Everything you need to know about pressure cookers, multi cookers and how to get the most out of multi-purpose kitchen appliances.
These days, there are plenty of kitchen appliance options that make it easier and faster for busy people who have little time to make healthy, creative and nutritious meals. Pressure cookers, or multi cookers, are some of the most popular options to help out with that busy lifestyle. If you are confused about the difference between these appliances, or want to know which choice is the best for you, read on.
In this helpful guide we try to break down some of the differences between pressure cookers, multi cookers and explain how they are different from slow cookers.
Pressure cookers and multi cookers are often confused, and for good reason: many of the functions overlap, and higher-end pressure cookers are often better described as multi-cookers. For that reason, we are including multi cookers (sometimes called all-in-one cookers) in this list because they work on the same principle (tight sealed, using steam) but are like a second generation, with numerous functions and inserts to help you make a multitude of different dishes.
Pressure cookers are kitchen appliances consisting of a tightly sealed large pot, a valve that controls the pressure and a variety of controls, depending on the model.
Most pressure cookers will have a timer so that you can set the pot to “cook” an hour before you get home, making it an efficient kitchen appliance for harried parents, or busy people.
Pressure cookers cook efficiently with hot, highly-pressurised steam. Doing so characterises pressure-cooker-prepared meals in the following ways:
- It raises the temperature in the pot. WIth the combination of the boiling water and the pressurised steam, the temperature inside the pot will be really hot. This level of heat helps food cook faster.
- Retains moisture. The seal keeps in the steam and stops the liquid evaporating. This makes the food cooked in pressure cookers juicier, and more tender, and means you need to add less liquid during the preparation process.
- Seals in flavour. Creates a unique flavour when browning meat and caramelizing food because of the extra high temperature and increased liquid.
There are two main types of pressure cookers: electric or stovetop. While stovetop cookers are the more traditional model and perhaps used to offer a more effective result, these days modern electrical cookers are the way to go. Electrical pressure cookers are more efficient because the electrical heating element in insulated, using the high levels of heat much more efficiently.
Pressure cookers and slow cookers are often confused, but they cook food quite differently even if they look similar from the outside and are both hands-off kitchen appliances.
The first distinction should be obvious: pressure cookers cook quickly and slow cookers cook food slowly.
Slow cookers also tend to have fewer functions, although multi-purpose slow cookers do exist. (See our guide on the best slow cookers for more information).
While pressure cookers were originally designed to cook meals fast with high heat and compressed steam, better pressure cookers will have slow-cook functions which are ideal for slowly cooking meat.
Multi cookers are sometimes called all-in-one cookers, and they are truly multi-functional.
A multi cooker’s design is similar to that of a pressure cooker, and they work on the same principle: both use a pressurised container with high heat to cook a variety of dishes efficiently.
However, multi cookers usually come with additional compartments, inserts and/or functions depending on the model. Better multi cookers will be able to bake bread, slow-cook meat, or steam vegetables.
Some standard features of a multi cooker include:
- Multi functions and lift-out inserts comprise a device that can replace several small kitchen appliances, including a deep fryer, steamer, pressure cooker, slow cooker, and more.
- Most models will include time-delay and keep-warm function.
- Pressure-cook function is efficient, and can cook much faster than a regular pot on a stove or in an oven.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for what makes a better appliance between pressure cookers or multi cookers. These days, many of the features overlap, and high-end multi cookers will often cook like a pressure cooker with additional functions.
Multi cookers can be pricier, so you should consider how many of the functions will actually be useful for you before you invest in an appliance.
Another point to consider is that some multi-cookers, can sometimes perform well in some functions, but come up lacking in others.
If you are ready to replace all your kitchen devices by investing in one appliance, then a multi cooker is certainly best on paper. However, before you buy, make a list of functions you will use the most and angle your purchase towards those functions.
Stovetop devices are rarely found these days but you might still some across them while doing your pressure cooker shopping.
As the name suggests, stovetop pressure cookers are designed with a large, pressurised bowl and a valve that creates high levels of heat and steam inside the pot and cooks food quickly. However, instead of using an electrical element to heat your food, you use the stovetop.
While the principle is the same, stovetop pressure cookers are less efficient than electric pressure cookers because heat escapes from the sides, meaning cooking times are slower.
When shopping for a pressure cooker or a multi cooker, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the functions available. To get the most out of your purchase and make sure you buy the best appliance on the market for your budget and needs, we advise first going back to basics. Remember what a pressure cooker is supposed to do in the first place: seal in flavour, keep in moisture and save you time with a low-maintenance, hands-off cook.
When you’re shopping for a pressure cooker or a multi cooker, look out for these things first:
- A sturdy build with a heavy base.
- A non-stick inner pot for easier cleaning.
- A good quality seal and pressure valve.
- A timer, so you can leave the house in the morning and arrive to a home-cooked meal in the evening.
After you have found a cooker that ticks these boxes (we have selected ten cookers below that meet these criteria) then you can look for more functions to get creative in the kitchen.
Our favourite additional functions are:
- A slow-cook function. Some meals are just better slow cooked and if your pressure cooker does a good slow cook you can eliminate a whole appliance from your kitchen.
- Steamer. Make healthy simple veggies in minutes.
- Fryer. Again, eliminate another appliance from your kitchen.
If you’re new to pressure cookers, keep these tips in mind:
- Watch out for steam. You can easily burn yourself. If steam is escaping, adjust the valve and lower the heat until it disappears.
- Be cautious when removing the lid. When your cook is finished, wait a few minutes and remove the lid slowly to avoid burns. If you’re in a rush, run cold water over the top to reduce heat before you remove the lid.
- Pay attention to timers. If your pressure cooker is new, you might need a while to adjust to the cooking times. It’s a good idea to stick to a recipe and the manual until you get the hang of it.
We think so. If your aim is to broaden your horizons in the meals you cook and minimise the time it takes, then a high-quality pressure cooker is an ideal kitchen appliance.
Ten of the best pressure cookers
Features: Automatic keep-warm, easy programming, slow cooker, non-stick, 24-hour pre-timer.
Features: Multi-function, digital screen, extra-fast, single lid opening.
Features: Non-stick, slow-cook mode, auto-pressure function to safely regulate pressure.
Features: Multi-level cooking trays allows you to cook different dishes simultaneously.
Features: Pressure cooker, steamer, rice cooker and slow cooker; delay timer, auto keep-warm function.
Features: non-stick coating, three temperature settings, 25 automatic cooking programs including rice cooker, simmer, and stew.
Features: LCD screen, hands-free steam release, multiple slow and fast cook programs.
Features: Slow cooker, rice cooker, and steamer, easy-to-clean, risotto-making function.
Features: Sauté function and multi-valve safety system.
Features: Six Litres, 16 pre-set programs, non-stick.