Pressure Cooker Buying Guide
Pressure cookers are one of the oldest kitchen appliances around. While appliances like slow cookers and food processors only have a history in the U.S. that goes back a few decades, the pressure cooker can trace its roots all the way back to 1679. This crude model that started the technology that is used by millions today was designed by a physicist in France named Denis Papin. His invention was revolutionary because it raised the boiling point of water.
What is a Pressure Cooker?
A pressure cooker uses the process of trapping steam inside of a sealed container to raise the temperature of the liquid above what it normally could reach. Pressure cookers can cook food faster and saves both time and electricity, making them not only extremely useful but also eco-friendly. Just about any steam or liquid friendly food that you can think of can be cooked using a pressure cooker.
The pressure cooker has a container that is covered by a lid and usually has a handle that can seal the pot so that it is completely airtight, which stops the steam from escaping. Besides the handle and the lid, the third and final group of parts that make up a standard slow cooker are accessories for the appliance like a steamer basket or dividers to keep different types of food separate.
Types of Pressure Cookers on the Market
There are basically two different types of pressure cooker that you can buy. One of them is the electric pressure cooker which has its own power source and plugs into the wall, and the other is the stovetop pressure cooker that uses external heat (like from a stovetop) in order to raise the temperature and begin to cook with the built-up pressure. However, there are many other choices that you’ll have to weigh carefully when you begin shopping for your pressure cooker.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Pressure Cooker
The very basic decision that you’ll make when buying a pressure cooker is electric versus stovetop, but even that decision might need to be put on hold while you look at all of the other factors that you’ll need to ponder when you start shopping. Here are some of the most important things to keep in mind.
You are going to have two choices when it comes to construction material – aluminum and stainless steel. Both have their advantages and you will have to decide which you prefer based on what is available where you are shopping and other factors like price and features.
- Aluminum is a great choice because it is light and less expensive than stainless steel. Aluminum conducts heat very well and it definitely gives you a great cooking experience. However, you also should know that aluminum is also weaker, less durable and can get permanently stained much more easily. In fact, aluminum is also prone to warping and blemishes or pitting.
- Stainless steel, on the other hand, is strong and durable, and will last for many years to come as well as being non-porous. But stainless steel pressure cookers are also more expensive than their aluminum counterparts and they conduct heat poorly compared to aluminum cookers. Also, stainless steel pressure cookers can get quite heavy and may not even be feasible for those who have physical disabilities or ailments or for the elderly.
You also want to make sure that the cooker has a good pressure regulator because otherwise you are going to have to guess and you will have a difficult time following recipes or even cooking simple foods until you have used your pressure cooker long enough to be able to estimate. There are three types of pressure regulators that you will find on pressure cookers.
- Weighted valve regulators are situated on top of the pressure cooker’s ventilation pipe, where steam is released while the unit is cooking. You release the pressure by jiggling or rocking the regulator which will open up the appliance slightly and allow some built-up steam to escape.
- A similar style of pressure regulator is attached to the pressure cooker itself and it releases steam automatically, which means that you have to monitor the cooker continually in order to avoid undercooking. You should be releasing steam in steady, regular bursts with this type of regulator.
- The spring valve regulator is the more expensive of the three, but it is also the easiest to use. This method pops up to show you the amount of pressure inside the cooker and you can adjust it so that the pressure is maintained steadily throughout the cooking process. This type of regulator makes following recipes a great deal easier.
There are three sizes that pressure cookers come in – 4, 6 and 8 quarts. Obviously, the more capacity you need the more expensive your pressure cooker is going to be.
Handles & Cover Lock:
Because of how hot pressure cookers get, and how heavy they can be, you want to make sure that the handles of your pressure cooker are strong and make it easy to pick up the unit, and that they protect you from being burned. The cover lock is also vital to your safety because if steam escapes when it isn’t supposed to, and you have your hands or face near the unit, you could get badly burned.
Racks & Baskets:
You’ll also want to find a pressure cooker that includes racks or baskets so that you can separate one type of food from another, and so that you can keep some items suspended above the water in the pressure cooker.
Finally, make sure that you can easily take your pressure cooker apart so that it can be cleaned. You don’t want to have to spend too much time dismantling it for cleaning, but you also want to make sure that you can clean all of the parts thoroughly for both cleanliness and safety.
Best Brands of Pressure Cookers to Buy
There are quite a few brands of pressure cookers out there, and it can be difficult to know which ones to consider if it is your first time looking at pressure cookers. Here are a few brands that lead the pack for this particular appliance. You will be safe choosing any of the models that these brands offer.
Presto is an excellent small appliance brand. They make pressure cookers that are safe and secure, and do a great job on the food that they cook.
Cuisinart is a trusted brand in kitchen appliances and most of their models are very well made and cook food quickly, thoroughly and evenly. But you want to read the reviews for the particular Cuisinart models that you are considering because they aren’t all that consistent – in other words, some models are terrific while others should be avoided.
This is a premium brand that can get somewhat expensive on some models, but there are quite a few advantages to this brand as well. These models are easy to clean and maintain, and they usually include useful accessories and features like an indicator of the pressure inside the cooker and measuring cups, racks and water collectors. These are sturdy and reliable pressure cookers, but you’re going to pay more for these models.