Published January 1, 2013. From Cook's Illustrated.
Electric pressure cookers offer one big advantage over stovetop models: You don’t have to watch the pot—you can set it and walk away. But we’ve found electric models to have several disadvantages.
Electric pressure cookers offer one big advantage over stovetop models: You don’t have to watch the pot—you can set it and walk away. And many models will produce great food in your absence, too. But we’ve found electric models to have several disadvantages.
First, they usually hold only 6 quarts—probably because their surrounding housing makes them quite large—whereas we prefer the more practical capacity of an 8-quart cooker. (We found one 8-quart electric model, but because of its confusing controls, poor durability, and weak performance, we could not recommend it.) Inside electric pressure cookers, food actually cooks in a small liner pot, like that of a rice cooker. These pots have a nonstick coating, which is far less durable than stainless steel stovetop models—we saw dings and worn areas in the nonstick coating after just a few uses—and the pots are light, slippery, and unanchored, so they spun around as we stirred food. Because they lack handles, they also felt dangerous when we needed to pour off hot liquid. Their heating elements are weaker than those of a stove, so browning food in them can be challenging (some more so than others—the worst kept switching itself off as we sautéed). And all switch to “keep warm” mode after cooking. While this seems good, the downside is that many recipes call for a quick release of pressure to stop cooking. So you have to return just when cooking is done to vent steam and manually shut off the pot, or food will overcook. We also discovered that they can switch to “keep warm” mode during cooking when there’s not enough liquid in the pot—a problem when cooking large pieces of meat such as a whole chicken or meatloaf. And storage is an issue: Electric cookers take up a lot of space compared with stovetop models, which can also be used as regular stockpots or saucepans (some manufacturers separately sell plain lids for this purpose).
Given these factors, we prefer stovetop models, but if you want an electric cooker, we recommend, albeit with caveats, our winner, which was easiest to use, cooked best, and lost the least amount of liquid through evaporation. Close behind in design and performance was our runner-up.