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Slow cookers and pressure cookers can often be used to cook the same sorts of foods (like tough meats), but the way they go about that cooking is completely different. Slow cookers are designed to cook food gently and for a long time. Pressure cookers are designed to cook food at a temperature that’s higher than the normal boiling point (because of the pressure), and they cook much faster.
Slow cookers tend to be less expensive since they don’t require advanced technology to perform their most basic tasks. The slow cooker is ideal when you want your food to cook while unattended (like when you’re not at home). Electric pressure cookers tend to be more expensive than slow cookers since there’s a bit more technology and engineering involved. For safety, the lid locks on during pressure cooking, and it won’t unlock until pressure has been released. Because of that, it’s best to cook recipes that don’t require tasting during the process and ones that don’t need ingredients to be added at different times.
Once you’ve decided which appliance is right for you, here are the best slow cookers and pressure cookers on the market.
Best Overall Slow Cooker: Hamilton Beach Programmable Set & Forget 6-Quart Slow Cooker
Allows manual or programmed use
Clips included for travel
Casing dents easily
Not only does this slow cooker perform the basic functions, but it also has a few special features that you won’t find in other slow cookers, like the temperature probe that can be used to check the temperature of a roast while it cooks. This is a programmable slow cooker with a keep-warm setting, but you can also skip the programming and use it manually.
The oval shape of this 6-quart cooker means there’s plenty of room for a roast or large chicken. It’s designed for travel with clips that hold the lid on, a gasket for a tight seal, and sturdy handles for easy carrying. It also includes a spoon that clips to the cooker, so it’s handy for serving.
There are three settings: program (which allows you to set a cooking time), probe (which uses the temperature probe to determine doneness), and manual (which lets you set high, low, or warm temperatures without setting a cooking time).
Size: 6 quarts | Interior Surface: Ceramic | Slow-Cook Settings: High and low | Wattage: 340 watts | Weight: 14.75 pounds | Dimensions: 17.5 x 11.75 x 11.25 inches
“I’m not a fan of slow cookers with too many bells and whistles that drive the price up and often prove to be unnecessary. Usually I just look for a slow cooker with high and low temperature settings, at least an option for cooking times, and a ‘warm’ setting that it can kick into once the cooking time is up.” — Elizabeth Chorney-Booth, Co-Author of "Best of Bridge: The Family Slow Cooker"
Best Budget Slow Cooker: Crock-Pot 4-Quart Oval Manual Slow Cooker
If you don’t need all the options that come with high-end cookers, this model can handle your basic slow-cooking needs and is great for smaller families, since it’s just 4 quarts. There are no timers and no programming modes, just a simple dial that can be set to low, high, warm, or off.
The oval stoneware insert is removable for serving or cleaning, and it has a glass lid. This comes in black, red, or silver, and there is a similar 7-quart model, if you want or need a larger size.
Size: 4 quarts | Interior Surface: Nonstick | Pressure Settings: High and low | Wattage: 1,500 watts | Weight: 9.3 pounds | Dimensions: 11.9 x 8.8 x 11.8 inches
Best High-End Slow Cooker: All-Clad Programmable Oval-Shaped Slow Cooker
Timer runs for 26 hours
Holds at warm for six hours after cooking
This cooker has a polished stainless steel exterior that looks pretty enough to sit on a buffet table to serve warm foods. It holds 6.5 quarts, which is plenty for large roasts and whole chickens, and it has a timer that will run for up to 26 hours. It has a black ceramic insert that can be removed for serving or cleaning and a glass lid so you can see what’s cooking. The digital display is easy to read, and it has sturdy stainless steel handles for carrying the cooker.
Size: 6.5 quarts | Interior Surface: Ceramic | Slow-Cook Settings: High and low | Wattage: 320 watts | Weight: 12.5 pounds | Dimensions: 19.87 x 14 x 11.38 inches
“Many older slow cookers instruct people to let their food simmer away for eight to 10 hours, which can be too long, depending on what you’re cooking. Get to know the heat level on your slow cooker (they vary), and then adjust your cooking time to suit both the cooker itself and personal preferences when it comes to food texture.” — Elizabeth Chorney-Booth, Co-Author of "Best of Bridge: The Family Slow Cooker"
Best Pressure Cooker: Instant Pot Lux 6-In-1 Programmable Pressure Cooker
Several bonus functions
No low-pressure setting
Instant Pot is one of the most popular electric pressure cooker brands on the market, and this 6-quart model is one of its best sellers. It has buttons for multiple functions: pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, sauté/browning, yogurt maker, steamer, and warmer. It can cook at high or low pressure and has three sauté temperatures for versatility.
The cooking insert is stainless steel, so it’s dishwasher safe but not nonstick. The included rack can be used for steaming or for easy removal of larger foods from the cooking insert.
The automatic keep-warm feature can hold cooked food at a safe temperature for up to 10 hours, and the manual keep-warm feature can hold food for almost 100 hours. If you want to start the cooking at a later time, you can set a delayed start for up to 24 hours.
This model is also available in 5- and 8-quart models.
Size: 6 quarts | Interior Surface: Stainless steel | Pressure Settings: High | Wattage: 1,000 watts | Weight: 14.57 pounds | Dimensions: 13 x 12.6 x 12.2 inches
Best Multi Slow Cooker: Instant Pot Aura Pro 11-in-1 Multicooker Slow Cooker
Keeps some food warm for up to 24 hours
Can delay start time by 24 hours
Allows custom cooking times
Doesn’t pressure cook
Instant Pot gained its popularity with its electric pressure cookers, but since then, the company has branched out, producing many popular products like this innovative slow cooker and multicooker. It has an 8-quart capacity, so there’s plenty of room for soups, stews, and roasts, and it has 11 smart programs: sear/sauté, bake, slow cook, steam, stew, sous vide, roast, yogurt, rice, multigrain, or keep warm.
It’s also possible to set a custom cooking time and temperature, so it can handle any recipe. The time-delay start means dinner can be done at the chosen time, and if people are running late, the keep-warm function holds the food at serving temperature when cooking is done. For simple cleaning, the cooking pot, lid, and roasting rack are all dishwasher safe.
Size: 8 quarts | Interior Surface: Stainless steel | Slow-Cook Settings: High and low | Wattage: 1,500 watts | Weight: 12.8 pounds | Dimensions: 16.7 x 11.6 x 11.3 inches
“If you’re only going to have one slow cooker in your home and are planning to do traditional slow cooker-type meals (stews, soups, pot roasts, etc.), an 8-quart capacity offers the most versatility, though 6 quarts will be big enough for most standard recipes that serve four to six people. I prefer an oval slow cooker to a round one because they better accommodate roasts.” — Elizabeth Chorney-Booth, Co-Author of Best of Bridge: The Family Slow Cooker
Best Smart Pressure Cooker: Chef iQ Smart Cooker
Cooks with high or low pressure
Automatically releases pressure
Only model from a fairly new company
Fans of smart cooking appliances will love this pressure cooker with its Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, along with more than 100 guided recipes and how-to videos. Meanwhile, new cooks and those unfamiliar with pressure cooking will love all of the help it offers. A cooking calculator helps the cook figure out the optimal time and temperature for perfect results every time, and a built-in scale allows ingredients to be measured by weight. Integrated sensors even instruct how much liquid is needed.
When cooking is done, the cooker automatically releases pressure, so there’s no need to handle the steam release valve. In addition to the guided recipes, this has more than 300 presets in the cooker and more than 1,000 presets in the cooking calculator on the app. When updates are available, this cooker will update automatically, so it will always have the newest information.
Size: 6 quarts | Interior Surface: Ceramic-coated nonstick | Pressure Settings: High and low | Wattage: 1,000 watts | Weight: 10.4 pounds | Dimensions: 13 x 13 x 13 inches
"The app offers remote control of most of the cooker’s options and includes even more smartness than what’s available on the front panel." — Donna Currie, Product Tester
Best for Air Frying: Ninja Foodi 8-Qt. 9-in-1 Deluxe XL Pressure Cooker and Air Fryer
Two lids and inserts
Reversible rack for layered cooking
Plenty of power for quick heating
Bulky and heavy
Air fryer or pressure cooker—which one deserves space in the kitchen? With the Ninja Foodi 9-in-1, there’s no need to make that decision. The attached lid has a heater and fan for air frying, and the removable lid is used for pressure cooking. It has all of the features you’d expect in a traditional electric pressure cooker including searing, baking, steaming, and making yogurt, but it can also air fry, broil, bake/roast, and dehydrate.
Not only does this have two different functions, but both of those functions can be used for the same recipe. For example, it’s possible to pressure cook a whole chicken, then air fry it to brown and crisp the skin; or you can reverse the functions and air fry to brown some stew meat before pressure cooking it to tenderness. The included rack is reversible to bring food closer to the fan or keep it further away, and it can be used to cook food in two layers for more space.
Size: 8 quarts | Interior Surface: Ceramic-coated nonstick | Pressure Settings: High and low | Wattage: 1,760 watts | Weight: 26 pounds | Dimensions: 16.1 x 14.6 x 14.3 inches
Best Large Pressure Cooker: Crock-Pot 10-Quart Express Easy Release 2097588
Progress bar tracks pressurization
Separate steam-release dial for safety
Nonstick insert prone to scratching
This 10-quart pressure cooker made by Crock-Pot, which pioneered slow cooking, is great for large families, for people who entertain a lot, and for people who like to cook ahead and freeze meals to serve later. This cooker has presets for brown/sear, sauté, slow cook, simmer, boil, yogurt, keep warm, meat/poultry, beans/chili, soup/broth, rice/grains, dessert, steam, and sterilize. It also has manual control of temperature and pressure, along with a delay timer.
A steam release dial on top of the cooker allows safe and easy release of steam, keeping hands away from the steam valve. A progress bar on the front display makes it simple to check the pressurization cycle, so there’s no need to guess whether it’s achieved pressure. This model is available in two different finishes and is also available in smaller sizes for folks who don’t need the extra cooking space.
Size: 10 quarts | Interior Surface: Nonstick | Pressure Settings: High and low | Wattage: 600 watts | Weight: 21.6 pounds | Dimensions: 16 x 15 x 15 inches
For an all-around slow cooker that travels well, can hold a roast, and won’t break the bank, consider the Hamilton Beach Programmable Set & Forget 6 Quart Slow Cooker. For a pressure cooker that lets you change its preprogrammed settings or just push a button to get the process going, check out the Instant Pot Lux 6-In-1 Programmable Pressure Cooker.
What to Look for in a Slow Cooker or Pressure Cooker
Whether you’re buying a slow cooker or a pressure cooker, size is often the first consideration. Most cookers are sized in quarts, but that translates differently to usable capacity for each type of cooker. A slow cooker works best when it’s at least half or three-quarters full depending on the recipe. A pressure cooker wants to be no more than half or two-thirds full depending on what you’re cooking.
A good rule of thumb is to choose a cooker that holds at least 1 quart of food per person. For example, if you typically feed four to six people, a 6-quart slow cooker or pressure cooker will handle most of your needs. If you plan to serve more people or make large batches to freeze, you may want a larger cooker.
Pressure and Heat Control
Some multicookers only cook at high pressure, making it difficult to keep vegetables crisp and cook delicate foods, like fish. Having the ability to choose high or low pressure gives you more flexibility and prevents overcooking.
The same is true with slow cookers: The more control you have over the temperature, the easier it is to let a meal bubble away unattended. Slow cooker recipes typically tell you whether high or low heat is best to prevent scorching or undercooking a meal.
With electric pressure cookers, wattage can make a big difference. The more power (higher watts) a cooker has, the more quickly it will reach pressure. This can drastically change how long you have to wait before you can start timing the pressure cooking process.
Slow cookers by definition heat slowly, so they don’t need a ton of power to work well. If you’re choosing a multicooker primarily for slow cooking, but it has a pressure cooking function, it’s worth getting a higher-wattage model in case you get hooked on pressure cooking down the road.
How do you use a slow cooker?
A slow cooker lets food simmer at a low temperature longer than you would typically cook it on a stovetop and with less hands-on time. This makes the cooker ideal for large cuts of meat, but it can handle everything from appetizers to desserts. You typically plug in the slow cooker, add the recipe’s ingredients, cover the crock with a lid, and set the appropriate heat and time. After that, the electric device does all the work for you.
Can you put frozen meat in a slow cooker or pressure cooker?
To keep nasty bacteria from moving in, the U.S. Department of Agriculture advises against putting frozen meat directly into a slow cooker. Defrosting all ingredients first also helps them to cook evenly and completely in the time given in a recipe.
Thin cuts of frozen meat, like steak, chops, and stew meat, can go straight into a pressure cooker, but they should be covered completely with liquid so that the pieces fully cook—and don’t be surprised if it takes far longer for the cooker to build pressure.
How do you fix tough meat in a slow cooker?
A slow cooker’s long, low heat can tenderize lean cuts of meat, and a few tricks make it easy to fix tough pieces. Plenty of liquid in the pot keeps meat from drying out, and acidic ingredients, like tomato or vinegar-based sauces, help tenderize. Really tough meat can be marinated overnight in the refrigerator for bonus tenderizing. Once you put the lid on the cooker, keep it on. The condensation it collects helps food stay moist. Although low and slow are the rules of the game, letting the meat sit too long in the cooker can toughen it.
Can you leave food in a slow cooker overnight?
The USDA says food can be kept above 140 degrees Fahrenheit in a slow cooker for serving. That’s the temperature of the warm setting for many cookers, but check the manual to be sure. Check how long that warm setting stays on, too. Some slow cookers shut off automatically after several hours. Leftover slow-cooked foods should be refrigerated no more than two hours after the cooker has been turned off, according to the USDA.
Do you need to spray a slow cooker?
Foods that cook in plenty of liquid or have been pre-browned or sautéed in oil are unlikely to stick in a slow cooker, making a nonstick spray pointless. Starchy foods, like risotto, pasta, and beans, tend to stick to the insert’s bottom, so a spray or thin rubbing of oil may be helpful. If the recipe calls for spray, chances are a thin coating before cooking will prevent a mess later.
How does a pressure cooker work?
A pressure cooker traps ultrahigh heat within the pot so that foods steam and boil quickly. The more pressure, the higher the heat and the shorter the cooking time. The lid is sealed tightly until the pressure releases, making the cooker safe and efficient. It can be used to cook many foods, but people often choose it to sharply cut back long cooking times, such as for beans, meats, and potatoes.
Can you use a pressure cooker for canning?
Large pressure canners can often be used for cooking giant batches, but smaller and electric pressure cookers don’t meet the standards for safe canning. Regardless of a manufacturer’s advertising, Utah State University researchers have found pressure canner size and type matter. The National Center for Home Food Preservation only recommends pressure canning in stovetop pressure canners that hold at least four upright quart-size jars on a rack, can be vented before pressurizing, and have a way to monitor the pressure throughout the canning process.
Can you bake in a pressure cooker?
Pressure cookers can be used to bake all sorts of desserts and even bread, but you’ll need to adjust your tools and technique. Desserts are typically baked in an open container that’s set on a rack inside the pressure cooker. Breads tend to be cooked in the same way, but in a loosely covered container with room for expansion. It’s worth following a few baking recipes designed for a pressure cooker before you start adapting your favorites.
Is it normal for a pressure cooker to start steaming?
Don’t worry if your pressure cooker starts to steam. That’s a sign everything is going right. Once the contents of the cooker boil, steam will push out of the pressure valve until it locks and seals. After the valve locks, the steam will stay inside the pot so that pressure can continue to build and, once it reaches the target pressure, cook the food.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Donna Currie was probably predestined to become enamored with kitchen gadgets. From garlic presses to food processors, she loved to tinker with them all, testing their pros and cons, and always looking for the best of the best. Her love of gadgets and cooking led to a recipe blog, Cookistry, and a cookbook, "Make Ahead Bread."
This roundup was updated by Julie Laing, who has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years. She regularly uses a pressure cooker for beans and more at home, and she pulls out the slow cooker for fruit butters and après ski chili. She published her first cookbook "The Complete Guide to Pickling" in 2020 and shares recipes on her Twice as Tasty blog.