1. Intended Use
First off, there is a difference between a pressure cooker and a pressure canner. Canners are very large, and they are used to seal jars of canned food. This is not what you want for daily use in the kitchen. They are just big and unwieldy. Also, in this category will be the number of mouths you are feeding. If you are just cooking for yourself, then a little 4-quart pressure cooker may be all that you need. If you are preparing food for a large family or you often cook for parties or cater, then think bigger.
2. Electric or Stovetop Version
There reasons to like both stovetop and electric versions. Electric cookers are often fitted with aluminum or non-stick surfaces on the inside. This isn’t all bad. Aluminum is a better conductor of heat than, for example, stainless steel. This allows it to heat evenly and gives better control over the temperature. However, aluminum also makes it more susceptible to reacting with acidic ingredients which can alter the taste of your food. As for non-stick surfaces, they have their own plusses and minuses.
As for non-stick surfaces, they have their own plusses and minuses. It can also make it difficult for some ingredients to brown. For these reasons cookers with stainless steel are often preferred which includes most of the popular stovetop models.
However, if you need portability, lack a heat source, or enjoy added features, an electric pressure cooker may be what you want. Just be cognizant of the ingredients you use and try to avoid acidic foods.
If you buy a quality pressure cooker and take proper care of it, you will have it for many years. In fact, the Company Presto has been around for more than 100 years and still sells replacement parts for their pressure cookers from the World War II era. How many other products do you have in your house that could withstand 70+ years of use?
Pressure cookers are solid cooking instruments. Overall, they should withstand the rigors of cooking. However, the parts are subject to intense heat and pressure, so periodically they will need some maintenance. Usually, the rubber gaskets will need to be replaced to ensure proper sealing and safety. Presto recommends replacing the sealing rings, overpressure plug, and other gaskets every other year.
4. Safety Features
Pressure cookers operate under intense heat and pressure which makes it necessary to consider the safety features of the models. Be sure your pressure cooker has safety valves and pressure indicators. Lid locks should be easy to use and secure.
Look for stainless steel. It is sturdier, easier to clean, and more scratch resistant than other materials. While being sturdier than aluminum, stainless steel does not conduct heat as well as aluminum. For this reason, some of the better cookers may incorporate a blending of materials. You may find an aluminum base or aluminum core which is good. This helps ensure even distribution of heat.
In short, look for stainless steel, lid locks, pressure valves, and safety features that prevent opening the lid while under pressure.
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