The debate between slow cookers and pressure cookers has created an ongoing dilemma for many home cooks, namely when to use a slow cooker or pressure cooker, and whether or not one is actually better than the other. We, at Cook Culture, believe that cooking should be simple and fun, and we aim to help our customers make it just that. Here are a few points that will hopefully clear up the differences between slow cookers and pressures cookers, while wiping away any doubts that may be holding you back from deliciously tender, flavourful, and unabashedly simple-to-make meals.
Both slow cookers and pressure cookers are great tools of convenience to have in the kitchen. They tenderize the toughest cuts of meat, develop great depth of flavour, and are highly versatile without requiring much hands-on work. However, there are some differences that may make you consider one over the other. The three main distinctions between the two techniques are: temperature, time, and moisture content. Here is a table outlining these differences side-by-side:
|Slow Cooker||Pressure Cooker|
|Temperature||Cooks at a lower temperature, generally ranging around 170F-212F. Because the temperature is so low, browning cannot occur during the cooking process. To fully develop flavours, it is best to brown your ingredients first, before adding it to the slow cooker.||Cooks at a higher temperature, reaching up to 250F. The increased pressure, caused by trapped steam, sustains a high enough temperature to allow browning throughout the whole cooking process.|
|Time||Takes 2-12 hours and up.|
The lower temperature results in a longer cooking time, which requires some planning ahead of time. This is convenient for those who want to ‘set it and forget it’ in the morning and come home to a perfectly cooked meal at night.
|Takes 1 hour or less.|
The higher temperature and pressure cooks food up to 2-3 times the normal rate. This is perfect for when you need to cook something quick with minimal planning ahead of time. However, this also means you have to be around to monitor it.
|Moisture||Requires more liquid and doesn’t reduce down. As a result of a slow cooker’s lower temperature, it requires more liquids to transfer heat and cook its foods, through the process of braising and stewing. However, because it is in a sealed environment, any liquid that evaporates simply condenses on the lid and drips back down. This retains a lot of the moisture but it also means that any foods containing large amounts of liquids, such as stews and chili, will not thicken up since evaporated liquids are re-introduced into the dish. A simple trick, if you prefer thicker results, is to leave the lid off for a short period of time to allow some of the moisture to escape or to start off with less liquid.||Utilizes steam and forces liquids into food. A pressure cooker uses less liquids as very little is required to create steam. This steam creates a high pressure and high temperature environment that cooks the food quickly and forces moisture to penetrate into the food. The pressure cooker, similar to the slow cooker, does not reduce liquids down and generally retains about the same amount of moisture that the dish starts off with – dishes that use a high amount of liquid will not thicken up and foods with a low moisture content will remain moist and become tender.|
Some common misconceptions that may deter people from using these appliances are that: pressure cookers are dangerous and that slow cookers produce mushy results – neither of which are true. The myth about pressure cookers revolves around the fact that it is a highly pressurized unit that could potentially explode. However, pressure cookers are designed with strict safety features that prevent this from happening. A pressure valve, located on the lid of the pot, constantly releases steam to prevent pressure from reaching dangerous levels. In addition, the lids are designed to be tightly sealed using a thick rubber gasket and a locking mechanism, ensuring that the lid won’t accidentally twist off.
As for the myth about slow cookers producing mushy results, this is only true if it is used improperly. Like any cooking technique, it takes a bit of practice to get it right. Some tips to get the best results from your slow cooker are: filling your slow cooker to a maximum of ⅔ full (filling it completely will cause your food to steam rather than simmer), layering your foods so that foods that take the longest to cook are at the bottom (which prevents quick-cooking foods turning to mush), and either lowering the temperature or time (some foods cook a lot faster than others and may not require the same amount of time as other dishes). As with any cooking tool, learning how to use it properly opens up a world of possibility.
Despite these differences, one is not objectively better than the other and it all boils down to personal preference. Both methods are equally capable of producing great results and can be easily adjusted according to your cooking needs; slow cookers are more suitable for those who have the time to plan ahead and want to come home to an already-cooked meal, while pressure cookers are best for when you need to cook a meal within a short period of time. All-in-all, pick whichever makes cooking simplest and fun for you.