The Pressure Cooker Buying Guide

The Pressure Cooker Buying Guide - expert advice to choosing the right pressure cooker!

Buying a pressure cooker is an investment in both money and time that will quickly be repaid in health and savings. Pressure cookers have changed quite a bit in the last few years and there are many more options to consider. Here’s our guide to help you choose the right pressure cooker for your needs.

Why get a pressure cooker?

These are the things that make pressure  cookers special. Pressure cooking is..

FAST – cuts cooking time to 1/3 (or more) . A roast that would ordinarily take 2-3 hours is ready in 20-40 minutes, soaked chickpeas only need 13 minutes, and more!  See more examples in our Speed-up Slow Cooking with Pressure infographic.
 HEALTHY- retains 50% more nutrients.  Research studies have shown that pressure cooking retains more vitamins and minerals than steaming without pressure and even microwaving!  Get the details on pressure cooker nutrition.
 GREEN – uses 70% less gas, electricity and water.  Pressure cookers are more efficient at using the energy – their efficiency is comparable to the energy savings of switching to energy-saving light bulbs.  So if you’ve changed the lightbulbs in your house to save energy, it’s time to change the cookware!
 EASY – just add water and monitor.  Pressure cooking is just like regular cooking except it always needs a little bit of water takes less time, once you learn the workings of your pressure cooker it just needs minimum monitoring when it’s coming up to pressure (no supervision needed at all for electrics).
 CLEAN – no more splatters and spurts. Cooking in a sealed vessel means no need to clean spills from the stovetop or oven.  Plus, most pressure cooker bases are dishwasher safe. Done!
 SAFE – multiple safety mechanisms. Today’s pressure cookers have fool-proof safety features with back-ups (just in case).

Stove top or electric pressure cooker?

Here’s the big secret: they all pressure cook. Whether they’re old, new electric, stovetop they can all pressure cook food but they differ on the recipes they can do and how long they need to get the job done – but no matter what, it will be faster than conventional cooking.

Although electric pressure cookers are more convenient, they are less powerful and durable, while stovetop cookers are sturdy and  faster. We wrote an article carefully comparing electric and stove top pressure cookers. Here our recommendations:

  • Electric pressure cookers are best for..
    •  those who are nervous about fiddling with heat settings – the electric cooker will do it automatically, just set it and forget it;
    • many electrics can replace other appliances like slow cooker, rice cooker and yogurt maker 
    • busy parents who need to schedule dinner to be ready when they walk in the door will appreciate the cooking delay timer available in some models which starts dinner before anyone is home
    • college students with limited kitchens – the electric pressure cooker is a complete cooking tool it browns/saute’s, pressure cooks and keep the food warm – some do even more;
    • elderly or otherwise abled persons-no need to remember if the gas is on, plus the cooker can be placed at any height;
    • expert cooks who already moved all of their cooking to pressure and often have more than one cooker running – an electric is a great addition to the ensemble.
  • Stove top Pressure Cookers are best for..
    • those who want speed and power since they reach higher heat and pressure than electrics;
    • those who value durability over convenience – electrics can last years but stove top cookers last decades, generations;
    • cooks who want to try advanced pressure cooking techniques -many require the higher pressure and lesser evaporation of modern stove top cookers;
    • cooks who like to tinker and supervise the cooking since the pressure releases faster than electrics.

All the recipes on this website and cookbook contain cooking instructions for both stove top and electric pressure cookers. So regardless of your choice of pressure cooker, we’ll teach you hot to cook in it!

More: The difference between stove top and electric pressure cookers.

Can I use an inherited or vintage pressure cooker?

It’s a romantic notion to bring a beloved vintage cooker back into service but we don’t recommend it. Pressure cookers made more than 20 years ago do not have the fool-proof safety features of modern pressure cookers like locking lids to ensure you don’t accidentally open it while the contents are at pressure, or back-up safety valves.

If you’re not quite certain how old the pressure cooker is, take a look at the manual which should contain a list of the safety features.

More: Pressure Cooker Instruction Manual Library

Are pressure cookers safe?

Absolutely.  Today’s pressure cookers feature multiple redundant safety mechanisms – if one should fail there’s another one (or two) that kick-in to take their place. Both electric and stove top pressure cookers have at least these safety features:

  1. Locking Lid – will keep the pressure cooker closed if there is any pressure inside and for electric pressure cookers even if there is no electricity.
  2. Primary and Secondary pressure release – if pressure is too high inside the cooker, the main pressure valve will release the extra pressure.  Should the first valve become blocked there is a second valve that will relieve pressure.
  3. Lid lip vent  – should the primary and secondary pressure release valves fail to release extra pressure, it will exit from a small cut-out in the lid (or into the pressure cooker body – for electric pressure cookers – which will self destruct the appliance).
  4. Auto shut-off – this is another advantage of electric pressure cookers, if something is going sideways they will know it (based on their internal temperature readings) and shut themselves off.

Some pressure cooker models, especially the premium ones, will have  even more safety features.  Take a peek at the photos and descriptions in our detailed  pressure cooker reviews to find out more about how these safety systems work.

More: Pressure Cooker Reviews

What size pressure cooker should I purchase? 

It can be tricky to choose a pressure cooker size because it does not directly reflect how much food the pressure cooker can actually hold.

Pressure cookers made by European and Asian manufacturers are actually sized in liters, not quarts.  Those pressure cookers are “rounded down” to quarts to make it easier for consumers to choose a size, but they are in fact a little bit bigger.

To further confuse things, pressure cookers should only be filled maximum 2/3 full for most foods and 1/2 full for grains and beans (since these foods expand and foam during cooking).

Here are some sample ingredients – compare that to how much of each each food you usually make for your family to help you in your selection.

How much can fit inside a pressure cooker

Our rule of thumb (with extra wiggle room) is to calculate 1 quart/liter per person in the household.  So a 6 qt will feed maximum 6 people, and an 8 qt will feed maximum 8, and so on –  they can all feed fewer people, too. Bigger is not better with pressure cookers -get the smallest pressure cooker for your cooking needs.

For most of our readers, who are either single or don’t have particularly large families, our top recommended sizes are 6 or 8 quart/liter pressure cooker.  That’s because a large part of pressure cooker recipes found online and cookbooks are designed for this size cooker. If you can afford it, and you’re going “stovetop”, buy a set with two sizes that share one pressure cooking lid – the smaller base (called pressure pan) is great for making very small quantities, sauces, sides and small-batch jams.

More: Does Pressure Cooker Size Matter? Of course! and Pressure Cooker Capacity FAQ

What are the main points to consider when selecting a pressure cooker?

We’ve used all kinds of pressure cookers and this advice has been fine-tuned by time. Here are a few things that your new pressure cooker should have:

  • Spring valve for Stovetop and Float valve for Electrics – Spring-valve non-venting cookers have the latest pressure-regulating technology and they won’t fill your kitchen with the sounds of steam engine pistons firing (like old-style venting cookers) or drive you nuts with the clinging and clanging of a jiggling metal weight. Modern spring-valve cookers make very little noise while cooking and need less energy, too! Electrics have a weighted “float valve” which is equally quiet and energy-efficient.  On electrics the flaot valve does not regulate the internal pressure, this is done by the electronic logic that turns the heat element on and off.
  • Stainless Steel – Stove top cookers should be made of  stainless steel because cheaper aluminum cookers are not only soft and easily deformed but they are “reactive” – this means that they change the flavor of acidic ingredients (tomatoes, lemon, wine, etc.).
  • No non-stick Coatings – Avoid non-stick coatings, as they can scratch and be easily damaged (therefore no longer being able to do as intended) by utensils, sharp end of a bone or a metal steamer basket exposing the aluminum underneath to be in contact with the food.
  • Two Pressure Settings – A pressure cooker should have at least two pressure settings. “High Pressure” for meats, legumes and anything dense that needs a long time to cook, and “Low Pressure” for  fish, eggs, and al dente veggies and pasta. Some pressure cookers have a switch on the lid to select the pressure settings, others will do so by displaying a certain number of rings while electric pressure cookers let you choose the pressure at the touch of a button. Don’t be dazzled by new pressure cookers that have 10 or more pressure settings – no recipes have actually been written for all of those other pressure settings.
  • Established Manufacturer – All pressure cookers will have some parts that eventually wear and will need to be replaced.  For example, the sealing gaskets (the silicone ring in the lid) usually last 18-24 months – more rarely smaller parts of a safety valve will also need to be replaced.  Purchase your pressure cooker from a longstanding company with a good reputation and customer service so you’ll be able to track down and purchase these wearing parts when needed. Don’t stock-up on these parts – they age even while not being used.

Can I “pressure can” or “pressure fry” in a pressure cooker?

Yes and no. Although pressure cooking, pressure frying  and pressure canning all use pressure  to complete their tasks they cannot be done in a single vessel.   A vessel used for pressure canning must meet specific size and pressure standards to adhere to USDA safety protocols.  While for pressure frying, also known as broasting,  the vessel needs to be a of a particular thickness and the gasket and safety valves made with materials to withstand the super-heated oil (which reaches higher temperatures than water under pressure).

There are various work-arounds and hacks to use a dedicated pressure canner for cooking – but we do not recommend doing so – as canners were not designed for such a task.  They are large, bulky, and unwieldy for every-day use and are made of aluminum (which should not be in contact with food).

Despite some marketing claims, you cannot pressure can in an electric pressure cooker.  However, there are some very large stove top pressure cookers (usually 10L and above) that do meet the USDA size and pressure guidelines and these are called “Pressure Cooker/Canners“.

More: Pressure Canning Guide & FAQ: put ’em up!

What is hip pressure cooking’s favorite pressure cooker?

All modern pressure cookers all function very similarly – the main difference between each are the bells and whistles, quality of materials and efficiency. We like one because it’s simple, but the other one because it makes a sound when it goes into over-pressure, and the other one because it’s wide one because we don’t have to supervise it, and another one because it releases pressure by itself.

We just can’t  choose a favorite,  so that’s why we began reviewing pressure cookers. Read the reviews and see which special feature you absolutely must have for your pressure cooking needs.

More: Pressure Cooker Reviews

Wait! I have more questions, where can I ask them?

We’re here to help you discover the joys and time-saving abilities of pressure cookery.  The delicious fun really begins when you get the pressure cooker  and we’ll help you every step of the way (we’ll teach you how to pressure cook, too).

So please, leave any additional questions in the comments section below or in our lively forums. Welcome!

Great, I’m ready to buy.  Where can I see all of the options?

We created a shopping page with additional guidance for different kinds of pressure cookers.  If you plan to buy a pressure cooker online please do so through our shopping page so that your purchase (at no additional cost to you) can support this website – thank you.

Pressure Cooker Buying Guide - Pazzaglia with a small selection of pressure cookers she receives from manufacturers.

Laura Pazzaglia, the founder of Hip Pressure Cooking with a small selection of her pressure cookers and her cookbook Hip Pressure Cooking: Fast, Fresh & Flavorful.

The Pressure Cooker Buying Guide - expert advice to choosing the right pressure cooker!