Slow Cooker vs Pressure Cooker – Which to Use and When?

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Slow cookers and pressure cookers can be used to cook the same types of food, but the cooking methods are very different.

A pressure cooker uses hot steam and pressure to quickly cook food, saving time over conventional cooking methods. Slow cookers, on the other hand, use lower temperatures and longer cooking times to slowly cook food.

Pressure cookers and slow cookers might seem similar, but they have very distinct uses. Despite their differences, pressure cooking and slow cooking are convenient ways to get dinner on the table.

Both methods have their advantages. In this article, I’ll explain the difference between pressure cookers and slow cookers, when to use one or the other, and why you should have both appliances in your kitchen arsenal. I’ll also answer some frequently asked questions.

Ready to get started? Let’s jump right in.

Which is Better, a Slow Cooker or Pressure Cooker?

Slow cooker vs pressure cooker which is better

The answer depends on your cooking style and what food you plan to cook. Use the guide below to decide which appliance is better for you.

Are you someone who likes to plan ahead? Do you have a pocket of time in the morning to prepare food or at night to prepare for the next day? If so, you should use a slow cooker.

Do you forget to prep food ahead of time? Do you prefer to eat immediately after you cook? If that’s you, you’d be better off using a pressure cooker.

The big difference between slow cookers and pressure cookers is time. Slow cookers require several hours for the cooking process, so you have to do your meal prep in advance.

One additional consideration is portability. Slow cookers can be transported and plugged in anywhere with an electrical outlet, so they’re great for potlucks. Stovetop pressure cookers, on the other hand, are not portable.

Electric pressure cookers can be transported, but the timing can be trickier. If you need an appliance that you can carry to a gathering, I recommend a slow cooker.

What to Cook in a Slow Cooker

You can cook all types of foods in a slow cooker. From stews, soups, and pot roast, to dried beans, pulled pork, or braised beef. Slow cookers can handle almost anything.

You should avoid putting frozen meats directly into a slow cooker, according to the USDA. Defrost all ingredients first to prevent harmful bacteria growth and to promote even cooking.

It’s also not a good idea to cook rice, pasta, dairy, or soft herbs with a slow cooker. The pasta and rice won’t cook evenly. Plus, they only require a few minutes on the stovetop, so it doesn’t save you much time or energy. The soft herbs will wilt, while the dairy will curdle. Yuck!

Looking for slow cooker recipes? Check out this slow cooker pot roast, slow cooker chili, or crock pot chicken and rice. Each recipe is easy to prep, tasty, and healthy.

What to Cook in a Pressure Cooker

You can cook almost anything in a pressure cooker, but many people use it to cook things that normally take a long time with any other cooking method. Foods like dried beans, squash, mashed potatoes, stews, stocks, artichokes, chicken, and tough cuts of meat.

Since pressure cookers use high heat and pressurized steam to cook food, they are less effective with delicate foods like fish or green vegetables. They’re also not suited for things that require dry heat, like popcorn, or foods that sputter, spit, and foam, like noodles or rice.

You can put thin strips of frozen meat in a pressure cooker, but be sure to completely cover the pieces with liquid and check the internal temperature to make sure it reaches a minimum safe internal temp.

If you need a pressure cooker recipe, you can find over 100 recipes here. These are designed to be cooked with Instant Pots or electric pressure cookers.

Slow cooker vs pressure cooker

Can a Pressure Cooker Replace a Slow Cooker?

Pressure cookers can cook many of the same recipes as a slow cooker–meats, stew, soups, chicken, and more. Nonetheless, there is a big difference in how these appliances work.

I would suggest having a slow cooker and a pressure cooker in your kitchen. If you have limited storage space, you might invest in an Instant Pot or another multi-cooker that can function as both appliances.

What Can a Pressure Cooker Do That a Slow Cooker Can’t?

The biggest advantage of pressure cooking versus slow cooking is time. Pressure cookers can cook food in significantly less time than slow cookers. This is especially helpful with things like dried beans which require soaking time and long cooking times.

Another advantage of electric pressure cookers like the Instant Pot is that they are multi-functional. An electric pressure cooker is an appliance that can pull double duty as a pressure cooker and slow cooker, but it can also function as a rice cooker, yogurt maker, sauté pan, and more.

If you live in high altitudes, you might notice a difference in the performance of pressure cookers and slow cookers. You might prefer a pressure cooker in order to cook lentils, beans, and more. A slow cooker cooks at low temperatures, which won’t be high enough to cook food in higher altitudes.

Is a Slow Cooker the Same as a Crock Pot?

There is no difference between a slow cooker and a crock pot. The terms are used interchangeably. They both refer to a countertop appliance designed for cooking on low heat over several hours.

The Crock-Pot brand was the original company to make slow cookers with a heavy ceramic insert. So some people might use the term “crockpot” to refer to a heavy ceramic pot.

Nowadays, however, you can find crock pots in a variety of materials, including stainless steel and aluminum. Not sure which material is right for you? Check out my comparison of two All-Clad crock pots, one with a ceramic liner and one with an aluminum liner.

How Slow Cooking Works

Crockpot with food cooking inside

The slow-cooking method delivers tender, moist, and delicious foods. The way it works is simple.

The typical slow cooker has a base that includes the heating element, cooking internal vessel, and glass lid. The vessel is where the food goes to slow cook. It might be constructed of ceramic stoneware, nonstick aluminum, or even stainless steel.

The food cooks similarly to how a stovetop Dutch oven cooks food. But in a slow cooker, the heat begins at the base and works its way up the sides.

The hot steam generated is sealed in by the lid, and the moisture recirculates. Low and consistent temperatures prevent liquid from evaporating or becoming concentrated.

That’s why slow cooking is great for tougher meats. Those tough cuts have lots of connective tissue that breaks down and gelatinizes at low heat. So instead of a tough, chewy texture, you get a perfect piece of tender meat.

How Pressure Cooking Works

Pressure cooker on the stove

Pressure cookers aren’t magical, although they might seem like it. Instead, it all comes down to physics.

Pressure cookers consist of a pot with a locking lid and a tight seal. The lid confines pressure inside the pot. A valve on top of the lid controls the amount of pressure that can build inside.

In years past, pressure cookers featured a valve covered by a weighted fitting that rattled and hissed when the pressure inside the pot was high enough to push steam out of the vent. These were known as “jiggle-top” cookers. This system was effective but potentially dangerous. If someone tried to lift the cover before the contents lost pressure, it could result in burned hands. Ouch!

Nowadays, modern pressure cookers feature a steam release valve and other systems that make them absolutely safe. Locking lids prevent the cover from being removed until the pressure is at a safe level. Increased safety measures also might include visual signals and high-pressure warnings.

So what happens during the cooking process?

At normal air pressure, liquids boil at a temperature of 212°F (100°C). When the pressure increases, the boiling point of liquids also rises. For instance, in a pressure cooker with 15 PSI (pounds per square inch) of internal pressure, water boils at a higher temperature, at 248°F (120°C).

Confining the pressure inside the cooker increases the temperature of the steam that’s released when the liquid reaches a boiling point. This means that food is cooked significantly faster than when it’s cooked uncovered, saving up to 70% of cooking time when compared to standard cooking methods.

Pressure cooking is great for cooking meat, beans, stews, and other recipes that normally require long cooking times. It’s also geared for foods that cook well in liquid.

Is a Crock Pot a Pressure Cooker?

No. A crock pot is another term for a slow cooker. This means a crock pot is designed to slow cook at a low temperature over several hours. The term “crock pot” originated from the brand Crock Pot, which was the first to use a heavy ceramic inner cooking pot.

Rice Cookers vs. Slow Cookers

Both slow cookers and rice cookers make life easier by allowing you to “set it and forget it.” Some rice cookers even have a slow cooker function, but the biggest difference between the two is in the type of heat they create.

Slow cookers use the “low and slow” method to cook meats, root vegetables, and more. Rice cookers, on the other hand, bring ingredients to a rapid boil to create steam needed for fluffy rice and steamed vegetables.

If you cook rice on a daily basis, you might like having a dedicated rice cooker. Otherwise, slow cookers will be more versatile. Some people would benefit from having both appliances, but that largely depends on what types of food you cook most frequently.

Can You Use an Instant Pot as a Slow Cooker?

InstantPot on the table

Can you? Absolutely. Even though an Instant Pot is primarily designed to be an electric pressure cooker, it has a separate slow cooker function.

But should you use an Instant Pot as a slow cooker? That’s debatable. To understand why, it’s important to understand the difference in how these appliances work.

A slow cooker heats from the bottom sides, spreading all over the insert. A slow cooker lid is also vented to allow evaporation to escape as it cooks.

An Instant Pot heats from the bottom, but the thin metal pot is designed to create steam and cook quickly. Even though Instant Pot sells vented glass lids to use with the slow cooker setting, you still want to keep your Instant Pot on venting instead of sealed.

If you’re using your Instant Pot as a slow cooker, you’ll want to use less liquid when adjusting slow cooker recipes. There won’t be as much evaporation as in slow cookers. But be sure to include liquid! Instant Pots needs at least a cup of broth, water, etc. to give moisture to the contents inside.

Can I Pressure Cook after Slow Cooking?

Yes, you can. Let’s say you put your dinner in the slow cooker for eight hours, but the meat still isn’t done after the cooking time. You don’t have two more hours to finish slow-cooking the meat before mealtime, so what do you do?

You pressure cook it, of course!

To pressure cook your dishes after being in the slow cooker, transfer the dish from the slow cooker into your pressure cooker. Use the pressure cooker according to the instructions. In this case, I recommend using electric pressure cookers, like Instant Pots, over stovetop pressure cookers.

Since you’ve already partially cooked the dish, you’re just finishing it off in the pressure cooker to maintain the flavor. Cooking meat in this way can be especially effective, delivering tender cuts with better flavor.

It’s important to consider how long the recipe has already been in the slow cooker. If you’re already past the halfway mark of the cooking process, you’ll want to halve the time normally required in the pressure cooker.

A big caveat. It is absolutely possible to overcook dishes in the pressure cooker, so you must keep an eye on it as you finish off your slow-cooked food. Otherwise, you might turn dinner into a flavorless, mushy mess or a dried-out dish with chewy meat. Yuck!

Can You Use a Rice Cooker as a Slow Cooker?

Technically, you can use a rice cooker as a slow cooker. However, you’ll need to adjust the time and temperature of slow cooker recipes, which may prove more hassle than it’s worth.

Rice cookers cook food at a higher temperature than slow cookers, so you’ll have to switch between the boil and warm settings. Some rice cookers have a separate slow-cooking function, but many do not.

If your rice cooker does not have a slow-cook option, follow the steps below to slow cook dishes in your rice cooker:

  • Fill the rice cooker. Place all your ingredients in the bowl, filling it no more than halfway. You can include meats, veggies, fruits, spices, etc. Close the lid.
  • Set the rice cooker to boil. Turn your rice cooker to its lowest setting. The idea is to cook the meal as you normally would. You can expect approximately 20 to 30 minutes of cooking time, but it will vary among rice cooker models.
  • Once the food starts to simmer, turn the rice cooker down to the “Low” or “Warm” setting.
  • Leave the rice cooker on warm for 45-60 minutes, checking to make sure it doesn’t dry out or boil over. You may have to make adjustments to the heat during this process.
  • After an hour, lift the lid and check the temperature of the food. If the food isn’t cooked to your liking, you may have to let it simmer for a longer time.

In short, you can use a rice cooker as a slow cooker, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Unless it has a separate slow-cook function, the rice cooker is best used exclusively for rice cooking.

Can You Use a Pressure Cooker as a Slow Cooker?

That depends on which type of pressure cooker we’re talking about. Stovetop pressure cookers do not make good slow cookers. If you’d like to prepare slow cooker meals on the stovetop, a Dutch oven would be much better for those types of dishes.

If you’re talking about electric pressure cookers, then yes. Instant Pots and other multi-cookers often feature a slow cooker option that cooks at low heat. It’s important to follow the instruction manual to get the best results.

Need help to decide between a stovetop pressure cooker and an Instant Pot? Check out my in-depth comparison of Instant Pots vs. pressure cookers.

Slow Cooker vs. Pressure Cooker: Final Thoughts

Whether you prefer slow cookers or pressure cookers, both can deliver a delicious, hot meal, with very little energy.

Ready to start slow cooking? Visit my guide to the best slow cookers. For pressure cooking, check out my recommendations for stovetop pressure cookers