Pressure cookers and canners can save you time
For the home cook, it can seem impossible to serve up delicious, slow-cooked meals on a weeknight . . . until you discover pressure-cooking. A traditional pressure cooker looks a lot like a standard pot, but can cut cook time by hours, making it possible to prep an entire stew or roast in under an hour.
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, and 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.
The high-pressure environment of a pressure cooker is actually ideal for canning, as well, and though canners are typically larger, the terms "pressure cooker" and "pressure canner" are often used interchangeably. For our purposes, we considered pressure canners as units that are larger than the standard 4-, 6- or 8-quart sizes and accommodate a significant number of canning jars. Pressure canners are often too large to be practical for cooking most recipes.
Electric pressure cookers are also an option and look similar to slow cookers. Many critics say electric pressure cookers are underpowered, don't reach and maintain pressure well and can be inconvenient to use. However, plenty of home cooks praise them for their "set it and forget it" functionality. Despite the inconveniences, several professionals test and review electric pressure cookers, so we've included a separate entry for them. Cookers and canners can range in price from about $50 to $250 depending on materials, size, quality and features.
ConsumerSearch selects the best pressure cookers based on detailed tests from professionals and reviews from at-home cooks. We found the best comparative reviews came from Good Housekeeping and Cook's Illustrated; while Australia's Choice magazine also did a thorough test, its findings are somewhat outdated. Several bloggers offer their top picks for pressure cookers, including MyShinyKitchen.com and HipPressureCooking.com. User reviews are also especially helpful for understanding cookers' longevity and usability. We found user reviews at Amazon.com, Macys.com, Overstock.com and Cooking.com.