What Pressure Cooker Size Do I Need?

So you know that cooking a Cornish game hen in a 20-quart pressure cooker probably isn't the bet idea and you know you shouldn't stuff a small pressure cooker full to the brim. These points are obvious but getting the size right on all the stuff in between is the hard part.

girl holding a pressure cooker on a stovetop

Stick with me here and I'll help you to understand what size pressure cooker is right for the job. It's not that complicated.

What Size Pressure Cooker Is Best Anyway?

Once you’ve discovered all the ways in which pressure cookers can make cooking easier, more enjoyable, and more efficient in terms of time and energy-usage, the time will arrive to make some important decisions regarding which of the many appliances available on the market is right for you!

There are a number of factors to take into consideration when deciding on which pressure cooker is perfect for your own circumstances, and in this article we’ll take a look at one of the most essential distinctions: size.

I advocate having a few tools available for various purposes around the kitchen.

You'll need a large canner for food preservation, a standard size pressure cooker for a family of 4 to 6 people, and I like to recommend people also consider buying a dedicated small pressure cooker for making small batches of side dishes like rice, grains, or legumes.

Popular small models are the 2 quart cookers and the three quart cookers. The smallest canners on the market will probably make good starter units for the beginner.

For regular sized families the commonly found 6-quart units tend to be good for most uses. They are big enough to fit entire roasts and birds or to prepare soups and stews for a family of 3 to 7 people.

Is the Size of a Pressure Cooker Important? Can it be Too Big?

When we talk about the size of a pressure cooker, we aren’t discussing the aesthetics of how big the casing is, or other such cosmetic concerns. Instead, what we’re talking about its volume - the amount of food it will hold inside with the lid closed.

In simple terms, this is the amount of space (usually measured in quarts or liters) inside the pressure cooker, and it directly affects the quantity of food you’re able to prepare in it at any one given time.

When it comes to pressure cookers, size does matter, and making sure that you have the right sized pressure cooker for the kind of uses you’ll be putting it too is vital. Otherwise, you may end up losing out some efficiency gains, which your new pressure cooker could afford you by having to cook the same meal twice in order to feed several hungry family members with the same, too small appliance!

So What Size Do You Need?

As this article on HipPressureCooking.com discusses, the size of your pressure cooker directly impacts a number of elements which you should be thinking about when deciding on which make and model is ideal for your own culinary needs.

It’s important to note that while size is absolutely something you should be considering, bigger doesn’t mean better. In fact, choosing a pressure cooker that is unnecessarily large for your needs is just as (if not more) problematic than selecting one that isn’t quite big enough!

This is because you’ll be losing out on a lot of efficiency. If you’re regularly filling your over-large pressure cooker to only a third or a half, then you’re expending a lot of heat energy (and the money that pays the bills which power it!) in heating up a whole lot of unused space within your pressure cooker! This has a knock-on effect as to how long the cooking process can take, as well as the obvious energy and financial implications.

Another reason not to go large for the sake of it is that you may be limiting the available cooking techniques at your disposal in doing so. The larger the pressure cooker volume, the higher the minimum amount of water you’ll have to use in cooking. This means that if you’re trying to braise a piece of meat, the sheer quantity of liquid required to properly operate a larger pressure cooker might make it impossible. You’d have to make do with boiling instead, or perhaps pre-cooking which may defeat the purpose, and certainly reduces efficiency!

Lastly, one thing which it’s important not to overlook is the always-fun process of washing-up! It’s just common-sense: the larger the pressure cooker, the more arduous the cleaning is going to be.

What Size Does a Pressure Cooker Have to be to Can Food?

Another consideration is food preservation. At the beginning of this article I said I recommend families own a pressure canner and a standard size cooker, sized for a regular size family. This typically means a 6-quart pressure cooker.

If however you are a larger family you may find that your 10-quart models are best because of the volume of food you typically cook.

This could be convenient because the smallest canners on the market start around 10 quarts so you may be able to use the same pot.

Reminder - Difference between a Pressure Cooker and a Canner

Of course pressure canners can get much bigger than 10 quarts, 25 quarts is not uncommon, so if food preservation becomes a regular household activity then you will be able to process large batch canning jobs much faster with a larger pot.

The Best Size is the Size You'll Most Frequently Use

Now that you’re fully aware of some of the major factors which should be taken into consideration when assessing the optimal size for the pressure cooker you’re going to purchase, let’s take a look at some of the most common volumes and how you might want to use them.

  • 5 Quarts or Less – This is the perfect size for cooking meals for one or two people, or perhaps a small family at a push. If a relative is heading off to College or a friend is moving into a new place, this can be a great and practical gift to help make cooking for one a whole lot easier.
  • 5 to 7 Quarts – This is very much the standard size when it comes to pressure cookers. You’re provided with more flexibility in terms of the types of meals you can cook fully within the appliance, and can look to serve anywhere between 3-5 people with a single use.
  • 7 to 10 Quarts – If you’re part of a big family, regularly cook for guests, or love cooking ahead of time and then storing meals for later, this is the perfect size pressure cooker for you. With this volume, you can easily serve groups of more than 6 people, and maybe still have some leftovers for the next day!
  • 10 Quarts or More – At this point, you’re most likely purchasing for a non-domestic use or strictly for canning foods. With this size, you can cook for over 15 people at once, and that’s not a use-case that applies to many families! However, if you need the flexibility to be able to cook for large numbers of guests at a moment’s notice, or really, really enjoy storing food ahead of time, this might be perfect for the job!

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What Size Pressure Cooker Do You Need

4 thoughts on “What Pressure Cooker Size Do I Need?

  1. I love your site, reviews, points of information, and suggestions. I've used stovetop pressure cooker for years and find them invaluable. Now it's t time for an electric one. I want to be able to make chicken soup using a whole 4# chicken with lots of veggies and lots of water. Does that require an 8qt (Yedi or instant pot, I'm leaning towards based on your comments) ? 8qts would be too big for all other uses and I'm not going to get 2. If 6 qts would be too small, maybe I can remove chicken and veggies, add water and simmer. I look forward to your thoughts. Many thanks.

  2. Corrie,
    Thanks for the article.
    We're empty nesters now, wife and me, and have a Duromatic 7qt PC. It's served us well but I'd like to downsize. What size would you suggest for mostly cooking for two and frequently cooking for one (I"m moving toward a vegan diet and often want one potato or two beets for dinner. Is the 2.5 qt adequate?

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