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Which Type of Pressure Cooker is Right for You?
Written by Dr. Kellyann Petrucci
If you have a busy lifestyle and you’re trying to eat a healthy diet, a pressure cooker can be a life-saver. You can cook roasts, soups, and stews (and bone broth!) in a fraction of the time it normally takes, even when you factor in the cool-down time.
And if you’re worried about pressure cookers being dangerous, relax. These days, they have multiple safety features that ensure that you can use them with complete confidence if you follow the instructions (but see my notes below).
However, if you’re thinking about buying a pressure cooker, the many different options on the market can leave you a little confused. So here’s a quick look at three different types of pressure cookers: the Instant Pot, other electric pressure cookers, and the old-fashioned top-of-the-stove version.
The Instant Pot and other Electric Pressure Cookers
The Instant Pot is one of the handiest gadgets on the market. You can brown and sauté food in it as well as using it as a pressure cooker—and you can use it as a slow cooker, too. You can even make your own coconut cream yogurt in it! If you’re short on counter space, it’s a great multipurpose gadget.
I also like the fact that the insert in the Instant Pot is stainless steel rather than having a nonstick coating. I’m not a fan of nonstick coatings, because they degrade and wind up in your food… ick.
One downside of the Instant Pot is a somewhat scary control panel that looks like you could launch a rocket ship with it. But if you test out one feature at a time, it’s not so intimidating.
Other electric pressure cookers, have many of the same features as the Instant Pot, and you may prefer their simpler design and less cluttered control panels. However, these cookers often have nonstick interiors, which is a big downside for me.
Note: While I’ve praised the safety features of pressure cookers, some older electric models have been recalled for reasons unrelated to pressurization. If you come across an older model for sale, check to make sure it hasn’t been recalled.
Stove-Top Pressure Cookers
If you don’t mind babysitting your pressure cooker, this is a fine way to go. You’ll just need to stay close to the stove to time your food and adjust your temperatures. While this type of cooker requires a little more work, it’s typically a bit less expensive than the electric versions. Stove-top pressure cookers cook a little faster than electric versions, too.
A traditional stove-top cooker is also the way to go if you want to can food. While some electric cookers claim to be safe for canning, the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP), a division of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), has serious concerns about this. You can read their statement here.
If you’re thinking about buying a traditional pressure cooker, check the manual for your oven (or call the manufacturer) to make sure that the model you want won’t damage your stove top. If you’re not sure, opt for an electric cooker.
Note: If you buy a stove-top pressure cooker, check each time you use it to make sure the gasket is in good condition—not dried or cracked. Don’t overfill your cooker, and be sure to use the correct amount of liquid.
Do you need a pressure cooker at all?
The answer to this question probably depends on your lifestyle. If you’re home for much of the day, it’s just as easy to let meals simmer for hours in the oven, on the stove top, or in a slow cooker. If you’re always on the run, however, a pressure cooker can help you get dinner on the table fast.
Pressure cooking also saves on your electric bill, because it takes less time and it releases less heat into your home than your oven does. In addition, a pressure cooker can turn cheap, tough cuts of meat into melt-in-your-mouth meals. So if you’re watching your budget, this is a big plus.
On the other hand, if you simply can’t overcome your fear of pressure cookers, you may want to pass on them. I know a few home cooks whose pressure cookers have sat on the shelf for years because they’re scared of them. (And they’re in good company; famous chef Anthony Bourdain confesses that he’s terrified of pressure cookers, probably because he’s old enough to remember the ancient models that occasionally went blooey and sent food flying everywhere.)
So decide for yourself if this is a great kitchen gadget for you—and if so, weigh the pros and cons of electric pressure cookers and stove-top models. Then, if you do buy a pressure cooker, have fun trying it out with recipes like these, these, and these. Enjoy!
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