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Pressure Cooker vs. Slow Cooker: Which One Should You Buy?

While some dedicated home cooks like to keep both a pressure cooker and a slow cooker on hand, not everyone has the space for these small kitchen appliances. This guide will help you understand the differences between a pressure cooker vs. a slow cooker and decide which one is right for your needs.

How They Work

While they may look similar, pressure cookers and slow cookers use slightly different mechanisms to cook food.
slow cooker

Pressure Cookers

Pressure cookers use pressurized steam to quickly cook all kinds of food. The lid achieves a very tight seal that does not allow steam to escape. As the steam builds up, the pressure and temperature increases, cooking the food quickly and evenly. Pressure cooking can cook a meal more than 10 times faster than an ordinary pot on a stove.
There are two types of pressure cookers: stovetop and electric. Stovetop pressure cookers are placed on a stovetop burner or other external power source for heat. Electric pressure cookers have their power source built-in and simply plug into the wall.

Slow Cookers

As the name suggests, slow cookers use low heat over a long period of time (anywhere between four and 10 hours) to cook the food. The lid lets steam escape, unlike a pressure cooker, which keeps the temperature low. Heat warms the base and then flows up the sides of the slow cooker. You can select low or high heat modes.
Slow cookers are only available in electric models that plug into the wall. Unlike stovetop pressure cookers, which can be used as a large pot without the lid, slow cookers can only be used for their intended purpose.

What They Cook

The type of food you normally cook should also be a major factor in your decision between a pressure cooker vs. a slow cooker. Each type of small kitchen appliance is better suited to cooking different types of foods.
pressure cooker

Pressure Cookers

Pressure cookers can be used to cook almost anything: meats, beans, rice, vegetables, you name it. The fast cook time means that the texture of the food is preserved, so the ingredients cook fast without breaking down into mush. Pressure cookers are an especially good choice for cooking dry beans since it softens them in minutes without turning them into pulp, though pressure cookers can be used for almost anything.

Slow Cookers

Slow cookers are best for tougher meats, stews with hard vegetables and other meals that won't lose their texture when cooked on low heat for many hours. Slow cookers tend to make beans, lentils and other pulses rather mushy, resulting in an unpalatable texture. More tender ingredients like pasta, asparagus or squash should be added in the last hour or so to avoid overcooking them. The same goes for cooking with dairy products.
crockpot meal ready to bake

Other Considerations

  • Energy efficiency: On the whole, pressure cookers are more energy-efficient than slow cookers due to their fast cook times and the minimal amount of water needed. However, both pressure cookers and slow cookers are more energy-efficient than running your stove or oven for hours.
  • High altitude: If you live in a high altitude location, you may struggle to cook food in a timely manner since the falling air pressure lowers the boiling point of water. A pressure cooker helps artificially counteract the lower air pressure by raising it inside the pot.
  • Size: This varies more between models than between pressure cooker vs. slow cooker. If you're pressed for space, look for a smaller model that can be stored more easily. You might also want to consider a stovetop pressure cooker, since it can be used as a regular pot without the lid.
  • Safety: While many people are intimidated by the idea of pressure cookers, as long as they're kept clean and operated according to their instructions, they're safe to use at home. Keeping the seal and steam vent tube clean and whole will ensure a mess-free pressure cooker experience.

Conclusion

If you're mostly cooking meats and stews, and you like to plan your meals ahead of time, a slow cooker will work for your needs. However, if you mostly cook dishes besides meat and/or tend to be more of a spontaneous chef, the fast cook times of the pressure cooker will be far more helpful. While it does have a bit of a learning curve, the pressure cooker is the more efficient and versatile kitchen appliance between these two options.

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