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If you don't have much time to spend cooking, but still want to put homemade food on the table, a pressure cooker will be your go-to kitchen appliance. Pressure cookers cook food under pressure created by trapped steam which significantly cuts down on traditional cooking times for warming soups and stews, roasts, side dishes, and even desserts.
You can choose from an electric pressure cooker or one that can be used on the stovetop. Many electric pressure cookers available today are also multi-cookers, like the fan-favorite Instant Pot, and are programmed to handle slow cooking, steaming, and sautéing in addition to pressure cooking so you can make everything from a big pot of chili to homemade yogurt to perfectly cooked rice. If you're nervous about bringing a pressure cooker home, don't be: Most of today's models are equipped with safety features to make the process easy enough for beginning home cooks to master.
What to Look for in a Pressure Cooker
Stovetop or Electric
Stovetop pressure cookers tend to have fewer features and functions than their electric counterparts, but they also tend to be less expensive. With the lid off, or with the lid not sealed onto the pot, the stovetop pressure cooker can function just like any other pot you own to simmer sauces, boil water, or make soup.
Electric pressure cookers tend to have more features, and they can be easier to use, since you set a timer and you don’t need to manually time the cooking. You also don’t need to turn the heat off when cooking is done, since the cooker does that for you. Many electric pressure cookers can be used to sear food, simmer, steam, and slow cook, making them very versatile appliances.
No matter which you choose, you can start or finish your food using conventional cooking methods, so you can start with a slow-cook simmer and then finish with pressure if the food isn’t cooking fast enough. Or start with pressure cooking to tenderize a tough meat, then add tender vegetables and cook without pressure to finish the dish.
If you like to cook in large quantities, look at larger pressure cooker models. If you’re only cooking for one or two and you’re not fond of leftovers, smaller cookers will save you storage space and are less expensive, as well. Keep in mind that, unlike your favorite stockpot or slow cooker, you shouldn’t fill the pressure cooker to the top. It’s important to leave space for pressure to build and to make sure food won’t block the pressure release valve or other safety features. Many pressure cookers include a safe-fill line, which leaves the cooker about 2/3 filled, but even if that line is absent, the cooker should not be filled to its maximum capacity.
Settings and Features
Some pressure cookers operate at just one pressure, while others allow you to choose two or even three different pressure options for cooking. In general, stovetop pressure cookers can cook at higher pressures than electric models, but new technology has made electric models even more versatile, allowing you to choose a wider range of temperatures and settings.
Most electric models have searing, browning, and slow-cooker functions. Many have recipe pre-sets for various types of food from beans to poultry to yogurt, which can make it easy to cook foods when you don’t have a specific recipe. However, many users say that they use the manual settings much more than the pre-sets, so a limited menu isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Here are the best pressure cookers.
Best Overall: Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker
Remembers previous settings
Three temperature levels
Precise temperature control
Comes with minimal accessories
Difficult to see the pressure valve
The Instant Pot, a cult favorite, has everything you need in a pressure cooker, plus extras. The seven functions on this 6-quart model are pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, sauté/browning, yogurt maker, steamer, and warmer. The control panel makes cooking easy, with high and low pressure, three sauté temperatures, slow cook, and warming all at the touch of a button. Our tester found that all of the temperature and pressure sensors delivered "precise results" no matter what she was cooking.
The cooking insert is made from stainless steel with a three-layer base for even cooking, and there is an optional nonstick cooking insert available from the manufacturer. The steam rack can be used for steaming or as a lifting rack for larger foods.
The Instant Pot offers plenty of timer functions to make cooking fit into your schedule. You can choose to delay the start for up to 24 hours. And the automatic keep-warm feature will hold cooked food for 10 hours, while the manual keep-warm feature can hold food for up to nearly 100 hours—more than enough for any potluck or party. This model is also available in 3-, 5-, and 8-quart models.
"You can’t go wrong with this model, which combines the proven performance of the iconic Instant Pot brand with an affordable price tag." — Danielle Centoni, Product Tester
Best Budget: Crock-Pot 8 Quart Express Crock XL Programmable Multi-Cooker in Stainless Steel
Nonstick cook pot
Easy-to-read control panel
No manual pressure button
Difficult to see the pressure valve
No medium temperature setting
From the name you've learned to slow cook with over the years comes this multi-cooker that can not only pressure and slow cook but also lets you brown, sauté, or steam. All of these functions can be set with a delayed timer so you can ensure a freshly done meal when you get home.
With easy setting such as meat/stew, beans/chili, rice/risotto, yogurt, poultry, dessert, soup, and multigrain you can cook up a whole feast of meals. With this purchase, you'll also get a recipe book with plenty of ideas, a steaming rack, and a serving spoon to help whip up dinner in a jiffy. Our tester did wish for a few more features—like a medium temperature setting—but overall said that those extra features "don’t make a big difference in cooking performance."
"In terms of its straight-up ability to successfully pressure cook or slow cook a wide variety of foods, the Express Crock performs just as reliably as other electric multi-cookers we’ve tried." — Danielle Centoni, Product Tester
Best Budget Stovetop: Presto 6-Quart Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker
No adjustable pressure
Handles loosen over time
If you don’t need all the extras, but you want to try pressure cooking, this budget cooker is just what you need. The pressure regulator maintains an even cooking pressure, and the cover lock keeps the lid closed and indicates that pressure remains in the pot.
Unlike some of the cheaper pots, this one is made from stainless steel rather than aluminum, so it’s fine for cooking acidic foods, and it’s dishwasher-safe. It includes a rack for keeping food lifted off the bottom of the pot.
This pot does not have adjustable pressure. It also comes in a 4-quart size.
Best Small Electric: Mealthy MultiPot 9-in-1 Programmable Pressure Cooker
Progress screen removes guesswork
Comes to pressure super quickly
Intuitive control panel
Glass lid not included
No “insufficient liquid” or “burn” warning
If you like the idea of an electric pressure cooker, but you’re cooking for just a few people and don’t have extra space to spare, this 6-quart pressure cooker has all the features of larger units with a smaller footprint and a smaller cooking capacity. Our reviewer put it to the test—making everything from dried chickpea stew, chicken coconut curry, and lentils and sausages to yogurt, brownies, and steel-cut oats—and found each recipe turned out just as delicious as in other electric pressure cookers she had tried.
The Mealthy MultiPot features nine cooking options: pressure cook, slow cook, make rice, sauté, steam, and more. The main cooking pot is made of sturdy stainless steel that's perfect for making anything from chili to yogurt to even cakes. The device also comes with a stainless steel steaming tray that you can use to steam vegetables at the same time as you prepare whatever is in the main chamber of the pressure cooker. Our tester found this Mealthy model to be ideal for feeding four to six people.
"The dishes made in the Mealthy turned out identical to the ones we previously cooked in an Instant Pot." — Danielle Centoni, Product Tester
Best Large Electric: GoWISE USA GW22637 4th-Generation Electric Pressure Cooker with rice scooper
Ideal for large families or crowds
Easy to clean
12 cooking presets
Sauté function not the best
Issues with durability after years of use
If you regularly cook for a crowd, this 14-quart electric pressure cooker has the capacity to cook large batches of food every day. For convenience, it has 12 cooking presets that set pressure and time for the best results, including rice, multigrain, porridge, steam, soup, meat/stew, bean/chili, sauté, poultry, yogurt, slow cook, and eggs.
The LED displays show cooking time, temperature, and pressure. There is a delay timer so you can start the cooking time later. Both the cooking time and the pressure are adjustable, so you’ll always get the results you want. For easy cleaning, the cooking pot has a ceramic coating.
This is a large cooker, so it will take more counter space than an average-sized cooker, and it’s also much heavier, weighing in at 18 pounds before food is added. It includes a steam rack, steam basket, rice scooper, and measuring cup.
Best Pressure Canner: Presto 01781 23-Quart Pressure Canner and Cooker
High safety standards for canning
Made from warp-resistant aluminum
5- and 10-pound regulators sold separately
If you'd like to pressure can and cook in one appliance, this pressure canner/cooker has been approved by the USDA for pressure canning. It comes with a dial gauge for precisely monitoring internal pressure, which is important when pressure canning, and even more important if you’re canning at high altitude.
This canner is made from aluminum for even heating, and can also be used as a boiling-water canner. It can also be used as a large-capacity pressure cooker, but since it’s made from aluminum, it shouldn’t be used for acidic foods like tomatoes.
This includes a rack and holds up to 7-quart jars, or two layers of 9-pint jars.
The pressure cooker lid should not be immersed in water for cleaning, and the dial gauge is somewhat delicate. Before using for canning, the gauge should be tested to make sure it’s accurate.
Pressure canners are a type of pressure cooker that are used to can low-acid foods like beans, corn, meat, and broth. Pressure canners must meet capacity and pressure control recommendations set forth by the USDA to process canned foods according to food safety guidelines. Pressure canners can be used for pressure cooking in addition to canning, but not all pressure cookers have been deemed safe for pressure canning.
Best Small: PressurePro 10-in-1 PressurePro 4 Qt Pressure Cooker
Easy to clean
Convenient, one-touch buttons
Ideal for smaller kitchens
Steamer basket not included
Great for small families and singles, or for folks who want a second pressure cooker for side dishes and appetizers, this 4-quart pressure cooker is also the perfect fit for small kitchens.
While the size is small, the features are large, with one-touch pre-programmed buttons that adjust the temperature and pressure for a variety of foods. The inner cooking pot has a nonstick surface, but it can be washed in the dishwasher, saving you cleanup time.
The digital display makes it easy to check the cooking progress, and the keep-warm mode lets you hold food at a safe temperature while you wrangle the family to the table. A delay timer lets you set up the cooker in advance, so your food will be ready and waiting for you at exactly the right time.
Types of Pressure Cookers
Electric Pressure Cookers
Electric pressure cookers are the new kids on the pressure cooking block, and they make pressure cooking easier than pressure cooking on the stove. With an electric pot, there’s no need to watch it to see when it has reached pressure since the pot senses the pressure. During cooking, if the pressure reaches above a safe level, the cooker will turn itself off. Many also have burn indicators and will turn themselves off if they sense that food is scorching on the bottom of the pot or when there isn’t sufficient liquid.
When cooking time is done, the cooker turns itself off, perhaps switching to a keep-warm function, so you don’t need to lurk in the kitchen to turn off the heat. Some electric pressure cookers offer automatic pressure release at the end of the cooking time, making it even easier. Most electric pressure cookers include extra cooking features, like searing, slow cooking, steaming, and more, so they’re useful even when you’re not cooking in a hurry.
Stovetop Pressure Cookers
Stovetop pressure cookers have been made for generations, and there’s a good chance you saw one puffing steam on your mom’s or grandmother’s stove. Earlier models suffered from weak welded seams and fewer pressure release backups, so they were more dangerous than the ones made today. Those older pressure cookers sometimes ruptured at the seams or the lid could come off during cooking. Now, stovetop cooking pots are manufactured without seams and are made from better and stronger materials so they’re unlikely to rupture. Lids are attached with better safety locks, so they can’t be removed while there is pressure in the pot.
All stovetop pressure cookers have a main pressure valve that releases pressure and steam during cooking to keep the pressure steady. If that clogs or fails, the pots have one or more safety pressure release features, which allow pressure to release at higher pressures than the main valve, so they will keep the pot at a safe pressure, even if the main valve fails. Of course, the cook is another safety feature—if the main valve stops releasing steam during cooking or steam comes out of secondary areas, the cook should know that there’s something wrong.
Stovetop pressure cookers are the simplest type and can be used as standard saucepots with the lid off or not sealed. Higher-end pots are made from stainless steel rather than aluminum and tend to have more and better safety releases, as well as lids that are easier to put on and take off. Aluminum cookers also won’t work on induction cooktops unless they have a stainless steel base to make them compatible. Depending on the pressure valve or regulator, you might be able to use one, two, or three different cooking pressures.
Stovetop Pressure Canners
Pressure canners have pressure gauges so you can see and regulate the exact pressure more precisely. This precision is required for safe canning of non-acidic foods, which is one reason why standard pressure cookers aren’t rated for canning. Size is also important, and pressure canners are usually much larger than standard pressure cookers since they need to be large enough to hold quart canning jars on a rack. Most are made from aluminum, so they will be lighter while still large enough, although more expensive stainless steel canners are also available. Pressure canners can be used for pressure cooking, but their large size might make cooking family-sized recipes a bit of a challenge.
While Instant Pot wasn’t the first electric pressure cooker on the market, it popularized the appliance, bringing it to the mainstream and making it almost as popular as slow cookers. There are several different models available, each with different pre-set cooking functions and features, and there are models in a variety of sizes as well.
The Presto company has been making pressure cookers for generations, and it makes a variety of cookers, from simple stovetop models to pressure canners to electric. Presto products tend to be affordable and reliable, but without the features you’ll find in higher-end pressure cookers.
How does a pressure cooker work?
The magic of pressure cookers is in the name—pressure. Because the pressure cooker is completely sealed, when some of the liquid turns to steam, the pressure inside the pot increases. When the pressure builds inside the pot, it allows the temperature of the liquid inside the pot to rise above the normal maximum boiling point. Because of that higher temperature, food cooks faster.
What can you cook in a pressure cooker?
Whether you’re trying to get beef stew done for dinner or you want to make a rich soup stock in less time, a pressure cooker will get the job done. While speed is one of the major selling points, pressure cookers also cook some foods better. Corned beef and similar tough cuts of meat will become tender while remaining juicy, and cheesecakes will remain smooth and creamy without excess browning. Meanwhile, everything from dried beans to chicken thighs to sturdy grains will get done in time for dinner, even if you forgot to thaw that chicken before cooking (yes, you can even cook frozen meat in your pressure cooker).
A better question might be "what shouldn't you cook in a pressure cooker?" Most people don't recommend pressure-cooking breaded meats or veggies (they'll turn out soggy, not crispy), pasta and lentils (they may get mushy), or delicate cuts of meat. Usually, dairy is a no-go because it will curdle, but there are some yogurt and cheesecake recipes specifically developed for pressure cookers with the appropriate settings.
How do you release pressure from a pressure cooker?
No matter what you’re cooking, you’ll need to release the pressure before the lid can be removed. Natural pressure release simply requires the temperature to come down to ambient pressure so the lid can be removed. For a natural release, you simply turn off the heat and wait. You can do this with any pressure cooker.
Stovetop models allow a super-rapid release by placing the cooker in a sink and running cold water over it to quickly cool the pot to reduce the pressure, which means the pot will have to fit comfortably in your sink. It might not be convenient with a very large pot, or if the manufacturer recommends against it.
Quick-release can be achieved on both electric and stovetop models by manipulating the pressure valve to allow the steam and pressure to release quickly through the valve. Since releasing pressure is one of the things that some cooks are fearful of, some pressure cooker models have a function that releases pressure with the press of a button rather than touching the valve, so the cook’s hands stay safely away from the hot steam. If you’re skittish, it’s worth looking for a cooker with a remote release.
Can you use a pressure cooker for canning?
While pressure canners can also be used for regular pressure cooking, standard pressure cookers can’t be used for pressure canning. If you’re serious about canning meats, broth, or other low-acid foods, a pressure canner is what you need; there are currently no electric pressure cookers that are rated for canning.
What are must-have Instant Pot accessories?
While some pressure cookers come without any extras, some include useful accessories, like steamer baskets and racks. Other items, like measuring cups and spoons, can be handy but might be duplicates of items you already have in your kitchen.
Because of the popularity of the Instant Pot, there are many extra accessories made by third-party vendors, including stacking cooking racks, steamers, egg-bite pans, and other cookware that’s made to fit inside electric pressure cooker pots. Some manufacturers sell brand-name replacement sealing rings, extra cooking pots, glass lids for slow cooking, and other tools that are specific to their appliances, but many of these are also available from third-party vendors. With the popularity of electric pressure cookers, there has been an increase in pressure cooker cookbooks as well.
How do you clean a pressure cooker?
Just like your favorite cooking pots and pans, pressure cooking pots are made from different materials, which impact cooking performance and call for different methods of cleaning. It's always a good idea to read the manual for instructions on maintaining any product you buy. You can put your Instant Pot lid, inner stainless steel cooking pot, sealing ring, and steam rack in the dishwasher, but never the cooker base; because of the heating element, it should never be submerged in water. Simply clean this part with a damp cloth.
Other electric pressure cookers will have a nonstick-coated inner cooking pot. Nonstick pots are less likely to be dishwasher-safe (and they are also susceptible to damage by metal utensils), but they're also less prone to having food stick and burn and are therefore easier to clean by hand.
Stovetop pressure cooker pots made of aluminum should be washed by hand with non-abrasive cleaners, while those made of stainless steel are dishwasher-safe (as well as stain- and corrosion-resistant). However, regardless of material, the lids of stovetop cookers should never be submerged.
What is the warranty of an Instant Pot or pressure cooker?
Most pressure cookers come with a warranty. Stovetop models generally have a longer warranty, which makes sense because there isn’t much that can break. Electric pressure cookers have an average warranty of one year (as is the case for the Instant Pot), although the length and coverage will vary, depending on the model and manufacturer. While warranties tend to cover manufacturing defects, there are replaceable parts like sealing rings or valves that might need to be replaced at the user’s expense during the lifetime of the appliance due to normal wear-and-tear that is not covered by a warranty.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Donna Currie is a cookbook author, as well as a writer and product tester for The Spruce Eats, specializing in all the latest kitchen gadgets. Danielle Centoni, who personally tested three of the pressure cookers on this list, is a James Beard Award-winning food writer who has authored five cookbooks and contributed recipe testing for even more.
This roundup was updated by Sharon Lehman, a home cook who happens to be a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. She happily makes space for any gadget that make cooking faster and easier and specializes in small kitchen appliance testing and reviews for The Spruce Eats.