The Best Pressure Cookers and Multi-Cookers

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[Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Remember all those late-night infomercials in the '80s, hawking appliances that were promised to replace every single other appliance in your kitchen? The bad news is that there's no real-world gadget that'll do that, but the good news is that modern electric multi-cookers are the closest we've ever come. I use mine at least a couple of times a week. They're better than pots for making stocks and soups. They cook dry beans in under an hour, no soaking required. They can turn tough beef into amazingly tender chili in half an hour, or convert chicken and green chilies into chile verde with no more effort than dumping in the ingredients and hitting a button. You want hot steamed rice or creamy and tender risotto? Five minutes in the pressure cooker will get you there.

Aside from a skillet and a Dutch oven, my electric pressure cooker has become my single most used appliance. But there are so many questions! Stovetop or electric? Do I really need to shell out close to $200 for a simple stovetop pressure cooker? Is the Instant Pot all it's cracked up to be?

After scouring for both amateur and professional reviews of the top-rated and top-selling brands of pressure cookers, I narrowed the field down to six different stovetop models and nine electric models, which I pitted against each other to determine which were the best. Here's what I found.

The Winners

These are my four favorite pressure cookers, at a glance. Read on for more details.

Stovetop Versus Electric Pressure Cookers

There was a time when I would have said that stovetop pressure cookers are superior to electric pressure cookers, no contest. They're heated over a stovetop, so they're superior for searing. They're more versatile because they can be used as a regular pot. They don't require a plug.

All that was before I actually got myself an electric pressure cooker and started using it in my own kitchen. These days, I use my countertop model almost exclusively, and my stovetop pressure cookers collect dust in the closet. Why? In a word, convenience. Countertop pressure cookers have timers and sensors built in to automatically adjust pressure and heat as they cook, which means you're free to go about your business until they're done. A stovetop pressure cooker requires you to manually adjust the flame until you hit the sweet spot. (One stovetop model I tested also featured an electronic pressure release, but its operation was so convoluted that it became essentially useless.) Sensors also give me more peace of mind that I'm not going to have any kind of explosion if I leave the kitchen unattended (that said, modern stovetop pressure cookers are also very safe these days).

Countertop pressure cookers also offer more even cooking along the bottom and sides of the pot, minimizing the chances of scorching. This is especially useful when you're cooking sticky foods, like thick sauce, rice, risotto, or other grains. Because their heating elements are insulated and enclosed, countertop pressure cookers are also more energy-efficient than stovetop models. Nearly all that juice goes into cooking your food instead of heating up your kitchen.

Stovetop pressure cookers offer a few advantages of their own. For one thing, they're typically a little cheaper (though a top-of-the-line stovetop cooker can cost you just as much as or more than a countertop cooker).

Here's a quick breakdown of stovetop and electric cookers.

Electric Versus Stovetop Pressure Cookers

Function Stovetop Electric
Searing Winner. Stovetop cookers sear as well as any decent pan in your kitchen. You can pump up the heat as high as your stove will go. Electric pressure cookers' searing ability is limited by the output of their electric heating elements. The best will sear reasonably well, though they can't compete with the output of a true cooktop. The worst will steam your food instead of searing it.
Size Winner. Stovetop cookers come in a wide range of sizes, from small enough for a family of two to large enough for big-batch canning processes, and everything in between. Most countertop cookers come in a range of five to eight quarts. Both of our picks are around the six-quart mark, which is large enough to make food for a family of four, with leftovers.
Versatility Stovetop pressure cookers offer only rudimentary temperature control (i.e., they are as accurate as your burners are, which is typically not very). They're good at getting hot and cooking fast, and that's about it. Winner. Multi-cookers will pressure-cook, steam, and slow-cook right off the bat. Some will also hold steady low temperatures for yogurt-making. Most also have adjustable pressure levels for different types of recipes.
Pressure Winner. Stovetop pressure cookers typically reach a pressure level of 15 psi, allowing the contents to reach a full 250°F (121°C). Electric pressure cookers max out at 12 to 12.5 psi, giving you a cooking temperature of around 245°F (118°C). This small change in temperature means that foods do take a little bit longer to cook in an electric pressure cooker than in a stovetop one, but not significantly so.
Ease of Use Stovetop pressure cookers require you to manually adjust the heat underneath the cooker to maintain the right pressure. This can be tedious; you have to wait until it has come to pressure, then make tiny adjustments with your heat knob until you hit just the right position. You also need to manually stop the cooking when time is up. Winner. This is the real advantage of electric pressure cookers. Either use a preset or set the pressure and the time, then let the machine do the work. No fiddling with knobs, no worrying about timers. With models that include automatic pressure release, you have true set-it-and-forget-it ease.
Slow-Cooking N/A Winner, sort of. The slow-cooker functions on most multi-cookers work just fine, though they don't allow as much liquid to evaporate during cooking as a regular slow cooker will, which means that the already-bland food that comes out of a standard slow cooker is even more bland coming out of a multi-cooker. The real answer here is that with these slow-cooker functions, there are no winners.
Cleaning Winner. Most stovetop pressure cookers are completely submersible in water and dishwasher-safe. That means you can scrub them and clean them just like any other pot or pan (though you'll have to remove gaskets and valves separately to clean them). Countertop pressure cookers all have removable cooking inserts that are typically very easy to clean. The lids are another story. Most are not dishwasher-safe—at least, so the manufacturers say—and have more moving parts to contend with when you're scrubbing. I also found that countertop cookers universally absorbed odors more than stovetop ones. I could smell caramelized onions every time I opened one up for weeks after cooking them.

The Testing

To test the pressure cookers, I cooked up a variety of foods with both short and long cooking times: a quick Pressure Cooker Corn Soup and Pressure Cooker Mushroom Risotto, beans in the form of Pressure Cooker Black Beans With Chorizo, and longer-cooking Pressure Cooker Texas-Style Chile Con Carne. I also cooked up batches of rice and other grains, as well as Pressure Cooker Caramelized Onions to see how long strong aromas would linger. For the electric multi-cookers with slow-cooker settings, I also made a batch of my slow-cooked Italian-American red sauce.

What to Look for in a Stovetop Pressure Cooker

A good stovetop pressure cooker should have a thick, sturdy base that distributes heat evenly. It should have construction that gives me confidence that it will not explode or otherwise be a danger in the kitchen. I want it to have a lid that locks on securely and easily, without my having to fiddle around.

Pressure gauges come in two distinct forms these days. The old-fashioned method uses a jiggler—a weight that sits over the end of a pressure-release tube that runs through the lid of the cooker. As the pressure inside builds, it eventually has enough force to lift the jiggler and emit a puff of steam, regulating the temperature and the pressure inside. The problem with jigglers is that each time they vent steam, the contents of the pot boil a bit, something that ideally shouldn't happen inside a pressure cooker. Moreover, the only way you can monitor internal temperature is by adjusting the heat until the jiggler releases steam at a bare hiss, indicating that you've achieved and maintained good pressure inside.

More modern cookers have spring-loaded release valves that rise and fall with the pressure inside, but don't actually vent steam until a fixed safety point is reached. This allows you to adjust the flame without actually venting any steam or causing boiling or other internal disturbances. I much prefer this style of stovetop cooker, though it can be pricier.

Regarding safety features, I need to see an automatic safety release valve—something that will vent pressure if the main valve somehow gets blocked or stuck. Luckily, any modern pressure cooker will have this feature. The direction in which the steam vents is also important. Most pressure cookers vent steam straight up in a jet. The steam in that jet is hot, and you can burn yourself if you put your hand or face in its way. My favorite countertop pressure cooker vents steam evenly in all directions from a circular vent, so there's no concentrated jet of hot steam to burn yourself on.

Efficiency is also a consideration. Depending on body design and materials, different pressure cookers heat and maintain their internal temperatures more or less efficiently than others. I tested efficiency by seeing where I needed to set my heat dial in order to maintain high pressure in each cooker. The higher I had to set it, the more energy was being wasted, and the less efficient the cooker.

What to Look for in a Countertop Pressure Cooker

Nearly all countertop pressure cookers these days are multi-cookers that also have slow-cooker functions, searing functions, sautéing, simmering, reducing, steaming, and, in some models, yogurt-making functions. A specific model may say "6 in 1" or "7 in 1," but you can largely ignore those numbers. The only question that matters is whether it will do what you need it to do.

I want to be able to sear and sauté in the same vessel, and I want that searing to be powerful enough to actually brown meat in a reasonable amount of time. I want the cooker to come up to pressure and maintain that pressure with no monitoring. The more automation, the better. I'd like to get the thing running with an intuitive interface that gives me maximum control over my cooking with minimal button presses. I want to be able to manually adjust timing and pressure, both at the start of cooking and on the fly. I also want a pressure cooker that's easy to clean. Some models I tested had internal pots that would not sit still—they'd rotate around and around as I tried to stir, making cooking in them difficult and tedious. Others had lids that were difficult to align or lock down.

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Too many single-use buttons and no button hierarchy make interfaces like these nonintuitive to navigate.

The biggest problem I saw in most pressure cookers was with the interface: large panels of buttons with no hierarchy and no clear navigation, often coupled with display panels that offered too little information. This might just be the Luddite in me (I miss the days when microwaves had a power dial and a time dial, and that's it), but I need to see an indication that the machine is actually cooking when it's supposed to be; you would not believe how many machines make this difficult. Is it really on? I'd ask myself, sometimes coming back after half an hour to see that, nope, it wasn't actually running.

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Narrow crevices like this are hard to clean.

I'm less interested in the slow-cooking function in most multi-cookers, but I tested these out anyway.

The Results

Here's the good news: Every single pressure cooker, whether stovetop or electric, from the least expensive (the Presto 8-Quart Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker) to the priciest (the Breville Fast Slow Pro), made good food in a fraction of the time it would take to make the same dish in a standard pot. That said, many multi-cookers in particular had interfaces or design flaws that detracted from the overall experience.

Here are the ones that stood out above their peers.

The Best Electric Pressure/Multi-Cooker: The Breville Fast Slow Pro

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The Breville Fast Slow Pro is the Cadillac of pressure cookers. A feature-packed, high-performance countertop model that leaves the other contenders in the dust—for a price. With 1,100 watts of power and a roomy six-and-a-half-quart cooking insert, it's the perfect tool for feeding a family of two to six.

The Interface:

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The biggest advantage the Fast Slow offers is manual control over both pressure and timing, with a simple-to-use, completely intuitive interface. Just turn the knobs and press them to select from a number of presets, or adjust the timer and the pressure manually at intervals of 0.5 psi from 1.5 to 12 psi. It offers a level of control that you don't get even with stovetop cookers. Like other electric models, it also offers a range of presets for things like beans, rice, stock, and meat, though I don't typically use them just as they are. I find that the quickest way to start cooking is to select one of the presets, then manually adjust the pressure and timing as I see fit. It's quick and easy to do with the separate control knobs.

Most pressure cookers gauge internal pressure via a temperature probe at the base of the unit. The Breville Fast Slow has dual sensors, one at the base and one in the lid, which gives it a much more accurate picture of what's going on inside, allowing it to adjust heating and, in emergencies, vent steam to reduce internal pressure.

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We're cooking, clearly!

I really enjoy the blue/orange LCD screen, which gives you clear indications of whether the machine is actively cooking or whether you're still adjusting settings. If that screen turns orange, the cooker is engaged, and it's safe to walk away.

Automation:

Two more great features: automatic adjustment for cooking at altitude and automatic pressure release. The former is important for folks who live high above sea level. A pressure cooker maintains its pressure at a certain level above the ambient air pressure, so, as that air pressure drops when you travel up into the mountains, the pressure inside a pressure cooker will drop correspondingly. But not in the Breville.

As for automatic pressure release, this is the feature that makes this cooker truly set-it-and-forget-it. Every other cooker on the market requires you to vent steam manually when you hear the "time's up!" chime ring. The Breville will automatically release steam at a rate you determine via a few presets (either all at once or in a series of short bursts). You can also set it to not vent steam at all, for a natural cool-down (in which case it will let out a chime to let you know when the pressure has fully dropped), or ask it to keep your food warm right from the start of cooking, so that all you have to do is show up at dinnertime.

Cooking Performance:

Compared with other models, the heating and searing functions on the Breville cooker were also superior, allowing it to deliver a better sear on meat and heat stews up to full pressure several minutes faster than its closest competitors. I typically prefer stainless steel or ceramic for searing, but this coating produced nice dark sears in a reasonable amount of time. The cooking pot also sits firmly in the outer chamber, preventing it from spinning around as you stir.

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The "reduce" function was also surprisingly useful. Cooking foods in a pressure cooker often results in a lot of excess liquid that needs to be reduced to concentrate flavor. With a stovetop cooker, that means removing the lid and simmering, and with most electrics, you have to use either the "sauté" or the "sear" function, neither of which is ideal since they boil the food at a rapid rate, causing splatter and unnecessary flavor loss. The Fast Slow cooker offers slow simmering at different temperature ranges, so you can reduce sauces and soups at anything from the laziest simmer to a rapid boil.

As with other electric models, the slow-cook function works reasonably well, but it will not behave exactly like a standard slow cooker. Liquids do not evaporate as fast, so you end up with more liquid at the end. You can solve this problem by replacing the built-in lid with an appropriately sized pot lid. But, to be honest, once you have a pressure cooker, there's not really any reason to use a slow cooker, so the functionality becomes largely redundant.

Cleaning and Maintenance:

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In ease of cleaning, the Breville also has an advantage. The ceramic nonstick coating makes wiping it out a snap, and, while it does limit the maximum searing temperature (nonstick typically can't be heated safely to above 400°F or so), none of the electric models will sear at extremely high temperatures, as stovetop models can. The Breville also has a very wide lip under the gasket at the top, making wiping it out simple. In every other countertop model, getting a sponge into the cramped space under the lid locks was a pain in the butt, if not outright impossible.

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The only real downside to this cooker is the lid placement. The lid is fixed to the body of the cooker on a hinge. When open, it sits upright. This can get in the way of your elbow when you're stirring or tasting, especially if you're right-handed. That said, it does eliminate the frustration I have with other cookers of having to ensure that the marks are perfectly lined up in order to close the lid.

The Best-Buy Electric Pressure/Multi-Cooker: The Instant Pot Duo60

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The Instant Pot Duo60 is one of the most popular pressure cookers around, and with good reason: It's a fantastic value. It boasts many of the same functions as the Breville (the only one it's missing is a "reduce" setting), and also has a yogurt-making setting for incubating milk.

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Where Breville solved the problem of "where do I put the drippy lid?" by keeping it permanently attached to the base, Instant Pot has an even more ingenious solution: The lid comes off completely, but it has a plastic tab that allows you to stand it upright in either of the two side handles, whichever side will get in your way less. This also makes the lid easier to clean.

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The biggest difference you'll notice between the Instant Pot and the Breville is the material of the interior pot. The Instant Pot has a stainless steel insert with a triple-clad base for more even heating. That said, I didn't find that it actually heated any more evenly than the Breville did. I can see the appeal of stainless steel. It's nice for browning when you want to develop a fond to make a pan sauce or gravy, but it's largely irrelevant when it comes to pressure-cooking; whether the browned bits stay on the meat or in the base of the pan doesn't matter when you're going to cook it all together anyway. The stainless steel is harder to clean than the ceramic coating of the Breville cooker, though it does have the potential to last much longer.

The sauté/browning function works quite well, though the cooker doesn't get hot as quickly as the Breville—it draws 1,000 watts compared to the Breville's 1,100—but I only really noticed because I was comparing the two with a timer. It certainly doesn't feel slow while I'm cooking with it. Similarly, when tested side by side with the Breville, the Instant Pot takes longer to come up to pressure (about seven minutes for a full pot of chili), but once at pressure, it cooks at the same rate. The cooking insert also has a bad habit of swiveling around if you have less than a few pounds of food in it, making it frustrating to sauté and stir.

The interface on the Instant Pot, while easier than those on some other models, is still a big step down from the Breville's control-knob scheme. It'll take you a bit of time with the manual to really get the hang of how to adjust its settings, and the feedback it gives you on its old-school LCD screen is not a great way to communicate what's actually going on inside the pot or what you've programmed it to do. More than once early on in testing, before I had the hang of it, I walked away and came back to discover that it had not actually started cooking when I wanted it to. (The trick is to wait several seconds after you've input all the settings, until it beeps.)

On the plus side, Instant Pot has a reputation for incredible customer service and a great community of friendly users. This is important if you get recipes or tips online (which, if you're reading this, I assume you do!).

There are a couple of other Instant Pot models out there on the market. The Bluetooth-enabled "smart" version is essentially the exact same cooker as the Duo60, but with a slightly modified interface and the ability to be programmed with your smartphone or tablet. If that kind of connectivity appeals to you, it might be worth the extra $60. On the lower end, there's also the Instant Pot LUX60. It performs similarly well to the Duo, but it has only one pressure setting (high) and lacks the yogurt-making function. Seeing as I cook with low pressure about half the time (mainly for rice), for me, losing that pressure setting would be a big hit on performance just to save $20.

The Best Stovetop Pressure Cooker: The Kuhn Rikon Duromatic

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The Kuhn Rikon Duromatic Pressure Cooker is as pretty to look at as it is effective. It's a second-generation cooker, which means improved safety features (like an automatic pressure-release valve) and a spring-loaded pressure gauge rather than a jiggler.

Some stovetop cookers have various switches, levers, or valves to toggle between low pressure, high pressure, and release settings. The Kuhn Rikon combines them all into one elegant solution. The valve is in the center of the conical lid. As pressure builds up inside, a plastic indicator slowly rises up in the center, revealing red lines. One red line means you're at low pressure, while two red lines means you're at high. Let it keep heating and eventually it will start venting steam to prevent an explosion.

To release pressure, you use the exact same plastic tab. Just pull it up and twist it, and steam gets released evenly all around, reducing the chances of a burn.

Cleaning the valve in the Duromatic is not the easiest (that award goes to the runner-up, Fagor, with its twist-out valve), but it's simple enough. Just unscrew it and wash away.

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I like the fact that the valve is an all-metal construction. It gives me peace of mind that the moving parts here are designed to last.

Though it may vary with the exact setup of your cooktop, I found that the Duromatic was the most efficient pressure cooker of the bunch. Once I got it up to temperature, it required very little added heat to keep it there during cooking. This is in line with what our friends at Hip Pressure Cooking found with the other version of the Duromatic (I did not test the same model that they tested), which indicates to me that it's not specific to my cooking arrangement.

Runner-Up: The Fagor Duo

The Fagor Duo 8-Quart Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker is a cheaper option than the Kuhn Rikon and performs admirably. Its downsides? It's less efficient (it requires more gas to maintain pressure inside), and it does not have a spring-based pressure system, relying instead on a release valve that vents the internal pressure when you hit a certain point (there is a toggle switch for high or low pressure).

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On the plus side, it has an amazingly easy-to-clean pressure valve!

The Best-Buy Stovetop Pressure Cooker: The Presto 8-Quart Pressure Cooker

Want to start pressure-cooking on a real budget? I'd recommend the Presto 8-Quart Pressure Cooker. There are no bells and whistles here, just a sturdy stainless steel pot and a lid with a safety valve and a jiggler for maintaining pressure (It operates only at high pressure—15psi, though of course you can sort of eyeball lower pressure by adjusting your flame accordingly). I used this guy for many years before upgrading to the Kuhn Rikon, so I can tell you that it is a tank that will last and last.

Aside from the old-school pressure-regulation mechanism, the main drawback is that the jiggler is completely separate from the rest of the pot. More than once, I thought I'd lost it, only to hear it clattering when I turned on the garbage disposal in the sink. I also once dropped it onto a hot burner, causing the plastic to melt. It still works just fine, but that little jiggler looks like it's seen a few things in its life.

Whatever pressure cooker you choose, make sure to check out our ever-expanding collection of pressure cooker recipes for inspiration!