It can be tempting to conclude that all pressure cookers look the same, and therefore are all essentially identical. When it comes to pressure cooking, there actually is some truth to that. By definition, a pressure cooker creates an incredibly controlled and even cooking environment, and since all of the pressure cookers that have made it to the shelves can effectively achieve said cooking environment, the food that they all serve up is very similar. However, there are things peripheral to pressure cooking that can really differentiate pressure cookers from one another, things like the ability to saute right in the pot and to easily store the lid while stirring. That's the purpose of this article, to guide you through those peripheral things you may not think of to make sure you end up with a cooker that is easy to use and clean on top of being able to make delicious meals.
Step 1: Do You Need a Pressure Cooker?
Pressure cookers are one of the few appliances that we think can improve almost any kitchen. The fact that these devices can cut cooking times in half (and even more for things like rice and dry beans) can go a long ways towards deciding to eat home-cooked food more often than takeout or frozen dinners. Even if you're a meal-prep Sunday kind of person, having the extra speed of a pressure cooker can up the number of dishes you can make in the same amount of time. For example, with the use of a pressure cooker, we were able to make batches of butternut squash soup, vegan sloppy joes, quinoa chili, and Thai Cauliflower curry, and have all those divided into individual portions in the freezer, in the span of about 3 hours. Plus, we did all that with a minimal amount of dishes to wash afterward. Bottom line, if you're trying to move away from processed foods and towards more home cooked meals, we think a pressure cooker makes that process both faster and more convenient.
That being said, we don't think pressure cookers offer a step up in quality over food made with more conventional methods (unless a recipe would be improved by maximal moisture retention). So if you're the kind of person who already loves cooking and is willing to dedicate some extra time to it, then a pressure cooker probably isn't for you.
Step 2: Do You Need a Saute Function? Probably
You can get a basic pressure cooker that pressure cooks pretty much as well as any model for just $60. In fact, that's how much our Best Buy winner, the Tayama TMC-60XL costs. And if you're just looking for a quick way to cook things like rice, dry beans, and lentils, that's all you really need. But the first upgrade over that basic functionality that we would look for is a saute function. This allows you to saute things right in your pressure cookers pot. So for things like chili you can saute the onions and garlic in the pot, then when they're done just throw the tomatoes, beans, meat, and spices on top, close the lid, and go into pressure cooking mode. Not only is this convenient, it also eliminates the need to turn on the stove and dirty another pan in order to do the sauteing. This increases the number of 1-pot meals you can make by a huge margin, and makes the pressure cooker an even more versatile device.
Step 3: Consider User Friendliness
Many pressure cookers have a myriad of presets, functions, and settings, so you'll want to make sure you have an interface that makes navigating all of those things simple and easy. Additionally, things like having something to hold the lid of the pot, which will likely be dripping in condensation, while stirring and serving is a bigger luxury than you might imagine. We evaluate all of these things in our user friendliness metric, so you can use those scores as a guide for selecting the easiest to use devices.
Step 4: Consider Ease of Cleaning
Cleaning is the biggest chore associated with using a pressure cooker, so you'll want one that minimizes that process. Things like lids and gaskets that easily detach and don't have nooks and crannies where gunk can hide definitely streamline this process. Again we evaluated all of these things in our ease of cleaning metric, so you can check out those scores to get an idea of each model's relative cleaning attributes.
Step 5: Stainless or Nonstick?
This one somewhat comes down to personal preference. Nonstick pots tend to shed burnt food much more easily than stainless ones, making hand cleaning a bit easier. However, if you do get some food stuck on a nonstick pot you can't resort to using anything aggressive like steel wool, and most people would suggest against putting nonstick items in the dishwasher. You may get some more food sticking to stainless pots, but you can scrub with whatever you'd like and throw the pot in the dishwasher without a second thought. After our testing we came out with a slight preference for stainless simply because we could put those pots in the dishwasher, but we understand the reasoning of those that prefer nonstick.
Step 6: Do I Need All These Cooking Modes?
Most pressure cookers have a plethora of different cooking modes and presets to select from. These things can be nice to have, and being able to press a single button to dial in the rice settings is convenient if you make a lot of rice. However, most of these presets aren't completely necessary, as you can manually punch in the required temperature, pressure, and cooking time for different dishes on any pressure cooker. The notable exceptions are things that don't involve actual pressure cooking, like saute and slow cook functions, which are vital if you want your pressure cooker to be as versatile as possible.
Pressure cookers are versatile devices that can make many home meals more convenient and less time consuming. We hope this guide has helped you figure out exactly what it is you do and don't need from a pressure cooker. Be sure to check out our full review for recommendations and rundowns of specific models that are currently available.