We’ve spent more than 200 hours researching and testing these cookers—going through hundreds of pounds of rice, beans, meat, and stock—as well as testing them over the long term in our own homes. This guide will help you figure out which type of cooker is best for your needs, whether that’s cooking fast or slow, braising hearty pot roasts and stews, or making rice and steamed veggies.
If you have a little more time to cook, you might also consider a Dutch oven or a sous vide cooker. But those tools aren’t quite as helpful for times when you’re out of the house or you need to get food on the table fast.
Pressure cookers, slow cookers, and rice cookers each excel at handling certain types of recipes and foods, but they also have some overlap in what they can do. This chart shows what you can make with each cooker.
|Pot roast, chili, stew, and other braises||*||*|
|Steamed fish and vegetables||*||*|
*At the time of publishing, the price was $120.
A pressure cooker is what you want for making meals fast. For example, you can braise a whole chicken in 40 minutes, so it’s convenient for preparing dinner after work. With the help of a tightly locking lid that traps steam, a pressure cooker raises the boiling point of water, which is why it can decrease cook times by up to two-thirds.
You’ll find electric models and stovetop models. The electric kind—also called multicookers—look similar to rice cookers. They are more convenient for hands-off cooking because the appliance controls the heat, pressure, and depressurization. Electric pressure cookers also have additional functions such as rice, porridge, and slow-cooker modes. (In our tests we found that the slow-cook mode on these appliances cooks on a par with a stand-alone slow cooker.) Stovetop pressure cookers are basically pots with a specially designed locking lid. They’re better for searing meats, because you can increase the heat more than with electric models; they also cook at a higher pressure setting, so they braise, simmer, and boil faster. But you need to keep a closer eye on stovetop models than electric ones. You can make rice in both electric and stovetop pressure cookers, but we’ve found that the texture turns out dense and a little wet compared with what you get from a rice cooker.
|Get this if:||You quickly want to make one-pot meals such as pot roast, braised chicken and vegetables, stew, or chili in less than half the time it takes with stovetop cooking. Or you want to make rice, pasta, beans, or stock really fast.|
|Don’t get this if:||You want to leave the house while cooking. Stovetop models in particular are not a hands-off cooking option, because you need to monitor the pressure.|
|Which type to get:||Go for an electric pressure cooker if you want the convenience of total hands-off cooking. Buy a stovetop pressure cooker if you want the best sear on meats, more control over depressurization, or the ability to make big batches of stock.|
|Pro tip:||You can use an electric pressure cooker as a slow cooker. But pressure cookers cost almost twice as much as dedicated slow cookers, and the taller sides aren’t as good if you want to serve foods directly on a buffet. In our tests, recipes made in pressure cookers and slow cookers tasted about the same.|
*At the time of publishing, the price was $40.
Slow cookers are inexpensive and good for making braised meats, stews, soups, and even less-expected recipes like mac and cheese or cake. You can load up a slow cooker with the ingredients for a pot roast, chili, or whatever you’re making in the morning, before leaving the house for work or to shuttle kids around, and you’ll have dinner ready four to eight hours later. Programmable slow cookers let you choose the heat and the cooking time; when that time is up, the machine kicks over to a warming setting, so the food is still warm when you get home.
|Get this if:||You want to cook while you’re away from home, or if you want to serve foods like soup, pulled pork, or even oatmeal on a buffet.|
|Don’t get this if:||You’re too busy to prep food in the morning, or if it makes you nervous to leave an appliance on while you’re out of the house.|
|Which type to get:||Buy an affordable and reliable slow cooker with a locking lid, which makes it easier and safer for moving around on your counters or transporting to events. If you need to keep food warm for a long period of time—say, for the Sabbath—get one with a longer timer.|
|Pro tip:||Slow cookers are great for serving foods directly on a buffet. Sweethome writer and pro cook Lesley Stockton has used them to serve everything from oatmeal to tortilla soup.|
*At the time of publishing, the price was $0.
Get a rice cooker if you make rice two or more times a week. Rice cookers turn out perfect, optimally flavored rice with barely any effort on your part. Most rice cookers also come with a basket for steaming things like veggies, fish, chicken, and dumplings. You can use a rice cooker to cook other grains, too, such as quinoa, no-stir polenta, or oatmeal.
|Get this if:||You make a lot of rice and you want it to turn out perfect every time. The keep-warm feature is especially handy if you want rice to stay warm for a few hours.|
|Don’t get this if:||You don’t eat a lot of rice. Even though a rice cooker can work for steaming vegetables and fish or cooking other grains, its primary—and best—function is making rice.|
|Which type to get:||If you mainly eat white rice, you’ll be fine with an inexpensive model. If you eat a lot of brown rice or want to experiment with other grains, we suggest springing for a more advanced cooker.|
|Pro tip:||Our favorite advanced cooker also has a pressure-cooker setting. This rice cooker isn’t as big and doesn’t cook as fast as a dedicated electric pressure cooker, but it is a good option if your first priority is cooking awesome rice and you also want to make some quick one-pot meals.|
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
Originally published: October 17, 2016