The Great Pressure Cooking Efficiency Challenge

energy efficiency challenge
Pressure Cooker Chili Energy Efficiency Challenge

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Disclaimer: The great energy efficiency challenge was conducted by regular folks (Leslie and Ryan) fiddling with a Kill-A-Watt electricity usage monitor, a stopwatch, and a whole bunch of chili.  

We can’t say the results are scientifically precise but we can say with 100% certainty that they were delicious.

We set out to answer a simple question:

What is the most energy efficient way to cook?

4 pounds of ground beef and 4 batches of the Devil’s soup later we had our answer.

Who were the challengers?

energy efficient challengers

What was the criteria?

cooking efficiency criteria

Who won?

Before we list the results and in an effort to protect our “millennial” fragile self esteem we would just like to say:  When it comes to making your own chili, with real ingredients, we are all winners.  (who am I kidding, making 4 batches of chili was a pain in the arse)

Taste (out of 5)Time (minutes)Energy Consumed (in KW)
Pressure Cooker4260.67
Pressure Cooker with Induction4340.63
Stove top pot41381.225
Slow cooker44981.69

pressure cooker energy efficient winner

I already know what you are thinking.  Of course the pressure cooker won, just look at the name of the website. Likely bias aside, let’s discuss the results:

Taste: We were hoping that we would be able to distinguish meaningful taste differences when the chili hit our spoons.  Our hopes were dashed.  Maybe it was the chili powder or the jalapeno peppers but we couldn’t really taste much of a difference.  We love chili so we can say they are all good, but one better than the other… we will leave that up to you.

Possibly because of our spice burnt tongues we found all methods equally as devastating.

Time: This is a tough one.  The different cooking methods required different cooking times so an apples to apples comparison was a little difficult.  We used the exact same ingredients and amounts but followed standard cooking times for classic chili recipes:

Pressure Cooker Chili: 8 minutes
Stove Top Chili: 2 hours
Slow Cooker Chili: 8 hours

Taking into consideration browning the beef, onions, and garlic prior to beginning the actual standard cook times listed above, the pressure cooker is the clear winner requiring only 24 minutes of cook time. (actual times listed in the chart above)

Energy Consumed: Ok, here is where the ground beef hits the pan.  It was obvious to us that the pressure cooker (requiring less stove top heating time) would beat out a standard glass lid pot, but we just weren’t sure where the slow cooker would come in.  Slow cooking this recipe takes about 16 times longer than a pressure cooker ( 8 hours vs 26 minutes) but consumed only  2.5 times as much energy ( 1.69 KW vs 0.67 KW).  Slow cookers are efficient but the lower energy consumption just cant make up for the much longer cooking time.

The pressure cooker using the induction burner was the winner in this category.. (If you are unfamiliar with induction cooking: an induction burner is a powerful, high-frequency electromagnet that vibrates the molecules that make up the metal of a cooking pan producing heat.  It’s pretty cool stuff. We will be writing more about our induction experiences soon.)

Why didn’t the pressure cooker with induction burner win?

Although the induction burner did use less energy it took more time to cook the meat and bring the pressure cooker to pressure.  This is almost certainly a function of the unit we tested which was a small to medium powered countertop induction burner.  The induction method also required an additional $ investment which is tough to justify with the added energy savings in this particular experiment.

What do you think?

Energy efficient cooking

Who do you think should have won?  Do you have experience with these different methods and what results have you found?  Is this all bunk? We would love to hear your comments!

Thanks for reading.

"I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate." ~Julia Child  
Why learn pressure cooking?
It's 7 pm. The end of the work day stomach rumbles...

In one hand, a take out menu. In the other hand, the refrigerator door...its contents staring back almost as blankly as we are towards them. We want a homemade meal, but also want something quick and simple to make.
1. Simple and quick recipes requiring basic skills to become proficient in the kitchen.
2. Quality ingredients, not necessarily 100% organic, but meals without artificials and chemistry class additives.
3. To understand more of the story of our food and take small steps towards self-reliance.

It's true, there are many benefits to pressure cooking: the time savings, the taste, a small step towards self-reliance, sustainability... but the real benefit is in what we learn as we redefine our relationship with food. Good food can be fast. Good food can be easy.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura February 6, 2011 at 12:29 am

Valiant effort! I think the testing methodology was sound, but the recipe used for the testing was not.

From the pictures, it looks like you used canned beans in the chili (which are already cooked), so there was no need to slow-cook 8 hours or simmer on the stove-top for almost 2.5 just to cook the ground beef. Next time, I would try using pre-soaked, un-cooked beans. It should give you a better indication on how these cooking methods differ in terms of taste, time and consistency.

I probably won’t publish my own Chili recipe until next winter, but Lorna Sass’s Recipe in Food & Wine is a great starting point for crafting your own:

The real shocker, for me, is the result with induction. Though I have not tried it myself, I have read everywhere that it should bring things to a boil FASTER and not SLOWER! I will have to research this further, since many of my readers are getting induction cooktops and asking for pressure cookers with the appropriate bottom.

Again, great, great effort in doing this. Will you be publishing the video about it, too?



hip pressure cooking
making pressure cooking hip, one recipe at a time!

Laura February 6, 2011 at 12:37 am

P.S. If you WERE to take this on again, I would also weigh all of the ingredients in the cooking vessel pre- and post-cooking. It would be good data point to measure evaporation and, conversely, the concentration of flavor.

P.P.S. So surprised you didn’t do the “fork” test, to see if it would stand up straight, before serving. It seems just like the kind thing for you guys to do!

Leslie February 6, 2011 at 6:13 am

Thanks for your comment. We appreciate the feedback (sounds like you have a similar experiment in the works).

I will have to look for some different slow cooker chili recipes if we feel inspired to try again, the ones we found called for canned beans but still recommend 8 hours cook time. Using uncooked beans would likely give it a different texture and flavor, certainly worth the try. Thanks!

The induction times were a shocker for us too! It was likely because of our medium power unit and large pressure cooker. It just took extra time to reach pressure. Different powered burners would all produce different results.

It’s hard to believe but we still love chili so who knows what’s in-store for the next time around. Thanks and keep up the great work.

Laura February 6, 2011 at 12:47 pm

No worries, I don’t have a similar experiment in the works – I’m just a geek at heart (I used to manage technical projects at the executive level in my previous life) and can appreciate the science behind your cooking challenge!

The Beginner Basics series has been such a big undertaking that it may be a while before I do any more special projects – but my list of articles I want to write keeps growing. That is the great thing about pressure cooking: It can be tackled from so many angles I feel that it is almost impossible to exhaust what can be written about it!

Ciao and Happy Pressure Cooking!

hip pressure cooking
making pressure cooking hip, one recipe at a time!

Drake April 3, 2011 at 5:11 am

Be careful about making beans in a slow cooker. They don’t get hot enough to deactivate some harmful enzymes found in some kinds of beans. You could easily poison yourself as a result. Not pretty.

Either stick with the canned beans, or make your own separately and add them to the recipe. (Of course, making your own virtually guarantees the pressure cooker will win…)

Leslie April 3, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Thanks for the comment and the heads up. We usually use canned beans but we did not know this about slow cookers.

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