What's the Difference Between a Slow Cooker and Pressure Cooker?

What's the Difference Between a Slow Cooker and Pressure Cooker?

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Kelli Foster
May 21, 2015
(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Both slow cookers and pressure cookers are fantastic tools for convenient, hands-off cooking. These handy appliances do the heavy lifting when braising and stewing tough cuts of meat, cooking beans, and so many more things.

But while they can both produce similar results, these two appliances are quite different. If you've ever wondered about the differences, here's a quick guide.

Slow Cookers

As the name implies, slow cookers and Crock-Pots use low heat to cook foods over a long period of time.

How Slow Cookers Work

Slow cookers and Crock-Pots use moist heat to cook food over an extended period of time, usually anywhere from four to ten hours, over a low temperature. Food is placed inside the cooker (which sits inside a heating unit), covered with a lid, and set to either a low or high heat setting. Depending on the recipe, occasional stirring may be required, but overall it's a very hands-off cooking tool.

Many slow-cooker meals allow the convenience of "set it and forget it" although, because of the long cook time, slow-cooker meals may require a bit of planning.

What to Cook in a Slow Cooker

There are few things you can't make in a slow cooker! These appliances are great for everything from soups and stews, to vegetables, meat, fish, bread, and even desserts.

(Image credit: Dana Velden)

Pressure Cookers

A pressure cooker is an appliance that uses steam heat and pressure to cook food faster than conventional cooking methods.

Two Types of Pressure Cookers

There are two types of pressure cookers: electric pressure cookers and stovetop pressure cookers. Both have pros and cons but ultimately produce similar results.

How a Pressure Cooker Works

Though not quite as simple as a slow cooker, once you have the hang of it, pressure cookers are easy to use.

The food and cooking liquid are sealed inside the pot, and as the liquid heats up (eventually coming to a boil), it forms steam and pressure inside the pot. As the steam builds in pressure, it raises the boiling point of the cooking liquid to as high as 250°F, causing the food to cook faster. The increased pressure in the pot also forces liquid into the food, again resulting in the faster cook time, as well as helping some foods, like tough cuts of meat, become more tender.

The rising temperature and increased pressure cook the food at two (up to three) times the normal rate.

What to Cook in a Pressure Cooker

You can cook just about anything in a pressure cooker, from vegetable and grains to meat and fish. It significantly reduces the cook time for foods like rice and dried beans, and works well for tough cuts of meat that would otherwise be braised or stewed. You can even make hard-boiled eggs in a pressure cooker!

Can You Substitute One for the Other?

Not exactly. What really sets these two appliances apart is the speed at which they cook food. In contrast to the slow cooker, think of a pressure cooker as a fast cooker. These vastly different cooking methods mean that there is not a direct translation between recipes developed for each appliance.

While the same recipe can possibly be made in either appliance, there are many factors like amount of liquid and cook time that have to be adjusted. This just means that the case can be made for owning both a slow cooker and a pressure cooker!

Do you own a slow cooker, pressure cooker, or both? How do you use these appliances to make cooking easier?

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