The moment my pressure cooker exploded
“So when you say, blew up, do you mean it exploded or it just quit working? They are pretty sensitive on a pressure cooker site about using the words ‘blew up’.”
I’m not sure who “they” are or why they’d be overly sensitive that I blew up my pressure cooker, but here’s what happened.
I was in my kitchen not paying attention, when the pressure cooker sound changed. It sounded angry. It’s already the angriest thing in my kitchen… Hissssssss….Sputter……… Clank…… Hiss….. But something wasn’t right. I looked up.
It blew up.
For a microsecond, I was frozen, “What do I do?”
“You’re the only one here, idiot.” I ran by the stove (the dials were on the other side of the explosion), ducked under the corned beef and cabbage geyser, and turned off all the knobs. I say “all the knobs” because I was making tea on the other burner, and even after living in the Ranch on the Poser Homestead for seven years, I can’t tell which stove knob goes to which burner or which light switch goes to what so I flip and turn them all.
And just like that, my Chef Flambé moment was over. Collateral damage: corning spices all over the kitchen, my vegetarian hair dripped with brisket grime, and grease and water drips clung from the ceiling. All this was pretty hard to see through my corned beef-covered glasses, which probably saved my eyes.
But, there were no major injuries, so I plopped dinner in a soup kettle and told the masses their food would be delayed.
Later, my master-canner-gardener-everything friend told me how she dented her ceiling once and “Those things can kill you.” And on a forum later in the day I discovered “they” don’t like it when you say things like “blew up” and “pressure cooker” in the same sentence, so I was forced to retell my story. I told it play-by-play as if it were an Avengers sequel, using the approved vocabulary. This time I said, “exploded.”
But here’s the bottom line: Pay attention to safety, and your pressure cooker won’t explode. You’ll eat your corned beef and cabbage instead of scraping it off the ceiling.
Don’t be afraid to use a pressure cooker
“I can’t use a pressure cooker. They terrify me.” I hear that a lot.
“Nothing’s ever happened to me,” I tell people. (until the Corned Beef Catastrophe), and there’s no reason to be afraid. Even post-St. Patrick’s Day disaster, I stand by pressure cooking.
Pressure cookers are technically dangerous, but then again, so is most of the equipment in your life. People aren’t afraid of lawnmowers, tractors, rototillers, gas stoves, wood stoves, and chainsaws in the same way. You didn’t cut your leg off, light your sleeve on fire, or mow over your left sneaker, did you?
That’s because you pay attention and respect your equipment. Pressure cookers are no different.
What went wrong?
My pot forensics revealed clear user error. I’d become complacent about pressure cooker safety. I use this thing several times a week. It’s always simple and easy. So easy that I realized something. I hadn’t checked the gaskets in a while. I never replaced them, and I didn’t check to see if the vent was clear.
And so, the vent was probably clogged. Steam blew through the overpressure valve saving the pot from becoming a kitchen bomb.
Today’s pressure cookers are not the ones of your grandmother’s day.
They have a built-in safety mechanism called an overpressure plug. This is a little rubber circle on the top of most lids. It’s about half the size of a dime. If pressure increases to the point where it would’ve blown up an old-style pressure cooker, this shoots off the lid, releasing the pressure. That’s what happened to me. An old-style pressure cooker would’ve blown out the kitchen windows and probably landed me in the hospital since I was standing about five feet away. The new one sprayed me with hot beef, covered the walls and ceilings, and gave the dogs something to lick up once they got the all clear.
Pressure Cooker Safety (How to avoid accidents, stay safe, and eat your dinner on time)
Check your pressure cooker every time you use it.
Is the gasket in right? Is it there? Is there a crack or issue with it? Is the vent hole clear? You can blow through it or use a paper clip to sweep through it, but make sure you can see light on the other side.
If you notice your cooking times are off–that they seem slower, or that you have steam escaping from your pot-lid connection, you may have a failing or off-center gasket. Stop cooking, cool the pot to release the pressure, and do a full lid/gasket exam.
Replace the gasket and overpressure plug
Do a full lid and gasket examination quarterly. Most manufacturers recommend replacing the gasket once every year or 18 months, but they’re the ones selling the gasket. If you maintain it well, it can last longer. Mine, in the story above, was from 2015. I think we can agree that’s excessive.
Examine the pressure weight, overpressure plug, and gasket. You’re looking for any signs of a brittle gasket or one that’s stretched out or damaged in any way.
Proper care of your pressure cooker
Care for your pressure cooker properly. Stovetop pressure cooker bottoms can go in the dishwasher. The tops should not. Wash them by hand. Take out the gasket and wash it gently with soapy water. Some people recommend oiling them lightly to keep them from drying out, but you shouldn’t need to do this with newer, silicone gaskets. Check with your manufacturer.
Store the lid upside-down in the pot to keep all the pieces safe.
Follow the cooking directions.
There are some foods that shouldn’t be cooked in a pressure cooker. They can get into the valve and clog them. Certain types of beans lose their shells, for example. Rice is a big offender. You can still cook a mean bowl of rice in your pressure cooker. Use a heat-safe glass or a stainless steel bowl that fits inside. Put the rice and water in there, cover tightly with foil, and put a couple inches of water in the pressure cooker. The pressure will cook your rice fast. And, your vent won’t clog and explode. That’s a win-win.
- Don’t overfill the pressure cooker.
- Don’t cook things you can’t cook in there (see the rice example above)
- Follow cooking times.
- Don’t let it run dry. If you do, check or replace the gasket.
Above all, pay attention!
Stay nearby when you’re pressure cooking. This isn’t like a crockpot where you go weed your garden or run errands and come back to magically-prepared dinner. You need to listen for the right hiss and be able to reduce the heat quickly if it overpressurizes.
I know people who won’t leave the kitchen when they’re using their pressure cookers and canners. I like to stay within earshot, and if I’m multitasking, I do frequent walkbys to check the pressure. On my cooker, I can hear the sound it’s supposed to make. On my canners, there are gauges. I can see. Still, gauges can be off. So, if you’re using a pressure canner as a pressure cooker (you can do that, but you CAN’T use a pressure cooker to pressure can), it’s important to check those, too.