Pressure Cookers

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2010 • all rights reserved

5 important considerations in buying a pressure cooker, and the best pressure cookers

Modern pressure cookers are safe to use, without the dangers of “blowing up” that they had 50 years ago.  Locking lids, easy-to-read pressure indications and pressure relief valves all make them safer.  Most feature a quick pressure release mechanism so that you don’t have to use precious water to cool them down.

I’ll be honest: I don’t use a pressure cooker that often, and when I do, it’s more because it has a locking lid. It’s just not my style. But I do see a lot of advantages in one, particularly in using less propane (or other cooking fuel).

That said, I have used one on occasion for most of our cruising years, and want to include some points to consider if you want to buy one. It’s not that I think there is anything wrong with them; they just don’t fit my cooking style as much as other things, such as a Thermal Cooker

The size pressure cooker you need is dependent on several factors:  number of people on board, what you want to cook in the pressure cooker and the stowage space available.  For two of us, I bought an 8-quart pressure cooker and it was just too big – the food filled it less than half full and I had no convenient place to store it and thus didn’t use it many times when it would have been helpful.

A very important safety consideration is not to buy a bigger pot than will fit in your pot restraints – you absolutely don’t want a pressure cooker flying across the boat!

I’ve seen pressure cookers ranging in size from very small (1-1/2 quarts) to large enough for home canning.  Pressure cookers can be filled no more than 2/3 full – they need at least 1/3 air space to work correctly.  The most useful size for two people is probably 4 or 6 quarts (visualize a gallon — 4-quart — milk jug and think if it’d be large enough for what you’d want to cook).  If you’re going to use recipes designed for a pressure cooker, most are designed for a 6-quart size.  If you’re simply going to adapt your own recipes, or ones designed for stove top cooking, you can use whatever size best fits.  Are you going to want to cook a whole chicken?  If so, and if you have room to stow it, you’ll need a larger pressure cooker.

Pressure. The better pressure cookers use 15 pounds of pressure, meaning that foods cook at 257 degrees Farenheit.  More importantly, unless stated otherwise, pressure cooker recipes assume 15 psi in their timing.  Many cheaper pressure cookers use 12 psi and cooking times in recipes have to be increased by 20%.

Some pressure cookers have two pressure settings:  one at 15 psi and another lower setting for “delicate” foods.  In general, those “delicate” foods are generally better cooked traditionally, but if your goal is simply reducing cooking time for everything, they are worth looking at.

It’s helpful if the cooker has an easy-to-read pressure indicator.  This lets you know that things are working correctly AND when it’s safe to open the pressure cooker.  Older ones just used the “jiggling” of the pressure weight to show if there was pressure, which was hard for novices to correctly interpret.

Material. As always with things to be used in a boat galley, high quality stainless steel is best.  Many pressure cookers are stainless, but some are still aluminum.  Aluminum pans can’t be used with acidic foods such as tomatoes as the acidity in the tomato will cause a reaction with the aluminum, causing the tomatoes to absorb some of the aluminum and the aluminum to pit.  I’ve never seen a pressure cooker with a non-stick interior.

Safety Features. Most of the following are common sense, but they gain added importance aboard a boat.

  • Don’t buy a pressure cooker that is too big for your pot restraints.  A pressure cooker flying around the boat is even more dangerous than a regular pan.
  • Don’t buy a pressure cooker that is too large for you to comfortably lift when fully loaded, even if the boat is rolling some.
  • Make sure the cooker has two handles so you can lift it with both hands.
  • The lid must lock.

Other Features. Some pressure cookers have steamer inserts, pasta baskets and trivets for cooking special items.

Best Pressure Cookers (available from

  • Fagor Duo Stainless Pressure Cookers, available in a variety of sizes, have heavy bottoms, with less tendency to scorch food when browning it, two pressure settings, high-quality stainless steel construction and good handles for lifting heavy pots, particularly if the boat is rolling a bit.
  • Best Budget Pressure Cookers:  The Presto Stainless Steel Pressure Cookers cost about 1/3 less than the Fagor Duo for the same size.  The sacrifice is that the bottoms aren’t as heavy and require more attention if you’re pre-browning food so it doesn’t scorch, the handles aren’t as convenient, and there is just one pressure setting.
  • Small Pressure Cookers:  If you really need a small pressure cooker and don’t mind aluminum (or don’t intend to use it with acidic foods like tomatoes), the Hawkins Aluminum pressure cookers come in sizes as small as 1-1/2 quarts.
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  1. I love my Fagor Duo! Best purchase I’ve made for our galley (besides the oven conversion from CNG to propane). Brown rice now only takes 12 minutes, instead of 30+ minutes. I could not recommend it enough. Thanks for the tips!

    • I have a Fagor Duo and love it!! I did have another brand and it split down the sides. I am VERY glad it did it when it was not under pressure with superheated food inside. Don’t know what happened – something about where it was stored? but scarily dangerous!!

    • We love ours is well. Going on having it 10 years and use it all the time. We don’t always use the pressure cooker feature, but we use the pots probably every day.

  2. Amazing. I have been looking for a small PCooker that will fit in my 8″ wide Sea Swing Kero stove with no luck. The Hawkins 1.5L is perfect. How is it that I never heard of Hawkins even after googling pressure cookers dozens of times.

    Oh well, thanks for the tip!

    • Carolyn Shearlock says:

      Glad to be of help! I understand about trying to find things . . . I sometimes wonder where the hours went when I’m looking for something.


  3. Cuisinart makes an electric pressure cooker that you can also use as a crock pot, and you don’t have to worry about how much room is on your stove. We got ours from Costco for about $60 in store, which is a lot less than the $90-$100 I see it advertised for elsewhere. This is a good option if you like the idea of a pressure cooker but are nervous about the safety issues even with the safeguards of the newer stovetop models (which are very safe, but still make many people uncomfortable.) It has low and high pressure modes, as well as a saute mode to brown food before sealing it up and cooking under pressure. It also has a simmer mode.

    • Carolyn Shearlock says:

      Before buying an electric pressure cooker, be sure you’ll have enough power for it! Few boats have sufficient solar or wind power, or want to run a generator long enough to produce the power needed. But if you’re at a dock with shore power, this could be an option.

  4. Steve Denney says:

    Kuhn Rikon from Switzerland makes a nice pressure cooker.

  5. Sami Bolton says:

    We have a Fagor 8qt with the two pots, and strainer. A fantastic piece of equipment that cleans up like its new. We use both the ‘frying pan’ lower sided pan just about every day but not always as a pressure cooker. The larger
    ‘pot’ gets used often and again not always as a pressure cooker….. those two pieces and a small non-stick and small sauce pan are enough to have onboard for us, and we cook a LOT.

    Just my opinion, go ahead and spend the money on a high quality pressure cooker. You will have it for years and years. I can not say enough good things about the Fagor brand.

    m/v Deja vu

  6. I have been doing a bit more pressure cooking at home these days to get use to it and test some recipes. I love the idea of using less fuel and spending less time cooking and heating up the galley. Mine is a 6 qt SS Revere. I’m always on the lookout for good recipes and smart ways to convert recipes.

  7. Gotta get one of these soon .. thanks for the info!

  8. LaMarr Harding says:

    I’ve used my Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker the most. It’s about 10 inch and the bottom is shallow like a fry pan so it does dual duty.

    Rice is simple just add rice and 2 times the water, bring to pressure, sit aside until pressure drops and I have perfect rice.

  9. Sami Bolton on Facebook says:

    It is not a piece of equipment you should be cheap with buying…..get the best.

  10. I love my Kuhn Rikon PC and have cooked successfully with both on and off the boat. Very efficient for “fast food” and heavy stainless so it can be used as a dutch oven or deep frying pan and cleans up like a dream. Curious, what do you have that you are not so pleased with?

    • The one I got was an 8-quart one and the reason I didn’t like it was that it was just too big to fit into any convenient storage area . . . so it was a total pain to get out or put away, and it was too large for almost anything that I’d make for just two people. I used it some, but if I’d had one that was just a little smaller, it would have fit into the storage area right in the galley and I would have used it a lot more, particularly in rolly anchorages where I would have loved the locking lid.

  11. I have a 6 Qt. Fissler Pressure Cooker. It has a blue button that raises up to the first white line for medium and the second white line for high. Very simple. It has 2 handles that don’t get hot so it is easy to lift off the stove. It is great on the boat because it isn’t too big and it cooks fast so you don’t use much propane. Some of our favorite meals are ribs, stew, and beer can chicken. Love it!

  12. Capt Rich says:

    I love my old 6 quart S/S Presto pressure cooker on board. Yes, it is large…but that’s what I need on occasion. Large enough to steam a whole Maine lobster, and just the right pot to steam clams or mussels…I use sea water when possible. I also use it to make faux baked potatoes by wrapping them in aluminum foil and cooking for 10 minutes. If I want steamed potatoes, I just peel and cut into small chunks and cook for 7 minutes.
    It saves me time, water and stove fuel (alcohol stove) and it’s my one “go to” pot.
    PS. Having said all that…this is one pot that I never use under way.

  13. Frances Garrett says:

    I’m lucky……I grew up with pressure cookers……the old Mirro-Matic, with the jiggler on top and three settings (15, 10, and 5 psi). Since I grew up with my mom using them all the time…..I knew how they should sound when they are “jiggling”. I have multiple sizes at home (all inherited from my mom), and keep a 4 qt on the boat. I also use it without pressure to cook and drain pasta.

  14. I’ve just discovered the Indian pressure cooker. These cookers “whistle,” which is a release of pressure from time to time. You use the ‘whistles’ as an indicator of cooking duration.

    The way it works is that you put your food in as usual, shut the lid, and put the weight on the tube. Turn the heat all the way up. When the pot reaches pressure, -WHOOSH!- the weight slides up and ‘whistles,’ then dropping immediately back down to re-pressurize. Turn the heat down to half or so, and begin counting whistles from the next ‘whistle.’ Peas/pulses/legumes are about three whistles, tough meats more like five.

    The PRESTIGE brand is a good one, and you can get these at Prices are competitive/low, and they are well made and simple. Parts are via Amazon too. The PRESTIGE cookers are sized by volume, which includes under-the-lid space, so you might get one a bit larger than the comparable western style. HAWKINS is another well known brand, but I’ve only tried the PRESTIGE (I have two – a 2L and a 6L).

    Scares the cats, too. It’s quite funny.

  15. Hi all! I’m new to the idea of using a pressure cooker for everyday cooking. We bottled meats and vegetables when I was a kid, but that is the extent of my experience. My husband and I are setting off for a year of cruising in just under a year. I would love to hear a bit more about other uses for pressure cookers and how valuable off shore cruisers have found a pressure cooker to be in ther galley. I’m trying to figure out if this is a valuable space and financial investment. Thanks so much!

  16. Hi all! I’m new to the idea of using a pressure cooker for everyday cooking. We bottled meats and vegetables when I was a kid, but that is the extent of my experience. My husband and I are setting off for a year of cruising in just under a year. I would love to hear a bit more about other uses for pressure cookers and how valuable off shore cruisers have found a pressure cooker to be in ther galley. I’m trying to figure out if this is a valuable space and financial investment. Thanks so much!!

  17. Good article!

  18. Great piece of kit for our boat.

  19. I own and love a Hawkins 3 liter Classic Aluminum. Greatest downside would be the aluminum factor, as mentioned in your article, which also impacts searing of meat prior to pressure cooking. But as a veteran of pressure cooking and as someone who rarely eats meats, I have to say that the upside to the design and performance of the Hawkins far outweigh the disadvantages to me. The lid design is pure genius, and the unit fits in the small cabinet of my old boat.

    Thanks for the never-ending wealth of information. Love your articles!

  20. tOM Trottier says:

    1. You can cook one dish in a pressure cooker – or several at the same time! Steam at pressure cooks everything inside. Look up “heat pipes” on wikipedia.
    Look for triangular pans if you can for easy placement, but you can just float round or square ones one atop the other.
    My “skyline” pressure cooker, made for campers, came with 3 triangular pans with bumps for legs and a trivet you could place on top to put fish or whatever on top.

    2. Since it is the steam which cooks, items not absorbing water need only a cm or so of water on the bottom. Put veggies, meat, in a bowl or pan on the water to avoid any burning.

    3. If you use a stainless pan inside an aluminum pressure cooker, you can cook tomatoes, lemons, and other high-acid foods with no problems.

    4. For totally fuel-less cooking, you can put heated foods in a thermos bottle – or use a BIG “thermal cooker” like which you can seal up against spills. You do have to make enough to keep it hot tho.

  21. tOM Trottier says:

    PS, big Thermal Cookers are more commonly available in chinatown than anywhere else.

  22. Lynn Clough says:

    Have you or anyone else tried the Halulite 2.7L or 5.8L pressure cookers? They seem to be very light. I saw them at the local marine supply store yesterday.

    • I haven’t, but every GSI product that I’ve used I’ve liked (and that’s the company that makes them). It’s a hard anodized non-reactive aluminum alloy, so should be good (I don’t like non-anodized aluminum as it can react with acidic foods, particularly tomatoes). It gets good reviews on Amazon and Campmor.

      The 5.7L size is the “typical” pressure cooker size and what most pressure cooker recipes are written for. The 2.7L size is less than a gallon — and you have to allow air space at the top, so there’s not much room for food.

      If you decide to get it, I’d love to hear how you like it!

  23. Question for you: I’ve always had problems with cooking dried beans. As beans are a big part of our diet, I’ve pretty well always just bought canned. Now that we are looking at cruising soon, I’m curious……will the pressure cooker work even on those suborn dried beans? Especially when you have no idea how old they might be. Looking for some reassurance that spending money on a good pressure cooker will be worth it.

  24. Stacey

    pressure cookers will do dried beans just fine. This website has lots of pressure cooking tips and some recipes you’d never thought to do in a cooker

  25. I’ve had a Fagor stainless Steel pressure cooker (single pot) for 7 years now and it’s wonderful. Great article!

  26. Dan Tbomas says:

    Now that you are on the Gemini what size coo!er fits the stove on it? I am getting one for Christmas for our Gemini and was wondering what size fits. Thinking about the 6 qt fagor duo.

  27. Llook for a best pressure cooker with a quick release option built into the pressure regulator. With the pressure quickly equalized the option will allow the addition of other ingredients from the recipe and then allow the cooking to resume with the switch back to pressure cooking. If overpressure occurs modern pressure cookers vent excess steam from a valve stem with an audible “hiss”. If pressure were to continue to rise the sealing gasket on a modern pressure cooker would be pushed out through a designed safety aperture in the lid safely venting the pressure.

  28. I recently got a Hawkins Brand tainless steel pressure cooker in a 3-liter size because this was the only brand I could find that allowed for it to be used over cooking fires or charcoal fires. (I bought it as a gift for my niece who lives off-grid in Zambia.) We used it together on her charcoal brazier several times and I grew to appreciate the little thing. It’s one of the whistling type mentioned above.

    I liked it because 1) it’s little, 2) unlike a conventional pressure cooker lid style, this lid has an o-ring ONTOP of the lid, and the lid sits inside of the pan rim, so as the pressure increases, the lid (and o-ring) are pushed more and more tightly against the pot rim making a better and better seal. 3) replacement parts are really cheap compared to the pressure cooker I use on my boat. For example, I got a replacement handle assembly, o-ring, whistle weight, pressure valve, and emergency pressure release valve all together for less than $25.
    4) it worked great over a charcoal fire.
    One thing to be aware of with this brand though, the whistling action lets off a burst of steam every 20-30 seconds, so I found it required slightly more water than the more traditional pressure cooker I use on the boat does.

  29. Carolyn,

    Do you know if the Hawkins are dual pressure cookers? A small one would be almost as nice as a larger one.


  30. Hawkins stainless steel 2 sizes use both- found at great prices in an Indian market Devon st Chicago. Great performance.

  31. Sandy Gordon says:

    I use the Hawkins Futura 5 liter pressure cooker on board almost every day. I’m still not sure what the material is (“anodized”), but it is “almost non stick” and cleans up easily, and works very well (be sure to read the book that comes with it to understand how to use it). I have 2 of the same model PC on board, plus additional spare parts (none of which I’ve needed in 2.5 years). It is the one that is pictured at the top of Carolyn’s article, a very handsome design. I use the PC more often than any other pot or pan. My only issue is that it’s large and my galley sink is small (because it’s divided), so make sure whatever you get fits in your sink!

  32. Ive had great luck with my camp pressure cooker from GSI. Small and compact; it has done well in limited boat space.

    See it on Amazon:

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