Pressure cookers are getting a lot of love lately. The recent popularity of the Instant Pot, commonly known as InstaPot, has recently helped renew interest in pressure cooking and has prompted many companies to release their own fancy new electric pressure cookers with multicooking capabilities. But why are people so excited about pressure cooking? How does pressure cooking work, and who might benefit from owning a pressure cooker? Are all pressure cookers alike? If you're interested in getting a pressure cooker, what do you need to know before buying? We'll answer all these quesitons and more to make your own research just a little bit easier.
Our Picks For Best Pressure Cookers
First, here are our top picks for pressure cookers. We selected them for thier quality results, ease of use and safety in mind and have made it easy to compare highlighted features below to help you decide which pressure cooker is best for you.
Electric Pressure Cookers:
The Instant Pot is perhaps the most popular electric pressure cooker (or "multicooker") on the market right now. Many find it to be the perfect balance of function, size, and price. Here's a quick breakdown of some of its specs.
Materials: The inner cooking pot is made of stainless steel with a 3-ply base (meaning it has that layer of aluminum sandwiched inside for even heat distribution). It also comes with a stainless steel steamer rack, and the exterior is also stainless steel. Now, if you want to get picky, the best stainless steel will be marked "18/10" (meaning it has 18% chromium and 10% nickel) and will be the most resistant to corrosion, but the Instant Pot only has 18/8. For most, however, this is a negligible difference. 18/8 stainless steel is still "304 Grade" stainless steel, meaning it's high quality and perfectly safe around your food.
Valve Type: Float valve.
Safety Features: The Instant Pot boasts 10 safety features, including a Safety Lid Lock,
Leaky Lid Smart Detection, Anti-Blockage Vent,
Magnetic Lid Position Sensor,
Automatic Pressure Control, Excess Pressure Protection,
Automatic Temperature Control,
High Temperature Monitoring,
Safety Fuse. In other words, it checks all our boxes and then some.
Pressure Settings: The Instant Pot has 2 main pressure settings: High and Low. The High setting only reaches about 10 to 12 psi, while the Low setting hovers around 6 to 7 psi. For some, these may be lower than desired, although they are perfectly respectable for most cooks. The lower psi may mean that you need to add a couple minutes to certain pressure cooker recipes you come across—you may need a little practice to perfect this.
Size: The Instant Pot comes in a few sizes—a 5-quart, a 6-quart, and an 8-quart.
Canning Capability: You cannot pressure can in an Instant Pot. You can, however, can using the "boiling water method," which is suitable for fruits and some vegetables (citrus fruits, tomatoes, apples, etc.) to make jellies, jams, preserves, and pickles. The boiling water method does not get hot enough, however, to kill certain bacteria like botulism, and is not suitable when canning things like beans and meats.
Additional Features: The Instant Pot isn't just a pressure cooker; it can also be a slow cooker, a steamer, a rice maker, a yogurt maker, and it can saute and warm foods. It has 14 pre-programmed settings to accomplish these various tasks. It also has a delayed cooking setting, so you can set it up to cook for you while you sleep or while you work.
Brand: The marketing information on the Instant Pot claims that the company offers a "Best-in-class customer service team of dedicated, friendly and responsive support staff," though a keyword search for "customer service" within the Amazon reviews yeilded mixed results—some glowing reviews, others quite scathing. The warranty for this product only lasts 1 year, and it only covers units that are defective due to manufacturer error, not accidental damage done by the user.
Want to know more about the Instant Pot? Check out our article on 9 Reasons People Can't Stop Talking About InstaPot.
This T-fal pressure cooker has many pre-programmed settings and a nice digital display, much like the Instant Pot. It also comes with some accessories: a spatula, steam tray, measuring cup, trivet, and recipe book.
Materials: This T-fal cooker has a stainless steel housing, but the inner pot is lined with ceramic nonstick coating. Often nonstick coatings don't hold up particularly well to intense pressure, though ceramic coatings will at least not release harmful chemicals when they degrade. There are 4 layers of this ceramic coating, meaning that it will last longer before completely wearing away. Once it does, though, you may need to buy a new inner pot, which is relatively inexpensive on T-fal's website.
Valve Type: Float valve.
Safety Features: It has a locking lid, a detachable electric cable, and a float valve that can release steam if the electronic logic that regulates pressure somehow fails. Compared to Instant Pot, T-fal offers less information about its safety features, but it does seem to conver the essentials.
Pressure Settings: There are 3 pressure settings, High, Medium, and Low, though it is unclear what the precise psi is for each of these settings.
Size: This cooker comes in one size, 6.3 quarts.
Canning Capability: Like the Instant Pot, the T-fal Pressure Cooker cannot be used to pressure can, but is suitable for boiling water canning.
Additional Features: The T-fal electric pressure cooker has 25 pre-programmed cooking options, including Rice, Oatmeal, Baby Food, Slow Cook, Simmer, Reheat, Bake, Brown, DIY, and others.
Brand: T-fal has been around for quite some time, and is particularly well known for their nonstick cookware and small appliances. The length of the warranty on this pressure cooker varies by country; for the US, they offer a 1 year, the same as the Instant Pot.
Price: You can find this cooker for $85 on Amazon.
Just like the Instant Pot, this Cosori Pressure Cooker offers 7 functions in one and a variety of pre-programmed cooking modes. It also comes with a plastic spoon, ladle, measuring cup, a glass lid for storing and serving, and an extra sealing ring in case your original gets damaged.
Materials: This cooker has a stainless steel housing and a stainless steel inner pot. The product description does not list the precise grade of stainless steel, however.
Valve Type: Float valve.
Safety Features: The marketing information lists 9 safety features, including anti-jam measures and an electrical current monitor, but many of the listed safety features are oddly vague, like "over-pressure guard" and "thermal limit protection." The user manual does show, however, that the lid has a locking mechanism and the unit comes with a float valve and exhaust valve, plus a sheild on the float valve that helps keep it from getting clogged.
Pressure Settings: There are 3 pressure levels—High, Medium, and Low, though again it's unclear what precise psi corresponds with each of these settings.
Size: This cooker comes in one size, 6 quarts, though Cosori also makes a 2-quart cooker.
Canning Capability: Like all other electric pressure cookers, this cooker should not be used for pressure canning, but is fine for boiling water canning.
Additional Features: This cooker can also be used as a slow cooker, rice maker, saute pan, steamer, and warmer, just like the Instant Pot. Unlike the Instant Pot, it has no Yogurt setting, but it does double as a stock pot, which the Instant Pot doesn't advertize. Like the T-fal and Instant Pot cookers above, this cooker features a digital display and various cooking mode buttons. But if the Instant Pot is non-intuitive, as many argue, this Cosori model may be even more so, with too many buttons that are oddly organized. The User Manual does however offer clear instructions with many helpful diagrams.
Brand: Cosori appears to be a newer brand—they don't even have a page on Wikipedia, but they do make it very easy to access their customer support through their website. They offer a 1 year limited warranty, but they also have a "Warranty Extension Program" on their website that customers can opt into within 7 days of receiving the item from Amazon. This program extends the warranty up to another year.
Price:$98 on Amazon.
Stovetop Pressure Cookers:
T-fal's stovetop pressure cooker is a cheaper, simpler alternative to the electric cookers above. It's dishwasher safe once you remove the gasket and pressure valve, and comes with a steamer basket, a stand, and a recipe booklet.
Materials: Unlike their electric pressure cooker, T-fal's stovetop cooker is stainless steel both inside and out. It has an "encapsulated base," meaning it has a layer of aluminum inside the base for even heat distribution.
Valve Type: Spring valve.
Safety Features: The locking lid on this model can be operated with one hand, which is a nifty little feature, and potentially helpful for the disabled. It also has a safety valve.
Pressure Settings: This cooker has an operating pressure of up to 12 psi.
Canning Capability: Neither size of this cooker is large enough for pressure canning, though both could be used for boiling water canning.
Additional Features: Aside from the one-handed locking lid and the very grip-able handles, this cooker has no fancy bells and whistles. Just the basics.
Brand: As mentioned above, T-fal has been around for quite some time, and is particularly well known for their nonstick cookware and small appliances. They offer a 10 year warranty on the pan of this cooker and a 1 year warranty on other parts such as the gasket and valve
If you have (or aspire to have) a Calphalon kitchen, the Calphalon Stainless 6-Quart Pressure Cooker is an excellent stovetop option. The cover has a unique locking rim that secures it to the base in any position and it locks with the touch of a button. It does not come with any accessories.
Materials: The Calphalon pressure cooker is solid stainless steel all the way through.
Valve Type: Spring valve.
Safety Features: The coolest feature of this cooker is perhaps its easy-to-use lid, which locks or unlocks in any position with the push of a button. It also features a pressure indicator and of course a safety valve.
Pressure Settings: There are 2 settings, high and low, but no exact psi values are listed.
Size: This model comes in 1 size, a 6-quart.
Canning Capability: This cooker should not be used as a pressure canner, but can be used when boiling water canning.
Additional Features: The pot is dishwaser safe, like the T-fal cooker above, but the lid has to be hand-washed.
Brand: Like T-fal, Calphalon has been around for a long time and has a good reputation. Their customer support is readily accessible on their website, and they offer a 10-year warranty for this cooker, excluding the gasket.
Price: $158 on Amazon.
This Fagor pressure cooker is the most high-powered option on this list. Coming in at 10 quarts and 15 psi, it is not messing around. It comes with a steamer basket that doubles as a food grater, as well as a recipe book. The pot (but not the lid) is dishwasher-safe.
Materials: It's stainless steel through-and-through. Specifically, it's 18/10 stainless steel, which is the best kind of food-grade stainless steel.
Valve Type: Spring valve.
Safety Features: Not only does this cooker have a locking lid and a visual pressure indicator, it also has a triple valve safety system, so it's ultra-safe.
Pressure Settings: This one has 2 pressure settings, Low (8 psi) and High (15 psi).
Size: This cooker is a whopping 10 quarts! That's big enough for pretty much any cooking task.
Canning Capability: Yes! And it says so right in the name. Not many pressure cookers can double as pressure canners, but this one meets all the necessary specifications.
Additional Features: Nada, zip, zilch. Just a high-powered pressure cooker that's super-safe, canning-capable, and dishwasher-friendly.
Brand: Fagor originally hails from Spain and was founded in 1956. They make a lot of larger household appliances like washing machines and refrigerators in addition to smaller kitchen appliances. On this pressure cooker, they offer a 10-year warranty that excludes the gasket and other moving parts.
Price: $150 on Amazon.
Why pressure cook?
Pressure cookers use water to cook food quickly. Water is a better conductor of heat than air, and the heat that water conducts is what helps foods cook in a pressure cooker. When you use a pressure cooker, you are creating an air-tight seal over the contents inside and warming the contents of the cooker above water's boiling point to create steam. Because steam is less dense than water, but it can't escape the pressure cooker, pressure inside the cooker increases as the temperature increases. In turn, the increased pressure inside the cooker allows the boiling point of water to rise. The hotter the water inside the pressure cooker can get without turning into steam, the quicker food is able to cook and the more moisture is able to remain in the food in spite of very high temperatures. Cool, huh?
So what benefits does this method of cooking have?
1. It's fast.
Pressure cooking is exponentially faster than regular cooking. For every 5°C above 100°C (water's normal boiling point), the cooking time is reduced by half, meaning that if you can raise the temperature inside the cooker to 120°C (most pressure cookers can go as high as 121°C), you can cook foods 16 times faster than normal. This is a huge deal for whose for whom cooking is time consuming and inconvenient. It also means that you can make that 5-to-6-hour slow cooker recipe in less than 30 minutes.
2. It's efficient.
Since pressure cookers form a tight seal over the content inside, there isn't nearly as much opportunity for heat to escape and become wasted energy. The pressure inside the cooker also keeps the hot water and steam in constant contact with the food, aiding in heat conduction. As a result, pressure cookers can cook food much faster, even though they do so at a much lower temperature than regular cooking. In other words, the same process that allows food to cook faster is allowing less energy to be wasted along the way, meaning lower energy bills and and a reduced carbon footprint compared to regular cooking.
3. It keeps the kitchen clean.
Pressure cookers seal in what they cook, meaning no food splatters on the stove, counters, or walls. If you're worried about a pressure cooker exploding and spraying spaghetti all over the ceiling (we've heard stories), rest assured that modern pressure cookers, whether stovetop or electric, are safer and more secure than their ancestors.
4. It locks in flavor.
Pressure cooking helps prevent food from drying out too much while cooking, which means that meats stay juicy and tender, vegetables aren't sapped of all crunch or moisture, and reheated leftovers aren't sad imitations of their former selves. We should note though that it's important to cook foods for the appropriate amount of time in your pressure cooker, which can take a little vigilance; since the cooking process is dramatically accelerated, a couple extra minutes can sometimes be the difference between cooking food to perfection and overcooking it. When foods lose moisture through dry cooking methods or overcooking, texture and often times flavor is lost right along with it, as many of the flavor compounds and nutrients are carried off with the exiting moisture. But when cooked for the appropriate amount of time in a pressure cooker, moisture, flavor, and nutrients do a better job of staying happily inside your food.
5. It's healthy.
Speaking of nutrients, studies have actually shown that by offering faster cook times and helping foods retain moisture, pressure cooking does a better job of retaining nutrients than regular cooking methods, including steaming and boiling. Not only that, but it also does a better-than-average job at breaking down phytic acid and lectins found in grains and legumes that can make these foods difficult to digest. Phytic acid also binds to certain nutrients and keeps our digestive tract from absorbing them, meaning that when we eliminate phytic acid from foods, more of that food's nutrients are available for us to absorb and the food is easier to digest. And all this is done without the high temperatures that can create carcinogenic compounds in traditional cooking. What a cool discovery!
Who needs a pressure cooker?
There are a few sorts of people who may not benefit that much from a pressure cooker. If you live for a stew simmering away afternoon on the stove or for the ability to check up on your food at every moment of the cooking process, pressure cooking may not be for you. Or perhaps an hour or so in the kitchen cooking dinner is all the time you ever get to yourself and it's the one thing that zens you out. By all means, don't invest in a pressure cooker.
But for the average cook who wants to reduce time spent in the kitchen and end up with better food for less effort, a pressure cooker is an excellent investment. This of course includes busy parents, anyone who works multiple jobs, and anyone who just can't stand cooking. Because electric pressure cookers are often multicookers, these are also a great option for those with little kitchen storage or who are just beginning to accrue their own kitchenware, like college students and young adults. And both stovetop and electric pressure cookers can be a lifesaver for those who live at high altitudes, where the lower air pressure lowers the boiling point of water, making many cooking tasks slower and more tedious.
Stovetop or Electric?
There are two main types of pressure cookers: stovetop pressure cookers and electric pressure cookers. Stovetop cookers are your grandma's pressure cookers—they have no electronic parts or fancy settings, but they're good at what they do and they come in all shapes and sizes. Electric cookers are gaining popularity right now and can often perform a variety of tasks, not just pressure cooking (pressure cookers like Instant Pot that can perform other cooking functions are often called multicookers). But which one is right for you? Let's breakdown some of the main differences between stovetop and electric pressure cookers.
Stovetop Pressure Cookers
Can double as a regular pot. Since there are no electronic bits and no external housing, any pressure cooker whose lid can be fully removed can double as a regular pot. This is great for those who are worried about having too much kitchenware. It also makes searing meats before pressure cooking easy, since stovetop cookers can get as hot as any pan on the stove. Although some electrics also have a "browning/sauteing" function, such as the Instant Pot.
Can be entirely submerged in the water. Since there are no electronics to worry about, most stovetop pressure cookers can be completely submerged in water and even washed in the dishwasher. You will however want to remove gaskets and valves to wash separately.
Come in a wide range of sizes. Whereas electric pressure cookers typically range from 5 to 8 quarts, stovetop pressure cookers can range anywhere from 2 to 12 quarts in size.
Can be used for pressure canning. Well...sometimes. While electric pressure cookers are not USDA approved for pressure canning, some stovetop pressure cookers are—typically larger, more heavy-duty ones. Be sure to check product descriptions and user manuals to make sure your pressure cooker is USDA approved for pressure canning before testing this out.
Are very durable. Electric pressure cookers can last a few years, but eventually their electronic parts wear out and need to be replaced. Stovetop cookers, on the other hand, are built to last, with just a few working parts and no electronics. They can last for generations, although we don't recommend using your grandparents' pressure cooker, nice though it may have been of them to pass it along to you. Modern pressure cookers have much more reliable safety measures than the pressure cookers of yesteryear.
Can reach higher pressures and temperatures. While many electric pressure cookers reach between 11 and 13 psi, stovetop cookers can often reach higher pressures and therefore higher temperatures than electrics, making for the fastest possible cooking.
Electric Pressure Cookers
Are easy to use. Electric pressure cookers come with nifty features like automatic shut-off, pre-programmed cooking modes, and easy-to-read digital displays. All these helpful features are great for cooks who are nervous about selecting the correct temperature or time to cook their food and don't want to have to worry about whether their cooker is "whistling." They also have the set-it-and-forget-it advantage, which is great for every busy and/or lazy cook, but also for those who struggle with remembering to check on dinner as it cooks or with remembering whether or not they ever turned off the stove after cooking.
Don't require a stove. Excuse us for stating the obvious here, but an advantage of electric pressure cookers is that they don't require a stove, which is perfect for many college students, young adults, and single people living in dorms or small apartments without a stove.
Are often multi-cookers. Looking for a kitchen gadget that does it all? Many modern electric pressure cookers perform several functions aside from pressure cooking. The Instant Pot is perhaps the most popular example of this style of cooker right now, and boasts 7 functions, including slow cooking, rice making, yogurt making, sauteing, steaming, and warming. Other models may have 9, 10, or even 12 pre-programmed functions, including anything from "oatmeal" to "reheat."
Have a cooking delay timer. At least, some do. A cooking delay timer is perfect for those who are attracted to slow cookers because they want to wake up to a breakfast that has cooked while they were sleeping, or come home to dinner that cooked while they were working. For many, this is the main advantage slow cookers have over pressure cookers, but with an electronic delay timer, cooks can recreate a slow-cooker's convenience with a machine that cooks food much faster while using less energy and preserving more flavor and nutrients.
Are easy to clean. While you may not be able to fully submerge an electric pressure cooker for obvious reasons, it's still quite easy to remove the inner pot and give it a quick soapy rinse or throw it in the dishwasher. Then all you need to do for regular maintenance is to wipe down any moisture or food particles on the lid or the housing chamber. Easy peasy.
What should I look for when buying?
The material of the interior, exterior, and base of a pressure cooker can make a difference in the efficiency, durability, and upkeep of the cooker. Not only that, but it can even influence the flavor of the food you cook. Stainless steel and aluminum are the two most common materials you'll find in pressure cookers. Stainless steel is most widely recommended by experts because it's easy to clean, durable, and doesn't change the flavor of foods. Aluminum, on the other hand, is cheaper and conducts heat more evenly, but is much softer than stainless steel and therefore more easily develops dings and scratches that could make your cooker harder to clean or even potentially compromise its safety over time.
Something else to know about aluminum is that it is reactive, while stainless steel is not. This simply means that it can react with certain acidic ingredients (lemon, tomatoes, wine, etc.) and change their flavor. We recommend for these reasons that you choose a pressure cooker with a stainless steel interior, exterior, and base (in the case of an electric pressure cooker, it's just the material of the inner pot you need to worry about, which will likely all be made of the same material). On occasion, pressure cookers will have a base that has a layer of aluminum inside for even heating, but layers of stainless steel outside to prevent any reaction with food or damage to the pot. These kinds of bases should be just fine.
What about nonstick? You should always be careful when considering a pressure cooker that has a nonstick coating, particularly if you're looking to buy a stovetop cooker, as these often reach higher pressures than their electric counterparts. Today there are 2 main types of nonstick coatings: ceramic and PTFE (commonly referred to by the brand name Teflon). If you choose a pressure cooker that has a PTFE (Teflon) coating, it is likely to degrade over time due to high pressure, eliminating its nonstick capabilities, making your pot harder to clean, and releasing unhealthy chemicals into your food. A ceramic coating may not last forever, but it does not release toxic chemicals into your food or the air. Still, if you're worried, a stainless steel pot with no nonstick coating is your best bet. It will last a long time and will never release harmful chemicals.
High pressure cooking may sound scary—and for good reason—but modern pressure cookers have several features that make pressure cooking quite safe.
Cover Interlock Mechanisms - Always make sure you're getting a pressure cooker with a lid that locks in place and can't be opened once the cooker is pressurized. This eliminates user error and keeps you safe. Some pressure cookers even have a visual pressure indicator to let you know when the pot is at high pressure, and though with a secure interlock mechanism, this isn't exactly necessary, it's still a helpful extra feature to keep you safe and let you know the cooker is working.
Automatic Safety Release Valve - All modern presure cookers will have this. If safety is a top priority for you, you may also want to look for pressure cookers with multiple release valves so that if the main pressure valve somehow gets blocked or stuck, there is a backup valve to release steam if the pressure in the cooker rises above a safe level.
Other safety features - The above features are the most important to look for, but many pressure cookers—especially electric ones—will offer others, like extra visual pressure/temperature indicators, additional sensors, and so on. You don't necessarily need these, but they can certainly help add to your peace of mind.
There are 2 main valve types used to regulate pressure in modern pressure cookers.
Weighted Valve - These are more old school and you're more likely to find them on the less pricey stovetop pressure cookers. They work by jiggling back and forth over a vent pipe, constantly regulating pressure by releasing short bursts of steam. These are cheaper and provide constant feedback to the cook, but some find them noisy and annoying.
Spring Valve or Float Valve - Most modern pressure cookers use these. They float up and down to regulate pressure, but never actually vent steam unless a safety threshold is reached. This type of valve adds to the cost of a pressure cooker, but is quieter and less jarring, particularly for those new to pressure cooking. The major difference between a spring valve and a float valve is that float valves don't actually regulate the internal pressure. Float valves are therefore only used in electric pressure cookers where internal pressure can be regulated by an electronic logic that turns the heating element on and off.
Keep in mind that the higher the pressure inside a pressure cooker, the more quickly food will cook inside and the higher the interal temperature will get. The maximum is typically 15 psi, though many pressure cookers operate closer to the 11 to 12 psi range. There are also some that offer multiple pressure levels to choose from. If you're hoping to use your cooker for canning, or you just want to make sure you get the fastest possible cooktimes, you'll want to pay attention to the pressure specs while shopping.
Keep in mind that you can only fill about two thirds of the space inside your cooker with food (or as little as half the space for foods that foam or froth while they cook). A good guideline is to estimate 1 serving per every quart of space in your pressure cooker. For example, a 6-quart pressure cooker can likely make a max of 6 servings, sometimes less. So an individual or a couple may not need a 6-quart cooker, but 6 quarts may not be enough for larger families.
Looking to pressure can in your pressure cooker? Not all pressure cookers are USDA approved for canning. Your best bet is to look for a larger stovetop cooker (most if not all electric cookers are not USDA-approved for canning) and pay careful attention to the product description while shopping. Never attempt to pressure can in a pressure cooker if the product description or user manual does not explicitly say that it is approved for such a use.
You want to buy from a brand that you can trust, that will support their product well into the future, and that doesn't have terrible customer service (because eventually, you will need something replaced or fixed). Looking for a brand that has been around for a while and that offers at least a 1 year warranty on their product is a good place to start. It can't hurt to search the internet for reviews of their customer service either.
This one's obvious. You want a pressure cooker that does what you need it to do but doesn't exceed your budget. You can find a decent pressure cooker for anywhere between $30 and $300 depending on the size and the features that are important to you.
Do I need any accessories?
Some pressure cookers come with their own steamer baskets or cooking racks, but many do not. These are important accessories to have, and there are others that can also help step up your pressure cooking game. Here are a few you may find helpful in making the most out of your pressure cooker.
Silicone Steamer Basket and Mini Oven Mitts. These miniature mitts are particularly useful when removing the inner pot from an electric cooker. We found these on Amazon for $16.
Springform Pan. Many baked good, lasagnas, and other foods can be made in a pressure cooker, but these recipes often call for a springform pan small enough to fit inside your pressure cooker. This 6-inch one is currently $12 on Amazon.
Stackable Insert Pans with Lids. These are like steamer baskets, but with the added benefit of allowing you to prepare multiple dishes att a time. Maybe you want to hard boil eggs on one layer and reheat food on another? Or cook meatloaf and veggies at the same time? These stacking pans from Amazon will put you out by about $29.