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As Covid-19 cases remain high this winter, many states across the country are keeping indoor dining off the table, which means more home-cooked meals with your own equipment, from cast iron cookware to cookie pans. If you picked up a regular cooking habit in quarantine and are looking for a new way to experiment, it may be time to invest in an all-in-one kitchen appliance like the pressure cooker. These cookers have been around for a while — popularized by iconic brands like Instant Pot — and their usefulness has only increased during the pandemic, as they help you complete meals faster than a traditional stovetop or smart oven, and with much less clean up.
SKIP AHEAD How to choose a pressure cooker
“You can add the ingredients, lock the lid in place and go help the kids with their homework while the meal cooks,” said Barbara Schieving, creator of “Pressure Cooking Today,” a pressure cooking blog and author of multiple pressure cooking books. If you’re thinking of upgrading your kitchen cooking game and are considering going the route of the pressure cooker, here’s everything you need to know, what features to look out for and which are the best models out there. You can also readily find pressure cookers at Shopping reader-favorite retailers, including Walmart, Target, Amazon, Kohl’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Wayfair and Best Buy, among others.
They’re for people who enjoy delicious home-cooked meals but want to get out of the kitchen faster.
Barbara Schieving, Cooking expert and author
Are pressure cookers for you?
Pressure cookers are different from slow cookers or the iconic Crock-Pot — notably, in November 2020, nearly a million Crock-Pot units got recalled. While slow cookers use lower temperatures and longer cook times, pressure cookers use hot steam and, you guessed it, pressure to cook food faster. They are made for novice chefs and experienced cooks alike, said Schieving. “They’re for people who enjoy delicious home-cooked meals but want to get out of the kitchen faster,” she said.
There are plenty of types of pressure cookers. Some models even combine both pressure cooking and slow cooking. Pressure cookers typically use less water than an ordinary saucepan, too, making your meals more vitamin-rich (hot water can often strip foods of their nutrients), said Linda Shiue, MD, a chef, physician and cookbook author.
We’ve got some easy pressure cooker recipes to help you get started and, for those who hate doing the dishes, there’s only one pot to clean. There are two types of traditional pressure cookers: Stovetop and electric.
- Stovetop pressure cookers cook food faster and are more sturdy than electric cookers but require a bit more attention while cooking, as users will have to adjust the heat throughout cooking.
- Electric pressure cookers are slower and less durable but easier to operate, allowing users to automatically adjust the heat. They also switch to a Keep Warm setting after the food is done, said Shiue.
Best pressure cookers of 2021
This six-quart cooker automatically lets users adjust pressure, temperature and time via the knobs on the front of the cooker. The LCD screen also shows cook time, heat and other features while your meal cooks. This model has hands-free steam release and multiple cooking functions, including pressure cooking, slow cooking, sauteing, steaming and searing. The Breville also has special cooking features for vegetables, rice, risotto, soup, stock, beans, poultry, meat, stew and desserts.
This six-quart pressure cooker has nine cooking settings, including slow cook, stews and soups, rice, red meat, poultry, steaming, beans and searing. The model comes with a Keep Warm feature and Delay Cooking feature to match your eating time. The LED screen shows how much cook time is left, and has a safety release valve on the lid to release pressure. The inner pod and lid are dishwasher-safe.
This model has a built-in air fryer and nine basic pressure cooker settings, including steaming, slow cooking and searing. The Food Ninja has 14 safety features and the inner nonstick pot is easy to wash. This model also comes in multiple sizes, ranging from five to eight quarts. The LED screen shows cook time and temperature in the pot, allowing users to more easily adjust settings while cooking.
One of the most well-known pressure cooking brands, Instant Pot has many models to choose from, ranging in features and price. The Duo is a standard electric pressure cooker and slow cooker, with special functions for rice, sauteed food, porridge, soup, stews and yogurt. The Keep Warm function can keep food hot before eating and the Delay Start function can set a future cooking time up to 24 hours ahead. This model comes in four sizes — three, six, eight and 10 quarts — and the inner lid and pot are microwave-safe for easy cleanup.
This stovetop pressure cooker is sleekly designed and has two pressure settings, high and low. It has an automatic locking handle to prevent steam release and comes in four sizes, ranging from 4.2 quarts to 10 quarts. The cooker performs on both gas and electric stoves and comes with a steaming basket.
How to choose a pressure cooker?
Pressure cookers may have previously conjured up images of soup exploding all over the kitchen or burns caused by the steam, but modern pressures cookers are much more safe. Schieving explained that recent models have features like automatic pressure control to prevent over-pressurisation, a lid lock feature to prevent opening under pressure and automatic temperature detection to regulate heat.
“They can almost function as a mini-kitchen,” she said. “And since the pandemic has required people to cook more than ever, it’s not surprising that they might have become even more popular.”
Shopping for the best pressure cooker
When shopping for a pressure cooker, pay attention to its size and your available kitchen space, as well as its price and additional features, noted Schieving. Pressure cookers aren’t very compact and might require substantial counter or cupboard space. Evaluate your kitchen storage situation and how much food you plan to make.
- The most common pressure cooker holds six quarts, ideal for small families and couples, added Schieving.
- Those with smaller kitchen space or who are just cooking for themselves should consider a three-quart model, she said.
- And those with larger families or want larger meals may want to look for an eight-quart model or larger.
While most pressure cookers perform similarly and have the same safety features, many come with additional features that cost more.
- Most standard cookers are run under $100
- Higher-end models range between $100 and $300, said Sonoko Sakai, a cooking teacher, author and food writer.
Some are multi-cookers and can be used as a slow cooker or pressure cooker, depending on what you’re making. Others even combine air frying and pressure cooking into the one model.
Some pressure cookers equip preset functions to simplify cooking rice, chicken, chili, stew or sauteed food. If you regularly cook a certain dish, look out for a button for that specific food, said Schieving. Not sure how many pre-set functions you need? Think about how many microwave settings you use, said Schieving. If you typically don’t use the preset microwave buttons, you probably won’t use the preset buttons on your pressure cooker either. Most users opt for the regular “Pressure Cook” button, said Sakai.
Higher-end pressure cookers also sport LCD screens that give you information on what’s going on inside the pot, including cook time and temperature.