The Instant Pot has been craaaazy popular for several years now. The IP Duo has more than 60,000 reviews on Amazon and an average rating of 4.6 stars--that's impressive! It's a great kitchen tool.
Why do people love it so much? Because you can make meltingly tender chuck roast and pork butt, whip up batches of beans and rice, and make easy meals like chilis, soups, stocks, and so much more--and you can do all of this in a fraction of the time it takes in a regular pot.
But in reality, it's just a new take on an old technology: the stovetop pressure cooker.
Yes, an Instant Pot has some features that a stovetop pressure cooker doesn't have. The main one is the set-and-forget feature of an electronic multi-cooker: just set the program and let the multi-cooker do the rest, including shutting itself off when it's finished. Some also have additional features like sterilization and sous vide functionality (although the truth is that neither of these are quite there yet). Some can also make yogurt, which is pretty cool (and does actually work).
But hold on a minute. That set-and-forget isn't as perfect as it sounds. For one thing, you often have to be around to vent the steam. For another, electric cookers can be a pain to figure out, and they don't always do what you think they're doing.
We at The Rational Kitchen think there are valid reasons to consider a stovetop pressure cooker, instead. If you're one of the few out there who hasn't yet bought an Instant Pot, or maybe even if you have, here are 5 reasons to consider getting a stovetop pressure cooker instead of an Instant Pot (or any other brand of electric multi-cooker).
Which is best for you?
1. Higher Pressure = Shorter Cooking Time
Instant Pots and other brands of electric multi-cookers have a maximum pressure of about 11-12psi, while stovetop pressure cookers can get up to 17psi, with 15psi being about the average high pressure.
This may not sound like a big difference, but it equates to significantly shorter cooking times. If you're adjusting an Instant Pot recipe for a stovetop pressure cooker, you can subtract about 25% of the cooking time needed.
For example, if an Instant Pot recipe calls for a cooking time of 40 minutes, it will take only 30 minutes with a stovetop pressure cooker. Or, if an Instant Pot recipe calls for 60 minutes, you can do it on the stove in only 45 minutes.
When you're trying to get dinner on the table, that can make a big difference.
In addition to being faster, the higher pressure/higher temperatures you can achieve with a stovetop pressure cooker mean that you can produce more Maillard reactions--the reactions that cause browning and create the wonderful smells and flavors of roasted food. Contrary to popular belief, you can get Maillard reactions in a pressure cooker. This short article at Modernist Cuisine explains how. Adding a pinch of baking soda to veggies or meat in your PC helps with browning/caramelization too by raising the alkalinity, which encourages Maillard reactions to occur at lower temperatures.
To adjust an Instant Pot recipe for a stovetop pressure cooker, subtract 25% of the cooking time.
2. More Browning Power
Instant Pots are typically 1000 or 1100 watts. Some brands are as powerful as 1200 watts. But even the highest wattage electric multicooker (aka Instant Pot) can't compete with the browning power of your stovetop burner.
Whether gas, electric, or induction, your stovetop burner is way more powerful than an Instant Pot or any other electric pressure cooker. The small heater in the Instant Pot simply isn't capable of generating a high enough temperature to brown food like you can on a stove.
Even a portable burner, like an induction burner, is going to provide a lot more heating power than an Instant Pot is capable of producing.
Sure, the searing in an Instant Pot is adequate, and you might be willing to make the tradeoff of less browning for the convenience you get. That's a fair point.
Having said that, this issue actually goes to the heart of one of the main weaknesses of the Instant Pot: nothing does everything well, so you will have to make tradeoffs and decide what's more important to you. A stovetop pressure cooker may not have as many functions, but what it does do, it does very, very well.
A stove burner is ALWAYS going to sear better than an electric multi-cooker. It's just way more powerful.
3. You Gain a Saucepan (Plus: Easier Storage)
You can use a stovetop pressure cooker as a regular saucepan if you ever need an extra one. Most of them come with a regular lid in addition to the sealed lid for this very reason.
So if you're short on cookware, a stovetop pressure cooker serves as another saucepan (or stock pot, depending on which size you own).
Another benefit here is that a stovetop pressure cooker is easier to store: you can just keep it with the rest of your cookware when it's not in use.
Additionally, if you have a small kitchen or limited counter space, you don't have to find a spot on your counter for the multicooker. As great as small appliances can be, they do take up space. Whether you leave them out or put them away when not in use, they need storage space. This isn't nearly as much of an issue with cookware.
A stovetop pressure cooker can double as a saucepan or stockpot (depending on size). It also takes up no counter space, and you can store it with the rest of your cookware.
4. Stovetop Pressure Cookers Are More Durable (and Live Longer)
Since a stovetop pressure cooker is just a saucepan with a sealed lid, there are no worries about electronic parts breaking down. There is no menu to select, no buttons or knobs to figure out, no electronic sensors, no indicator lights or alarms--in short, no electronic parts that can break down and require an expensive repair--or worse, replacement.
You may not think this is anything to worry about, but the truth is that a stovetop pressure cooker is going to significantly outlast an electronic pressure cooker/multicooker. According to this article on the Corrie Cooks site, the average life span of an Instant Pot is 5 years.
A good quality stovetop pressure cooker is going to last for decades. In fact, you'll probably hand it down to your children.
Furthermore, replacement parts for a stovetop pressure cooker are less expensive. Yes, standard parts like the gasket--which will need to be replaced occasionally, whether you go with an electronic cooker or a stovetop cooker--are going to cost about the same. But all the parts that might need replacing in the lifetime of a stovetop pressure cooker are mechanical (gasket, spring, valve cap, etc.), while an Instant Pot can have an electronic failure: the very reason for its much shorter average life span. If it can be fixed, it will have to be sent away for repairs, but in many cases it's simpler to just replace it with a new one.
It's kind of like the difference between nonstick cookware and clad stainless cookware. While the nonstick cookware has features that many people love, it simply doesn't have the life span of clad stainless cookware. You have to replace it every couple of years.
So if you don't want to contribute to landfill waste, buy a stovetop pressure cooker (and clad stainless cookware).
In many cases, your initial investment in a stovetop pressure cooker will be higher, but it's going to outlive an electric cooker by far. It's also going to be easier to maintain and repair.
Instant Pots have a life span of about 5 years, with expensive electronic parts that can break down. Stovetop pressure cookers can last for generations, AND their replacement parts are less expensive.
5. A Stovetop Pressure Cooker Is Easier to Use
This is perhaps debatable, as one of the best features of an Instant Pot--aka, an electric multi-cooker--is its set-and-forget functionality that people love so much. (Although it's often not that straightforward--remember that on most electric pressure cookers, you have to be around to release steam manually at the end of the cooking cycle.)
As nice as that can be, though, a stovetop pressure cooker is much simpler to use. It has no electronics, no settings to figure out, no menu to interact with. The downside of this is that you have to keep an eye on it and turn the burner down when it reaches pressure. But if you hate figuring out menus and settings, this is a small price to pay.
(Which one of these looks easiest to use? The correct answer: none of them.)
The menus on Instant Pots are one of our main complaints about them. They are not intuitive, and present a fairly steep learning curve. You have to read the manual if you want to be sure you're using the cooker correctly--and more importantly, safely. Furthermore, many of the "instant" settings produce unsatisfactory results, so you have to learn to override them and set the cooker manually.
Another problem with these complicated interfaces is that it's not always easy to tell when the cooker is doing what you want it to do. There's no simple indication that a cooking cycle has started, so if you walk away too soon, you may come back to a pot that hasn't started doing anything. This can be frustrating.
Ask yourself this: How often do you start cooking and then leave the house? If you plan on staying home while you're cooking, it's as easy to use a stovetop pressure cooker as it is an Instant Pot. You just have to not forget it's on the stove--which is how people cook the vast majority of the time, anyway.
It's true that you'll have to fiddle with your burner to find the right setting, but once you have this figured out, you never have to do it again. It could hardly be easier.
ALSO: if you have a newer stove with timers on the burners, you can set the burner to switch itself off. In fact, a burner with a timer is an ideal companion to a stovetop pressure cooker. (A portable induction burner is also an ideal companion to a stovetop pressure cooker, especially if it has a temperature setting.)
And here's another thing: those shortcut settings on an Instant Pot? They don't always work. For example, Instant Pots are notorious for making chewy rice. So you have to set the cooker manually to get the results you want, and this can take some experimentation.
In fact, figuring out the right manual settings can be a real pain. And you'll probably have to do it more often than you want to.
With a stovetop pressure cooker, this is never an issue. The cooker does the same thing every time, so instead of trying to tailor a cook to the pressure cooker, you just keep an eye on the clock.
Once again, it could hardly be easier.
An electric multi-cooker has a fairly steep learning curve. A stovetop pressure cooker simply requires turning on a burner and turning it down when the cooker reaches pressure. It doesn't have the convenience features of an Instant Pot, but it's still a lot easier to use.
Are There Drawbacks to a Stovetop Pressure Cooker?
Of course. No tool is perfect.
In comparison to an electric pressure cooker, the main drawback of a stovetop PC is that it doesn't shut itself off automatically when it's done--you have to remember to turn it off. (Using a timer is a great idea here.)
A stovetop pressure cooker also isn't quite as versatile as an electric pressure cooker. Although, when you look at this more closely, you'll see that a that the electric cooker really only does 4 things: pressure cook, slow cook, sear, and steam. And the truth is that you can do all of those things with a stovetop pressure cooker--and you can do them better.
A further point is that, if you have a pressure cooker, you don't need a slow cooker. Slow cooking and pressure cooking are essentially the same technique--braising in liquid--but the pressure cooker does it in a fraction of the time.
What about all the 7-in-1, 10-in-1, 14-in-1 claims? Those are really just the number of shortcut features a cooker has; all of the settings are some version of the 4 main functions of an electric pressure cooker.
What a stovetop pressure cooker lacks are the shortcut features. So for example, you can't set it to "beans" or "yogurt" and let it do its thing. Instead, you have to bring it to pressure, turn it down, and keep an eye on the clock so you can switch it off at the right time (or use that stovetop timer if you have it).
Even so, you can use a stovetop pressure cooker for all the things you can do with an electric multi-cooker. You can make beans, rice, and risotto in it. You can sear, you can steam, you can even make cakes and yogurt in it.
You just have to do all of these things manually.
And here's probably the biggest payoff for using a stovetop pressure cooker: while an electric pressure cooker (Instant Pot) is convenient, everything it does is a compromise. For example, it pressure cooks, but it does so at a lower pressure, so it takes longer. And it sears, but it doesn't have nearly the searing power as your stove burner. And yes, it can function as a slow cooker, but if you read the reviews, you'll find a lot of people saying they're glad they didn't get rid of their Crockpot because the Instant Pot sucks at slow cooking--the temperature is too high, food scorches on the bottom, liquid doesn't evaporate (or evaporates too fast)...the list goes on.
Sure, there's a learning curve to using a stovetop pressure cooker, but once you've got it figured out, you won't have any of these ongoing, built-in issues that you have with an Instant Pot. It's going to pressure cook faster, sear better, steam perfectly (vegetables! cake! pudding!), and you can even braise in it--i.e., slow cook--if you don't have a slow cooker; you just have to do it on your stovetop (though we're not sure why you would when you can get the same results with pressure cooking in a fraction of the time).
If you want to make homemade yogurt, you can even do that in a stovetop pressure cooker. You just have to do it the old school way.
What About Safety Features?
Contrary to popular perception, stovetop pressure cookers are just as safe as electronic pressure cookers.
There was a time when this wasn't the case. Early models of pressure cookers, made back in the 1920s and 1930s, didn't have good safety overrides. They developed a reputation for exploding, and even killing a few people in the process.
Pressure cooking fell out of favor because of this.
But in the 1970s, there was a pressure cooking revival. Manufacturers came out with updated models that have foolproof safety features, and now are extremely safe--every bit as safe as electric pressure cookers.
For example, a Kuhn-Rikon pressure cooker has several safety features, so in the unlikely event that one of them fails, there are multiple others to take its place:
It's true that you have to know how to use it properly--for example, never overfill it, and use a bit of oil for foods prone to foaming, like beans (because the foam can boil up and clog the valve). But these precautions are just as true for electric pressure cookers.
And by the way, electric pressure cookers/multicookers can also explode. As with stovetop pressure cookers, this is most likely to happen when used incorrectly. However, with the electronic components that can malfunction, there's that to worry about, too.
Modern stovetop pressure cookers are just as safe as electric pressure cookers / Instant Pots, as long as you follow all the safety guidelines and use them properly.
Some of Our Favorite Stovetop Pressure Cookers
Here are a few of our favorite choices for stovetop pressure cookers.
For more detailed reviews, see our article Instant Pot Vs. Pressure Cooker: Which Is Better?
Best Overall Stovetop Pressure Cooker: Kuhn-Rikon 7.4 Quart Pressure Cooker
Kuhn-Rikon is a top quality brand of pressure cooker. It's made in Switzerland and the company has been around for almost 100 years. They also make other kitchen utensils and are known for their high-end design. It's one of the most trusted names in pressure cooking.
All the parts are solid steel and built to last. The valve is the modern spring-loaded design that won't allow the contents of the pot to boil like the older model "jigglers" do. The valve is also marked with two red lines, one for low pressure and one for high. You can control the amount of pressure by keeping an eye on the red lines. The high setting is 15psi, but you can get up to about 17psi if you let the valve go all the way up. When it starts to hiss, it's too hot and time to turn down the heat.
Most Kuhn-Rikon pressure cookers also come with a regular lid so they can double as sauce pans and a trivet for canning or steaming. If not, you can buy these accessories separately.
Internal fill lines make it easy to use properly (and not overfill).
We like Kuhn-Rikon for its durability and also for its design: the straight sides make it usable as a pressure canner, unlike the equally well made Fissler (see below).
You can't use it as a full-blown pressure canner, but you can use it for high acid foods safely. (If you want to get into canning, please do more research. This article is a good place for a beginner to start.)
One drawback of Kuhn-Rikon pressure cookers is that it can be a little tricky to get the lid properly aligned. Sometimes it takes a couple of tries. But once on, it's easy to use, and all the parts just pop off for easy cleaning.
Easiest to Use Stovetop Pressure Cooker: Fissler 8.5 Quart Pressure Cooker
Fissler is a German company that's been around for more than 170 years. Like Kuhn-Rikon they make top quality products, primarily pressure cookers and regular cookware.
Fissler pressure cookers have an easy-to-use locking mechanism that audibly clicks and shows green when the lid is in the right position:
This makes it a little easier to use than the Kuhn-Rikon pressure cookers.
The handle is removable for easy cleaning.
If this pressure cooker didn't have tapered sides, we'd rate equally to the Kuhn-Rikon. But the tapered sides make it harder to use as a canner, and therefore, less versatile.
Fissler also has an ongoing issue with the valve mechanism--the "Euromatic" valve--which you can learn more about by reading the Amazon reviews. If you happen to receive a unit with a defective valve, Fissler customer service will replace it for you free of charge.
Best Value Stovetop Pressure Cooker: Presto 6 Quart Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker
For an even more economical option, see the Presto aluminum pressure cooker on Amazon (not induction compatible)
Presto is an American company that's been making pressure cookers for several decades. Their products are made in China. Even so, they're well built and should last a good long time.
If you're on a budget, Presto is the brand to go with. They are lighter weight and don't have as many redundant safety features as the Kuhn-Rikon and Fissler (above), but they are completely safe. They also have the old school "jiggler" design which isn't as nice as a spring-loaded valve, but it gets the job done.
Presto pressure cookers have a 12-year warranty compared to the limited lifetime warranties of Kuhn-Rikon and Fissler. But they cost a fraction of the others, so you should get your money's worth out of it.
If you don't care about induction and want to save even more, go with the aluminum model.
Presto makes a number of different sizes and is also a major player in the pressure canning market.
Stovetop pressure cookers have a reputation for being old-fashioned, but the truth is, they're just as useful--and just as safe--as electric multi-cookers (Instant Pots).
If you're trying to decide between a stovetop pressure cooker and an electric Instant Pot, here are a few pointers:
- If you already own a slow cooker, a sous vide circulator, and other small appliances, a stovetop pressure cooker is probably the better choice. It's smaller to store, and it doesn't do as well at other tasks as dedicated appliances.
- If you have limited storage or counter space, a stovetop pressure cooker takes up less space.
- If you hate the learning curve of a computerized device, a stovetop pressure cooker is much easier to use.
- If you want better browning and faster pressure cooking, get a stovetop pressure cooker.
It all comes down to which features you prefer and find more convenient. If you want a powerful cooker that can sear beautifully and cook 25% faster, get a stovetop pressure cooker. If you want shortcut buttons and special features like a yogurt maker, get the Instant Pot (but be sure to get the model that has a yogurt function, because not all of them do).
If set-and-forget is more important to you and you're willing to live with longer cook times and compromise on features such as searing/browning, slow cooking, and braising, get an Instant Pot.
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