Pressure Cookers: Stovetop vs. Electric
My wife and I are considering getting a pressure cooker. We recently visited relatives who cooked up a delicious beef stew in their electric pressure cooker, so I took a look at America's Test Kitchen's recommendations for PCs. They say stovetop cookers are better overall than electric, for a variety of reasons.
Just wondering what the CH community thinks: are stovetop cookers better than electric, or does it really make any difference?
An overview (and personal opinion) of stovetop vs. digital pressure cookers:
I agree that the stove-top pressure cookers are the best value for the money and for quality and length of service. They are quicker to heat up to pressure and are quicker to release their pressure. I have both and only use the digital pressure cooker for a very few recipes.
PLEASE do NOT THINK about canning in a regular stovetop pressure cooker. There are several economical pressure CANNERS on the market, but it is NOT SAFE to can in a regular stove-top pressure cooker.
The same goes for pressure-frying. As far as I know, there are probably only ONE, maybe two, pressure-FRYERs on the market that are safe to do this. The gaskets of standard pressure cookers are not equipped to handle the higher oil temperatures of pressure-frying. It's a whole different ball game that could be dangerous to the cook. There is a maximum amount of oil that a standard pressure cooker can handle. See your manual and check with the manufacturer.
On the other hand, there are many who cannot physically move well enough to get up and make the minor stovetop heat adjustments (that are occasionally needed before you get the "feel" of your stovetop cooker and appropriate heat setting) because of health issues. Then, a digital pressure cooker would be a perfect fit as well as for those who prefer a "set it and forget it" cooker. It depends on one's style of cooking and how many times you want to add ingredients during the cooking time. Stovetop cookers are easier to "fine tune" the cooking (my opinion; others who use the digital models only might differ).
Know that total time, bringing the cooker to pressure to end of pressure release, will be longer in a digital cooker than with a stovetop cooker.
Then there is the issue of longevity. A moderately priced, very reliable, stovetop cooker (Fagor) or a little more expensive one (Kuhn-Rikon, Fissler, and one or two more) will last you a lifetime and will not be affected by power outages or electrical problems with your local or home circuits or within the unit itself.
Many newbies buy a $39.00 or very low-priced pressure cooker on a shopping channel. Forget it. You might get a year or three's use out of it, but the most important thing to consider is the reliability, availability, and quality of spare parts -- especially gaskets, which will periodically need to be replaced on any cooker even though the gaskets are now made of silicone instead of rubber. Rubber gaskets dry out and crack; silicone gaskets will eventually stretch. Once the manufacturer (such as Deni) goes out of business, so do its pressure cookers because you can replace gaskets and parts only for a short time or not at all. Sometimes handles will loosen with a lot of use. Will you be able to replace a handle? A steam diffuser? A pressure indicator? A gasket?
Recipes in pressure cookbooks are generally geared toward stovetop cookers. Generally those with digital cookers can use these timings as guidelines and get relatively good results, but for the best results, jot down your cooking time and make adjustments the next time you cook. You might need a little less cooking time the next time you cook the same weight of meat.
For digital cookers, I suggest pulling the plug at the end of the cooking time and allow the cooker to release its pressure naturally (for meats and beans) or quick-release the pressure (for vegetables or soups). This will help avoid overcooking. It's my personal opinion that unless you need the Keep Warm Cycle, don't use it because it might contribute to overcooking if left on for a period of time. It can be useful in certain circumstances and is a nice option to have.
Footprint: The digital cookers to take up a little more counter space.
Size: I have a 4-quart cooker that I use for side dishes such as rice and vegetables for 6. My first (both Kuhn-Rikons that I've had for about 25-30 years) was an 8-quart cooker which is wonderful for soups and stews so that I have enough to freeze for another meal. I could always cook less in the 8-quart but the 4-quart has its limitations, but which I use almost every day. Most digital cookers are 6-quart (mine is the Cuisinart) - OK for small families. I'm looking for a 12-quart Kuhn stovetop. Remember that you can only fill a cooker 2/3 or so full to allow space for the steam to build up or occasionally for some foaming of the ingredients (often with beans). So, with an 8-quart cooker, you can realistically only fill it to the 5 1/2- to 6-quart mark.
I'd recommend a cooker that has 2 pressure levels, high and low, although you will rarely need the low pressure.
Don't worry about the psi difference between stovetop and digital cookers - because the digitals take longer to get to pressure and longer to naturally- and quick-release it, most cookbook timings seem to work faily well with both types of cookers. There might be a little difference in timing but seldom enough to ruin a dish and can easily be corrected the next time you cook.
My personal opinion with Cook's Illustrated's review of pressure cookers is that they published the review a little early in their pressure cooker journey.
One last thing. The cooking pans of most digital cookers are nonstick-coated. I understand that Amazon carries some uncoated stainless-steel pans that could replace them.
1) Use medium-high heat to bring a stovetop cooker to pressure. This will help avoid scorching, especially when tomato products are in the recipe. Add them to the top of the ingredients and don't stir them in. It's worth the extra minute or two to bring the cooker to pressure.
2) For those who have an electric stove, have one burner (a smaller burner) set to medium-low or low and the burner with the cooker to medium-high. When the cooker reaches pressure, transfer it to the lower-heat burner and adjust from there to keep the pressure at the right level.
I think I might have put this post in the wrong place. I see that there are a lot of excellent comments below this one.
Remember, the new "second generation" pressure cookers will NOT blow up!
One of the CH Community who has been pressure-cooking for over 30 years.
I am a stovetop pressure cooker. Stove versions offer your flexibility that you cannot find from the electric versions. That being said, you should check to see your own priority. Maybe an electric pressure cooker works better for you. If you don't have a strong opinion, then go for the stovetop just to be safe.
I've used a stovetop for my entire married life. The newer cookers are very, very good. You can buy one that has two pressure levels, and all the new ones are safe.
I think you would be able to bring the cooker up to pressure faster on the stove, but I have no experience with the electric. That would be a major concern for me.
I agree with the no cords note. And yes, it would be a super multi tasker, especially if you bought a set that includes a small pot and a steamer basket.
Have you seen Laura Pazzaglia's site? (She has posted here on pressure cookers, too, so maybe you can consider her a hound.) If you haven't seen it, here's the link to her comparison of the electrics and stovetops:
To what the others have said, I would add only that that electric pressure-cookers are like other stand-alone electric cooking devices --- Cuisinart Griddler, George Foreman grill, slow-cooker/Crockpots, rice cookers, etc. Some folks in some situations find them useful, but others won't.
What a great blog. Had not seen it before, so I read through the comparison between electric and stovetop, and it not only made great reading, it was very informative.
It seems the biggest difference is that stovetops are more flexible and have a higher psi range, but electrics can be set and left alone. I also like the idea that we don't have to use a flame in hot weather if we get an electric. Tough choice...
Thanks for the link. It helps a lot.
Thanks for that link. I'd been considering an electric cooker, mostly for summer time bean cooking. I still may buy one but I am much better armed with information. "NOTE: Foods that foam during cooking (legumes, grains and fruit) should not released through the main valve (Normal Release)." This would add another 25 minutes to the cooking time - not a deal breaker but something to consider. Great information.
re: MplsM ary
hi MplsM ary, I just wanted to let you know that I've cooked dried beans in my PCs for nearly 30 yrs now, and have always done the quick release method with no problems whatsoever. I currently have a (stovetop) Fagor Duo as well as the electric Cuisinart but in the past, I've used my grandmother's Presto (with scary jiggly button) and in no event have I encountered problems with dried beans or anything else.
All of that being said, I find that the easiest way to prepare dried beans in the summer (which is all year long for me, since I now live in the tropics) is in the crockpot. I put the beans and water in the pot (on low heat setting) when I go to bed, and wake up to perfectly cooked beans. Lately, I've been adding cubes of Maggi vegetable seasoning (boullion cubes) at the outset and my family really likes that addition, but we are not sensitive to MSG.
Hi Again, BB:
If you decide to go with a stovetop model, here's where to get one suitable for pressure frying: http://www.pro-selections.com/index.cfm
The downside (only one I can see) to these is that they operate in the 8psi range, so you need to add a few minutes to your cook time. I have one of these, and love it.
You might also consider the All-American line (3 pressures, a pressure gauge, no gasket to replace, 1000% overbuilt/bulletproof/lifetime $$$ unit, scaled for also pressure canning), although they are not approved for frying.
We still haven't made up our minds, but we're getting there. Thank you for your input and your thoughts.
We're leaning a little toward the electric, even with its limitations, because we live in Brooklyn, and the summers are often steamy. Being able to use a PC without using a flame may be the deciding factor.
But the jury is still out. So far.