On test: The best pressure cookers

A pressure cooker is a wise kitchen investment for the time-pressed cook. They can be used to cook everything from steamed pudding to bean casserole, plus they work their magic in quick-time while saving money on energy bills. We asked Leiths School of Cooking put popular models to the test…

Why buy? 

A pressure cooker’s fundamental purpose is to speed up cooking time of slow cook dishes.  From stews, curries and legumes to steamed puddings and cheesecake, there isn’t much you can’t put in a pressure cooker. This cooking method requires less water compared to other conventional cooking methods, which means that more vitamins and minerals are retained. Additionally, lack of exposure to air prevents oxidation of the nutrients in the food.  And, to top it off, you’ll save time and money on your energy bills.

What should I buy? 

If you purchase a large pressure cooker, look for one with two side handles. The internal pots get heavy when they contain food, so it's easier to lift and handle a pressure cooker with two handles. If folding handles are available, you'll require less storage space. We recommend going for a model that isn't non-stick. Non-stick surfaces don't last long, and will show signs of wear and tear soon. Currently, only electric pressure cookers have non-stick pots, which can be replaced when needed. Finally, many recipes call for the use of accessories such as a steamer basket or cooking rack, so you'd get the best value for your money if you buy a pressure cooker that already comes with one or two of these accessories.

What we looked for... 

1. Size and storage: Is the pressure cooker easy to store? Are there any features that would make it more compact?

2. Design: We assessed the aesthetic credentials of each model. 

3. Cooking: We took storecupboard chickpeas and cooked according to the specified time given in each pressure cooker guide. Recommended times varied between 10 and 25 minutes and regardless of the pressure cooker’s overall performance, the longer the cooking time, the better the result.

We also cooked carbonnade of beef from Leiths How to Cook and, as we were using very large chunks of meat to fully assess how well each pressure cooker tenderised meat, we cooked each for one hour on the quick cook/highest weight/meat setting as appropriate. The original recipe takes three hours slow cooking.

4. Ease of use: We looked at how easy the model was to open and close and whether the functions and accompanying literature were useful and straightforward.

Our top pressure cooker picks... 

Divertimenti pressure cookerBest for... solid overall cooking performance

Alto Cristel 6L pressure cooker

The design, appearance and cooking results of this pressure cooker are all top notch.  The cooker has a brushed stainless steel finish and the design is sleek and smart - a welcome addition to a kitchen.  Whilst it is a sizeable object, it would look attractive if kept out on display if you’re lacking cupboard space.  The cooker was simple and straightforward to use and was relatively quiet during cooking.  The chickpeas were cooked well according to recommended timings and the Alto delivered a lovely tender stew.

Key features: One hand patented open/close system, two cook settings (slow or quick), triple layer SS and aluminium base for energy-saving and quick cooking, measuring scale inside pan, steamer.

£230, from Divertimenti

lakeland pressure cookerBest for... simple and effective cooking

Lakeland 3L pressure cooker

This is an affordable product that does its job well and is simple to use.  However, there were no specific cooking guidelines supplied so timings and setting had to be estimated.  Chickpeas were still slightly crunchy after a 10 minute cook but beef turned out lovely and tender.  The sauce reduced perfectly and required no further reduction – it was delicious.  There might be a slight risk of a stew boiling dry but if timed accurately should be able to achieve perfect results.  This 3L model is a neat cooker, quick and simple to open and close and easy to keep clean.

Key features: Suitable for all hobs including induction, easy fit lid, pressure indicator light, two button open/close, separate glass lid to use when warming food in oven, pressure regulating valve.

£79.99, from Lakeland

£119.95, from Harts of Stur

Kuhn rikon pressure cookerBest... for beginners

Kuhn Rikon 5L pressure cooker

This is a satisfactory cooker that comes with a thorough instruction manual with cooking times and integrated cooking guide on the lid dial, which is helpful for a pressure cooker novice.  The pan can be used for frying and browning off food before adding in further ingredients to make a stew or similar. The two pressure settings are displayed by a simple indicator in the lid that rises up two notches depending on pressure reached, however, this is a little tricky to control. The cooker is a simple and traditional style, without gadgets or unique features.

Key features: Trivet included, automatic lid locking under pressure for safety, capacity marks on inside, flavour valve to preserve colour and flavour, pressure indicator with two settings.

£104.99, from Lakeland

Best... for large cuts of meat

Prestige 6L pressure cooker

The best feature of this pressure cooker is its size – the height of the pan makes it ideal for a large joint of meat. It’s simple in appearance and function, but we found it a little difficult to work out whether the correct pressure had been reached and had to constantly relieve pressure from the valve in the lid accompanied by loud hissing noises. Chickpeas were cooked for 20 minutes with good results but they nearly boiled dry, while the meat was nice and tender after one hour of cooking. 

Key features: Suitable for all hob types including induction, three pressure settings, steamer basket.

£39.99, from Very

This review was last updated in February 2016. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at goodfoodwebsite@bbc.com. 

Read our guide on how to use pressure cookers then put yours to the test with one of our pressure cooker recipes - try Asian short ribs, lemony prawn & pea risotto or Brazlian black bean stew

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