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Jan 4, 2011 06:49 PM

Pressure Cooker: Stovetop vs. Electric

I'm ready to purchase a pressure cooker. I've been looking at the Cuisinart electric pressure cooker, but I was talking to someone who loves their fagor stove top pressure cooker. What do you all think???

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  1. lehickey, I never have used an electric pressure cooker. As to stovetop pressure cookers, however. the most important consideration is youtr energy source. If you have an electric resistive (coil or glasstop) range or cooktop, you will find it very difficult to use a presure cooker. Pressure cookers require tight regulation of the pressure; they cook differently at no pressure, low pressure, and high pressure. You need to get the pressure to a specific level, and then to hold the prssure constant for the cooking period. Because of the slow response of resistive electric energy sources, pressure cookers used on them tend to overshoot, then overcorrect.

    Gas ranges and cooktops offer much faster response to the controls, and using a pressure cooker on gas is a much more satisfying experience than using the same pressure cooker on a resistive electric range.

    Induction cooktops respond to the controls even more quickly and satisfactorily than gas can do, and cooking with a pressure cooker on an induction cooktop can be a very satisfying experience.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Politeness

      "If you have an electric resistive (coil or glasstop) range or cooktop, you will find it very difficult to use a presure cooker. "

      I would hesitate to tar all cooktops or all pressure cookers with the same brush. I have a Wolf glasstop and a Kuhn-Rikon pressure cooker with the Duromatic top, and it took me less than a half dozen uses to discover the perfect tweak for this pot/this cooktop. The PC is brought to the proper level of pressure on High heat and then by immediately (as soon as the indicator level is reached) reducing the heat to the "four bars" readout -- which I estimate is the equivalent of Medium-Low, since eight bars is halfway/Medium heat on this cooktop -- the pressure maintains itself at the proper level for however long I have needed it to do so. That said, the longest that I've ever needed to maintain it has been 19 minutes which IMHO seems to be ample time for the majority of pressure cooker recipes.

      I certainly don't find it at all difficult to use my particiular PC on my particular electric glasstop. Granted, YMMV with other pressure cooker brands and/or other cooktops but I would think that in most cases with a little time spent on experimentation the right technique will be discovered.

      1. re: dessert_diva

        dessert_diva: "I have a Wolf glasstop and a Kuhn-Rikon pressure cooker with the Duromatic top, and it took me less than a half dozen uses to discover the perfect tweak for this pot/this cooktop."

        I should have framed my reference to resistive electric cooking more narrowly. Allow me to extend and elaborate.

        In my understanding, the Wolf range uses ribbon radiant elements, which, although the elements generate heat by electric resistance, transmit a good proportion of their energy to the pot by radiation, and only a part of the energy by conduction. Conventional electric elements convey almost all of the energy to the pot by conduction.

        The thermal inertia of the Ceran area beneath the pot where there is a ribbon radiant beneath the Ceran is much lower than the thermal inertia of a conventional resistive electric burner coil. My earlier comment was directly related to the thermal inertia of a burner where most of the energy transfer is via conduction. I apologize for the ambiguous reference to resistive electric in my earlier post.

      2. re: Politeness

        My past two cooktops have been electric glasstops. I have used my four Fagor pressure cookers with no problem whatsoever. My current one does have the ribbon elements, but the previous did not. You quickly learn what your cooker should sound like when it's at the right pressure, and it becomes pretty easy to regulate the heat. One trick some people use is to bring the pot up to pressure on one burner set on high, and then move it to another burner which is already warm set on medium (or whatever setting keeps your cooker at the right pressure). I have never found this to be necessary, however. I have found that my burners have been responsive enough to regulate the heat.

      3. lehikey: I say: The fewer plug-in countertop appliances the better. Stovetop PCs have worked for over 330 years, and will continue to, even without cordsets and $$$ induction.

        15 Replies
        1. re: kaleokahu

          why are fewer countertop appliances better?
          (not being difficult, just trying to judge your advice)

          cooking over an open fire outdoors worked for milenia - that doesn't mean it's the best way to make a souffle.....

          1. re: thew

            thew: Why fewer? More counterspace, mostly. Especially if you already have several appliances or a small kitchen. It's a hassle for me to relocate the things I keep near my stoves to make room for a corded appliance when I can just use the stove for the PC. I'm also just trying to minimize my electrical appliances--already 86d my airpopper, ricecooker, egg poacher, spice mill. Next step...microwave.

            Actually, cooking a souffle in a camp DO over an open fire is an excellent method.

            1. re: kaleokahu

              fair enough. but thats a very specific set of circumstances that may not apply to others, certainly not as the absolute rule you sounded like you were uttering. and it certainly says nothing of the relative usefulness of an electric v a stovetop PC.

              and i'm in a NYC apartment - so i dont have an acre of counterspace i assure you.

              1. re: thew

                thew: LOL. I've yet to meet any home cook who wishes s/he had less available counterspace. And I did preface my advice to the OP with: "I say..." Not an absolute rule, JMO.

                IMO, there is a general market phenomenon in kitchenware where, when a previously manual-only tool is electrified, consumers rush out to buy it, assuming it is better. It may be (e.g., food processor), or may not (e.g., electric knife, Octodog), or somewhere in between (e.g., spicemills, ricecookers). But if these newly-corded tools persist in the market long enough, entry level buyers will increasingly forget that the manual tool is often a better option. For instance, it took me 20 years to trash my electric spice mill for a stone mortar and pestle.

                I have no electric PC. Do you have both variants so that YOU can offer the OP a comparison?

                1. re: kaleokahu

                  kaleokahu: "there is a general market phenomenon in kitchenware where, when a previously manual-only tool is electrified, consumers rush out to buy it, assuming it is better. It may be (e.g., food processor) ..."

                  That's it? That's the best shot? Years ago, we (blush!) fell for the hype of the food processor; we got the "best" one; and excitedly we tried to find a use for it. Failing at that, we desperately -- the investment MUST be justified -- groped for ANYthing that it could do better than a good kitchen knife or mandoline. Failing in that, we tried using it as a coffee grinder, but the clean-up was so tedious, that experiment did not last long. Finally, we found the highest and best use for a food processor: we donated it to a 501(c)(3), and took a tax deduction.

                  " ... somewhere in between (e.g., spicemills, ricecookers) ... "

                  Oh, that's cruel. Lumping electric spice mills with electric rice cookers. That's like lumping Wally Pipp with Willie Mays. No offense meant to Wally Pipp, who played a decent 1st base. With all due respect to alanbarnes (whom I do not disagree with), if you cook rice in your home 300 times a year, as we do, a rice cooker is as close to a necessity as any tool in the kitchen. Yes, as alanbarnes says, you can make good rice in a pot on the stovetop, just as you can make your breakfast toast with a BIC butane cigarette lighter; but why would anybody want to take the effort to do so, when electric toasters automate the whole toast-making process and rice cookers automate the making of perfect rice every time?

                  " ... it took me 20 years to trash my electric spice mill for a stone mortar and pestle .."

                  To your credit, you kept an open mind.

                  1. re: Politeness

                    Politeness: I'm sorry, with the exception of your last two lines, I have no idea what you're talking about--other than you apparently like rice.

                    1. re: kaleokahu

                      Rice is an important component of a predominantly Japanese diet. A majority of Japanese eat white rice at least once in an average day. (A greater majority drink miso soup at least twice in an average day.) On the macroeconomic level, the cumulative time savings made possible by automatic rice cookers must contribute greatly to overall productivity in the Japanese economy.

                      1. re: Politeness

                        Politeness: Why didn't you just say so?

                        For those billions who do not eat rice every day, or for those national economies not helped by automated ricemakers, those dedicated, separate appliances simply fall somewhere in between a uniquely useful idea and a completely superfluous one--my original point. But I'm happy that others are happy with ricemakers.

                        Do corded PCs give the 'ole GDP a shot, too? I mean, if they do, the OP should consider one over models that cook twice as fast and come up to full pressure.

                    2. re: Politeness

                      Hilarious, but so true!

                      I love my rice cooker, not because it makes better rice (I can make better rice on the stove), but because it automates it, and does it quite competently. It lets me have rice, or oatmeal, or grits, ready for me when I get up in the morning, or when I get home at night. That's the value.

                      I too, have realized I can grind spices in a mortar faster and better than a spice mill. It's funny, these new gadgets come along, and it is hard to tell which ones are really worthwhile. I'd wager that most people grinding their spices haven't tried the
                      manual approach, so they can't know that the electric grinder is a waste. On the other hand, there are cooks who disdain the rice cooker, without having tried it, as something for those who lack the skill to cook rice on a stove. They completely miss the real benefit.

                      I'm afraid we are doomed to experiment and waste some money and counter space on things we don't need, in order to figure out which of our modern innovations are really worthwhile. The only way to know is to try things out for yourself.

                      1. re: MelMM

                        Yes, the mortar is usually the ideal tool for grinding spices. Nevertheless, I just bought a spice grinder. Reason #1: cinnamon. If you have success grinding cinnamon in the mortar, you're a better gal than I.

                        1. re: sushigirlie

                          I'll give you a pass on the cinnamon. I do grind it in the mortar sometimes, but I agree that it is a lot more work than most other spices, probably more work than a sane person would want to do, when you can grind it in a coffee mill in 10 seconds.

                    3. re: kaleokahu

                      no, if i had i would've already - but i'm curious as i see possible advantages to an electric, including more versatility and control; i've been thinking about it (since i saw one on iron chef). so if you had a culinary reason for "better" as opposed to a logistical one, i want to hear it. as does the OP.

                      it would be as silly to assume it's worse as it is to assume it is better. i use a mortar and pestle to grind spices. and a microwave and superautomatic espresso machine. sometimes the manual tool is a better option. sometimes it isn't.

                      1. re: thew

                        theW: The OP didn't ask which one of the two brands was better. S/he asked what we thought.

                        But since you want to hear culinary reasons... We've heard here (and I've learned) that theoretically the electric PCs have different heat settings and programability, but no one here seems to use pressures different from standard. I claim no expertise in the PC realm, but if the standard pressure with the standard gravity rocker is 15psi, a smaller rocker will get you lower "settings" on a stovetop PC, too.

                        I didn't assume one was "better" than another. But we have also heard here from a person who sells both, and we find out that the stovetop models cook in 1/2 or even 1/4 of the time of the electrics. Since the whole idea of pressure cooking is to reduce cooking times, which is "better"?

                        That basically leaves programmability as the big advantage of the electrics. People like to be able to put their food in something, press a button or two, and be summoned to eat when the machine calls them. If it turns out right, it's a miraculous machine; if it's a mess, it's the machine's fault. In the meantime they can do something else. The electrics absolve them from the obligation of care. Is that culinary? I suppose so.

                        1. re: kaleokahu

                          i agree.

                          i wasn't calling you to task - i was asking what you meant. you told me. i was cool with that.

                          and i think this has been a very informative thread. i don't now think the electric is the way to go, if the it's slower, with less pressure. programability doesn't trump that, for me.

                          1. re: thew

                            thew: No problem. I learned a lot on this one, too.

            2. Old post, if you haven't seen this yet:

              I don't have firsthand knowledge, but when researching PCs and faced with a similar q, I read that while more convenient in many ways, electric PCs were more likely to be plagued with problems.

              I have a stovetop Fagor Futuro set which I love so far, although have just done test runs (as opposed to real cooking) in them.

              1. One thing the electrics give you is programmable settings with auto shut off

                1 Reply
                1. re: scubadoo97

                  Using a stovetop pressure cooker on an induction cooktop, portable or full, usually allows the cook to set the burner to shut off after a specific time.

                  There is the additional advantage that stovetop pressure cookers are good regular stovetop pots, too. Not sure what if anything can be done in an electric PC not under pressure...

                2. Here's an older thread with lots of good info:

                  Also, what's the cooking advantage of being able to vary the pressure from the standard 15psi?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: kaleokahu

                    A lower pressure setting is supposed to be useful for more delicate foods like custards or cheesecake. I have a Fagor Duo set with this feature, but honestly, I've used the lower pressure maybe once. Not a bad thing to have, but I wouldn't pay much extra for it. Since most cookers don't have that feature, recipes all tend to be written for the standard 15psi.