Slow cooker vs. pressure cooker: What to know

Slow cookers and pressure cookers are deceptively similar appliances. They both offer convenient ways to craft delicious dishes at home with minimal fuss and without dirtying every pot and pan in your kitchen. But depending on your lifestyle, culinary habits, and other considerations, you may prefer a slow cooker vs. a pressure cooker.

The biggest difference between a slow cooker and a pressure cooker is the rate at which they cook. As the name suggests, slow cookers cook food very slowly. Pressure cookers, on the other hand, use enhanced temperatures and pressure to significantly reduce cooking times.

If you’re stuck trying to decide between bringing home a slow cooker or welcoming a pressure cooker into your kitchen, keep reading for a full breakdown of the differences between the two and how to choose the kitchen appliance that’s best for you. 

What is a slow cooker?

A slow cooker is an electric cooking appliance that uses low temperatures to cook food for an extended period of time. Simply designed and easy to use, slow cookers offer a mostly hands-off cooking experience—all you have to do is add your ingredients, choose from the provided settings, and come back in four to eight hours to a table-ready meal. 

For this reason, slow cookers are especially well-suited for people with busy schedules. You can put your meal together in the morning and have the slow cooker work its magic as you go about your day. 

That said, slow cookers have more to offer than just set-it-and-forget convenience. Because they cook for so long and create a moist cooking environment, they’re perfect for tenderizing tough, fatty meats, such as:

● Chuck roasts

● Lamb shanks

● Pork shoulders

● Short ribs

They’re also an excellent option for anyone who wants an easy, low-maintenance way to make soups, stews, and bread, as well as a range of beverages, including coffee, tea, hot chocolate, cider, and more.

How does a slow cooker work?

A traditional slow cooker can either be manual or programmable. There are a few differences between the two, but they work fairly similar and feature the same basic components:

● A lid – In general, slow cooker lids are made from heavy glass to create a seal that helps retain heat.

 An insert pod – This is the interior of every traditional slow cooker. It’s usually made of stoneware or ceramic and fits inside the base, but it’s removable for easy cleaning.

 A metal heating base – The base of a slow cooker houses the built-in heating element. 

● A wrap-around heating element – The heating element wraps around the entire base so that food cooks evenly without needing to be stirred.

Manual slow cookers feature a dial on the exterior that lets you choose between three temperature settings: low, high, and keep warm. But it’s important to remember that these settings don’t refer to specific temperatures. Instead of cooking at a set temperature the entire time, the temperature of a slow cooker is in a near-constant state of flux—anywhere from approximately 170°F to 280°F.

This can confuse new users, but with slow cookers, time is more important than temperature. The settings “low” and “high” therefore refer to how long the meal needs to cook:

● Low – When you use the low setting, it can take up to eight hours for a meal to fully cook. 

 High – On the high setting, that time is halved to about four hours.

Once the meal is fully cooked, the “keep warm” setting comes into play. In this setting, the slow cooker is no longer actively cooking your meal. Instead, it’s keeping the dish at a safe temperature (above approximately 150°F) until you’re ready to eat. If you have a manual slow cooker, you must switch the setting to “keep warm” yourself. 

Programmable slow cookers are slightly more advanced. In most cases, they’ll offer those same three settings, which can be used manually. However, depending on your model, your programmable slow cooker may feature additional settings that make cooking with the appliance even more convenient. These settings may include:

Countdown timers – These are built-in timers that cue you into how long your meal has been slow cooking. Most manual models don’t have built-in timers, so you’ll need to keep track of the progress on your own.

● Programmable start times – Many programmable models allow you to set your slow cooker to start cooking at a specific time. This is a handy feature if you’re going to be away from the kitchen for eight hours, but your meal only requires four hours to cook. 

● Automatic warmings – Another handy tool for busy home chefs, this setting will automatically switch the cooker from a “low” or “high” setting to a “keep warm” setting when the meal is ready to eat. 

● Temperature probes – These allow you to check the temperature of a meat dish at any point during the cooking process.

What is a pressure cooker?

From the outside, an electric pressure cooker doesn’t look too different from a slow cooker. In fact, the two share a handful of basic elements, such as:

● A removable insert pot

● A base that contains a built-in heating element

● A lid

But whereas slow cookers cook food as slowly as possible, pressure cookers are designed to speed up the cooking process, cutting down cook times by about 30% on average. If you want to cook delicious meals in a fraction of the time, a stovetop or electric pressure cooker is the way to go. 

How does a pressure cooker work?

Pressure cookers work by harnessing the power of steam heating to rapidly cook food. They feature airtight lids that prevent steam from a boiling liquid from escaping the pot, allowing pressure to build up inside. This pressure then pushes the temperature of boiling water (or another liquid) and steam past 212°F to up to 250°F. The temperature and pressure limit depends on the model.

Another distinction between a pressure cooker and slow cooker is that, aside from being airtight, the lids on pressure cookers also feature a steam release valve. This is an integral part of the design as it regulates the pressure and allows the steam inside the pot to escape when cooking is completed. 

Before navigating how to use a pressure cooker, it’s important to distinguish the different types. Like slow cookers, there are two styles of pressure cookers:

 Stovetop pressure cooker – These models have been around for years. They’re placed on your stovetop and use heat from the burners to boil liquid and create steam. With stovetop models, you’ll generally have to adjust the steam valve yourself to release the steam after cooking is complete. 

 Electric pressure cooker – An electric pressure cooker is a countertop appliance that plugs into an electrical outlet. Electric pressure cookers come in a variety of designs and have a variety of cooking capabilities. Most also feature enhanced safety settings like automatic, hands-free steam release valves.

Modern-day pressure cookers are extremely versatile kitchen appliances that allow you to cook almost anything your heart desires, from meat dishes like pot roasts and short ribs to vegetables, pasta, and even dessert.

How to choose between a slow cooker vs. pressure cooker 

Slow cookers and pressure cookers are handy appliances that can help streamline home cooking—but which is right for you? When it comes to pressuring cooking vs. slow cooking, here are a few factors you should consider:

Cooking volume – How much food do you intend to cook per meal? Slow cookers and pressure cookers come in a variety of sizes up to eight quarts, but pressure cookers need extra room inside the pot for the steam to accumulate, which limits the batch size. If you have a large family or plan on making soups and stews you can store for later, you may be better served by a slow cooker. 

Meal planning – With slow cookers, you’ll need to plan out your meal in advance. If you enjoy prepping your meal in the morning and letting it cook all day so that it’s ready by dinner time, go with a slow cooker. Conversely, a pressure cooker might be the better option if you want an easy way to make healthy meals without much planning.

Cooking time – How long do you have to cook a meal? If it’s a busy weeknight and you need to get dinner on the table quickly, few things are as convenient as a pressure cooker. On the other hand, using a slow cooker to have a meal ready and waiting for you at the end of a long day is its own time-saving convenience. 

Versatility – Pressure cookers and slow cookers are both fairly versatile in enabling you to make different dishes. That said, most modern pressure cookers are actually multi-cookers. This means they perform a range of cooking functions, from steaming, searing, and sauteing, to braising, baking, and more.

Energy use – Energy use is another factor you should consider when deciding between getting a slow cooker vs. a pressure cooker. If minimizing your energy consumption is important, a pressure cooker is an ideal choice—you’ll be shaving hours off of the time it takes to cook a meal.

Slow cooking or pressure cooking, make every moment delicious with Breville

The days of having to decide between a slow cooker and pressure cooker are over. Breville’s line of precision multi-cookers put you in control of your kitchen with an all-in-one appliance that’s capable of doing both—and so much more.

If you’re looking to outfit your kitchen with tools and appliances that help you make the most of every meal, there’s only one name you need to know: Breville. Explore our collection today.



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2. Digital Trends. What is a pressure cooker and how do you use it?

3. Food Network. 14 Tips for Slow Cooker Meals.

4. For Dummies. How a Slow Cooker Works.

5. University of Minnesota Extension. Slow cookers and food safety.

6. The Spruce Eats. How to Use an Automatic Timer With a Slow Cooker.

7. The Spruce. How to Buy a Slow Cooker or Crockpot.

8. Hip Pressure Cooking. The Difference Between Stovetop and Electric Pressure Cookers.

9. U.S. News & World Report. Instant Pot Vs. Slow Cooker: Which Is Better?

10. For Dummies. Pressure Cookers For Dummies Cheat Sheet.

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Slow cooker vs. pressure cooker: what to know