The basic how-to: These amazing machines cook food up to 70 percent faster than traditional methods, and their microwave-like speed has brought them back into style after a surge in popularity in the '70s. Fear of an explosion is why most people stay away, but the new models are foolproof. The best instructions we've seen are on the Presto website (the leading pressure cooker brand, which debuted at the 1939 World's Fair). Here are some key points: Hold the lid up to the light and look through the vent pipe to make sure it's open and unclogged before securing it onto the cooker. And your cooking time begins when the cooker begins maintaining a slow, steady rocking motion.
Common mistake: Overcooking. Things happen so quickly, it's easy to go from done to overdone in a matter of minutes. And cooking continues even after you turn off the heat, thanks to the buildup of pressure inside. To stop the cooking process, either lift the pressure valve or put the hot pressure cooker under cold running water.