Pressure cookers are often overlooked as a way of cooking, yet they represent a powerful tool for kitchens. Essentially, a pressure cooker is a pot that traps steam inside of it. By doing this, the cooker creates high pressure, which allows food to cook much faster than it would otherwise. At the same time, the increased pressure helps to ensure that foods stay moist and tender because the process helps to force liquid back into the food.
One final reason that pressure cookers are often used is that they can significantly change the way that the food ends up. In particular, they promote caramelization, which leads to deeper and more complex flavors in food. Like slow cookers, pressure cookers can be a great way to cook all (or most) of a meal in a single dish and to create something that is a little bit unusual.
All of these factors make pressure cookers very appealing. But, if you’re going to start using a pressure cooker, there’s one key debate to address first. I’m talking about electric versus stovetop pressure cookers.
Any pressure cooker you find is going to fall into one of these two categories and each type has its own advantages and disadvantages. You’ll also find that many people strongly support one type over another.
Objectively, one type of pressure cooker isn’t really any better than the other. Instead, the differences between them may make stovetop pressure cookers more relevant for some people and electric ones more relevant for other people.
With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at the debate about electric vs stovetop pressure cookers and talk about the advantages and disadvantages that each one offers, as well as simply how the different types work. If you're reading this, thinking about buying one of the two, be sure to check out our pressure cooker reviews (there are many!).
Stovetop Pressure Cookers
Essentially, a stovetop pressure cooker is a more complex version of a pot. Like an electric pressure cooker, this type has a specially designed lid that keeps the steam inside and prevents you from opening it when the pressure is high. The cooker also has a valve to release steam quickly, along with anywhere from one to three pressure settings.
There is a huge amount of differences between brands but, in general, stovetop pressure cookers tend to be sturdier than their electrical counterparts and can also be more practical to use. This is because you’re just dealing with a pot and a lid, so there are fewer parts and less complexity to be concerned about. At the same time, you have the handle of the pot, which makes a big difference when it comes to serving your meal.
A stovetop pressure cooker does require a bit more work than an electric one but it also offers more control. This is one of the main advantages of this type of pot and one reason that people find it appealing.
Likewise, by controlling the temperature (and thus, the pressure) of the cooker, you are paying attention throughout the cooking process. This means that you can quickly turn off the heat and release pressure when it is time.
In contrast, many electric cookers will switch over to a ‘keep warm’ mode when they are done cooking, which can ruin some delicate dishes. You could get around this issue by making sure you are there when the meal finishes cooking with an electric pressure cooker but having to do that partially defeats the purpose of using one to start off with.
The key disadvantage with a stovetop pressure cooker is that you have to stay throughout the cooking process. You also have to monitor the pressure. This includes decreasing the temperature if the pressure gets too high and increasing it if the pressure is too low. In contrast, with an electric option, you can simply ‘set and forget’.
Having to monitor the pressure is certainly frustrating if you are trying to do a lot of things in the kitchen at the same time or if you have other things that you want to be doing.
Another disadvantage is that you are very limited in where you can use a stovetop pressure cooker. For example, you couldn’t plug it in outside if you wanted to avoid making the house smell like your dinner.
In most cases, a stovetop cooker will also use a bit more energy than an electric one, so this may be something to consider if you are trying to keep your power costs down.
Don't miss our list of stovetop pressure cooker reviews, in Top 5 format, categorized by size and price point.
Video: Stovetop Pressure Cookers
I thought for sure I wanted an electric pressure cooker, until I saw this video, so be sure and watch it.
Electric Pressure Cookers
While stovetop pressure cookers rely on energy from the stove, an electric pressure cooker doesn’t. Instead, this type of pressure cooker plugs into the wall, supplying itself with the power that it needs.
In general, this type of pressure cooker is designed to be easier to use, especially as you can leave it running and the programming will make pressure adjustments. That aspect is often considered to be a major advantage of this type of pressure cooker, although not everybody agrees.
Individual electric pressure cookers can also vary considerably in how easy or hard they are to use, based on their programming and their settings. So, in some cases, an electric pressure cooker might be an easy introduction into the world of pressure cooking, but in other cases, using a stovetop version might actually be easier.
Most of the time, electric pressure cookers do tend to be more complex than stovetop ones and will frequently have more settings to choose from. This can be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on what you are looking for.
Convenience is the most significant advantage of an electric pressure cooker and one of the reasons that people choose this type of pressure cooker. This means that you can set the machine up and leave it alone, which you certainly can’t do with a stovetop one.
There are also some pretty advanced electric pressure cookers out there. In some cases, the programming for the tool will allow you to do a lot, such as making rice or yogurt. In fact, some pressure cookers even have programming that will let them function as a slow cooker as well.
Some brands out there will allow you to cook some types of food with a single press of a button. That approach is great for simple recipes and for times when you don’t want to have to think too much about what you are doing.
Many people argue that electric pressure cookers are flimsier than stovetop versions. This is partly true because of design differences. With an electric cooker, you are essentially working with a bowl that is inside of the booker. Most of the time that bowl is going to be on the small side and it will often slide around, making mixing more difficult than it needs to be.
The design also means that the bowl will tend to be smaller and thinner than the pot on a stovetop pressure cooker and it also won’t have a handle. All of those elements can make cooking more difficult, especially if you are trying to make something that involves mixing or pouring.
The size of electric pressure cookers is also another disadvantage.
The design means that the machine itself is always going to be significantly bigger than the pot you have to actually work with. So, an electric pressure cooker will always take up more room than a stovetop one with a similar-sized bowl. That can be an issue for storage, especially as the electric versions tend to be pretty bulky.
It's also fairly difficult to get electric pressure cookers with very large bowls, so if you are cooking large recipes, a stovetop version may be a lot more appealing.
Another thing to be aware of with electric pressure cookers is the more complex design tends to mean that these are more expensive and that they often will not last as long as a stovetop pressure cooker. This is certainly something that varies between brands but it is worth considering. After all, electric pressure cookers are more complicated, so there many more things that can go wrong with them compared to a stovetop cooker.
One final disadvantage is that, on average, an electric pressure cooker will have a lower maximum pressure. Typically, this is a psi of 11, while most recipes are written for 15. You can still use an electric cooker on those recipes, you just need to add on more time.
However, this disadvantage isn’t true for all electric pressure cookers and some will have a higher maximum psi than others.
Be sure to check out our list of reviews of electric pressure cookers, organized by size capacity and price point.
Video: Electric Pressure Cookers
Convinced you want a stovetop pressure cooker?. Be sure and check out what he has to say about them!
Stovetop vs Electric Pressure Cookers. Which is Best?
As you can see, the advantages and disadvantages strongly vary between electric and stovetop cookers and there are probably other aspects of both cookers that I haven’t covered. In particular, both types of cookers have some pretty strong advantages, so the type that you end up choosing is likely to be based mostly on your own needs and preferences.
For example, if you live in a small apartment and plan to cook fairly simple meals, an electric pressure cooker may work well, as this allows you to place to cooker on the balcony (or somewhere similar) while it does its thing. This type of cooker may also have an advantage for people who are short on time, as it requires less active monitoring.
In contrast, a stovetop pressure cooker can work well if you want more control over your cooking, especially if you plan to work on complex recipes. A stovetop option can also simply be a good place to start because it is less expensive than an electric pressure cooker and also tends to be more durable. This lets you try out steam cooking without investing a lot of money into the process.
Once you consider all of the different brands and sizes out there, the choices for pressure cookers can seem a bit overwhelming. However, we have a number of different guides that you can follow to make this selection process much easier. Fortunately, we've done the research for you! Check out our posts and reviews to find which one is going to be best for you.
My Personal Opinion!
You might be torn between both, so I figured I should add my personal opinion here. I certainly see the appeal of the “real” pressure cookers, ie the stovetop versions and what they can offer. However, I'm a millential and love technology, so more often will use the electric version in my own kitchen. In particular, I like the Instant Pot Smart Pressure Cooker.
I have a hard time resisting app-related cooking devices like sous vide immersion circulators where you can actually program a cooking schedule and monitor the progress via your phone. It's got a huge number of incredible reviews online and cooking via your smartphone is simply the way of the future. There's a cheaper version of this model without bluetooth and an app, which I also recommend.
If you have already decided on getting stovetop cooker, then I'll make a recommendation for that category as well. If I feel a meal needs the finesse of a stovetop version, then the Fagor Duo. Again, then popularity of this brand and model speaks for itself. It's simple, got a beautiful design, and makes wonderful food.
You can also read through our list of reviews below, where I go through my favorite models in each price category. I purchase and personally review all equipment on this site, so it does take some time to get the full reviews up after testing. Right now, you'll see a short synopsys with general impressions and a “top pick”. However, as I go through and test each one, I'll link to full reviews.
- Top Five Inexpensive 6-Quart Electric Pressure Cookers
- Top Five Mid-Priced 6-Quart Electric Pressure Cookers
- Top Four Premium 6-Quart Electric Pressure Cookers