We’ve spent over 200 hours in researching and testing these cookers—going through hundreds of pounds of rice, beans, meat, and stock—as well as testing them over the long term in our own homes. This guide will help you figure out which type of cooker is best for your needs, whether that’s cooking fast or slow, braising hearty pot roasts and stews, or making rice and steamed veggies.
If you have a little more time to cook, you might also consider a Dutch oven or a sous vide cooker. But those tools aren’t quite as helpful for times when you’re out of the house or you need to get food on the table fast.
What to cook
Pressure cookers, slow cookers, and rice cookers each excel at handling certain types of recipes and foods, but they also have some overlap in what they can do. This chart shows what you can make with each cooker.
A pressure cooker is what you want for making meals fast. For example, you can braise a whole chicken in 40 minutes, so it’s convenient for preparing dinner after work.
You’ll find electric models and stovetop models. The electric kind—also called multicookers—look similar to rice cookers. They are more convenient for hands-off cooking because the appliance controls the heat, pressure, and depressurization. Electric pressure cookers also have additional functions such as rice, porridge, and slow-cooker modes. Stovetop pressure cookers are basically pots with a specially designed locking lid. They’re better for searing meats, because you can increase the heat more than with electric models; they also cook at a higher pressure setting, so they braise, simmer, and boil faster. But you need to keep a closer eye on stovetop models than electric ones. You can make rice in both electric and stovetop pressure cookers, but we’ve found that the texture turns out dense and a little wet compared with what you get from a rice cooker.
Slow cookers are inexpensive and good for making braised meats, stews, soups, and even less-expected recipes like mac and cheese or cake. You can load up a slow cooker with the ingredients for a pot roast, chili, or whatever you’re making in the morning, before leaving the house for work or to shuttle kids around, and you’ll have dinner ready four to eight hours later.
Get a rice cooker if you make rice two or more times a week. Rice cookers turn out perfect, optimally flavored rice with barely any effort on your part. Programmable slow cookers let you choose the heat and the cooking time; when that time is up, the machine kicks over to a warming setting, so the food is still warm when you get home.Most rice cookers also come with a basket for steaming things like veggies, fish, chicken, and dumplings. You can use a rice cooker to cook other grains, too, such as quinoa, no-stir polenta, or oatmeal.