The Pressure Cooker Disaster

Author’s Note

I realize that I didn’t blog yesterday, but, once again, I’m going to ask that I be excused from yesterday’s commitment considering the following tale you’re about to read. Let’s just say that I felt defeated in a way that The Old Man and the Sea didn’t know a man could be defeated. In any event, I just didn’t feel like blogging.

Also, I understand that a successful blog must stick to one topic in order to maintain a dedicated readership. In my case, the topic would be about writing. I’d like to think that I’ve generally written about writing; even my reviews are typically written from a writer’s perspective. This blog post is not about writing. It’s strictly personal; however, I don’t see why an off-topic post can’t help spice things up once in a while.

The perils of pressure cooking.

My Worst Cooking Fears Realized (Almost)

I’m not much of a chef, but I enjoy cooking and can generally prepare something edible and even tasty for that matter, without burning down the apartment. Sure, I often fall back on the old standby: Ramen noodles, but even then I’ll toss in some eggs and/or vegetables, depending on the flavor. When I have more time, I’ll pan fry a steak or eggs or sausages. In short, I’m not a lost cause in the kitchen.

My number one cooking tool is a pressure cooker. Basically, it’s a pot with a lid that “fastens” to the pot, using “twist and lock” engineering. I’m sure there’s a more technical term for that. Anyway, as most people know, you don’t want to put a lid on something that’s boiling or it’ll boil over, which is why the lid has to lock with the pot. Between the lid and the pot is a rubber lining to ensure that there are no breaches. So when you start cooking something, like some pork shoulders in water let’s say, the liquid inside turns to vapor which expands and creates a lot of pressure. The pressure is trapped inside, pulverizing the meat and making it very tender in a short amount of time. If you cook with a slow cooker, you may want to give a pressure cooker a try to cut down your wait.

Now, this system wouldn’t work if the pressure was completely trapped. The whole thing would explode. That’s why a vent is built into the lid to let out pressure. The vent has a weight on it that rises when the pressure it strong enough to lift it, which opens up a hole to escape. The pressure then drops a little bit and the weight descends to block the hole until the pressure builds up again. This way the cooker stays in a “pressure sweet spot” until you’re done cooking. I love using the pressure cooker, because it allows me to prepare some of my favorite Filipino entrées in no time flat.

With that said, I’m always slightly afraid of pressure cookers, considering how volatile they behave, with vapor continually shooting out and all. I always fear that the whole thing is just going to explode the second I walk by and I’ll have a pressure cooker lid flying through my face. I think I have this irrational fear, because of my first pressure cooker that was a hand-me-down from my Mom when I moved out. The rubber lining was so mangled from years of use that pressure would leak unless you pre-wet the liner, adjusted it over and over again during cooking and sweet-talked it. Things got better when Mom bought me a newer model for Christmas five years ago. It was understandably sturdier and even had a convenient pressure release valve for after cooking. Despite these assurances, I could never shake the feeling that it might explode on me one day.

The Death of Friday Night Plans

Yesterday was the birthday of three of my friends. Now that I think about it, that’s kind of amazing. Anyway, one of them invited me over for drinks to celebrate. The shindig was at 8 p.m. I figured I’d show up around 9 and since she lives in Los Angeles, that gave me about three hours to myself. I decided to eat the pork shoulders I bought on Thursday. I hadn’t had a proper home-cooked meal in some time and I was itching to cook something nice for myself instead of shelling out for takeout.

Usually, I only cook two cuts of shoulder, because of the small dimensions of my pressure cooker. Also, I usually let the meat fully thaw before cooking. This time, because of my scheduled engagement, I kind of rushed things. I didn’t let the pack of meat fully thaw. I also decided to cook all three pieces in the pack, because I didn’t want to refreeze a single cut of pork shoulder. All of this resulted in a fairly overstuffed pressure cooker. Yet, I believed it could handle it.

About forty minutes into cooking, I heard a loud, dull pop and the hiss of quickly escaping gas. I ran to the kitchen to see a fountain of white, foamy water belching into the air from various breaches in the pressure cooker in three elegant arcs. I gingerly approached the stove and forced my hand through the scorching water to turn the range knob and kill the flame. Then I turned on the fan above the stove to suck the steam up and away from the smoke detectors. Within seconds, the fountain stopped.

Unfortunately, the entire kitchen was coated in broth. Since the shoulders had a thick layer of fat that had melted under the extreme pressure, the fat was now congealing in disgusting white globs on my cupboards, floor, countertops and especially my stove. I shook my head at my hubris and resigned myself to cleaning the mess. Well, most of it anyway. After sponging everything down with soap, I consumed an entire roll of paper towels to dry everything. I had decided to leave the stove alone until after I was done cooking. After all, why should the meal be spoiled by this mishap? Surely I could salvage it just by refilling the pressure cooker with water and firing up the stove again.

The broth typically goes inside the pressure cooker.
The broth typically goes inside the pressure cooker.

So, with the kitchen largely cleaned and degreased, I did just that and the pork shoulders were once again cooking nicely. As I walked away, I remember thinking, “Too bad I didn’t have my camera ready. That would have made a great blog post picture.” In life, sometimes you get second chances.

Another loud, dull pop and I ran back to the kitchen experiencing déjà vu. My first thought was to grab my camera, but survival instincts took over and I once again turned off the stove and turned on the fan. Then I ran for my camera. Of course by the time I snapped the picture, the spectacle had diminished greatly.

My disappointment and frustration, however, was doubled as I surveyed the kitchen that I had just cleaned, covered in fatty, pressure cooker spew. What was left to do, but cancel my plans and stay in to clean up? I went out to Subway and picked up a sandwich and soup and headed home to stew. I had every intention of staying up to clean, but I was so pissed off that I just went to sleep instead.

I woke up today and did a thorough cleaning of the entire kitchen, which really had been a long time overdue. I had wanted to get to it some weekend, but oddly enough just kept pushing it back. Fortunately, the universe has ways of motivating me. I only wish I had a mop. I did my best to get everything off the floor with a sponge, but I obviously didn’t get everything since I can feel a film of fatty slime on the bottom of my bare feet.

I can no longer trust my pressure cooker to perform reliably, though I’ll still use it sans lid for boiling. In the meantime, I need a new pressure cooker and preferably one that can handle three cuts of pork shoulder.

  1. I found this when i googled up pressure cooker accidents. This morning we had one at home…only i think we can safely call it worse that the mess you had. The whole thing exploded. something must have blocked that little vent. miraculously, the cook who usually stands in the area near the stove was a little away and very very luckily was safe. the over and the base landed in the 2 extreme corners of the kitchen AFTER ricocheting off the wall and cieling(!). there was layer of soup, chicken and bits of vegetable and barley all over the cieling, walls, furniture, appliances everything!

    every time i think back to the incident i find a new thing to be grateful for. this cook is now officially terrified of pressure cookers and has decided she will never be in the same room with a one that’s being used. fill-lock-leave (….i dont know how she plans to turn it off….)
    but i dont really blame her.

    this incident has made me realise that i need to know more about these things we use everyday, that i sort of take for granted. understand how they function, what can go wrong and most importantly, how to avoid it.

  2. This holiday I was introduced to the pressure cooker by my mother who insisted on serving me a delicious meal of exquisitely tender pot roast, potatoes, and carrots. Yes, it made me smile too.

    Since sinking my teeth into the juicy, tender morsels I have been salivating at the thought of enjoying these meals more regularly.

    I have since been looking to buy a pressure cooker and, in the process of performing my due diligence on pressure cooker safety, have stumbled upon this blog.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I now stand firmly commited in waiting for Mom to cook the next delicious meal.

  3. @Robert:

    If you’re willing to spend a little more cash, you can get an electronic pressure cooker that’s much safer, with all the bells and whistles and — most importantly — safety measures.

  4. If you stick to the instructions and to maintaining your pressure cooker (making sure that valve hole is clear of obstructions, having a good emergency realease valve stopper (a rubber plug on mine), this should never happen. It sounds like your problem was you just filled it too full, the escape valve clogged and pressure built up until the safety mechanisms allowed the pressure to escape in those fountains you saw. I have a 6-quart cooker and the instructions tell you not to fill it with liquid more than like a third, and food ingredients no more than about half full.
    They’re perfectly safe, but if you violate any of a couple basic rules, you’re asking for trouble!
    Thanks for the blog. I was looking for what happens when a cooker fails for a scene I’m writing, so this helped a lot!

  5. There’s a lot to be said about following instructions of your pressure cooker. Did you only fill it to the MAX level as directed? Did you turn the heat down after the jiggler started to jiggle and wait for the heat to stabilize so that the jiggler only rocked or jiggled two or three times a minute? You are supposed to be attentive enough that you can ALWAYS hear the jiggler releasing steam and if it stops and becomes silent, shut it down. If your heat level is correctly set this will never happen unless you’ve done something else wrong like over filling it. It’s a poor carpenter that blames his tools for building crappy cabinets.

  6. there are some people that can break an anvil with a rubber mallet! pressure cookers are perfectly safe if used correctly. the next time this moron uses his gas stove with a stack of newspaper near the flame, guess what’ll happen?

  7. The vent being clear is the most important thing. As heat energy builds inside the pressure cooker, it must release some of that energy. The vent is the safety device that prevents that energy from building inside the pressure cooker. If the vent is blocked off, the pressure cooker acts as a bomb. The energy has nowhere to go and just keeps on building pressure. Eventually, the weak point of the cooker will give.. and BOOOOOOOOM!!!!

  8. Electric not only cooks more evenly they have several safety features that stop you from opening anything pressurised, stop the unit from going over pressure. The most obvious thing being the fact if all else fails the electric unit can turn itself off, an old stove top pressure cooker cant do anything about the heat source below it!

  9. I just had a pressure cooker explosion…well 2 actually. I thought I had figured out the problem and like you gave it another try…no dice. My husband is now yelling “never again..” lol! The first time was the worst, my daughter and I were in the kitchen at the time and it was like a war scene…I yelled “get down” and everything…Oh gawd. I hope this won’t be something that happens everytime I use it. Until today I really thought it was just something that people said about pressure cookers.

  10. Thank you all very much, I now know I will never ever use one, call me scardy cooker kath, just thinking about it makes me terrified.
    Kathleen from toronto

  11. You are doing the same things that are my habit in the kitchen.(meaning that the use of steam psi for faster cooking times). However, getting that bothersome froth spewing from the pressure relief rocker during the process did present a problem for me, myself personally last night in the the kitcken on top of the stove. Had “my significant other” in a terrified frenzy because timing the project of cooking wasn’t able to be in the kitchen the whole time to watch the things in the pot cooking.
    At any rate the verdict is in and am not allowed to have my favorites anymore despite all my years of successfully preparing foods in the snap of your fingers.(that is using the kitcken stove).
    Am fortunate enough to afford the electric model mentioned earlier in the replies; during the future culinary efforts.
    Please ask me if you would like to know anymore about avoiding producing that is bothersome unsightly & smelly.

  12. Just purchased a Fagor (because of good reviews) & had a terrible experience this morning. This was hired time using it! Luckily, I was not near the cooktop! The Fagor became airborne and just like the Boston bomb was spewing out green peas in every direction! Pot knocked some glass items off cabinet nearby before coming to a landing! The gasket broke. Was it faulty? Afraid to try again. Quite loud, like a bomb, and very scary! Did anyone try to contact

  13. I have had two explode on me over the yrs, one this morning and they have stopped selling my model (Fagor)because of this reason which I just found out.. Lucky I was not in the kitchen either time so was not hurt. Some people have been hurt when they explode. If you use a presser cooker you should check the reviews or law suits on it to make sure that your brand is a safe one.

  14. Hi Lucia;
    If you look up Fargo (the one I had used) pressure cooker lawsuit you will see there is a lot of people that has been hurt by them. Most brands don’t seem to have a lot or any lawsuits against them.

  15. Hi Fern,
    Thank you! I actually am quite surprised. I thought it was a good brand name, therefore safe and was willing to spend the higher cost. Luckily, we had stepped away from the cooktop and no one was injured. However, the trauma will be with us for life. The explosion itself scared the wits out of us. I’ve accepted soaking beans overnight and cooking longer length of time. Thanks again for the validation and Happy New Year!

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