Pressure Cooker Navy Beans

April 29, 2009(updated on October 3, 2018)

Pressure cooker

I’ve known for many months now that a pressure cooker had the potential to change my life. Braised brisket in under an hour! Barley in just minutes! I danced around the idea of buying one for most of last fall, surveying friends and acquaintances back in January as to which pressure cookers were the most universally beloved. I diligently read the various reviews on Amazon, hoping to find the best pressure cooker possible. After an exhaustive research process (one might call it compulsive), I settled on a 6 quart Presto cooker, mostly because there wasn’t a clear winner and it was fairly inexpensive (as far as cookware goes at least).

When it arrived, I delightedly unpacked it, ceremoniously rinsed the styrofoam dust off and perched it on a side chair in my dining room. And left it there for the next two and a half months.

Two cups of dried navy beans

Throughout my entire pressure cooker hunt, I was actively suppressing a lifelong fear and mistrust of the entire pressure cooker category. In public, I was excited to try my new toy, while in the privacy of my apartment, I eyed the shiny new cooker with great suspicion. The reason is this…

In 1954, when my mom was seven years old, she spent the afternoon at the movies with her dad and two brothers. When they arrived home, they found my grandmother alone in the house, weeping and tending to a badly burnt face. She had been making pot roast in her pressure cooker and had taken the lid off before the pressure in the pot dropped. Scalding, greasy gravy splashed her face, leaving her dotted with burns that later turned into blisters.

The roast hit the ceiling and left a mark that remained for the entirety of my mom’s childhood. My mother’s younger brother, who was just four at the time, wouldn’t look at my grandmother until all the blisters had healed. Through some miracle, the burns left no visible scars, only invisible ones that prevented the collected Klein/McClellan family from using a pressure cooker. That is, until last Sunday.

Uncooked beans in pressure cooker

Knowing just how much safer pressure cookers are today than in days of past (you physically can’t open mine until the pressure has dropped to safe levels) and wanting to make a batch of chili to eat that evening that utilized some of the dried navy beans I bought the day before, I walked up to my Presto and frog-marched it into the kitchen. I poured in two cups of dried navy beans and five cups of water. Locking the lid into place, I slid the regulator into position and turned on the heat. As soon as the regulator started dancing, I set a timer for 30 minutes and continued to get other chili components prepped.

Finished beans

Half an hour later, when the timer went off, I killed the heat, moved the pot to the sink and ran cold water over it to drop the pressure. When the auto-lock dropped into the safe position, I unlocked the lid and found myself gazing at perfectly cooked navy beans. Success! Dinner was on track and I succeeded in excising two generations of culinary ghosts.

Fridge 4/28/09

I used most of the beans in the chili, but reserved a pint to keep in the fridge for the week, to sprinkle over salads or turn into a quick puree. One batch in and I’m a total pressure cooker convert, already planning to do some garbanzo beans tomorrow night for a batch of homemade hummus (we go through the 8 ounce containers from Trader Joe’s way too fast), which of course, I’ll then store in a jar. When I cook the garbanzos, I also plan on pouring some of them into a couple of wide-mouth pint jars and stashing them in the freezer (leaving plenty of headspace to account for expansion), for those times when even the pressure cooker isn’t quick enough for me.

And, just as I had suspected, my life in the kitchen is forever changed, thankfully for the better.

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18 thoughts on "Pressure Cooker Navy Beans"

  • I’ve been thinking of getting one, too. Glad to hear you survived, and maybe exorcised some of that familial trauma.

    Is the Presto one that can be used for pressure canning, or would you need to buy a different one for that?

    Marisa (do you pronounce it so that it rhymes with Teresa or Melissa?), according to food safety guidelines, pressure cookers without gauges aren’t recommended for pressure canning, so I’m actually going to get a different contraption for pressure canning. -Marisa

    1. Presto is a good name in pressure cookers. My family (4 generations) have used them for years. There are two sizes to consider: the pressure saucepan (6-8 qt) , for meal preparation, and the pressure canner (16 qt and higher) for processing jars. You can also cook LARGE recipes of beans, roasts, and other mealtimes goodies in the canner.

      Be sure to read the manual and follow all of the caveats on pressure cooking. Bean skins, for example, should be carefully removed before cooking so they don’t clog the steam vent. It is important that the seals are pliant. If the seal has become brittle or cracked it will not work properly. You can get new seals at hardware stores. They are usually under $10.

      Pressure canners need to be tested once a year to be sure they are keeping the right pressure. This insures that any produce you can is properly cooked and sealed. In farm country, where I live, we can go to the agricultural extension office (usually in the county courthouse) to have have a canner tested. Agricultural Extension offices also exist in urban areas. Check your phone book under the name of your state ag. school (i.e. Kansas State University, Texas A&M, or whatever it is called where you live), then look for Extension Office. If you can’t find it in the phone book, call your local public library and ask the reference librarian to help you.

  • Brave! You are brave! With a family story like that, you have stepped up and broken the curse. Congratulations.

    To think of cooking beans that fast blows me away. I’m tempted. Very, very tempted.

    Lelo, thank you! I felt pretty brave doing it. Also, knowing a little about your kitchen aesthetic, I think you’d really enjoy having a pressure cooker. It transforms things that once required a lot of planning into quick and accessible meal options. -Marisa

  • My friend has been bugging me to get a pressure cooker for months now. Maybe I’ll do it. Amazon, here I come.

    Dieselboi, do it! -Marisa

  • I have a giant pressure cooker for canning tomatoes, but I think I might need to buy a smaller one for beans. Thanks again for the inspiration!

    I too, burned my face badly once, but not with a pressure cooker. I burned myself with a very small amount of hot artichoke dip that I heated too long in the microwave, and then flung in the air because of the heat, and splattered all over my face. I had burns that slashed from my eyelids across my face to my throat– that cheesy dip stuck to my face like glue. My doctor told me it would be painful, but to scrub the burns daily so I wouldn’t scar. I only have a small scar on the side of my throat to show for it. Burns on the face can be very traumatic!

    Sarah, that must have been awful! Luckily, you don’t run that risk with a pressure cooker anymore (unless you do something really unadvised with it, like cook lentils, which are known to gum up the works badly). -Marisa

  • Ok, that’s what I thought. And the ones with gauges tend to be a lot bigger, too, so I’d really need both kinds, I think. I’m just hoping to come up with an inexpensive (and less storage required) option…

    (I pronounce it like Melissa, with a soft “i”. You?)

    I pronounce it so it sounds like Mareesa or, as my mom phonetically spells it Marie-suh. However, I think most people go with your pronunciation! -Marisa

  • As a child of the fifties, I too, was well indoctrinated in the evils of the pressure cooker. Thank you so much for your liberating post, I ordered mine today.
    Hugs, Lisa

    1. You are so welcome! I’m delighted to hear that this post helped you change your feelings towards the pressure cooker!

  • I have yet to use a pressure cooker and I received one for my birthday in January. I’m scared. But this post might help…

    1. You should totally start including recipes for the pressure cooker now! 😉 Just made your sour cherry jam and oh my goodness — it is so good and I can’t believe how easy it was! I’m a convert.

  • I wanted a pressure cooker and my sister-in-law gave me a brand new one that her grandma got in the 60’s with gold stamps. I used that thing for probably 7 years before the gauge went bad. Now I have a 22, 12, 8, 6, and 4qt that I use for canning and cooking. Love them, love the time saved and how tender meat comes out in them.

  • I specifically bought a pressure cooker to take care of ‘stewing hens’ that I raise. They take 10 hours in a dutch oven. So, I bought one (8 qts….just for cooking not canning)
    and it took me TWO YEARS to get up enough nerve to actually use it. It is the most wonderful thing in the world (for chickens, beans, etc.). I am truly a convert. Just bummed it took so long for me to figure it out.

  • I’m happy to hear you actually use a pressure cooker. I have used one all of my adult life (learned from my mother), when I mention it to anyone they tell me they have never used one. I think if more cooks would try it they would see how wonderful it is! Good for you!!

  • Hi Marisa,
    A little late in finding you but was directed to this article on pressure cookers. I didn’t see any conversation about possible nutrient loss when cooking at high steaming temps for short periods. I don’t know anything about it but did your research qualify any of that?

  • My mum used her Presto aluminum pressure cooker since the late 50’s early 60’s to feed her 9 kids and she used it a lot without any drama, I have since lent it to a friend and after buying a new rubber seal and a new regulator which had run away from home since mum died it is back in use again. They are a reasonably priced good pressure cooker that reaches that magical 15psi before it starts to vent steam and locks the lid, even the antique that mum used(and that my friend now uses ) did that. I wonder what make your grandma had. When I returned from Alberta back in the mid 80’s, I found a Langostina with a locked on lid which I was able to open without damage and buy for $20 at an “Eaton’s Surprise Sale”. It was stainless steel and slightly larger so it became the favourite and the Presto relegated to special service and was used during family feasts to cook the red cabbage.
    Good luck and good health.