home Forums Pressure Cookers Want to buy electric pressure cooker – 3qt vs 4 qt..need advice please

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    I am considering buying an electric pressure cooker. I am single so I want to be able to cook one piece of chicken or meat BUT when I make vegetable soup I like to use about a dozen different vegetables so it turns out to be about 2 or more quarts once you add the liquid. I freeze some or give to friends. So, what size should I get?

    My understanding is if I were to get the 6 qt I would be unable to brown a piece of meat/chicken because it would be drowning in so much water needed to meet the minimum fill line and probably the same problem if I get a 4 quart or not? Is that correct?

    My fear with a 3 qt was that I would not be able to make my well liked vegetable soup or chicken soup using a whole chicken plus carrots, onions and celery due to volume.

    Lastly I have read before not to get a non stick unit but I have not seen any, at least not any in the under $100 category.

    Any help on that would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you.


    Sophie, if you want to make soup that takes up more room than two quarts, do not get a 3-quart or smaller pressure cooker. You cannot fill any pressure cooker more than two-thirds full. You could not fit a whole chicken and vegetables and water in a 3-quart cooker. You would need a larger one.

    You can brown meat in an electric pressure cooker using, for example, the Saute button on an Instant Pot without using water. That would be like using a skillet on the stove: a bit of oil in the pan, no lid, and no pressure. Then you might choose to put the lid on and pressure cook it, usually after adding some liquid. Here’s one of Laura’s recipes that does that, and explains why some amount of liquid is necessary:

    Pressure Cooker Chicken Cacciatore & Magically Increasing Liquid

    You could also elevate your meat above the liquid using a steam rack.

    There is no “minimum fill” line in pressure cookers, only a maximum fill line. Learning more about pressure cooking would help you decide which size is right for you. Exploring the links on this website would be an excellent way to do that.

    Instant Pots do not have nonstick linings, and in the past they have had some great prices on Amazon during Prime Day and Black Friday — around $70 for a 6-quart. I cook for my single self using a 6-quart stove top pressure cooker and I don’t drown my food! :-)


    A couple more points:

    Rethinking this, you might come close to getting a small whole chicken into a 3-quart cooker if you didn’t use the backbone and you cut up the rest, maybe left out one breast. You could definitely do an intact game hen with some veg in a 3-quart.

    I have a 3-quart electric PC which I use only for making yogurt. But a 3-quart’s capacity seems really limiting to me if it’s to be your main pressure cooker, particularly if you freeze entrées and like to feed friends. You may find yourself struggling with the capacity early on as you experiment with pressure cooking. Sometimes you want to double a recipe because you’ve got a busy week ahead and want leftovers. Or unexpected company is on the way and the PC is the quickest way to feed them, but, darn, the PC is too small for that. Laura recommends a 6-8 quart for the first PC with the proviso that one should get the smallest that meets one’s needs. Six quarts has worked well for me.

    If you are trying to avoid too much liquid around single servings of meat, besides steaming on a rack, I wonder if you could pressure cook them pot-in-pan (or bain marie). That way the only juices your meat would be in would be it’s own plus any flavorings you added, not the liquid used to build pressure. I haven’t tried this myself.

    Anyone out there in hip-land? Does pot-in-pan work for meats?


    “Anyone out there in hip-land? Does pot-in-pan work for meats?”
    It should do though I haven’t tried it either. Ideally you would want to brown the meat in that pot too, so it would get fiddly.

    Actually, I regularly make chicken stock in my 2.5 litre (quart) PC. I use the remnants of a chicken I have used for other purposes and toss in some aromatic veg, herbs and spices. It is a stovetop though.

    I do agree that it is a good idea to go with a standard size (~6L) for your first PC. That way you won’t have to modify recipes, just learn to freeze the leftovers. And as Suzanne says, unexpected guests are no drama.

    That said, I have a 2.5L, 5L and 12L pressure cooker. They are all stovetops and as such do not have the same dramas around minimum liquid requirements that Electrics do. The 2.5L gets by far the most use for our two person household. But tonight I am using the 12L to cook a whole corned silverside. It will feed us for at least a week. Shortly I will do potatoes for mashing in the 2.5L.


    @Sophie, just a thought. Since your veg and chicken veg stews are key to your satisfaction with the PC you buy, next time you prep for one, you could measure how much volume your solids take up using the water displacement approach. Then measure how much water/stock you routinely add to the solids, add up your two numbers, and you’d have the volume you need in a PC. The size of chicken or the amount of veg I use could be very different from the amount you use. That way you’d know for sure. It’s the kind of crazy thing I would do to prevent being disappointed and inconvenienced by shipping the product back.

    In case you’re not sure about this, you don’t have to fill a PC to a minimum level, like you do a slowcooker. So if you bought a larger PC, you wouldn’t be obliged to make greater quantities of food. You’d just have to meet the manufacturer’s requirement for liquid.

    I saw 3-quart Instant Pots selling between $40 and $50 during Amazon Prime day last year, fyi.

    Also, I took the liberty of starting a new thread with your question about cooking single servings of meat, since I’d been wondering about this, too.

    Cooking Single Portions of Meat, Poultry

    Laura Pazzaglia

    Sorry for taking so long to jump in here, but I had been working on an article that exactly addresses Sophie’s question: the differences in cooking with a 3qt versus a larger cooker.

    In saying that, I should note that there is a minimum liquid requirement for all pressure cookers.

    Always be wary of no-liquid-added pressure cooker recipes (like the popular chicken one making the rounds) as they bet (and hope) that the cooker won’t overheat before the food releases enough liquid to build pressure. This technique does not work reliably enough for me to recommend because, beyond frequently resulting in partially burned yet under-cooked dinner, it creates additional wear and tear to the gaskets, seals, and electronics that are not designed to withstand the “dry sauteeing” of food with a closed pressure lid.

    As you’ll see from the photograph included at the top of the article, browning meat in a 3qt is possible, but the cooking surface area is much smaller compared to the other pressure cooker sizes. So be prepared to brown meat in batches.

    Without any further ado, here is the whole article:

    Mini Mania: Shrink Pressure Cooker Recipes for the Instant Pot’s Mini

    Please share this information with anyone who may need it!



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