I get the appeal of pressure cookers: They’re one-pot wonders, set-it-and-forget-it appliances that make food quickly. But before I researched this piece, I was also skeptical of them (I have been before when it comes to multifunctional plug-in appliances). Could something with so many buttons, so many settings, so many promises of an easier time in the kitchen really work that well (or that much better than a Dutch oven)? The answer is yes, say the expert cooks and recipe developers I interviewed for this story. While many admitted they don’t use all the functionalities these appliances offer (with the exception of one manual stovetop option that doesn’t have any bells and whistles), the pressure-cooking capabilities are worth it in and of themselves, they say.
Instant Pot has cornered the electric-pressure-cooker market (it has basically become synonymous with pressure cooking itself). That said, you’ll only see the original and most basic model from the brand on this list, as recommended by Bruce Weinstein, who has tested dozens of the brand’s models and written multiple cookbooks for them over the years. He says all that matters is size, pressure, and time; and since the presets are just manufacturer-determined variations on the latter two factors (that you can also control manually with every Instant Pot), you’re better off following the specific instructions of a recipe. What will perfectly cook one poultry recipe will not necessarily perfectly cook another, for example. Notably, the other expert cooks I spoke with who recommended an Instant Pot, no matter which model they use, said the same.
What we’re looking for
The first thing to consider when buying a pressure cooker is how many people you usually cook for. Weinstein notes that most buyers go with a six-quart, which fits standard recipes that feed four to six. But he also says a three-quart can be super-useful for households of one or two (plus, it takes up much less space), and that an eight-quart is best if you make food in bigger batches or like leftovers.
Even though it’s best to set the pressure and time of these cookers manually, you might still be interested in knowing what presets come with each model. Some have settings for certain foods (beans, rice, meat, and the like). More notably, others also come with additional functions such as sauté, reduce, air fry, and keep warm. I’ve listed each and gone into more detail on the ones our experts really use and love in the captions.
Best overall pressure cooker
While this model is the most expensive machine on this list — and a couple hundred dollars more than the comparably sized, ever-popular Instant Pot, below — it’s worth it if you plan to pressure-cook often. “It’s just a step up,” says Lesley Sykes, founder of Primary Beans, who was a longtime Instant Pot user before switching to this model a few months ago. For her, the main attraction is the choice of a pulse release that Instant’s cookers don’t have. When food is done, the machine frees the built-up steam and pressure in steady bursts, resulting in perfect texture every time, she says. In comparison, the only options on the Instant are a quick release that can cause foods to break apart from the sudden and aggressive disruption, and a slow release that can make foods mushy from extra time in the pot, notes Sykes. Also, if you’re interested in getting super-specific, the Breville allows you to adjust pressure in increments of 0.5 PSI (the standard unit used to measure pressure) instead of simply choosing between low (for gentler foods like eggs and fish) and high (for pretty much everything else). Sykes says that specificity has allowed her to make perfectly cooked chickpeas, a legume she had issues with in the past.
“It feels and looks nicer,” she adds, noting the body that “cleans up well” and the lid that “locks in so easily” and “isn’t as clunky as Instant’s.” Nate Kuester, executive chef at New York City’s NARO, uses his for meal prep every week and expresses the same sentiment: “It’s so sturdy, and the fact that it has more stainless-steel parts than plastic makes it more like a professional piece of equipment,” he says. A final niche but still notable feature: You can set your altitude so that you don’t have to adjust cooking times in recipes by five or ten minutes.
Best less expensive pressure cooker
Instant Pot’s most basic model is the Duo, listed here, though you can find many variations with different presets and additional features if you want to spend more money. But as Weinstein says, all that matters is size, pressure, and time — and this one lets you manually determine all those factors.
Chef, TV personality, and food writer Will Coleman has owned his Duo for five years and says its most basic function — to cook food quickly — is its most appealing. “For folks who don’t want to spend a lot of the time in the kitchen, it really just turns out dishes in a fraction of the time,” he says. “But it’s not just pressure cooking. It has the ability to sear, sauté, simmer, slow cook, and keep food warm, too.” He says the mechanisms are clear, with easy-to-read buttons and lights. When you’re done, he says, the interior pot is a breeze to clean with a scrub. Jenny Park, co-founder of and recipe developer at Spoon Fork Bacon, has owned a slightly fancier model, the Instant Pot Duo Plus, for a few years. Park uses hers similarly to Coleman: to pressure-cook dishes quickly. “I used to have a stovetop one, and I especially appreciate the safety with the Instant,” she says. “It’s not gonna bust open or create an intense stream of hot steam. The guides on the screen are easy to follow and it really just works well.”
Best multifunctional pressure cooker
Recipe developer and newsletter author Caroline Chambers says that while the Instant Pot is a “very reliable pressure cooker,” the Ninja Foodi boasts one feature that makes it a better buy: an air fryer. Because of the steam, pressure cooking generally works best for softer foods, but the air fryer allows her to crisp things up after they’ve been cooked through. “It brings food back to life,” she says. “And also, switching between those two functionalities is really seamless.” (Though Chambers doesn’t use them, the Foodi comes with even more additional presets that the Instant Pot Duo doesn’t have: bake, dehydrate, sous vide, and proof.) “Space-wise, having something that’s multifunctional just helps a lot,” she says. “I have a small kitchen, so if I’m going to buy a bulky appliance, it really needs to be a workhorse — and this is.”
Best manual pressure cooker
Before there were electric pressure cookers, there were stovetop ones. The basics of how they work is the same: Heat creates steam, steam trapped inside of a vessel creates pressure, pressure cooks food quickly. For Ragoth Bala and Harish Visweswaran, co-founders of The Cumin Club, the Prestige was ubiquitous growing up in India. “It’s just a brand we trust,” Visweswaran says. “There’s something appealing about the simplicity. You don’t have to figure out settings. It just pressure-cooks.” Both experts do warn that using a manual model takes some practice; there aren’t the built-in safety features of modern electric ones, so if you loosen the lid too soon, it can pop off. “But if you use low to medium-low heat as it instructs, turn it off, release the steam, and let it sit for a few minutes before you remove the lid, you’ll be fine,” Visweswaran says. The Prestige comes in ten different sizes, more than any other cooker on this list.
Best rice cooker
Rice cookers are, for all intents and purposes, pressure cookers (there’s even an Instant Pot Duo in our roundup of the best ones). Though there are many great models out there, this one has a dedicated pressure-cook setting that allows you to control the heat and time (just like with the other electric appliances, above) instead of simply predetermining those factors for you based on the type of rice or grain. For food writer Justine Lee, this feature “is where it stuns,” she says. “It’s how I steam a bunch of Korean sweet potatoes right before road trips and quell my bean hankerings. I’ve even followed recipes fitted for a traditional Instant Pot such as cinnamon buns and yakbap.” Both of those foods can get sticky, but cleaning the interior nonstick pot is easy with a light scrub, she says.
More kitchen appliances we’ve written about
• Ragoth Bala, co-founder of The Cumin Club
• Caroline Chambers, recipe developer and newsletter author
• Will Coleman, chef, TV personality, and food writer
• Nate Kuester, executive chef at NARO
• Justine Lee, food writer
• Jenny Park, co-founder of and recipe developer at Spoon Fork Bacon
• Lesley Sykes, founder of Primary Beans
• Harish Visweswaran, co-founder of The Cumin Club
• Bruce Weinstein, cookbook author and recipe developer
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