Pressure cookers are intimidating: They hiss, blow hot steam, and—according to Grandma—explode. Maybe that's why most cooks we know have never used one, despite seeing them on shows like Top Chef, where they shrink braising down to a manageable TV time. To conquer our fears, we bought a few of the pots for the CHOW Test Kitchen and began cooking. It turns out pressure cookers are no more menacing than a deep-fryer or a waffle iron. And while we knew they were fast, what really won us over was the food we cooked in them: It tasted just as delicious as if we'd simmered it for hours.
A note on equipment: We tested the recipes below in three different brands and types of pressure cookers (see our testing notes here) and found that, for a beginner, we'd suggest a midpriced stovetop model from Fagor, which can be used to sear meats and has helpful gauges and a pressure quick-release.