neither expansion nor foaming.

    Has this ever gone wrong for anyone, that you know of?

    1. When dealing with non-foamy foods the 2/3 rule does not need to be exact but it does need to be close – as vegetables in the steamer basket could interfere with the safety mechanisms in the lid. BTW, clogging the vents in this case does not happen during cooking but during a quick-release as the vegetables that are too close could pulled through the release valve.

      Ciao,

      L

  4. I made split pea soup with a recipe that called for 1 lb of peas, 1 lb of cubed ham, and 8 cups of liquid, and cook on high for 30 minutes. After I put the peas and ham in, I could only add 4 cups of chicken broth before hitting the half-full mark on the cooker, and the soup was REALLY thick when it was done. If I cut the recipe in half, using 1/2 lb each of peas and ham, should I change the cooking time and, if yes, what would your recommend for the amount of time? My pc is the electric Cuisinart 6 quart.

    Thanks so much!

    1. First of all, let me commend you on sticking to the 1/2 full rule despite what the recipe you used called for! Split peas expand quite a bit and are particularly foamy so it could have caused a really dangerous situation.

      What you can do, to make the same amount of soup, next time is add the other 4 cups of stock after pressure cooking and simmering everything together before serving.

      To halve the recipe (because that sounds like a lot of soup to make at once) the cooking time remains the same. I don’t know what the recipe you used calls for, but since “ham” is already cooked you would only need to pressure cook following the split-pea cooking time – which is just 1 minute with natural release.

      Where did the split-pea recipe you used come from?

      Ciao,

      L

  5. Thanks for your helpful response! Here’s the link to the recipe I used from Food.com:http://www.food.com/recipe/pressure-cooker-split-pea-and-ham-soup-55438

    1. Well, that’s one of the better-written recipes I’ve seen from that website – at least the cook warns to stay below the half-full mark. : ) However, I see there are about 16 cups of ingredients in that recipe, so according to my calculations it could only work for an 8L or larger pressure cooker!

      Ciao,

      L

  6. I have a 23 quart pressure cooker–most of the pressure cooker (as opposed to pressure CANNER) recipes seem to be designed for smaller appliances. What should I look out for when cooking smaller scale recipes in my big pressure cooker?

    1. The first thing to watch-out for is reaction of recipe with the aluminum of the canner (no wine, lemon, tomatoes, fruit or any acidic ingredients). The cooking time may be significantly different, too. How long does your canner take to reach pressure and at what altitude do you live?

      Ciao,

      L

  7. Hi there. Thanks for the great article.

    It indicates that water fill levels primarily have to do with safety and functionality of the pressure cooker. However in a related article You wrote that the food can lose taste if the cooker is overfilled with water:
    “stop-making-these-pressure-cooking-mistakes”

    Can you please elaborate on why that would happen and how I would know that is my problem? I’m cooking lentils (moong and masoor dal) and it doesn’t taste as good in the pressure cooker as it does in an open pot. I’m trying to find what I’m doing wrong.

    I have an old fashioned cooker with a weight on it which whistles to regulate the pressure. I’ve read some people say after filling the cooker with dal and lentils you need to close the cooker but remove the weight from the top so steam can freely escape as the cooker is heating. Then only put the weight on once steam has started coming out for about a minute or so. Is this necessary and if so, why can’t you just put the weight on right at the beginning? Doesn’t the weight regulate the pressure at the beginning as well?

    I’ve also heard some people say you want to use high heat to quickly heat up the pressure cooker and get to that first whistle quickly. But right after that whistle you should reduce the heat for the duration. However I’ve also heard people say you don’t want to heat the food too quickly. Which is better?

    Thanks for any help as I’m trying to diagnose why my dal doesn’t taste quite right!!!

    1. Welcome sg_mitch, it sounds like you’ve been reading quite a bit and you have many questions- let me see if I can tackle all of them.

      The “pressure cooking mistakes” article refers to adding more water than the recipe needs – therefore diluting the flavor. If you add the same amount of liquid in a pressure cooker recipe as in a conventional recipe it will be “too much”. Whereas the fill level limits refer to the total amount of food an liquid that you put in the pressure cooker.

      It could be that you’re just adding too much liquid to your moong and massor dals and the flavor is too diluted.

      Every pressure cooker needs to build steam and push-out air before pressure cooking but some cookers do this automatically while others need to vent without the weight for a period. Your pressure cooker’s manual will tell you for certain what you’re supposed to do. Check to see if yours is here:
      https://www.hippressurecooking.com/pressure-cooker-manual-library/

      Also, yes you should build pressure on high heat and maintain it on lower heat. Here is a description of the whole process – it’s geared towards spring-valve cookers but the process is nearly identical in your whistling pressure cooker:
      https://www.hippressurecooking.com/infographic-the-pressure-cooker-trouble-shooter/

      I hope this helps. If you have any more questions, please post them in the forums!

      Ciao and, again, Welcome!

      L

    2. Just a few extra comments in addition to Laura’s:
      Different spices behave differently under pressure cooking then in plein air cooking. So it is possible that the balance of flavour will shift when you move from an open pot to PC. sometimes you need to add more as the spice needs the time to work its magic. Sometimes less as the spice flavour is extracted more efficiently under pressure. Getting the balance back to where you want it will take practice. with Indian cooking with all its complex spicing, this can be quite a task as some will go up and some down.

      As Laura says, evaporation is far less in a PC, so you need to reduce the liquid in a recipe in order to achieve the same result in a PC. But you also need to stay over the MINIMUM liquid requirement for your particular PC.

      Also in addition to cooking at pressure, pressure cookers remove most of the air from the vessel, replacing it with steam. As weight operated PCs are fully sealed until pressure is reached, it is common practice to remove the valve (breaking the hermetic seal) until you have a good head of steam, indicating that most of the air is driven out.

      1. Great suggestions from both Laura and Greg. I have experimented a bit and made some improvements. Now I feel that I have isolated it down to the possibility of overcooking the dal. Everything is coming out very creamy as opposed to being able to still see remnants of the moong in the water.

        I’m letting the PC cool (and naturally depressurize) before opening it. I realize this means that it’s still cooking quite a bit after the burner is turned off. Do you recommend this method of cooling or would I be better off to put cool water over the top of the cooker?

        Another method I’ve never heard anyone mention but I’d like your opinion on is the idea of using some oven mitts to just raise the weight and let all the steam escape at once and then open up the PC.

        I suspect that because of this slow method of cooling the PC I’m getting things overdone in there without realizing it till it’s too late. Should I consider turning that heat off even earlier if I’m going to use this cooling method?

        thanks again!

        1. here are a number of problems with the cold water cooling method. It is potentially hazardous and Laura now advises against it.

          Manually opening the valve is a common technique and many modern PCs have a dial to facilitate it. I would suggest using a pair of long tongs rather than oven mitts to make sure you are well away from the spurting steam. It is not a technique for everything though. If the food foams or spits, it could be forced out the valve at pressure. I am not sure, but I think legumes are one of the danger foods – too lazy to look it up – , so be very wary of this. Check if it is one of the “max half full” foods. If so, it is a NOT a good candidate for this technique.

          Reducing the time on heat is certainly the safest way to eliminate the overcooking. And yes, the food is still cooking while the pressure is coming down. So check the time it takes to lose pressure, and count at least half of that towards your cooking time. Then refine your timing based on your first result. Remember if it is underdone, you can always cook it some more, but there is no way to recover from overcooked.

  8. I am very confused as to how much cooking goes on during pressure building and natural release.

    I totally agree with the “you can always cook it more” approach.

    Most recipes I have tried turn out very good, my biggest disappointment was steamed clams. Rubbery. But I minced them and had very good clam chowder.

    One of my big points of confusion is that a lot of recipes call for natural release but say you can use quick release or vice versa.

    I,ve read a number of articles on quick vs natural release, but haven’t found many that seemed to address the actual extra cooking being done.

    Helen

    1. During pressure-building, which takes about 10 minutes, you can consider the food cooking at an equivalent of low pressure for 5 minutes. During the pressure release, its the same thing but slightly longer for electric pressure cookers, which take about 20 minutes to loose pressure, the extra cooking time is equivalent to 10 minutes at pressure.

      Ciao,

      L

  9. Thanks. Seems simple enough to get through my sometimes thick head.

    My Instant Pot took 9 minutes to get to pressure with 1 cup water and 3 large beets. It took less than 12 minutes to natural release. Was distracted from my pressure cooker watching by a phone call.

    Not that I care that much usually as most things cook perfectly or close enough, but if something overcooks it is something to factor in.

    I am appreciating the care and patience and concentration you must use when testing the different cookers. I zone out on one.

    Helen

  10. Hiya,
    First of all I love this site! I have had my pressure cooker for a week now & most definitely would have given up and cried by now if I’d not found your site! I have two questions..1, can puréed tomatoes count toward my liquid content or are they too thick? 2, I used coconut milk in one recipe but when I’d finished cooking it was almost like the mild had separated. Should coconut milk not be used in a pressure cooker?
    Thanks in advance!

    1. Welcome Danni!

      Yes, puréed tomatoes count as “liquid” but they are too thick to use alone. Either add some water to thin them out our use chopped, crushed or whole tomatoes.

      Generally coconut milk can go in the pressure cooker without problems. I don’t know what the issue could have been without knowing what recipe you used it in.

      Thanks,

      L

  11. Ok great, thanks! I’m trying out a butter chicken recipe in the next day or so and really didn’t want it to be too watery! Hmm not sure what I did wrong with the coconut milk either but it’s good to know it can be used! Thanks a bunch!

    1. To quote from the back of my can of Coconut Milk:
      “Coconut milk should only be added in the final 5 minutes of cooking a curry. The natural fats in coconut milk can separate or ‘split’ when boiled.”

      I use it quite happily. Sometimes it splits. Sometimes it doesn’t. It always tastes great.

      If you are cooking to impress, try doing the main cooking under pressure, then stir in the coconut milk at the end.

  12. You are very clear on how much rice or beans to use, but how about a whole chicken? Looking at purchasing an instant pot and don’t know which size I should get.

    1. It depends on the dimensions of the pressure cooker – some are low and wide and some are tall and narrow. The best thing to do is to measure the base of the pressure cooker you have and take the measuring tape with you shopping. Chickens don’t have to “lie down” in the pressure cooker base. “Sitting up” a chicken in a stock-pot type pressure cooker allows you to use a much bigger bird.
      https://www.hippressurecooking.com/beer-can-chicken-pressure-cooked-whole/

      Either way, you can never go wrong – if the chicken is ever too big you can always slice it into smaller pieces. : )
      https://www.hippressurecooking.com/lemon-and-olive-ligurian-pressure-cooker-chicken-lesson-5-braise-and-glaze/

  13. I noticed you said no wine, tomatoes or lemon in an aluminum pressure cooker; however I have made spaghetti sauce, beef burgandy and lemon chicken in my cooker with no trouble. I’m not poisoning anyone, am I?

    1. The acids will leach out some of the aluminium. This will result (eventually!) to the pot pitting. And you will be eating some of it. It will discolour the food, turning it grey and add an unpleasant metallic taste. Not as bad as copper though. And if you are used to it, you will only notice it by its absence.

      As for poisoning people… There was a study back in the 1980’s that linked aluminium to Alzheimers. I stopped using aluminium for cooking then. The study has since been debunked, but I decided I liked the taste better without the added aluminium, so I haven’t gone back. I am not aware of any other studies indicating health effects either way. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any. It is not something I follow closely.

      BTW. Copper WILL poison you.

  14. I cooked a spaghetti squash on top of sauce in my IP last night. Coked 15 min on high pressure. It was definitely not done. Added another 19 min on high pressure. I was able to scoop out noodles but they were a little ‘crunchy’. I punctured squash several times but left it whole.
    Was my pot too full? Any suggestions?

  15. I see that dried beans expand a lot, but I don’t see that canned beans do; does the only-fill-halfway-when-cooking-beans rule apply to canned beans as well?

    1. Yes, because although canned beans do not expand they will still generate foam when boiled. So, yes, stay under the half-way mark for those too!

      Ciao,

      L

  16. As to 1/2 full versus 2/3 full for the inner pot: If you have soaked the beans over night 8-12 hours, would the 2/3 capacity apply?

    1. For beans and legumes, dry, soaked or canned the pressure cooker should only be filled to maximum half-full.

      Ciao,

      L

  17. How much space is needed between pots when cooking PIP My 8″ cake pan fits with just a bit of wiggle room, It does not touch the sides of the IP but I’d need a sling to get it out. Is that too tight a fit to allow proper operation ?

  18. How many ribs can I get in a 6 quart power cooker, can I get burned if it overflows?

    1. A pressure cooker is perfectly safe if used and maintained according to the directions. But yes, you can be seriously injured if you don’t work withing the limitations of your device. Just as you can with any other device in the kitchen. I have been hurt more often with my knives more often than I have with my pressure cooker. And as for the Mandoline… Let’s just acknowledge that my wife leaves the kitchen whenever I get that out.

      As for how many ribs you can fit in, that will depend on the size of the ribs. Your pressure cooker should have a mark indicating 2/3 full. If it doesn’t, fill it with 4 quarts of water and note where the level comes to. (Then empty the water out.) Then fill with ribs until you reach that level. Don’t go above it. and you will have your maximum. Finally add your liquid. It will safely fill the gaps between the ribs. Just don’t fully submerge the ribs as that will take you overthe 2/3 mark.

  19. Can anyone tell me something about what the lid is made out of and the possibilities of us getting some toxins since we don’t want from that

    1. Lena, it all depends on the model. Some pressure cookers do have aluminum part or parts that may contain lead. However, if you’re pressure cooking and opening things correctly the food would never come in contact with those parts.

      Ciao,

      L

  20. Silly doubt
    How much water contain a 2 litre cooker (without cover lock)

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