The convenience, ease, and (yes!) safety of the modern pressure cooker will put dinner on the table fast—and make it taste as if you spent the whole day at the stove.
Last Updated Sept. 1, 2022. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 13: Short Ribs and Chops Hit the Grill
Our former Best Buy stovetop pressure cooker, the Fagor Duo, was discontinued when the Spanish manufacturer went out of business. However, the U.S. branch became a separate company called Zavor and is producing the same cooker, calling it the Zavor Duo 8.4 Quart Pressure Cooker. We purchased it and put it through its paces, using all the same tests. The new pot has minor improvements: The settings, handle lock, maximum fill line, and the spot where you align lid and pot to seal the cooker are all more clearly marked. Its cooking surface is slightly narrower and it didn’t reach as high a temperature as the previous model, however, we had no difficulty browning food or cooking. The rebranded model by Zavor is our new Best Buy. We recommend following the manual’s instruction to put vegetable oil on the gasket to make it easier to get a tight seal under pressure and to help the lid slide smoothly.
Pressure cookers can be intimidating. Before I began testing them, I had heard countless stories about exploding cookers—usually ones belonging to someone’s grandmother. This made the whole enterprise seem mysterious and dangerous, or at least very messy. But after spending weeks testing 12 models of pressure cookers, I can report that they are as safe as any other cookware—and definitely worth getting to know. Pressure cookers are surprisingly simple to use and in less than an hour can produce food that tastes as if you spent all day over the stove. You don’t have to tell a soul that your savory, fork-tender pot roast, pulled pork, short ribs, or stew cooked in record time—and most of that time was hands-off. Dried beans are creamy and tender after just 10 minutes under pressure. Risotto needs just 6 minutes under pressure to reach the perfect consistency. Recipes once saved for weekends, or the slow cooker, can be started when you get home from work.
Pressure cookers function based on a very simple principle: In a tightly sealed pot, the boiling point of liquid is higher. As the pot heats up, pressure begins to build. This pressure makes it more difficult for water molecules to turn to vapor—therefore raising the boiling point from 212 to 250 degrees. Why does this matter? The steam generated in the cooker, which can be at temperatures up to 38 degrees higher than what's possible in a normal pot, makes food cook faster. And because the pot stays closed, cooking requires much less liquid than usual, and flavors concentrate. As a bonus, this method also uses less energy: Once pressure is reached, you cook with the heat turned down as low as possible, and cooking times are short.
Pressure cookers have been around for a long time. In 1679, French mathematician and physicist Denis Papin invented the “steam digester,” the earliest-known pressure cooker; still, it wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that smaller pressure cookers were introduced for home cooks. After World War II, demand boomed for pressure cookers, and some accounts note that unscrupulous manufacturers made shoddy cookers that were prone to explosions. Older cookers had “jiggle tops” that rattled and puffed while they cooked. Today’s models use spring-loaded valves, which are silent and vent mere wisps of steam when pressurized. In other words, today’s pressure cookers are quieter and simpler and have many more safety features than your grandmother’s cooker did.
Across-the-board improvements over the years didn’t necessarily mean that all models would work equally well, and we wondered what characteristics to look for in a good pressure cooker. They...
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Lisa is an executive editor for ATK Reviews, cohost of Gear Heads on YouTube, and gadget expert on TV's America's Test Kitchen.