Full Steam Ahead

Think pressure cookers are for Grandma? Think again

Cooking under pressure is never a good thing.

But cooking with pressure is a time-pressed cook's best friend.

Here's how pressure cooking works: When liquid boils, it produces steam. A tightly sealed pressure cooker traps the steam; under pressure, the steam becomes superheated, cooking the ingredients quickly and easily.

Spoon-tender brisket in an hour? Yes. Lentils in seven minutes? Sure.

When choosing a pressure cooker, you have options. Aluminum models are lighter and less expensive than stainless steel models, but those made from stainless steel tend to be more durable. The cookers are available in a variety of sizes, from 4 quarts up. Choose a model that has a removable pressure regulator so you can easily clear any clogs that might cause the cooker to malfunction, and be sure to buy one with a cover-locking system (older models may not have these two features, so be wary of ones passed down from Grandma).

Both electric and stove-top pressure cookers are available. Electric models are usually larger and heavier, with more features, including programming and keep-warm settings; stove-top models are simpler and smaller, but they do require some oversight, since they are intended to be used over a burner.

Ready, set, full steam ahead.