It’s an easy mistake to confuse the rice cooker for the pressure cooker (or vice-versa). These two handy, versatile kitchen appliances do not cook meals the same way, which is why I want to clearly point out the differences between a rice cooker and a pressure cooker.
Rice cookers and pressure cookers are different in these ways:
- Pressure cookers trap in more steam
- Rice cookers operate at lower temperatures
- Pressure cookers can braise
- Rice cookers can bake
- Pressure cookers require more careful cleaning
- Rice cookers are often perceived as safer
In this full guide to rice cookers and pressure cookers, I’ll describe how both cookers work, then I’ll delve deeper into their differences. I’ll also talk about when to use one over the other, so check it out!
What Is a Rice Cooker Used for?
Rice cookers are used primarily for cooking rice, no surprise there.
What may surprise you is that rice cookers are also adept at heating and cooking rice-like grains, hard-boiled eggs, steamed vegetables, and steamed fish.
Besides that, some rice cooker models can even bake desserts such as bread. Others function like a slow cooker.
Allow me to explain how a rice cooker works. The cooker includes a pot, which is its main body. Inside the pot is an inner cooking container. Also included are a thermostat and an electric heating element.
You pour ingredients into the inner cooking container, usually rice, but the above foods work as well. Then you add water. That’s a key part of the rice cooker’s function.
When you turn on the rice cooker, the water will heat up to boiling temperature, which is 212 degrees Fahrenheit. The temps won’t exceed boiling temperature at that point.
The heat causes the water to be absorbed by the rice, cooking it. Only at that point might the boiling point surpass 212 degrees, in which case, the thermostat activates.
One of two things will happen. Your rice cooker will either shut off to prevent overheating, or it will go into low-power mode. The temperature of the cooker drops to about 150 degrees in low-power mode, keeping your food warm for when you want to eat it.
It’s not unheard of for today’s pricier rice cookers to use induction heating rather than the above method, which is known as resistive heating. Induction heating utilizes magnetic induction for faster cooking.
Higher-end rice cookers might also include extra features for more efficient cooking. For instance, you can pre-rinse your rice in some rice cookers. Steaming trays allow you to separate foods so they don’t get soggy.
Once you get into rice cookers that can slow-cook or bake bread as I mentioned earlier, they’re typically not called rice cookers anymore. At that point, they’d be referred to as multi-cookers, which is a far more accurate moniker.
What Is a Pressure Cooker Used for?
Pressure cookers can be used for cooking grains, porridge, and rice, although a rice cooker does a better job with rice.
If you want to make your own soup or stock, a pressure cooker comes in handy. It can also steam veggies and fish as well as braise stew, chili, or pot roast.
I discussed how pressure cookers work in my post on pressure cookers versus slow cookers, so here’s a brief recap.
A pressure cooker includes a main metal pot, which has at least one valve.
The pot has a lid with a sealing ring or gasket that can create an airtight seal, or the lid handle can lock.
Once the pressure cooker is running, the pressure within the pot alters the water’s boiling point. The temperature within the pressure cooker is higher than 212 degrees.
The valve in a pressure cooker is a pressure release valve. Emergency valves–sometimes several of them–are included with some pressure cookers as well.
The pressure release valve only activates when the temperature you select is achieved. Opening the valve allows the steam to exit and the pressure to lessen in the cooker.
The Differences Between a Rice Cooker and a Pressure Cooker – What You Need to Know
Now that you’re clearer on what rice cookers and pressure cookers can do, I want to take a deep dive into the differences between the two appliances per the intro.
Pressure Cookers Trap in More Steam
Both rice cookers and pressure cookers are reliant on steam to cook your meals.
As you’ll recall, when you pour water into a cup of rice and then turn on a rice cooker, the water evaporates and creates steam.
Since a rice cooker only needs to reach temperatures of 212 degrees (if that), it’s not nearly as reliant on maintaining steam as a pressure cooker is.
After all, it’s that steam that allows a pressure cooker to push the boiling point of water higher than usual. The accumulation of steam is also what drives the pressure, and without that, you don’t have a pressure cooker. Well, not a useful one, anyway.
Rice Cookers Operate at Lower Temperatures
As I established, the boiling point of water is 212 degrees. A rice cooker needs to boil the water you pour into the pot so it can cook your rice.
That’s not to say a rice cooker can’t surpass 212 degrees; it happens each time you use it after the water absorbs. You’ll recall from earlier though that once that happens, the thermostat kicks into gear and tells the rice cooker to go into low-power mode or to turn off entirely.
Thus, the average operating temperature of a rice cooker isn’t too much higher than 212 degrees.
As for pressure cookers, they can increase the boiling point of water as pressure increases. At 15 to 30 pounds per square inch of pressure or PSI, the boiling point of water is now 250 degrees.
It’s unlikely for a pressure cooker’s level of pressure to exceed that, although temperatures can always crawl over 250 degrees. It just likely wouldn’t be by a huge margin.
Pressure Cookers Can Braise
Okay, so technically, you can braise meat in a rice cooker, but not without a lot of time and patience.
You’d have to cut down meat to different sizes and experiment with the various settings of your rice cooker. It’s doable but very time-consuming.
From the get-go though, a pressure cooker can braise foods to perfection. I mentioned earlier that a pressure cooker can braise pot roast as well as stew and chili.
No longer will you have to put up with a slow cooker taking hours to braise when your pressure cooker can use an awesome combo of steam and pressure to do it.
Rice Cookers Can Bake
If you’re in the mood for some dinner rolls or a small chunk of bread rather than a whole crusty loaf, a rice cooker is an excellent appliance.
Yes, I’m serious, a rice cooker can bake bread.
If you’re interested in making rice cooker baking a habit, then I recommend buying a rice cooker with a fermentation temperature setting.
This way, your dough can rise as necessary so you’ll have fluffy, delectable bites of bread.
Pressure Cookers Require More Careful Cleaning
When mealtime is over and you load all your equipment into the sink, you’ll want to watch how you clean a pressure cooker’s gasket.
You can’t follow the same cleaning protocol as when you’d wash a saucepan lid.
You want to rinse food from the gasket every time you use it, ideally right after use. You should also keep the gasket away from kitchen knives to avoid nicking or otherwise damaging it.
Why is that? If the gasket has even a teeny-tiny split, it cannot create an airtight seal. The pressure cooker will be as good as useless.
Even if you take excellent care of your pressure cooker gasket, the average lifespan for this component is about a year.
Rice Cookers Are Often Perceived as Safer
Since pressure cookers use so much steam and pressure–not to mention higher temperatures–this has caused some consumers to fear the appliance.
I’ve discussed on the blog before how the rate of households that own pressure cookers drastically went down from the 1950s to the 2010s.
Fortunately, pressure cookers aren’t likely to explode, especially the models that are on the market today. That said, most consumers would likely still say that a rice cooker is safer. They’re not necessarily wrong.
Rice Cooker vs. Pressure Cooker – Do You Need Both?
Rice cookers and pressure cookers are different enough, so should you buy both appliances or choose one over the other?
If you have the room in your budget (and on your countertop), then I’d suggest purchasing both. After all, rice cookers can do some jobs that pressure cookers can’t and vice-versa.
That said, should you have to choose only one, the pressure cooker is a better bet. Although rice cookers will make creamy, chewy rice better, a pressure cooker can still cook rice. Plus, it has more cooking functions than a rice cooker, so it earns a spot in your kitchen!