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Are you in need of a last-minute dinner solution for a gang of ravenous house guests? Your friendly pressure cooker can turn meat, vegetables, spices, and a touch of water or stock into a savory chili or stew in the time it takes to open a bottle of wine and set the table. Indeed, when it comes to instant gratification for hungry bellies, nothing beats a pressure cooker for preparing a quick, hot, tasty meal.
Once upon a time, pressure cookers could do little but braise simple cuts of meat. But with the recent “rebirth” of pressure cookers, your options are seemingly endless. With a modern pressure cooker, you can cook soups, rapidly prepare dried beans, make perfect rice, and so much more.
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If you’re eager to get your hands on a new pressure cooker, please consult the above product matrix to guide your purchase. To learn more about pressure cookers — how they work, how to choose one, how to use one — please continue reading this shopping guide.
Note: The above product recommendations were updated August 2017. The products below were our original choices and have yet to be updated.
In a manner somewhat similar to braising, a pressure cooker prepares food using steam that is tightly sealed in a special pot.
Liquid in the form of water, stock, broth, or even wine is heated in the sealed chamber, which creates steam.
The airtight seal creates a large amount of pressure inside the pot, which heats the liquid to a high temperature.
Once the lid is closed, the correct amount of pressure is selected based on the recipe.
The pot is placed on the stove on very high heat until it reaches the desired pressure. Pressure level is indicated in various ways depending on the cooker; it can be a digital readout or manual gauge.
When the desired pressure is reached, the heat is lowered to maintain a consistent pressure. It can take up to 10 minutes for a pressure cooker to reach its target temperature.
Bringing a pressure cooker to pressure will not sterilize its contents, and the normal temperatures for reheating and cooling food are still applicable.
When cooking is finished — but before the lid is opened — the pressure inside the pot must be released. That process can be done in one of three ways:
The steam valve is gently turned so the heat can escape.
The heat is turned off, and the pot is allowed to cool for 10 to 15 minutes before lid removal.
The pressure cooker is placed under running cool water. This is the most dangerous method of pressure release, as steam can escape from vents accidentally left open.
Many people eat pressure-cooked food because they believe it’s healthier, tastier, and easier/faster to prepare.
Indeed, a pressure cooker’s combination of steam and pressure speeds up the cooking process while simultaneously preserving key nutrients and vitamins. And the end results taste great.
Our expert Francois says: "Pressure cookers are lifesavers for busy chefs. Cook a risotto in 15 minutes without stirring!"
Pressure cooking helps veggies retain between 90 and 95% of their vitamins as compared to boiling, which can cut vitamin content in half.
If you model your kitchen after your grandmother, there’s a pressure cooker that’s just right for you. Generally found at garage sales or on Craigslist, these first-generation pressure cookers require careful monitoring but can get the job done perfectly.
The earliest pressure cooker models have a weight on the top of a valve that releases steam during the cooking process. The drawback is that there is no gauge, so everything cooks at the same temperature.
Toward the end of this first generation of pressure cookers, some manufacturers made weights of varying sizes that allowed cooks to monitor the pressure. Cooking time would then be based on the number of long “whistles” that issued from the pressure cooker. For example, when the cooker gave off seven whistles, your roast was done.
If you live at an unusual altitude, you may need to adjust your cooking time accordingly.
The second generation of pressure cookers had a built-in gauge which could be adjusted to the desired pressure. Often, these appliances had two or more settings. In many cases, there was no release valve, which meant users had to be extra careful in how they released steam before opening the lid.
At one point, pressure cookers were limited to rapidly braising cheaper cuts of meat. With a refresh and a few semiconductors added, the pressure cooker’s range now includes the slow cooking of soups, the rapid preparation of dried beans, and much more.
In the early ‘90s, electric pressure cookers hit the market. These appliances allowed users to regulate both heat and pressure. As technology improved, electric pressure cookers advanced in stages.
Market offerings had a manual timer with no pre-programming ability.
The market began to offer digital timers with delayed cook settings.
The market began to offer smart digital functions that enable detailed setting control. Stage three also introduced the multifunctional model which, in addition to pressure cooking, functions as a rice cooker, steamer, yogurt maker, and stock pot.
Pressure cookers aren’t one-trick ponies. They can be used to prepare more than delicious roast. For example, you can use a pressure to prepare rice, hard-boiled eggs, or dry beans.
While it’s true that you could cook just about anything in a pressure cooker, some foods and recipes lend themselves better than others to this fast, high-heat style of preparation. Here are some ideas.
Though a good pressure cooker pot roast recipe may require a fair amount of prep work (including browning the meat and sautéing the vegetables), you’ll have a hearty dinner that will no doubt please family and guests after about 45 minutes in an electric pressure cooker. Notably, one of the key benefits of cooking with steam pressure is that it allows users to find success with less-expensive (tougher) cuts of meat.
A bit of advanced prep is required for chili, too — mostly browning the meat and removing excess fat. But once all ingredients are placed in the pot, the pressure cooker works quickly (in about eight minutes) to create a chili to remember.
Born and raised in Paris, the land of unapologetic butter, Francois has spent the last 20 years shaping the American culinary world behind the scenes. He was a buyer at Williams-Sonoma, built the Food Network online store, managed product assortments for Rachael Ray's site, started two meal delivery businesses and runs a successful baking blog. When he's not baking a cake or eating his way through Europe, Francois enjoys sharing cooking skills with cooks of all levels. Rules he lives by: "Use real butter" and "Nothing beats a sharp knife."
Do you love soup? If you choose, you can use your pressure cooker to kick up a traditional vegetable soup with a little added protein in the form of chicken. If you’re lucky enough to have a multifunction pressure cooker, you can perform the vegetable and chicken sauté work in one pot. Once all the ingredients are in place, cooking time is a quick 15 minutes on high.
Consider using a pressure cooker the next time you cook potatoes. Because it steams rather than boils, a pressure cooker will yield better-tasting spuds and prevent them from getting soggy or watery.
Yes, you can make cheesecake (as well as other desserts) in a pressure cooker. According to many recipes, the cooking is actually done using steam while a springform or other pan is placed on a trivet or makeshift foil lift. The steam surrounds the pan during the 40-minute cooking time.
You can make plenty of luscious desserts in a pressure cooker, including cheesecake, cookies, and crème brûlée.
Calamities are bound to happen in any kitchen activity, but the heat and pressure that builds up in a pressure cooker necessitate a number of safety-first rules.
Make sure the rubber gasket seal is intact. Many manufacturers suggest you replace the rubber gasket annually, but it may be wise to keep a spare on hand. A broken or chipped gasket will prevent the appliance from sealing tightly, which could cause it to open unexpectedly.
Do not put too much food in the pressure cooker. The heat will cause the food to expand, so don’t fill the pot more than half full. Opening the pot with an overflow of food could lead to severe burns.
Add enough water. An inadequate amount of water could lead to an imbalance in pressure, which could in turn lead to burnt food.
Do not fry in your pressure cooker. The heat from too much oil in the pot could damage the valve and other parts of the appliance.
Be extra careful in releasing pressure and opening the lid. There is no formal tally of pressure cooking accidents, and with newer digital models they may be less frequent. Nevertheless, you should always read the directions of your unit before using it. See the aforementioned methods for safely releasing steam and opening the cooker lid.
A traditional pressure cooker, generally made of aluminum, can be found in this price range. Generally smaller in capacity — between 8 and 16 cups in many cases — these pressure cookers have safety features built into the handles and release valves. They do lack precise gauges to control the amount of pressure, but they are suitable for small families and for those who don’t plan to use the unit on a regular basis.
Outside of the culinary realm, a pressure cooker can act to sterilize medical equipment in emergency situations or in countries lacking proper medical infrastructure.
Climbing up the price ladder, we begin to find large electric pressure cookers, some with capacities of more than one gallon. Here you will also find stovetop models that have the same features as their aluminum counterparts but are made of stainless steel.
Closer to the $100 mark, you can find some of the more recognizable names in pressure cookers, like Cuisinart.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
For under $200 — and sometimes less than $100 — you can grab yourself a popular Instant Pot that performs other functions beyond pressure cooking, such as sautéing and yogurt-making. The price will vary depending on capacity and smart features such as Bluetooth capability.
The cold-water release method is best for foods with shorter cooking times, like vegetables. For example, the cold-water release method works well for broccoli, which can cook in just two minutes in a pressure cooker.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.