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October 10, 2016

The best pressure cooker

by John_A

By Lesley Stockton

This post was done in partnership with The Sweethome, a buyer’s guide to the best things for your home. Read the full article here.

After 40 hours of research and testing—including cooking 15 pounds of brisket, 13 pounds of black beans, and 12 pounds of brown rice—we think the best pressure cookers for most people are the electric Instant Pot IP-DUO60 (for hands-off cooking) and the stovetop Fagor Duo 8-Quart (if you want more manual control). Of the 12 pots we tried, these two offer the best combination of great performance at a reasonable price. They’ll help you get dinner on the table in less than half the time of cooking in a regular pot. And unlike the finicky, volatile pressure cookers of the past, our picks are totally safe and easy to use.

Who should get this

A stovetop pressure cooker can double as a regular pot for boiling pasta or heating soup. Photo: Michael Hession

Anything that you would braise, stew, or boil, you can make in a pressure cooker—but faster. These pots that use steam under pressure to cook quickly have long been popular in other parts of the world, like Europe and India, because they’re so efficient (they save time and electricity). It’s a great tool if you’re often out of energy at the end of the day but need to put something nutritious on the table for your family.

If you live at high altitude (above 3,000 feet), a pressure cooker will help you make meals in a timely fashion. Because the boiling point of water decreases as elevation increases (PDF), boiling a pot of noodles or beans in a regular pot can take longer because you have to cook at lower temperatures. A pressure cooker solves this by increasing the cooking temperature.

If you have an old pressure cooker (made before around 1990), you might want to upgrade. Those older cookers are the ones notorious for blowing their lids, but newer models are totally safe.

How we tested

Brisket browned darker in stovetop cookers, like this one from Kuhn Rikon. Photo: Michael Hession

We put all the pressure cookers—stovetop and electric—through the same tests. We cooked unsoaked black beans, brisket, and brown rice. We sautéed onions and aromatics, and seared some beef to test how well the cookers could sauté.

After all of our testing, the end result was more or less the same. Any cooker will cook basic dishes, like beans and braised meat, no problem. The difference was how usable they were and how well they seared meat. Poorly designed electric cookers had complicated interfaces and nonsensical instruction manuals. Flimsy stovetop cookers scorched while searing meat, and had lids that were difficult to attach.

Our pick for an electric pressure cooker

The Instant Pot IP-DUO60 has a complicated-looking interface, but we soon found it simple and intuitive to use. Photo: Michael Hession

The Instant Pot IP-DUO60 is our overall favorite if you’re looking for a super-easy pressure-cooking experience. It’s simple to use and will turn out delicious meals in a fraction of the time conventional cooking requires—you can cook black beans from scratch in 20 minutes, for example. Compared with other electric models, it has more heat settings, and it sautéed onions better (none of the electric models brown meat all that well). As a multi-cooker, this pot can also function as a slow cooker and a rice cooker (which it did okay, but if you’re a rice snob we prefer our upgrade rice cooker pick).

A more intuitive electric pressure cooker

The Breville Fast Slow Pro has a simpler and more intuitive interface than our main pick from Instant Pot. Photo: Michael Hession

If you want a slightly nicer electric pressure cooker, we’d go for the Breville Fast Slow Pro. Its interface is more streamlined than the Instant Pot’s, using dials and a big LCD screen rather than a bunch of buttons. It also has a better selection of venting methods to cook delicate foods or release pressure more quickly, and a really handy altitude setting. It’s harder to clean, though, and we don’t love the nonstick insert. We think this is worth the upgrade if you live at high altitude or need a completely hands-off cooking device.

Our pick for stovetop pressure cooker

The 8-quart Fagor Duo’s wide base makes it great for searing meat. Photo: Michael Hession

The Fagor Duo 8-Quart stovetop cooker is a better choice than the Instant Pot if you want to sear meat directly in the pot, if you want more control over depressurization, and if you want slightly faster cooking times (and don’t mind keeping an eye on the stove). It has a wider base than most stovetop models, so it will brown meats better and allows you to use a higher flame to bring the pot up to pressure faster. Unlike cheaper models, it has two pressure settings, so you can cook at low pressure for delicate fish or vegetable dishes, and at high pressure for roasts and heartier fare. It wasn’t the absolute best stovetop model we tried, but we think its balance of good price and performance will make most people happy.

A top-of-the-line stovetop pressure cooker

The Fissler Vitaquick 8.5-Quart Pressure Cooker has a nicer lid and a wider tri-ply base than our main stovetop pick, but it’s also nearly $70 more. Photo: Michael Hession

Our favorite stovetop cooker was our upgrade pick, the Fissler Vitaquick 8.5-Quart Pressure Cooker. Currently, it’s around $70 more than our main pick, but worth the money if you prefer top-of-the-line pots and pans. It has a wider and thicker tri-ply base than the Fagor Duo, so it does a better job at searing meat and browning onions. Its pressure settings are a tad easier to read and its lid slides more smoothly onto the pot than that of our main pick. If you plan on cooking under pressure often, this well-constructed cooker will deliver years of superb service.

A budget option for the pressure curious

The Presto 8-Quart Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker has only one pressure setting, but it’s a solid pot if you just want to try out this cooking method. Photo: Michael Hession

If you’re curious to see whether pressure cooking is right for you, but you aren’t ready to drop over $100, the stovetop Presto 8-Quart Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker is a good starter pot. It has just one pressure setting, but it decently sears meats, sautées aromatics, and delivers well-cooked dishes. Its recessed pressure indicator is a little harder to see, so you need to keep a close eye on this pot to know exactly when to turn off the heat. But if you don’t mind being a little more attentive, this is a solid pressure cooker, and like the rest of the stovetop models we recommend, it will double as a regular pot without the lid.

This guide may have been updated by The Sweethome. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

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