This post is a little different from my usual "what do I do with" questions. Instead of an ingredient, I'm asking you, my loyal readers, about a kitchen appliance. I occasionally receive email from a reader, asking about electric pressure cookers. I have never used one; all my pressure cookers have been stove top models. I vaguely remember reading that stove top models are better than electrics, but I couldn't remember why. I decided to research electric pressure cookers; the next time I'm asked, I want a better answer than "because that's how I've always done it."
Electric pressure cookers seem like a good alternate to stove top models. I like the idea of set it and forget it pressure cooking...set the timer, then get on to something else. No messing with getting the burner to the right heat to hold the pressure. Also, a pressure cooker with a timed delay feature sounded great. A delay means I could leave beans soaking in the cooker, and when the soaking time was complete, the PC would turn on and cook the beans. And, finally, a few of the electric pressure cookers could also be used as rice cookers or slow cookers. As an Alton Brown groupie, I'm always a fan of multitaskers.
Now, there is some downside. First, it's yet another kitchen appliance. (I'm running out of room with all my gadgets - I'd have to trade something in to make room for the new cooker.) Second, almost all the electric pressure cookers are 6 quart models. They are not made in the wide range of sizes as stove top pressure cookers.
*With pressure cookers, size matters. Pressure cookers need airspace to come up to pressure. A pressure cooker can't be filled past 2/3rds of the listed size, or it won't have enough air to pressurize.
Then I found the big issue. In electric pressure cookers, "high pressure" is significantly lower than high pressure in stove top cookers. Stove top PCs have a high pressure of 15 pounds per square inch (psi), electrics only come up to about 10 psi. That is closer to the low pressure on stove top cookers than it is to high pressure.
What difference does that extra 5 PSI make? I downloaded the Fagor Electric Pressure Cooker manual, and compared it to my Fagor stove top PC's manual. Generally, the cooking times in the electric were 30% longer than the stove top model. As an example: beef brisket cooks in 35-40 minutes at high pressure in the stove top PC. It takes 50-60 minutes in the electric cooker. Why is that important? Well, pressure cookers are sold as a way to speed up cooking. 60 minutes for brisket *is* quicker than the usual 3+ hours...but 40 minutes is even faster. Does the convenience of the set it and forget it electric make up for the extra time? Also, Lorna Sass, Miss Vickie, and all the other sources of pressure cooker recipes and write their recipes for a high pressure of 15 psi. I have to multiply my cooking time by 1.3 every time I try a new recipe? I'm sure I'll forget that at the worst possible time.
*And pressure cooking is more timing dependent than most other forms of cooking, because you can't check on how things look as they cook. Once a cooker is up to pressure, it can't be opened, unless you take the time to bring the pressure down, then back up when you're done.
All that said...I've never used one myself; everything I'm sharing here is from reading the literature, not personal experience. So, I'm throwing the question out to my readers:
Have you used an electric pressure cooker? Like it? Dislike it? What are the advantages and/or disadvantages? Share your experiences with us in the comments section, below.
*And...I am such a weakling when it comes to new kitchen toys. After everything I've read, I don't think I'd use an electric pressure cooker enough to justify the purchase. But I still kind of want one. Darn it.
Here are the three cookers I've been asked about. Again, not a recommendation, but they are the ones that I've heard about second-hand. I would love to hear about personal experience with any of these pressure cookers.
Fagor 670040230 Stainless-Steel 3-in-1 6-Quart Multi-Cooker
Cuisinart CPC-600 1000-Watt 6-Quart Electric Pressure Cooker, Brushed Stainless and Matte Black
Instant Pot® 5-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker, 6.33Qt, Latest 3rd Generation Technology, Brushed Stainless Steel