When you think of pressure cookers, you probably remember the traditional pots that screeched and rattled on the hob. But the next-generation designs we're seeing today should see pressure cookers take their place as an essential and time-saving buy for the modern kitchen.
Today’s pressure cookers come in different shapes and sizes, but there are two main types – traditional stove-top pressure cookers and the newer electric pressure cookers. They work in fundamentally the same way, using a build-up of steam pressure to raise the temperature above boiling point and force liquid into food. This means that food cooks more quickly. It also helps to develop flavour and make food more tender.
Not sure whether you should buy an electric or stove-top model? If you only want a quick way to cook soup, are a confident cook or short on kitchen space, a stove-top pressure cooker might be best. However, if you want to be able to 'set and forget' your meal, and let a kitchen gadget do all the hard work for you, an electric pressure cooker might be a better option.
You could also consider a microwave version. There are fewer of these around but they can be good as long as you don't need a large capacity.
Electric pressure cookers are standalone appliances, similar to multicookers or slow cookers. Pricewise, they start around the £50 mark and can go up to around £200 for the most expensive, feature-packed models.
Their main benefit is that they pretty much automate the cooking process. You simply select the pressure level or cooking function you want, and the appliance does all the work, with an integrated timer letting you know when to release the pressure and when your meal is ready. This makes them a good option for people who are new to pressure cooking or those who don’t want to watch over their appliance.
If you’ve decided that an electric pressure cooker is right for you, here are some things to think about when choosing between models:
Electric pressure cookers, especially multicookers, generally have smaller capacities than stove-top pressure cookers. The smallest models have about a three-litre capacity, but most are around four to six litres, which should be plenty to make a meal for a family of four. Bear in mind that the claimed capacity, isn't always the usable cooking capacity. Generally we've found that six-litre pressure cookers will have around four litres of cooking space. The Instant Pot comes in a larger eight-litre option, too.
A larger capacity will add to the price, but will mean you can batch cook and freeze portions, but go for the smallest option that works for your household if you're looking to save money.
If you want maximum flexibility, look for a pressure cooker that is also a multicooker, such as the Instant Pot. These appliances can double up as steamers, slow cookers, rice cookers, or even have dedicated settings for porridge and yoghurt. Some, like the Ninja, can even grill, roast or bake.
Some electric pressure cookers only have one pressure setting, whereas others have two (for high and low pressure) or even more (the Sage Fast Slow Pro has eight). The low-pressure option makes cooking more energy-efficient, as the cooker can switch to this setting once the food has cooked. It’s also useful for cooking more delicate foods such as leafy vegetables, pasta, eggs and fish.
Some models (such as the Sage Fast Slow Pro) have an automatic pressure release. This makes the cooking fully automated, so you can choose your setting, leave your pressure cooker and come back to your finished meal, rather than having to release the pressure manually then waiting for it to complete. This feature will cost you more, though.
A sauté function will let you brown meat inside the pressure cooker with the lid off, saving you the time of transferring food between pan and pressure cooker, and the hassle of extra washing-up, but maximising taste and flavour.
If you love having a hot meal waiting for you when you come home, these features will give you more flexibility in when you put your ingredients in and take your food out. Some timers can be as long as 24 hours.
Stove-top pressure cookers can initially be a little more daunting to use, as you need to monitor the level of heat on the stove to help the appliance reach and maintain pressure. But if you’re prepared to take a more hands-on approach to cooking, they have their benefits. They’re often cheaper than electric models (you can buy one for as little as £20) and, as they can reach higher pressure levels, they can cook food even more quickly.
Most are made from stainless steel or aluminium, and can double up as a sturdy saucepan. They don’t have multiple functions for different foods like electric models do, but some come with accessories such as steaming baskets.
Here are the main things to think about when choosing a stove-top pressure cooker:
Like electric pressure cookers, stove-top models come in different shapes and sizes, starting at around 1.5 litres for a mini pressure cooker and going up to as much as 12 litres. You’ll want to consider how many portions you like to cook as well as how much storage space you have. The lockable lids can be quite large to store.
If you’re prepared to spend more, one of the main things your money will buy is better-quality materials. Pricier stove-top pressure cookers are often made of stainless steel instead of aluminium and have a thicker base, making them more durable than cheaper models. Some even have a lifetime guarantee.
Some hob pressure cookers have handles on either side, making them easier to carry, as they can be heavy when filled with food. Others have folding or removable handles, making storage easier.
All models will indicate when pressure has reached the desired level, but some have multiple pressure levels to choose from, or built-in timers and thermometers to take some of the guesswork out of the process.
A two-valve mechanism gives you more choice for releasing pressure, either naturally by leaving it to cool, or speeding things up by sitting the pan in cold water or running some over the top.
For peace of mind, look for additional safety features such as a locking lid, a second pressure release valve (in case the first gets blocked) and an auto shut-off function.
Whether you buy an electric or stove-top pressure cooker, you'll need to take care of the rubber sealing ring (gasket) that sits inside the lid. This helps to form an airtight seal so pressure can build up. If it's damaged, your pressure cooker won't work properly.
The gaskets will need replacing periodically to keep your pressure cooker working at its best. They aren't usually too expensive but it's worth checking how readily available and expensive they are before you buy a pressure cooker, so you don't get stuck with a model that has hard-to-find or costly spare parts.
To look after your pressure cooker gasket:
If you're short on space, you could also consider a microwave pressure cooker. These are usually made of silicone, so are easy to clean after cooking, whether you pop it in your dishwasher or wash it by hand.
The microwave helps the silicone pressure cooker reach pressure almost instantly, so it’s one of the quickest ways to cook. However, you do have to compromise on size – models from Lakeland and Prestige only have a 2.2-litre capacity, which would struggle to feed a family of four.
Not sure if a pressure cooker is for you? Here are some alternatives: