Pressure cookers have a reputation as one of the most popular cooking tools in the kitchen today. Their popularity has only increased as their safety has improved. Most modern electric pressure cookers have 10 or more safety features. People like them because of the speed of the cooking without the worry of it losing nutritional value.
The increased use of pressure cookers has led some to wonder why their pressure cooker stopped building pressure. We will explore that in-depth, but here is the quick answer…
Perhaps you forgot to put the lid on correctly, or there was not enough or no water in the pot. It could also be that the heat wasn’t high enough, and as a result, the food is not being cooked properly. There are also many reasons related to maintenance as to why your pressure cooker is not building up pressure.
Reasons Why a Pressure Cooker Does Not Build up Pressure
1. Improperly Closed
Improperly closed, it can lead to the lid leaking steam, which keeps the steam from building in the pressure cooker.
Expert Tip: Never open a pressure cooker with even a small amount of pressure inside. You can badly injure yourself by forcing the lid open and most modern pressure cookers make it next to impossible to open the lid while in operation.
If the lid seems jammed, remove the pressure valve to allow the steam to escape. In some cases, an improperly closed lid will let in pressure, but it won’t let in enough to cook your food. You will have to wait for the pressure to release, open the lid and close it properly.
Improper pressure in the pressure cooker can also cause the lid to jam. To open a jammed lid, first, make sure that the pressure has been released. Then push down on the lid in the center and turn it.
2. Sauce Too Thick
The pressure cooker depends on water to build steam in the container. Having too thick of a sauce stops the steam from circulating throughout the pressure cooker. Pressure cookers need steam to operate. Luckily, it doesn’t take much to resolve.
You can remedy too thick of a sauce problem in the pressure cooker by adding a nominal amount of water to the container. Either water or broth will work for building steam. This will loosen the sauce to make the steam easier to circulate. The broth has a distinct advantage over water, especially when cooking chicken, in that it makes the chicken more flavorful.
We say this about having too thick of a sauce, but we’d advise you not to use a thickener because it can have an impact on how the pressure builds. Whether cooking a stew, a soup, or a sauce, adding a thickener can harm how the pressure builds. You don’t build as much steam, which means that the food doesn’t cook as well.
When we say thickeners, we mean things like cornstarch, arrowroot, flour, potato starch, and roux. Even if the cornstarch doesn’t stop steam from building up, it can cause your food to burn. You can add thickeners at the end of pressure cooking and sauté it until it thickens.
Related article – recipe thickeners here.
3. Worn or Dirty Gasket
Before each use, you should inspect the gasket of your pressure cooker. Don’t let it have any dried-on food because this can cause the steam not to build in the cooker. Even a worn gasket—which happens over time—can take a pressure cooker more time to build up the necessary steam. Your pressure cooker gasket could also suffer damage for any number of reasons, but it all leads to it not building steam.
You should replace the gaskets of your pressure cooker on average once every 12 months. This doesn’t matter when it comes to frequency of use.
Any pinched creases or cracks in the gasket indicate that it has damage. It needs replacement to ensure that your pressure cooker will build steam. You may even want to keep a spare gasket on hand. Buy two at the same time. They cost around $10 for a pack with two sets.
Pressure cooker gaskets have also been known from time to time to get an odor to them. You can eliminate this and keep your gaskets in the best condition by keeping a bag of baking soda inside the pressure cooker when not in use. It absorbs odor while preventing moisture buildup.
4. Not Enough Liquid in the Pot
To cook the food, pressure cookers depend on steam building in the pot from either water or chicken broth to cook the food. Without this, you have no steam to build in the pot. In fact, you can use many liquids in the pressure cooker, and we’d advise you to experiment to see what happens.
Some of the fun possibilities besides chicken broth and water include:
- Soy sauce
- Citrus juices
- Thin marinades
Anything that uses thin juices could be used as a cooker in the pressure cooker. You have certain circumstances where they might make sense. The general rule of thumb in a pressure cooker is to add 1 cup of liquid to the pressure cooker. Beware of overfilling the pressure cooker.
They only recommend that you fill it two-thirds of the way full to prevent it from building up too much steam. With grains, beans, pasta, and rice, don’t add more than 1 cup. You want the right amount of steam—not too much and not too little.
5. Food Stuck to the Bottom
When food sticks to the bottom, it can prevent the liquid from circulating properly to steam the food in the pressure cooker.
Food sticking to the bottom especially happens during the browning process, and it can prevent steam from building inside your pot.
Once it happens, you can’t do much except wait for the pressure to release to remove the caked-on food.
However, you do have a few measures you can take to prevent it. For example, use separate pans in the pressure cooker to cook the food. That keeps it off the bottom. Never place it directly on the bottom.
You might try a lower-level heat to bring the pressure cooker up to its ideal pressure if you don’t need a lot of PSI. On the low setting, you can usually reach between 5 to 7.5 PSI. Many recipes call for a higher PSI, however.
To deal with that, you could do what many experienced pressure cooker veterans do. They start with the higher pressure and go low after the pressure builds.
6. Not Using Enough Heat
Previously, we spoke about how too much heat can cause the food to stick to the bottom of the pressure cooker and not build up enough steam. You have another danger too—you might need to use more heat. Most people will use the higher heat setting and turn it low after.
Starting with the lower heat setting, the water may never reach the boiling point. Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit normally and boils at 250 degrees Fahrenheit inside of a pressure cooker.
You need enough heat to cause the liquid to evaporate and steam the food inside the pressure cooker. This cooks the food. The low setting can mean that all the water evaporates before the steam can build.
Before you ever use the pressure cooker, first check to see what the recipe calls for in terms of PSI. Most recipes will call for 15 PSI. At 15 PSI, you will reach an estimated 250 degrees Fahrenheit, which adds enough steam to pressurize your pressure cooker. With less than this, the water doesn’t reach enough of a boil to cook with steam.
Issues with your pressure cooker not getting hot enough – check out this article where I explain why this could be happening as well as some easy fixes.
7. Blocked Float Valve
They use a small piece of silicon in the pressure cooker known as a float valve. This valve differs from the pressure valve in that it helps the lid to seal properly. You need an airtight seal to prevent the liquid from evaporating out of the container.
Here’s how the float valve works. Once the pressure cooker reaches the ideal temperature, it will float to the top and seal off the lid. You must have it fit properly on the lid, or it won’t build pressure in the container.
With the steam escaping, your pressure cooker won’t build the pressure it needs to cook the food. In some cases, a blocked float valve happens as food gets stuck near the top of the lid and blocks it off.
Before you begin, you will want to use a spare toothbrush to brush away the debris and particles that could block the float valve. You want to brush away at the hole where the float valve goes.
Tip – If your pressure cooker is noisy check out this article where I dive deep into why pressure cookers are excessively noisy.
8. Using the Wrong Inner Pot
Inner pots come with pressure cookers, and they come in many sizes. Maybe you took the inner pot from another pressure cooker thinking that it would work with this one, you have one problem. It may not have the right size for your current pressure cooker because every pressure cooker uses different-sized inner pots. With the incorrect pot, it won’t create the desired seal that you need to build steam inside the pressure cooker.
Anything that breaks the airtight seal will lead to less pressure. You can buy a replacement online if you don’t have the original, but make sure that you buy the right size. This creates an airtight seal. Don’t buy a cheap imitation when it comes to this. Pressure cookers have a well-earned reputation as a dangerous pieces of cookware.
Damage to the inner pot like denting can also cause it to not build the proper pressure. How do you find the correct size of inner pot for your pressure cooker? First, make sure that you have the right brand. After you have the right brand, check what size of pressure cooker you have. If you have a 6-quart pressure cooker, which is most popular among customers, buy the 6-quart inner pot to get the right seal.
In some cases, the inner pot works, but you have an issue with it misaligning during its use of it. This requires a different solution. To fix a misaligned inner pot, first, remove it to check for things causing it to not sit properly in its base.
Provided you don’t have obstructions in the pot, you may want to replace the inner pot altogether. It only costs between $15 to $25 to replace an inner pot. In some cases, it sticks to the gasket, causing it to misalign. Wash the gasket with soap and water. Never put your gasket in the dishwasher because this can damage it.
9. Frozen Meats in the Pressure Cooker
Especially large pieces of frozen meat and poultry can prevent the pressure from building in your pressure cooker. At the best, it takes an extra one-third of the time to pressure cook your foods in the pressure cooker and doesn’t taste as good, but at its worst, it doesn’t build the pressure at all. In most cases, frozen food won’t stop the pressure from building, but it will take longer.
You can place frozen vegetables in a pressure cooker without too much problem, but meats have a greater thickness that causes them not to cook as well. Frozen meats in the pressure cooker could endanger your health. They may not cook the meat all the way through. The further you get into the meat, the rawer it becomes, making it dangerous to eat. You may even have an icicle inside.
Fix this problem easily by first making sure that you have thawed your meats. A 1-pound package of meat will take around one hour to thaw, while 3 to 4-pound packages might take over two hours. It leads to a better-tasting recipe in the pressure cooker.
Conclusion – Pressure Not Building in Your Pressure Cooker
You are now equipped with 9 possible reasons why the pressure inside your pressure cooker may not be building properly. One of the first things that we would advise checking is the more simple issues like a damaged gasket, not enough liquid, or the temperature used.
Luckily, when pressure fails to build in the pressure cooker, you usually have an easy enough time figuring out the source of the problem. For example, it goes without saying that if you put frozen meats in the pressure cooker, you can spot that as the reason.
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