Is there such a thing as a good, inexpensive stovetop pressure cooker?
April 30, 2019 12:34 PM   Subscribe

I want to buy a stovetop pressure cooker. Now that Fagor has gone out of business, it seems like all the stovetop pressure cookers available are either poorly made or very expensive. No, I do not want an Instant Pot.

I've heard that as great as the Instant Pot is, it's not very good at sauteeing and searing. I've been learning to cook Indian food, and for this I want to be able to heat oil and ghee to a pretty high temperature. I'm less concerned about making one-pot, set-and-forget meals than I am about having control over the heat and so on. I'd like to be able to return stuff to the flame after cooking it at pressure (especially for stuff like dal tadka and sambar). I don't want to pour stuff from a pan into an Instant Pot, and the back into the pan, etc.

There is also limited counter space, and I don't want to have to clean the seals and stuff on an electric pressure cooker.

I looked at some reviews of pressure cookers, and it seems like the only affordable, reliable option was Fagor, and those are no longer available. There are some cheaper kinds out there, but based on the reviews I've read, it seems like they can be pretty unreliable over time, especially with heavy use. The Wirecutter recommends a $220 model I can't afford.

I just want an affordable pot to cook lentils and things in. Does this exist, or am I better off just constantly transferring stuff to and from an Instant Pot that I don't really have counter space for? Do you have a cheapish stovetop pressure cooker that you like?
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This T-Fal pressure cooker was an experiment to see if we’d use it. That was three years ago and I use it at least once a week. The baskets are the only real fail point, and replacements are cheap. It’s dishwasher safe with the exception of the gasket.

It’s pretty boss.
posted by furnace.heart at 12:55 PM on April 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

I use the instant pot liner on the stovetop for initial aromatics/searing and transfer to the enclosure for the pressure. I do get some discoloration on the outside of the liner but it washes off and I see no change after a dozen+ uses. This doesn't solve the counter space issue but maybe it solves the transfer problem well enough?
posted by Maecenas at 12:56 PM on April 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

You can still buy Fagor pressure cookers.

I have used (very quickly), a Presto pressure cooker and found it easy to use.
posted by saeculorum at 12:56 PM on April 30, 2019

I’ve had two Fagor pressure cookers and an Instant Pot. If you’re really interested in high heat searing you would probably be happiest with a more expensive version assuming more expensive means a heavy bottom for even heating. Some things I learned from my cheap stovetop pressure cookers:
-There will be a plastic/rubber gasket that needs to be removed and cleaned.
-The steam value on the lid doesn’t have many removable parts and can get gross and moldy unless you attack it with pipe cleaners or a tiny bottle brush.
-If the flame under the pot is set high for searing, watch out that the flames don’t extend a bit from under the pot and melt the plastic handle. You’ll know it’s happening when the noxious fumes hit your nose.
-Be sure to turn the heat down to the absolute bare minimum when pressure cooking beans or anything longer than 5-10 minutes or the food will burn in a ring on the bottom of the pot.

Sorry for not having more encouraging views. My best guess for a solution would be:
1. Find a used high quality pressure cooker on eBay or a thrift store.
2. Sear in a stovetop skillet, deglaze the pan and transfer to an instant pot
3. Skip the pressure cooker aspect and sear and slow cook in a cast iron pot.
posted by defreckled at 1:02 PM on April 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

*gasket not basket.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:05 PM on April 30, 2019

Presto makes a good $40 stovetop pressure cooker. I've had one for ages. My mom and aunt still use both of theirs regularly. They must be 40 years old. (The pressure cookers -- not my mom and aunt.)

You could pick up an older one (which will be made of thicker metal) at almost any Goodwill. Get yourself a replacement gasket and you'll be good to go.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:12 PM on April 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have a UK version of the T-Fal one above. It is great. Super flexible. Needs some thought when cleaning. I use it a couple of times per week, mostly for beans and lentils. It can be annoying with burning things on the bottom. Love being able to put the pot in the dishwasher.
posted by kadia_a at 1:20 PM on April 30, 2019

Or - look for a commercial-grade option. Yes more expensive, but will probably last much longer. Myself, I wouldn't buy one used, I would be hesitant about it's structural soundness - but, I am probably just being paranoid... things built a long time ago might be better constructed - if you can get replacement gaskets, and the valves are good.

If you do decide to go with a Goodwill option, don't go with anything older than 1970 or so, valves were notoriously bad prior to industry improvements.
posted by jkaczor at 1:24 PM on April 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

My father has the T-fal version that has been listed and uses it all the time with no complaints.
posted by mmascolino at 1:25 PM on April 30, 2019

I used a Presto stainless steel pressure cooker at least three days a week for twelve years, and never even had to replace the gasket.
posted by metasarah at 1:28 PM on April 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

I use a Magefesa pressure cooker. Mine is the Practika. They have different cookers at various price points and needs. I’m pretty happy with mine and use it about 1-2 a week for the past 3 years. It was a hand me down and well used.
posted by vivzan at 1:33 PM on April 30, 2019

The best stovetop pressure cookers are Kuhn Rikon, Fissler, and WMF, I think, but these are all expensive; it might be worthwhile looking for ebay or thrift shop offerings of these brands.

I spent a long, long time researching and searching for a stovetop pressure cooker, so I'll share my few thoughts about all that: you want stainless steel, not aluminum (but some finishes of stainless steel are delightfully mostly non-stick, while others are not at all -- so all SS finishes are not the same. Beware of "pot belly" styles of pressure cookers, where the body balloons out over the disc bottom (like this one, for example); companies save money on the expensive multi-layer bottom disk by keeping it smaller while inflating volume with the pot belly, but it's not good for fast / efficient / even heating.

Six quarts is a good size. You may be tempted to go for smaller, but remember that you have to leave a lot of space inside (you can only fill about half way to two-thirds with ingredients), so a 6 quart is really only going to be able to cook 4 quarts, at most. Also, just btw: you will always need to clean and eventually change the seal on any pressure cooker, stovetop or electric.

However, aside from these details, what I noticed particularly was that the ratings for various brands and models varied very little. It seemed like people were pretty happy with whatever they got, for the most part. I bought one (EU model not available in US) on sale for cheap and tried it out, and was pretty happy with it even though it wasn't a top-top brand. In the end, I did end up getting an Instant Pot type (Cosori), though, which I like a lot better. Like you, I felt like I wanted a stovetop version to have more control over the temp, and I also didn't (don't) have enough counter space ... still I use the electronic pressure cooker several times a week, whereas I used the stovetop pressure cooker far less, because it was just so annoying to have to watch it all the time. Now I have both, and use both, but if I could have only one, it's the electronic, hands down.
posted by taz at 1:48 PM on April 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

Fyi for my Indian cooking I tend to make my tadka/tarka in a separate, smaller fry pan. For meats I sear first in the big pan, you can get a fine sear in the pressure cooker I find. I've had scanpan and fagor cookers, both were fine.
posted by smoke at 1:59 PM on April 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I tried using the sautee function on the instant pot once and haven't bothered since. The Stainless pot that it comes with does great on the stovetop for searing (or bringing large volumes of liquid up to temperature fast)
posted by Dmenet at 2:13 PM on April 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've had a reliable and sturdy Kuhn Rikon Duromatic pc for years. It takes some hands-on to keep it at a constant pressure level. It's just ok for browning/searing, but I prefer to do that in a deep non-stick skillet.

(I've heard the Fissler is also a good one).

Also, I have an Instant Pot just because I like to set it and forget it, and makes great juicy chicken from frozen parts quickly. But I know, not up your alley.
posted by artdrectr at 2:59 PM on April 30, 2019

If there is an Indian store near you, they may carry a good stovetop pressure cooker. Or if not, ask the old guy/lady at the counter for their recommendation. Indian grandmas are discriminate about their cooking utensils.
posted by basalganglia at 3:38 PM on April 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

I have a couple of this kind of old Revere Ware pressure cookers.

They are quite heavy gauge stainless, you can set them for 5, 10, or 15 lbs. of pressure with a simple mechanical dial, they have a thicker than other styles of Revere Ware copper coating on the bottom for even heating, and the ring will last indefinitely unless you burn it.

They're only 5 quarts, however. The one behind my link is $30, with $20 shipping to my west coast location.
posted by jamjam at 4:45 PM on April 30, 2019

I stopped using my pressure cooker after I scored an enameled cast-iron dutch oven at a thrift store a few years back - I do the searing in a big fry pan and transfer everything into the dutch oven. It takes a little longer, but I haven't really missed the pressure cooker.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:14 PM on April 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

I make dal in a Le Creuset dutch oven. It's less stressful that way.

I find any kind of pressure cooker (manual or Instant Pot) a giant pain in the arse, particularly having to wait for pressure to go down, the danger of the spurting steam, the bloody whistling, etc.

I cook a lot of indian food and can do anything in either a dutch oven or a frying pan.
I have the Madhur Jaffrey instant pot cookery book on pre-order, so I may re-evaluate after that comes out.
posted by w0mbat at 5:23 PM on April 30, 2019

For a very long time I used a Hawkins brand pressure cooker called the Futra- I got it in India, and brought it over, but you can buy them on Amazon as well. I used to joke that when I was trying to save my marriage I mastered Indian cooking. I have recently switched to cooking Indian food using my Instant Pot. As someone mentioned above, for Dahl, you usually put everything in the pressure cooker, and then make a tarka afterwards (in this) and pour it over the Dahl. There is a woman, of Indian heritage, who has a blog called Two Sleevers that pretty much is all Indian recipes in the Instant Pot, and they are wonderful recipes. I think if you are doing onion heavy curries, then you want to use the stove top, and you would not use a pressure cooker for that.
posted by momochan at 5:23 PM on April 30, 2019

I have a Mirro 8qt PC that belonged to my Grandmother. It's a little noisy because the pressure regulator rattles (it's supposed to). I've replaced the gaskets a few times over the years and it still works great! You have to keep an eye on it as it has no timers etc, so setting a kitchen timer is very, very important.

Yes, you can still buy them.
posted by james33 at 5:40 AM on May 1, 2019

I'm in India and I use either Prestige or Hawkins brands of cookers. I think both are available in Amazon in the US. Inexpensive, and I've never had any problems with either.
posted by 9000condiments at 8:56 AM on May 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

When I wanted to buy my first pressure cooker, there was a review of all the cookers on the (then) market, and the cheapest TEFAL won, hands down, so I bought it. The version I have doesn't exist anymore, but it's similar to this. I love that pot so much it's a joke in my family. Right now I'm not using it because I need a new gasket -- after 5 years of heavy duty, and it bothers me that the postage costs more than the gasket so I'm looking for a brick and mortar store that stocks them. But that would be the same with all products. I also have a WMF that I bought on sale, and it's fine, but I like the TEFAL better. It's easier to use and understand, and it's very easy to keep clean, which is perhaps more important for you than for me. I rarely cook legumes in my pressure cooker, because IMO the time difference with lentils is small and the foam from legumes needs to be cleaned off the mechanical parts of the lid very carefully. For beans, there is a significant advantage in using a pressure cooker, but I'm lazy and buy them tinned even though I like them much more from scratch.
Mostly, I use my pressure cookers for stews and stuff like Bolognese sauce or a veggie equivalent for lasagna. It is such a luxury to have those all-day preparations on a work-day, and sometimes they come out better in the pressure cooker than in a dutch oven.
posted by mumimor at 2:57 PM on May 2, 2019

Oh yeah, I was thinking about cooking this evening and I realized I’d forgotten to write a follow-up to this question.

It turns out I’m an idiot. This house has an electric stove, and a stovetop pressure cooker would be a huge headache to deal with. It didn’t occur to me right away because I’ve never had an electric stove before.

Thanks for all the responses! Thanks for specific recommendations, and thanks for explaining why I wouldn’t need a stovetop pressure cooker (and how I can still do fine without having one at all).

So, in short: if I do eventually get a pressure cooker, it’ll probably be something like an Instant Pot, but I’m in no rush. In the meantime, I’ll save my money until I feel like I really need one.

Thanks again.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:19 AM on June 7, 2019

My Indian mother has cooked for 35 years with a pressure cooker on an electric stovetop. I think hers is the Hawkins brand mentioned above.
posted by basalganglia at 4:50 AM on June 7, 2019

Yeah, I'm not sure why the electric stove would be a problem; it's all I've ever used my pressure cooker with.
posted by metasarah at 8:02 AM on June 7, 2019

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