Slow cookers and pressure cookers can often be used to cook the same foods, such as stews and 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, while pressure cookers cook food at a very high temperature in order to build up pressure, which cooks the food much faster. Not sure which one you need? We researched and tested some of the most popular slow cookers and pressure cookers on the market to help you find the best fit for your kitchen.
Best Overall Slow Cooker
Hamilton Beach Programmable Set & Forget 6-Quart Slow Cooker
Allows manual or programmed use
Casing dents easily
Control panel may be difficult to read for some
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, including a thermometer probe that monitors the temperature of your food while it cooks. This is a programmable slow cooker with the following settings: "program," which allows you to set a specific 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. The warm setting automatically kicks for two hours after cooking is complete, so you can wait to serve or keep your food nice and toasty before coming back for seconds. Cooking time maxes out at 12 hours on high or low, not including the additional two hours on warm mode.
The oval shape of this 6-quart cooker holds plenty of room for a roast or large chicken. It’s even designed for travel well, with clips that hold the lid on, a gasket for a tight seal to minimize spills, and sturdy, stay-cool handles for easy carrying. This model isn't heavy either, making it easier than ever to bring to a potluck or dinner party. It also includes a spoon that clips to the cooker, so it's handy for serving. Just note that the casing is thin, making it more prone to dents; the handles are a little short on the crock, so it can be hard to remove; and the control panel can be difficult to read, as it lacks brightness and contrast with the gray background. That said, we did not find any of these to be dealbreakers.
When we tested this model, it produced excellent results with very little effort. Out of all the recipes made, not a single one showed hot spots—nothing burned, and everything cooked evenly. To test the probe's accuracy, we used it to take the temperature of a whole chicken and confirmed it with a second thermometer. We also really loved the fact that this features power-interrupt protection, meaning if the power goes out (up to five seconds), the slow cooker will return to the right heat and time settings, so you don't come home to a half-cooked dinner. Both the ceramic insert and glass lid are dishwasher-safe, though they are also very easy to wash by hand. Can you blame us for choosing this as our all-time favorite slow cooker?
Price at time of publish: $80
Size: 6 quarts | Interior Surface: Ceramic | Slow-Cook Settings: High, low, and keep-warm | Watts: 340 | Weight: 14.75 pounds | Dimensions: 17.5 x 11.75 x 11.25 inches
"The Hamilton Beach Set & Forget 6-Quart Programmable Slow Cooker sets itself apart from other similarly-priced 6-quart slow cookers, thanks to its ease of cooking, versatile temperature probe, and effortless portability." — Gayle L. Squires, Product Tester
Best Budget Slow Cooker
Hamilton Beach 5-Quart Portable Slow Cooker
Easy to clean
Easy to use
No timer for programming automatic shut-off
This model is very simple, which is often all you need when it comes to a reliable slow cooker. It's got a low, high, and keep-warm setting, and its 5-quart capacity is perfect for a 4.5-pound chicken or two 2-pound roasts. Users rave that its performance and durability are excellent and that it's easy to clean; the glass lid and ceramic interior are dishwasher-safe.
The portability of this slow cooker is one of its main selling points—it's got a special lid-latch strap to keep everything in place and prevent spills while on the go. It doesn't have a timer that would allow you to program the cooker ahead of time, so you have to be there to turn it off yourself. That said, for a simple and affordable slow cooker, it's a solid and reliable choice.
Price at time of publish: $25
Size: 5 quarts | Interior Surface: Ceramic | Pressure Settings: Low, high, and keep warm | Watts: 500 | Weight: 11.9 pounds | Dimensions: 13.75 x 9.5 x 14 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 Large-Capacity Slow Cooker
Crock-Pot Portable 7 Quart Slow Cooker With Locking Lid and Auto-Adjust Cook Time Technology
7-quart capacity feeds 7+ people
Oven- and dishwasher-safe inner pot
Adjusts cooking based on desired mealtime
No alert when cooking is done
Unlike a manual slow cooker with just two or three settings, this Crock-Pot lets you customize your cooking process based on what you're making, how much you're making, and when you want it to be done, so instead of choosing a set amount of time you want your meal cooked for, you can let it know what time you want to eat, and it'll do the rest of the work for you—the temperature even automatically adjusts to avoid overcooking. All you have to do is select the type of food you're cooking (meat, poultry, or veggies), the amount of food in the Crock-Pot (0 to 2 pounds for meats, a half or full pot for stews, poultry, and veggies), and program the time you want dinner on the table. If working with manual settings is easier for you, though, this cooker lets you do that, too.
This slow cooker is perfect for potlucks, since the lid locks on to create a strong seal and the handles make it easy to carry. (It's also great if you have pets who like to get into countertop food items.) The glass lid and stoneware inner pot are both dishwasher-safe, and the inner pot is also oven-safe up to 400 degrees. One thing some users dislike is that when the cooking process is done, it switches to the keep-warm setting immediately without any alert sound, and it also tends to run slightly on the hot side. With that in mind, it's a great value that lets the cooking process be as hands-off as possible.
Price at time of publish: $80
Size: 7 quarts | Interior Surface: Stoneware | Slow-Cook Settings: Manual and customizable | Watts: 1,500 | Weight: 13.6 pounds | Dimensions: 11 x 16 x 17 inches
Best Pressure Cooker
Instant Pot Duo Plus 8-Quart Multi-Use Pressure Cooker V4
Easy to use and clean
Precise temperature for sous vide
A bit more expensive than other models
We loved this pressure cooker so much that we had a hard time finding anything wrong with it. Despite having nine different functions (pressure cooking, slow cooking, making rice, making yogurt, steaming, sautéing, sterilizing, sous vide, and keeping food warm) and 25 customizable settings (ribs, soup, beans, poultry, desserts, and more) it's very easy to use, with a clear LCD display that lets you know where you are in the cooking process. There's also a manual cooking option, which gives you precise control over the entire process. The display is crisp and simple to read.
While this is certainly more expensive than a slow cooker or stovetop pressure cooker, it saves you a lot of money by doing the job of several appliances at once. All the settings are customizable, so you can adjust everything to perfect the recipes you love. In our tests, we found that the stainless steel pot dispersed heat more evenly than some older Instant Pots—everything we cooked in it came out deliciously, including perfectly tender and evenly browned meat, beautiful beans, and flawless vegetables with not a burn in sight. After cooking, the stainless steel pot was very easy to clean; it can be washed by hand or in the dishwasher.
This model comes in 6- and 8-quart sizes.
Price at time of publish: $115 for 6-quart model
Size: 6 quarts | Interior Surface: Stainless steel | Settings: Pressure cook, slow cook, rice, steam, sauté, yogurt, sous vide, cake, keep warm | Wattage: 1,000 watts | Weight: 18.41 pounds | Dimensions: 13.43 x 13.55 x 12.76 inches
"Though this is a bit on the expensive side, I feel like it warrants the price tag. Performance, functionality, and ease of use are all at a superior level, so this is an investment well worth making. An Instant Pot should be a 'one-stop shopping' kitchen tool in my view, and this fits the bill nicely."
Best Smart Pressure Cooker
Chef iQ Smart Pressure Cooker
Pressure release on front panel
Only model from a fairly new company
Fans of smart cooking appliances will love the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity on this machine, along with more than 100 guided recipes and how-to videos on its app. For newer cooks, it makes it easy to pressure cook, slow cook, sear, sanitize, ferment, sauté, steam, and more. A cooking calculator helps the cook figure out the optimal time and temperature for excellent results every time, and a built-in scale allows ingredients to be measured by weight. Integrated sensors even instruct how much liquid is needed.
The smart connectivity allows you to control the cooker from anywhere, whether you're home or not. When cooking is done, the cooker automatically releases pressure, so there’s no need to handle the steam-release valve, though you can do it manually if you want to.
In addition to guided recipes for applesauce, tomato soup, beef stew, and more, this has over 300 presets in the cooker and more than 1,000 presets in the cooking calculator on the app. For example, choosing "pressure cook" then brings you to options for manual, chicken, beef, pork, egg, beans, rice, pasta, grains, seafood, and vegetables, and choosing one of those gives even more options. The machine updates automatically to keep its information current, as well.
The Chef iQ Smart Pressure Cooker performed very well in testing, steaming vegetables, slow-cooking chili, and sautéing onions as promised. It was easy to clean, as well. This machine is more expensive than the majority on this list, but with the amount of game-changing smart features it comes with, it's totally worth it.
Price at time of publish: $144
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-Quart 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
The Ninja Foodi 9-in-1 is an air fryer, pressure cooker, slow cooker, steamer, dehydrator, and more. 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, steaming, and making yogurt, but it can also air fry, broil, bake/roast, and dehydrate. Since it can take the place of so many appliances and do all of their jobs well, it's a bargain even at its high price tag.
You can pressure cook a whole chicken and 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. There are four smart protein settings and nine customizable doneness settings, allowing you to achieve the perfect rare or well-done meat—or something between. The included rack is reversible to bring food closer to the fan or keep it farther away, and it can be used to cook food in two layers for more space.
Price at time of publish: $200
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-Capacity Pressure Cooker
MegaChef 12 Quart Steel Digital Pressure Cooker
Affordable price per quart
Glass lid lets you check progress
15 easy-to-use presets
Bulky to store
Instant Pots are popular, but none of them come in large-capacity sizes; this 12-quart machine from Megachef is great for cooking giant batches that standard-size cookers can't handle. It's got 15 presets that allow you to pressure cook, slow cook, make yogurt, sauté, make desserts, cook entire poultry birds, prep huge batches of grains or legumes, and more. Users say it performs beautifully, and they like that the glass lid lets you see the progress of your food without having to stop the cooking process.
The slow cook function can be set for up to 9.5 hours, and both the slow-cook and pressure-cook settings can be used manually if the presets don't suit your recipe. As you'd expect, this cooker takes up a decent amount of space and is a lot of machine if you're just making a small batch of food, but that's what you're signing up for if you're seeking out such a large capacity.
Price at time of publish: $150
Size: 12 quarts | Interior Surface: Nonstick | Pressure Settings: High and low | Wattage: 1,600 watts | Weight: 18.7 pounds | Dimensions: 17 x 15 x 17 inches
For an all-around slow cooker that travels well, can hold a roast, and won’t break the bank, the Hamilton Beach Programmable Set & Forget 6 Quart Slow Cooker is our favorite. For a multi-cooker that can do it all but is still easy to navigate, check out the Instant Pot Duo Plus V4 Multi-Use Pressure Cooker.
Other Options We Tested
- All-Clad 6.5-Quart Oval Slow Cooker: There's no doubt about it: This stainless steel slow cooker is gorgeous. It holds 6.5 quarts, which is plenty of room 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. We found this model was easy to operate and clean, and it cooked evenly and thoroughly, but with such a heavy build and large footprint, not to mention a very hot exterior, limited versatility, and high price tag, we decided against including it, as other, much cheaper options will perform just as well, if not better.
What to Look for in a Slow Cooker or Pressure Cooker
Whether you’re buying a slow cooker or pressure cooker, size is often the first consideration. Most cookers are sized in quarts, and a slow cooker works best when it’s at least half or three-quarters full, depending on the recipe. A pressure cooker works best when no more than three-quarters full, and it will have a maximum fill line to let you know how much is too much.
A good rule of thumb is to choose a cooker that holds at least 1 quart of food per person you'll be regularly cooking for. For example, if you typically feed four to six people, a 6-quart slow cooker or pressure cooker should handle most of your needs. If you plan to serve more people or make large batches to freeze, you may want a larger cooker.
“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
Pressure and Heat Control
Some multi-cookers 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 multi-cooker 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 plug in the slow cooker, add your ingredients (except any that you want to add at the end), cover the pot with a lid, and set the appropriate heat and/or time. After that, the device does all the work for you, but some recipes may require you keep an eye on them to prevent burning at the bottom.
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 to tenderize. Really tough meat can be marinated overnight in the refrigerator for extra 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.
Can I delay the start time on my cooker?
Some slow cookers and multi-cookers allow you to set the machine to start cooking at a later time, so that you can be out of the house all day and have your meal finish cooking right when you get home. There's a big catch here, though: It can be completely unsafe to leave food out at room temperature for hours before the cooking process starts.
Since bacteria can grow on food (especially meat) at temperatures under 140 degrees, you'll want to limit the time that your ingredients sit out at room temperature. If you're regularly out of the house for much longer than it takes for your food to cook, it's best to find a cooker that lets you start the cooking process right away and then switches immediately to a keep-warm setting once the food is done.
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, a thin coating of oil before cooking can prevent a mess later.
How does a pressure cooker work?
A pressure cooker traps ultra-high 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 dried beans, meats, and potatoes.
Can you use a pressure cooker for canning?
Large stovetop 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.
Katya Weiss-Andersson, a writer and editor who has nearly a decade of experience as a professional chef, also updated this roundup. Katya used to be a dogmatic believer in cooking everything on the stove the old-fashioned way and now can't live without her Instant Pot for pressure-cooking legumes and stews or slow-cooking big batches of chili all day.
Elizabeth Chorney-Booth is the co-author of "Best of Bridge: The Family Slow Cooker."
United States Department of Agriculture. Cook Slow to Save Time: Four Important Slow Cooker Food Safety Tips.
United States Department of Agriculture. Slow Cookers and Food Safety.
Utah State University. Why Electric Pressure Cookers Are Not Pressure Canners.
National Center for Home Food Preservation. Burning issue: Canning in pressure cookers.