Pressure cookers can save you time and money
Pressure cookers have been around for a couple of hundred years, but they are more popular than ever in today's kitchen. A pressure cooker can turn the toughest cut of meat into a tender, flavorful dish; make creamy risottos; and produce healthy, nutritious broths and stock. Pressure cookers are particularly popular with those who follow the Paleo way of eating and like to nosh on bone broths and savory meat and veggie dishes. Having a pressure cooker in your kitchen means you can have a healthy, balanced meal on the table in a fraction of the time it takes using a stove or oven. For example, a roast that may take a couple of hours in an oven will be falling-of-the-bone tender in about 40 to 50 minutes using a pressure cooker. Soup, rice, vegetables, breakfast oats and bean dishes can take 10 minutes or less to cook.
In addition to being faster, pressure cookers seal in flavor better, and the pressure helps infuse the seasonings in the dish as it cooks. Fewer nutrients are lost through the process of pressure cooking, too.
Pressure cookers work by creating an airtight seal within the pot. Under such high pressure, the boiling point of water increases, meaning the cooker and its contents maintain a higher temperature -- usually from 230 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit compared to water's normal boiling point of 212 degrees -- so food cooks faster. The high pressure can pose some safety concerns, and some may remember the threatening cookers of decades past, but modern pressure cookers offer safety features that automatically release pressure before it poses any danger, or won't work at all unless its seals are properly engaged, so don't let a childhood fear of pressure cookers keep you from trying out this versatile cooking tool.
There are three basic types of pressure cookers
Electric pressure cookers, also called countertop pressure cookers, are the safest, most versatile and easiest type to use. Cooks love them for their "set-and-forget" convenience -- a plus if you have other things to do while dinner is cooking or if you often have every burner on the stove occupied. Many electric pressure cookers can also multitask -- serving as rice cookers, steamers or slow cookers as well. Most have timers so you can prepare the food in advance, and have it start cooking several hours later. Electric pressure cookers are bulkier, in general, than stovetop pressure cookers, and they don't reach as high of pressure as stovetop models do; however, that's easily remedied -- just add a few minutes to the cooking time. One issue with electric pressure cookers: they will turn off or switch to their "keep warm" mode if there is not enough liquid in the pot, which is a common problem when cooking large cuts of meat. Be sure to use at least 2 cups of liquid to prevent that from happening.
Stovetop pressure cookers are the traditional type and are still very popular kitchen items. This type of pressure cooker looks like a standard pot, and it can be used on any type of stove (although heavier models should not be used on glass or ceramic cooktops), including propane-powered stoves. Some even use them over an open fire, although it's difficult to regulate heat using that cooking method. That makes pressure cookers a popular option for campers. Unlike electric models, stovetop pressure cookers have to be monitored and the pressure manually released after a set period of time, depending upon the recipe.
Pressure cooker canners are used to preserve fresh foods, like fruits, vegetables and more. You don't have to have a dedicated canner, the high-pressure environment of a pressure cooker is ideal for canning and the terms "pressure cooker" and "pressure canner" are often used interchangeably. However, avid canners who put up a lot of food usually like a setup specifically for canning. These cookers are typically larger than the pressure cookers used for everyday cooking, and include accessories to make canning a bit easier. However, pressure canners are often very large and heavy, making them impractical for everyday use. Electric pressure cookers are not suitable for canning.
How we found the best pressure cookers
There are some very good professional tests and roundups of both electric and stovetop pressure cookers, including comparative tests done by Cooks Illustrated. HipPressureCooking.com and MyShinyKitchen.com are blogs devoted to reviewing pressure cookers and are chock-full of helpful hints, recipes and recommendations. The authors of those two blogs are extremely knowledgeable cooks who test pressure cookers extensively. There are a few other kitchen experts who also blog about pressure cookers, among other appliances. We then match what the experts have to say with the experiences of consumers who use their pressure cookers day after day in real world cooking situations. We analyzed hundreds, sometimes thousands, of user reviews at retail sites such as Amazon.com, Macys.com and others. The result of that research is our recommendations for electric and stovetop pressure cookers and canners that offer the best combination of performance, durability, safety and ease of use.