Best Pressure Cookers of 2018
The pressure cooker is the kitchen device that can do it all. Find out how, plus our top three picks.
Get Faster Cooking Times Using a Pressure Cooker
Once upon a time, a pressure cooker was an exciting yet slightly dangerous kitchen cooking appliance that might—or might not—explode its contents onto your walls and ceiling. Today, it's a popular, safe appliance that can help you get dinner on the table in less than 15 minutes.
- Cooking dried chickpeas in a pressure cooker takes 9 to 14 minutes. On the stove, the same task would take 1.5 hours.
- Brown rice requires just 12 to 15 minutes in a pressure cooker. It requires 40 to 45 minutes in a pan on the stove.
- Stew prepared in a pressure cooker takes only 20 minutes. On your stove top, it takes upwards of an hour.
With fast cook times like these, this handy appliance's growing popularity is quite understandable. The market offers a huge number of options, from stove top to electric models. So which should you choose?
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If you're interested in buying a pressure cooker, please see the above product matrix for our top recommendations. If you'd like to learn more about this efficient cooking technology, take a peek at our shopping guide.
Stove Top Pressure Cookers
A stove top pressure cooker looks like a large saucepan with a locking lid. As the name suggests, it sits on your stove top.
- Stove top pressure cookers generally reach a higher pressure than electric cookers. This means they cook food faster.
- Compared to electric, stove top models cost less money.
- If you have a quality stove top pressure cooker with all the contemporary safety features, it could last a generation or more.
- Stove top pressure cookers can be a bit intimidating for newbies.
- You'll need to supervise your cooker throughout the cooking process.
- They're less versatile than electric models.
Electric Pressure Cookers
Electric pressure cookers are digitally controlled appliances that plug into a power outlet.
- Most electric pressure cookers serve multiple purposes. You can use them to sautée, brown, and slow cook foods.
- Because only a power outlet is required, they're great for students and others with limited kitchen access.
- The majority of electric models have delayed start timers. For safety reasons, however, this function shouldn't be used when preparing meat, dairy, and other animal products.
- Electric pressure cookers are simple to use. Most have digital controls with preset programs.
- Electric pressure cookers cost significantly more than stove top models.
- Since they reach a lower maximum pressure, electric pressure cookers are slightly slower to cook their contents than stove top varieties.
What to Consider When Buying a Pressure Cooker
Pressure cooker capacity is generally measured in quarts. A good rule of thumb is that one quart will feed one person. Therefore, a 4-quart pressure cooker would be ideal for four people, a 6-quart model for six people, and so on. However, if you enjoy having plenty of leftovers, you might want to size up accordingly.
A stove top pressure cooker's valve controls its internal pressure. Three valve types exist: weighted, modified-weighted, and spring. Spring valves are seen as the most modern, but the other two are perfectly safe, if a little noisy.
- Weighted: A weighted valve rests atop the unit's vent pipe. When it begins to gently rock, the appliance has attained ideal pressure. It will continue rocking in order to release steam and maintain constant pressure.
- Modified-Weighted: This type of valve operates in a manner similar to that of a weighted valve. However, the weight is attached to the pressure cooker, and there's a separate vent pipe. Because of this, the valve doesn't need to rock to release steam.
- Spring: A spring valve is a short valve that pops up to show that the cooker has reached pressure. Unlike older valve types, it won't jangle around or fill your kitchen with dramatic hissing sounds.
Electric pressure cookers should have a float valve. This device releases steam but doesn't actually control internal pressure—that's done electronically.
Stove top models and the interior cooking pots of electric pressure cookers tend to be made of either stainless steel or aluminum.
- Stainless steel is harder and more durable than aluminum. In addition, it's nonreactive, so it won't change the flavor of acidic ingredients like tomatoes and citrus fruits.
- Aluminum is more affordable than stainless steel. However, it's a softer, less-durable metal, and it may react with some ingredients.
Other Factors to Consider
Electric pressure cookers come with a range of preset programs that can be accessed with the press of a button. This removes the guesswork from pressure cooking, so it's ideal for beginners. That said, not every dish will be covered by preset programs, so you'll still have to look up some recipes or experiment via trial and error.
Psi stands for "pounds per square inch" and is the unit used to quantify how much pressure a cooker puts on food. A higher psi means more pressure and a faster cooking time. Stove top varieties tend to have a maximum psi of 13 to 15. They may also have a "low" setting of 6 to 9 psi for delicate cooking tasks. Electric pressure cooker psi maximums vary from as little as 6 psi to as much as 13 psi.
Tips for Using Your New Pressure Cooker
- Even if it was handed down to you by a cherished grandparent, don't attempt to use a vintage model. Pressure cookers made 20 years ago didn't include the important safety features that contemporary appliances do, such as backup pressure valves and locking lids that prevent the device from opening while under pressure.
- You can also purchase racks, baskets, and inserts for your pressure cooker that give you more options for cooking your food.
- The "natural release" option allows the cooker to come down to regular pressure in its own time. The lock releases at this point, allowing you to open the unit.
- The "quick release" option allows you to open the valve and manually let the steam out. This brings pressure down faster than the natural release option. If you intend to use the quick release option, you may need to cook your food slightly longer. Most recipes specify which type of release to use.
- Avoid filling your pressure cooker more than half full of liquid or two-thirds full of solid ingredients. The reason: The cooker needs room for steam to build up.
- It's better to undercook something in a pressure cooker than to overcook it. You can always cook food a little longer, but you can't save overcooked food.
Pressure Cooker Prices
$30 to $50
In this price range, you'll find basic stove top pressure cookers of up to about 6.5 quarts in capacity.
- On the lower end of the range, you'll find plenty of aluminum models and unknown brands.
- On the higher end of the range, you'll find stainless steel cookers and household name brands.
$50 to $70
You could get a large stove top model (about 10 quarts) for this kind of money. You could also find a small electric pressure cooker in this range.
$70 to $100
At this level, you'll find some large stove top pressure cookers (20+ quarts) that are also suitable for canning. You'll also find top-shelf electric pressure cookers that can hold up to about 6 quarts.
If you're willing to spend over $100 on a pressure cooker, you'll find yourself choosing from some large, top-quality models of both the electric and stove top varieties.
Q. Are pressure cookers safe?
A. A generation or two ago, pressure cookers were seen as somewhat risky. It wasn't uncommon to sustain burns or scalding injuries from them. Today, however, they include a range of helpful safety features. They pose no more of a threat than boiling or roasting food.
Q. Should I buy a stove top pressure cooker or an electric one?
A. One type of pressure cooker is not inherently better than the other. In the end, it comes down to your personal preference. If you want to put your feet up while your food cooks, we suggest an electric pressure cooker. But if you want something simple that cooks food fast—and you don't mind supervising the appliance while it works—a stove top model should suit you fine.
Q. Is the psi of my pressure cooker important?
A. The majority of pressure cookers work at 15 psi, so you'll find that most recipes are geared toward that. While it's more convenient to have a pressure cooker that goes up to 15 psi, it's not the end of the world if you don't—your dinner will just take a little longer to cook.