how to use a percolator easily

Stovetop percolators are a great, old fashioned way to make coffee! I remember my grandmother’s trusty stainless steel Farberware percolator. The woman couldn’t make a good cup of tea to save her life, but her coffee was awesome!

In this article, I will discuss how to use a percolator, and I will talk about both the stovetop models as well as electric models. The electric models will also include the coffee urn! Your mom had one in the basement, still in its original carton, pulled out on fancy occasions…

Why use a percolator

A percolator is a pretty good investment. If you buy a stovetop percolator, it can last a lifetime. (link to stovetop percolators here) There is very little that can go wrong (or break). The filter basket keeps coffee grounds out of the coffee and does not need paper filters, so there is less waste. And a stovetop percolator can be used on gas, electric, sterno, a campfire, a grill, etc… Even in the event of a power shortage, you will be able to make a good cup of coffee! The main concern with percolated coffee is that the coffee is bitter. If you use a percolator without knowing how to use it, then it is easy to make an undrinkable cup of coffee! If you have mastered the art of how to use a percolator, you end up with a rich satisfying brew!

Getting to know your percolator

When shopping for a stovetop percolator, only buy a pot that is constructed of stainless steel. That goes for the innards as well. Plastic is only suitable for the handle, and if you plan on taking your pot camping, go for all stainless, handle and all!
A percolator (stovetop or electric) consists of several parts:

  • The carafe
  • The stem
  • The filter basket
  • The filter basket cover (depending on the model, this part may be absent)
  • The cover
  • The dome

Water is placed in the carafe, and coffee is added to the filter basket.

When the percolator is heated, hot water is forced up through the stem (which is hollow), “perks” in the glass dome, and rains down on the coffee grounds, dripping through the basket back into the carafe. This is a convection cycle. Once the coffee has perked for a specified time, the coffee is ready. One real benefit to percolator coffee is that it is always very hot!

Making percolator coffee

  • Make sure that your percolator is clean. If all stainless steel, you can run it through the dishwasher several times a week, but make sure to look at the manufacturer’s cleaning instruction. (Link to How to clean your coffee pot article here)
  • Set the stem into the pot.
  • Fill with water up to a marking on the pot or to the base of the spring on the stem.
  • Measure coffee into the grounds basket. Make sure that you use coarse grind. Fine grind will make bitter coffee and will find its way through the holes in the filter basket into your cup. It can also clog the filter basket. This makes a HUGE mess. Trust me.
  • Use about 1 tablespoon of coarsely ground coffee per cup (8 ounces) of water.
  • Place the grounds basket on the stem. Cover it with its cover.
  • Secure the glass dome onto the lid.
  • Place the lid on the pot.
  • Put the pot on the stove and then turn it on. I use medium heat.
  • Once you hear the perking start, lower the heat. If the perking stops, the heat is too low. A good rule of thumb to judge the heat is that the coffee should perk every 2 to 3 seconds.
  • Perk for 7 to 10 minutes. This is a matter of personal taste. Some trial and error is needed here, depending on how strong you like your coffee.
  • Allow the pot to rest to let any errant grounds settle.
  • Enjoy!
If you are perking your coffee over a campfire, place the pot on a flat rock close to the flames. Do not put it on the flame! Also, be careful of the handle. Always use an oven mitt. If your percolator has a plastic handle, it is not suited for campfire use, as the handle could melt. If you are very sensitive to grounds in your coffee, paper disc filters are available to use at the bottom of the filter basket. (Link to disc filters here)

Electric percolators

The instructions for electric percolators are pretty much the same as for stovetop percolators. (Link to Amazon here). The only difference is that you can plug them in and walk away. Electric percolators use an internal thermostat, so they stop percolating when the coffee is done. This also prevents burning the coffee, which is fairly easy to do with a stovetop percolator. The downside to electric percolators is that you cannot use them for camping, and if the power goes out, then no coffee for you.

Coffee urns

These are the big guns for caterers and people who do a lot of home entertaining. (Link to coffee urn here) Coffee urns are giant percolators that typically make between 30 and 50 cups of coffee at a time. Their use is pretty much the same as an electric percolator, just on a larger scale. Rather than counting cups and measuring the coffee per cup, make sure that you keep the users manual. It’s much easier to measure out a couple of pounds of coffee with a measuring cup than with a coffee scoop!

So now that you know the basics of how to use a percolator, try making a few pots to get the timing down and, well, get perkin’!

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