Illustrations: Mary Kate McDevitt

Our favorite heavyweights go head-to-head in the ultimate comfort food contest—six recipes, three rounds each. See which kitchen tools take the title for chili, risotto, beef stew, and more.

Cooking Light
January 19, 2017

For the bout of the season, we pitted three champion vessels against one another in the Cooking Light Kitchen ring to braise, stew, and simmer our favorite cold-weather classics. Despite our oddsmakers' favorites for each match, every round surprised us: The pressure cooker makes some of the creamiest, most intensely flavored risotto we've had, for instance, while the slow cooker's pulled pork was a tender, juicy knockout. With each recipe, we also offer simple tips for making the recipe in other vessels. Now let's get ready to rumble!

The Contenders

Slow Cooker

  • What It Does: Provides low, steady, even heat for hours at a time. Depending on model and heat setting, food cooks between 200° and 300°. A heavy lid seals in heat and moisture and minimizes evaporation.
  • Price Range: $30 to more than $250 for high-tech, bells-and-whistles models
  • One We Love: Hamilton Beach 7-Quart Stay or Go Slow Cooker with clamp lid. $34, amazon.com

Dutch Oven

  • What It Does: Everything. Use it on the stovetop or in the oven. Traditionally made of cast iron or enameled cast iron (though the term also loosely covers stainless steel models), the thick pot provides even heat when braising, stewing, or browning.
  • Price Range: $40 to $300 and up
  • One We Love: Lodge's Enameled Cast Iron 6-Quart Dutch Oven is as heavy duty as some high-end imports at a fraction of the price. $60, amazon.com

Pressure Cooker

  • What It Does: Creates an airtight environment that locks in steam, builds extreme pressure, and raises the boiling point of water to 250°, cooking food much faster. This intense method efficiently extracts and concentrates flavors.
  • Price Range: $50 to $150 for many 6-quart models
  • One We Love: Fagor Futuro 6-Quart Pressure Cooker is both simple and safe to use. $120, amazon.com

The Recipes

Photo: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Missie Neville Crawford

Chili Con Carne

Winner: Pressure Cooker

The pressure cooker does a fantastic job of tenderizing the tough cut of meat and keeping it moist. It also delivers a nuanced, rich-tasting chili in just over an hour. A touch of chocolate stirred in at the end balances and deepens flavors. .

Runners-Up:

  • Dutch Oven
  • Slow Cooker

Photo: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Missie Neville Crawford

Beefy Bolognese over Penne Pasta

Winner: Dutch Oven

A meaty Bolognese needs a chance to reduce just a little as it cooks to concentrate flavors, and the Dutch oven allows for that, even with the lid on. This method also lets layers of flavors come through, as bacon, ground meat, and veggies are all browned in the same pot, then deglazed with cooking liquid.

Runners-Up:

  • Slow Cooker
  • Pressure Cooker
Photo: Iain Bagwell

Beef Marsala Stew

Winner: Slow Cooker

This is an ideal recipe for the slow cooker, where gentle, prolonged cooking turns tough beef into tender bites. Serve the stew over a mound of Fluffy Mashed Potatoes.

Runners-Up:

  • Pressure Cooker
  • Dutch Oven

Photo: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Missie Neville Crawford

Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Sriracha BBQ Sauce

Winner: Slow Cooker

Low and slow is key to making the pork shoulder tender. Since the meat cooks along with the sauce, it soaks up the taste of traditional BBQ with a little spike of spicy sriracha.

Runners-Up:

  • Pressure Cooker
  • Dutch Oven
Photo: Iain Bagwell

Mushroom and Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto

Winner: Pressure Cooker

While old-school stovetop-stirred risotto is undeniably delicious, the pressure cooker also delivers astonishingly good results: perfectly creamy, al dente risotto without constant stirring.

Runners-Up:

  • Dutch Oven
  • Slow Cooker (not recommended for this dish)

Photo: Iain Bagwell

Hearty Chicken Soup

Winner: Dutch Oven

It makes sense that a classic like chicken soup would be best cooked in a classic Dutch oven. While we enjoyed the soup from all three cooking methods, the Dutch oven made the meat a little more tender and juicy. The broth also simmers without a lid, so it reduces and grows richer.

Runners-Up:

  • Pressure Cooker
  • Slow Cooker