|Searing||Winner. Stovetop cookers sear as well as any decent pan in your kitchen. You can pump up the heat as high as your stove will go.||Electric pressure cookers’ searing ability is limited by the output of their electric heating elements. The best will sear reasonably well, though they can’t compete with the output of a true cooktop. The worst will steam your food instead of searing it.|
|Size||Winner. Stovetop cookers come in a wide range of sizes, from small enough for a family of two to large enough for big-batch canning processes, and everything in between.||Most countertop cookers come in a range of five to eight quarts. Both of our picks are around the six-quart mark, which is large enough to make food for a family of four, with leftovers.|
|Versatility||Stovetop pressure cookers offer only rudimentary temperature control (i.e., they are as accurate as your burners are, which is typically not very). They’re good at getting hot and cooking fast, and that’s about it.||Winner. Multi-cookers will pressure-cook, steam, and slow-cook right off the bat. Some will also hold steady low temperatures for yogurt-making. Most also have adjustable pressure levels for different types of recipes.|
|Pressure||Winner. Stovetop pressure cookers typically reach a pressure level of 15 psi, allowing the contents to reach a full 250°F (121°C).||Electric pressure cookers max out at 12 to 12.5 psi, giving you a cooking temperature of around 245°F (118°C). This small change in temperature means that foods do take a little bit longer to cook in an electric pressure cooker than in a stovetop one, but not significantly so.|
|Ease of Use||Stovetop pressure cookers require you to manually adjust the heat underneath the cooker to maintain the right pressure. This can be tedious; you have to wait until it has come to pressure, then make tiny adjustments with your heat knob until you hit just the right position. You also need to manually stop the cooking when time is up.||Winner. This is the real advantage of electric pressure cookers. Either use a preset or set the pressure and the time, then let the machine do the work. No fiddling with knobs; no worrying about timers. With models that include automatic pressure release, you have true set-it-and-forget-it ease.|
|Slow-Cooking||N/A||Winner, sort of. The slow-cooker functions on most multi-cookers work just fine, though they don’t allow as much liquid to evaporate during cooking as a regular slow cooker will, which means that the already-bland food that comes out of a standard slow cooker is even blander coming out of a multi-cooker. The real answer here is that with these slow-cooker functions, there are no winners.|
|Cleaning||Winner. Most stovetop pressure cookers are completely submersible in water and dishwasher-safe. That means you can scrub them and clean them just like any other pot or pan (though you’ll have to remove gaskets and valves separately to clean them).||Countertop pressure cookers all have removable cooking inserts that are typically very easy to clean. The lids are another story. Most are not dishwasher-safe—at least, so the manufacturers say—and have more moving parts to contend with when you’re scrubbing. I also found that countertop cookers universally absorbed odors more than stovetop ones. I could smell caramelized onions every time I opened one up for weeks after cooking them.|
The Criteria: What We Look for in Great Stovetop and Countertop Pressure Cookers
What to Look for in a Stovetop Pressure Cooker
A good stovetop pressure cooker should have a thick, sturdy base that distributes heat evenly. It should have construction that gives us confidence that it will not explode or otherwise be a danger in the kitchen. We want it to have a lid that locks on securely and easily, without having to fiddle around.
Pressure gauges come in two distinct forms these days. The old-fashioned method uses a jiggler—a weight that sits over the end of a pressure-release tube that runs through the lid of the cooker. As the pressure inside builds, it eventually has enough force to lift the jiggler and emit a puff of steam, regulating the temperature and the pressure inside. The problem with jigglers is that each time they vent steam, the contents of the pot boil a bit, something that ideally shouldn’t happen inside a pressure cooker. Moreover, the only way you can monitor internal temperature is by adjusting the heat until the jiggler releases steam at a bare hiss, indicating you’ve achieved and maintained good pressure inside.
More modern cookers have spring-loaded release valves that rise and fall with the pressure inside but don’t actually vent steam until a fixed safety point is reached. This allows you to adjust the flame without actually venting any steam or causing boiling or other internal disturbances. I much prefer this style of stovetop cooker, though it can be pricier.
Regarding safety features, I need to see an automatic safety release valve—something that will vent pressure if the main valve somehow gets blocked or stuck. Luckily, any modern pressure cooker will have this feature. The direction in which the steam vents is also important. Most pressure cookers vent steam straight up in a jet. The steam in that jet is hot, and you can burn yourself if you put your hand or face in its way. Our favorite stovetop cooker vents steam from under a shield in all directions, reducing the chances that you burn yourself.
Efficiency is also a consideration. Depending on body design and materials, different pressure cookers heat and maintain their internal temperatures more or less efficiently than others. I tested efficiency by seeing where I needed to set my heat dial in order to maintain high pressure in each cooker. The higher I had to set it, the more energy was being wasted, and the less efficient the cooker.
What to Look for in a Countertop Pressure Cooker
Nearly all countertop pressure cookers these days are multi-cookers that also have slow-cooker functions; searing functions; sautéing, simmering, reducing, steaming, and, in some models, yogurt-making functions. A specific model may say “six in one” or “seven in one,” but you can largely ignore those numbers. The only question that matters is whether it will do what you need it to do.
I want to be able to sear and sauté in the same vessel, and I want that searing to be powerful enough to actually brown meat in a reasonable amount of time. I want the cooker to come up to pressure and maintain that pressure with no monitoring. The more automation, the better. I’d like to get the thing running with an intuitive interface that gives me maximum control over my cooking with minimal button presses. I want to be able to manually adjust timing and pressure, both at the start of cooking and on the fly. I also want a pressure cooker that’s easy to clean. Some models I tested had internal pots that would not sit still—they’d rotate around and around as I tried to stir, making cooking in them difficult and tedious. Others had lids that were difficult to align or lock down.
The biggest problem I saw in most pressure cookers was with the interface: large panels of buttons with no hierarchy and no clear navigation, often coupled with display panels that offered too little information. This might just be the Luddite in me (I miss the days when microwaves had a power dial and a time dial, and that’s it), but I need to see an indication that the machine is actually cooking when it’s supposed to be; you would not believe how many machines make this difficult. Is it really on? I’d ask myself, sometimes coming back after half an hour to see that, nope, it wasn’t actually running.
I’m less interested in the slow-cooking function in most multi-cookers, but I tested these out anyway.
To test the pressure cookers, I cooked up a variety of foods with both short and long cooking times: a quick Pressure Cooker Corn Soup and Pressure Cooker Mushroom Risotto, beans in the form of Pressure Cooker Black Beans With Chorizo, and longer-cooking Pressure Cooker Texas-Style Chile Con Carne. I also cooked up batches of rice and other grains as well as Pressure Cooker Caramelized Onions to see how long strong aromas would linger. For the electric multi-cookers with slow-cooker settings, I also made a batch of my slow-cooked Italian-American red sauce.
Here’s the good news: Every single pressure cooker, whether stovetop or electric, from the least expensive to the priciest, made good food in a fraction of the time it would take to make the same dish in a standard pot. That said, many multi-cookers, in particular, had interfaces or design flaws that detracted from the overall experience.
Here are the ones that stood out above their peers.
The Best Electric Pressure/Multi-Cooker for Most People: The Instant Pot Duo60
The Instant Pot Duo60 is one of the most popular pressure cookers around and with good reason: It’s a fantastic value. It boasts many of the same functions as more expensive models and even has a yogurt-making setting for incubating milk.
Instant Pot also has an ingenious solution for lid storage: The lid comes off completely, but it has a plastic tab that allows you to stand it upright in either of the two side handles, whichever side will get in your way less. This also makes the lid easier to clean.
The Instant Pot has a stainless steel insert with a triple-clad base for more even heating. That said, I didn’t find that it actually heated any more evenly than inserts with a thinner base. While I can see the appeal of stainless steel—it’s nice for browning when you want to develop a fond to make a pan sauce or gravy—it’s largely irrelevant when it comes to pressure-cooking; whether the browned bits stay on the meat or in the base of the pan doesn’t matter when you’re going to cook it all together anyway. The stainless steel is harder to clean than inserts that have ceramic or nonstick coatings, though it does have the potential to last much longer.
The sauté/browning function works quite well. It draws 1,000 watts, which in practice means it doesn’t feel slow while I’m cooking with it. Similarly, when tested side by side with higher-powered cookers, the Instant Pot can take slightly longer to come up to pressure (about seven minutes for a full pot of chili), but once at pressure, it cooks at the same rate. The cooking insert also has a bad habit of spinning around if you have less than a few pounds of food in it, making it frustrating to sauté and stir.
The interface on the Instant Pot, while easier than those on some other models, could still use some improvement. It’ll take you a bit of time with the manual to really get the hang of how to adjust its settings, and the feedback it gives you on its old-school LCD screen is not a great way to communicate what’s actually going on inside the pot or what you’ve programmed it to do. More than once early on in testing, before I had the hang of it, I walked away and came back to discover that it had not actually started cooking when I wanted it to. (The trick is to wait several seconds after you’ve input all the settings, until it beeps.)
On the plus side, Instant Pot has a reputation for incredible customer service and a great community of friendly users. This is important if you get recipes or tips online (which, if you’re reading this, I assume you do!).
There are a couple of other Instant Pot models out there on the market. The Bluetooth-enabled “smart” version is essentially the exact same cooker as the Duo60, but with a slightly modified interface and the ability to be programmed with your smartphone or tablet. If that kind of connectivity appeals to you, it might be worth the extra $60. On the lower end, there’s also the Instant Pot LUX60. It performs similarly well to the Duo, but it has only one pressure setting (high) and lacks the yogurt-making function. Seeing as I cook with low pressure about half the time (mainly for rice), for me, losing that pressure setting would be a big hit on performance just to save $20.
The Countertop Multi-Cooker for Control Freaks: Breville Fast-Slow Pro
The Breville Fast Slow Pro is a feature-packed model that puts users in the driver’s seat, but it comes at a high price. The biggest advantage the Fast Slow offers is manual control over both pressure and timing, with a simple-to-use, completely intuitive interface. Just turn the knobs and press them to select from a number of presets, or adjust the timer and the pressure manually at intervals of 0.5 psi from 1.5 to 12 psi. It offers a level of control that you don’t get even with stovetop cookers (though whether most people need such fined-tuned levels of control is a valid question).
Like other electric models, it also offers a range of presets for things like beans, rice, stock, and meat, though I usually select a preset and then tinker with the settings from there (I suppose I am one of those people who does benefit from having so much control).
Most pressure cookers gauge internal pressure via a temperature probe at the base of the unit. The Breville Fast Slow has dual sensors, one at the base and one in the lid, which gives it a much more accurate picture of what’s going on inside the pot, allowing it to adjust heating and, in emergencies, vent steam to reduce internal pressure.
I really enjoy the blue/orange LCD screen, which gives you clear indications of whether the machine is actively cooking or whether you’re still adjusting settings. If that screen turns orange, the cooker is engaged, and it’s safe to walk away.
Two more great features: automatic adjustment for cooking at altitude and automatic pressure release. The former is important for folks who live high above sea level. A pressure cooker maintains its pressure at a certain level above the ambient air pressure, so, as that air pressure drops when you travel up into the mountains, the pressure inside a pressure cooker will drop correspondingly. But not in the Breville.
As for automatic pressure release, this is the feature that makes this cooker truly set-it-and-forget-it. Every other cooker on the market requires you to vent steam manually when you hear the “time’s up!” chime ring or leave it to cool down on its own so that the pressure drops naturally. The Breville will automatically release steam at a rate you determine via a few presets (either all at once or in a series of short bursts). You can also set it to not vent steam at all, for a natural cool-down (in which case it will let out a chime to let you know when the pressure has fully dropped), or ask it to keep your food warm right from the start of cooking, so that all you have to do is show up at dinnertime.
Compared with other models, the heating and searing functions on the Breville performed similarly to its closest competitors, browning meats and reaching high pressure within a minute or two of each other. I typically prefer stainless steel for searing, but the Breville’s ceramic coating produced nice dark sears in a reasonable amount of time. The cooking pot also sits firmly in the outer chamber, preventing it from spinning around as you stir.
As with other electric models, the slow-cook function works reasonably well, but it will not behave exactly like a standard slow cooker. Liquids do not evaporate as fast, so you end up with more liquid at the end. You can solve this problem by replacing the built-in lid with an appropriately sized pot lid. But, to be honest, once you have a pressure cooker, there’s not really any reason to use a slow cooker, so the functionality becomes largely redundant.
For ease of cleaning, the Breville also has an advantage, since the ceramic coating makes wiping it out a snap. The Breville also has a very wide lip under the gasket at the top, making wiping it out simple. In every other countertop model, getting a sponge into the cramped space under the lid locks was a pain in the butt, if not outright impossible.
I do have a couple of gripes, though. The first is the lid placement. The lid is fixed to the body of the cooker on a hinge. When open, it sits upright. This can get in the way of your elbow when you’re stirring or tasting, especially if you’re right-handed. That said, it does eliminate the frustration I have with other cookers of having to ensure that the marks are perfectly lined up in order to close the lid.
The other is the lid’s safety-locking pin, which engages when the cooker becomes pressurized to prevent the explosive risk of such rapid depressurization. When the lid is closed and set to its locking position, it’s easy to position it such that the pin isn’t aligned with its hole. If it’s not properly aligned, the pin won’t rise and lock the lid and the cooker won’t properly pressurize. It’s clearly a problem because there’s even a warning on the lid to visually confirm the pin’s alignment; a better design would guarantee proper alignment when the lid is in its locked position, which is how the Instant Pot works.
The Best Stovetop Pressure Cooker: The Kuhn Rikon Duromatic
The Kuhn Rikon Duromatic Pressure Cooker is as pretty to look at as it is effective. It’s a second-generation cooker, which means improved safety features (like an automatic pressure-release valve) and a spring-loaded pressure gauge rather than a jiggler.
Some stovetop cookers have various switches, levers, or valves to toggle between low pressure, high pressure, and release settings. The Kuhn Rikon combines them all into one elegant solution. The valve is in the center of the conical lid. As pressure builds up inside, an indicator rod slowly rises up in the center, revealing red lines. One red line means you’re at low pressure, while two red lines mean you’re at high. Let it keep heating and, eventually, it will start venting steam to prevent an explosion.
To release pressure, you use the exact same rod. Just push it down, and steam gets released evenly around from under a shield, reducing the chances of a burn. The valves and rods are also easy enough to remove and clean, which is important to maintain proper function. I like the fact that the valve is an all-metal construction. It gives me peace of mind that the moving parts here are designed to last.
Though it may vary with the exact setup of your cooktop, I found that the Duromatic was the most efficient pressure cooker of the bunch. Once I got it up to temperature, it required very little added heat to keep it there during cooking. This is in line with what our friends at Hip Pressure Cooking found, which indicates to me that it’s not specific to my cooking arrangement.
Kuhn Rikon offers a range of Duromatic models in a variety of shapes and sizes, all with the same basic features and build. We think the 6.3-quart model (linked to below) is the best size for most families, making meals that can feed about 4 to 6 people.
We’re also very big fans of its 8.5-quart, 11-inch-wide model. Instead of the taller, narrower stock-pot shape that most pressure cookers have, this one is wider and slightly shorter, which is great for stews and braises since there’s more surface area on the bottom of the pot for browning foods. That increased surface area also means you can reduce liquids faster when the lid is off. That said, it’s a big investment, which may make it off-limits for most folks.
The Best-Buy Stovetop Pressure Cooker: The Presto 8-Quart Pressure Cooker
Want to start pressure-cooking on a real budget? I’d recommend the Presto 8-Quart Pressure Cooker. There are no bells and whistles here, just a sturdy stainless steel pot and a lid with a safety valve and a jiggler for maintaining pressure. (It operates only at high pressure—15psi, though, of course, you can sort of eyeball lower pressure by adjusting your flame accordingly.) I used this guy for many years before upgrading to the Kuhn Rikon, so I can tell you that it is a tank that will last and last.
Aside from the old-school pressure-regulation mechanism, the main drawback is that the jiggler is completely separate from the rest of the pot. More than once, I thought I’d lost it, only to hear it clattering when I turned on the garbage disposal in the sink. I also once dropped it onto a hot burner, causing the plastic to melt. It still works just fine, but that little jiggler looks like it’s seen a few things in its life.
Whatever pressure cooker you choose, make sure to check out our ever-expanding collection of pressure cooker recipes for inspiration.