Straight to the Point
This review was updated to reflect shifting availability of some specific pressure cooker models and to include new insights from our ongoing testing and use. Our current winner was also written about in a separate review of Instant Pots.
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 pressure cookers are a close second. 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 pressure cooker has become my single most used appliance. But there are so many questions! Stovetop or electric? Is an expensive one worth it? And how does the Instant Pot fit into all of this?
After scouring 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, at a Glance
The Best Countertop Multi-Cooker for Most People: Instant Pot Pro
This model worked the quickest, browned and sautéed well, and had helpful added features that made it a stand-out.
The Countertop Multi-Cooker for Control Freaks: Breville Fast Slow Pro
Breville's Fast Slow Pro gives users unrivaled levels of control, allowing you to select the exact pressure level you want in 0.5 psi increments. It also automates the depressurization step; after you choose, it takes care of the rest.
The Best Stovetop Cooker: Kuhn Rikon Duromatic Pressure Cooker
The Rolls Royce of stovetop pressure cookers, Kuhn Rikon's models are built to last, with all-metal valve parts and quality gaskets. The Duromatic line comes in a range of shapes and sizes. This 6.3-quart option is a good choice for most homes, though we're also huge fans of its 8.5-quart, 11-inch-wide model for stews and braises.
The Best-Buy Stovetop Cooker: Presto 8-Quart Pressure Cooker
An affordable tank, the Presto can take a licking and keep on pressure-cooking. It's not quite as efficient as the Kuhn Rikon, but for the price, it's a great entry point into the world of pressure cookers.
What We Learned
Pros and Cons: Stovetop Versus Countertop Pressure Cookers
There was a time when I would have said that stovetop pressure cookers are superior to electric countertop 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 countertop 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).
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 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 Vs. Stovetop Cookers|
|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.||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). They're good at getting hot and cooking fast, and that's about it.||Winner. Multi-cookers will pressure-cook, steam, and slow-cook. Some will also hold steady low temperatures for yogurt-making. Most also have adjustable pressure levels.|
|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 of your burner 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 as a regular slow cooker will, which means that the already-bland food that comes out of a standard slow cooker is even blander coming out of a multi-cooker. The real answer here is that with these slow-cooker functions, there are no winners.|
|Cleaning||Winner. You can clean most stovetop pressure cookers by hand and some are dishwasher-safe. That means you can scrub them and clean them just like any other pot or pan.||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, and 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 Criteria: What To Look for in a Stovetop Multi-Cooker and Countertop Pressure Cooker
What to Look for in a Stovetop Multi-Cooker
A good stovetop pressure cooker should have a thick, sturdy base that distributes heat evenly. It should have construction that gives us confidence that it will not explode or otherwise be a danger in the kitchen. We want it to have a lid that locks on securely and easily, without 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 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. Our favorite stovetop cooker vents steam from under a shield in all directions, reducing the chances that you burn yourself.
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 are multi-cookers that also have slow-cooker functions; searing functions; sautéing, simmering, reducing, steaming, and, in some models, yogurt-making functions.
I want to be able to sear and sauté powerfully (and in a reasonable amount of time) in the same vessel. 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 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.
The biggest problem in most pressure cookers was with the interface: confusing panels with no hierarchy, often coupled with display panels that offered too little information. This might just be the Luddite in me, but I need to see an indication that the machine is actually cooking when it's supposed to be. "Is it really on?" I'd ask myself, sometimes coming back after half an hour to see that, nope, it wasn't actually running.
I'm less interested in the slow-cooking function in most multi-cookers, but I tested these out anyway.
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 made a batch of slow-cooked Italian-American red sauce.
Every single pressure cooker, whether stovetop or electric, from the least expensive to the priciest, 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 for Most People: The Instant Pot Pro
This model pressurized the quickest and offered the best searing and sautéing experience, with a stable, non-spinning pot. The ability to use the stainless steel inner pot on an electric, induction, or ceramic stovetops was welcome, as it gives the user greater flexibility and control. Releasing the steam feels straightforward and safe because of its separate push-button release and the plastic cover around the steam valve.
The control panel is easy to navigate with a mixture of buttons and a dial. We also liked the handles on its cooking pot, which made it easier to lift the pot up and out of the Instant Pot's base.
The only downsides are it's pretty expensive—about $130 (at the time of testing). Also, while the sous vide function works, it isn't nearly as reliable as an immersion circulator.
The Countertop Multi-Cooker for Control Freaks: Breville Fast-Slow Pro
The Breville Fast Slow Pro is a feature-packed model that puts users in the driver's seat, but it comes at a high price. 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 (though whether most people need such fined-tuned levels of control is a valid question).
Like other electric models, it also offers a range of presets for things like beans, rice, stock, and meat, though I usually select a preset and then tinker with the settings from there (I suppose I am one of those people who does benefit from having so much control).
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 the pot, allowing it to adjust heating and, in emergencies, vent steam to reduce internal pressure.
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.
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 or leave it to cool down on its own so that the pressure drops naturally. 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.
Compared with other models, the heating and searing functions on the Breville performed similarly to its closest competitors, browning meats and reaching high pressure within a minute or two of each other. I typically prefer stainless steel for searing, but the Breville's ceramic 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.
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.
For ease of cleaning, the Breville also has an advantage, since the ceramic coating makes wiping it out a snap. 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.
I do have a couple of gripes, though. The first 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 other is the lid's safety-locking pin, which engages when the cooker becomes pressurized to prevent the explosive risk of such rapid depressurization. When the lid is closed and set to its locking position, it's easy to position it such that the pin isn't aligned with its hole. If it's not properly aligned, the pin won't rise and lock the lid and the cooker won't properly pressurize. It's clearly a problem because there's even a warning on the lid to visually confirm the pin's alignment; a better design would guarantee proper alignment when the lid is in its locked position, which is how the Instant Pot works.
The Best Stovetop Pressure Cooker: The Kuhn Rikon Duromatic
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, an indicator rod slowly rises up in the center, revealing red lines. One red line means you're at low pressure, while two red lines mean 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 rod. Just push it down, and steam gets released evenly around from under a shield, reducing the chances of a burn. The valves and rods are also easy enough to remove and clean, which is important to maintain proper function. 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, which indicates to me that it's not specific to my cooking arrangement.
Kuhn Rikon offers a range of Duromatic models in a variety of shapes and sizes, all with the same basic features and build. We think the 6.3-quart model (linked to below) is the best size for most families, making meals that can feed about 4 to 6 people.
We're also very big fans of its 8.5-quart, 11-inch-wide model. Instead of the taller, narrower stock-pot shape that most pressure cookers have, this one is wider and slightly shorter, which is great for stews and braises since there's more surface area on the bottom of the pot for browning foods. That increased surface area also means you can reduce liquids faster when the lid is off. That said, it's a big investment, which may make it off-limits for most folks.
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.
Is an Instant Pot with a sous vide function worth it?
After testing, we found that the Instant Pot's sous vide function can work, but it's not super reliable. If you're interested in sous vide, we still suggest you go with a stand-alone immersion circulator.
What can I make in an Instant Pot or stovetop pressure cooker?
We have a collection of multi-cooker and pressure cooker-compatible recipes that you can check out here.
Can I slow cook in a multi-cooker?
You can, but we don't recommend it. (You can read why here.) Multi-cookers like Instant Pots really excel at pressure-cooking and that should be their primary use.