Easier isn't always better when it comes choosing a Pressure Cooker. Ask yourself this 1 question before you buy!
Do you prefer the ease of an electric pressure cooker or the accuracy of a stove top model? That's really what it boils down to!
If you are new to pressure cooking you may initially want to jump straight into the electric model because it seems like it does all of the work for you. However, as you become comfortable cooking with pressure and begin to experiment with more involved recipes you may regret your decision.
To illustrate my point, let's take an example of a 3-pound pot roast with potatoes, carrots and onions. Using a stove top model, you would put the pot on the stove and turn it to high, add oil and sear the roast on all sides. You would then add the liquid of your choice, stir until boiling, put the lid onto the cooker and choose which pressure setting you want; most modern models have a 2-setting dial located on the handle or lid.
Once steam is emitting from the top of the cooker (indicating that pressure is reached), you would turn the cooker to medium low and cook for the desired time; 40 minutes in this instance. At the end of that time, you would set the pot in the sink and run cold water over it to reduce the temperature and thus the pressure. You would then open the lid, add the vegetables, close the lid, bring back to pressure, cook another 5-7 minutes, release the pressure under water again and voila...you are done!
Not so bad but kind of complicated, huh? The tricky part is calculating the cook time and regulating the temperature on the stove top. An electric pressure cooker it will self-regulate so you don't have to adjust the heat on the stovetop. Plus, many electric models have preprogrammed cook-time buttons which eliminate the need to refer to recipes or manuals for cooking time guidelines.
So why would anyone use a stovetop model? Because you CAN regulate the heat! In the example of the pot roast, first, we were able to sear the beef in the pot over high. Many electric models may appear to be able to sear foods, a must for good results, but in reality you can sear only for the amount of time it takes to reach the temperature dictated by the programmed button. This forces you to continually stop and start the unit. Once the meat is seared, just as in the stovetop model, you add the liquid, put the lid on and set the pressure, but...the unit will stay on very high heat until the pressure is reached and because the lid is on, you cannot stir the contents so some foods will burn. In a stovetop model, once the contents are boiling and have been throughly stirred, you can lower the temperature and let the pressure slowly come up which reduces the chance of burning.
Once the cooking time has elapsed and it is time to release the pressure, you cannot run water over the electric model so you must either wait until the temperature drops naturally or open the valve and let the high pressure steam out. While this quick release method is completely safe, it is still very scary to many people and can be messy if the steam is oily or starchy. Plus, some foods such as beans and rice should not be subjected to the quick release method leaving o your only choice is to wait for the heat to dissipate naturally.
At this point in the recipe, just as in the stove top illustration, you will need to add the potatoes and carrots and go through the process again but this time choosing a quicker cooking button for vegetables.
Finally, the results. Preprogrammed buttons are only as good as the programmer. Unfortunately many pressure cookers are manufactured overseas and, either due to fluctuations in culinary preferences or the lack of proper language translations, more often than not, the settings will not yield the results you want.
3 things to look for if you decide to purchase an electric model with preprogrammed functions. First, make sure that the manual lists the cooking time of each setting. Second, check those listed times against a pressure cooking time chart for accuracy and third, purchase one that also has the option to set your own time.
Ultimately it comes down to personal preference. Would you rather put everything in, push a button and be done with it...knowing that you may have to add more cooking time and you only have two choices of pressure release (really fast or really slow)?
Or would you rather stand and watch the stovetop model until the pressure is perfectly regulated but have the food cooked correctly the first time and have another (better) option for pressure release?
Personally? I have both! If I want to cook a brisket or other large cut of meat for an hour...electric. If I want to cook fast vegetables or slow beans that could stick and burn...stovetop. I use both because somedays I have time to babysit the stove and sometimes I just don't.