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Wolfgang Puck Pressure Oven review: Faster cooking with a few key flaws

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The Good The Wolfgang Puck Pressure Oven will indeed roast meats and poultry astonishingly fast, and it won't compromise much, if anything, in terms of taste or texture.

The Bad The dated design falls a bit short. Also, the pressure cooking valve on top isn't nearly as mistake-proof as it probably ought to be.

The Bottom Line Packing the benefits of pressure cooking into a countertop oven is a pretty clever idea. Chef Puck's oven isn't perfect, and at $249 it isn't for everyone, but crafty home cooks will nonetheless appreciate its performance.

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7.5 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 7
  • Usability 6
  • Performance 9

Busy home cooks are always on the lookout for faster, easier ways of preparing great tasting meals. For $249.95, that's exactly what the Wolfgang Puck Pressure Oven is offering. With the moisture-sealing, flavor-infusing power of a pressure cooker packed into a versatile countertop oven design, this is an appliance that makes some pretty bold performance claims -- including promises of cooking a full-size turkey in less than an hour.

Chef Puck's pressure oven is marketed with a certain degree of skepticism-inducing, "but-wait-there's-more" schtick. Not only will your meats cook faster, it claims, but they'll also be juicier and more flavorful (for an extra $100 you can add a built-in rotisserie rack to get them juicier-er and more flavorful-er). Not a meat-eater? No problem! The Puck Oven promises to cook casseroles, soups, vegetables, cookies, and anything else you'd make in a traditional oven, all in less time and while using less power.

Schtick aside, there's plenty of truth to the Puck Oven's claims. The time-saving advantages of pressure cookers are nothing new, and at its core, the Puck Oven is just that -- a pressure cooker. What sets it apart is the fact that it adds a built-in heating element, a larger capacity, and a window for monitoring your meal during the cooking process. Does all of that add up to value at $249? For certain home cooks, I believe that it might -- particularly if large cuts of meat are a regular fixture on the menu.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

The Wolfgang Puck Pressure Oven is a big, boxy appliance, with dimensions of 19.9 inches long by 15.9 inches wide by 12.4 inches tall and a weight just shy of 30 pounds. You can expect it to take up a fair deal of space on your countertop -- certainly more than than the common toaster oven you might be using it to replace.

In terms of design, the shiny, stainless-steel finish helps to give the Puck Oven a high-end sheen, but it's a look that gets undercut by plastic dials that feel somewhat cheap, along with dated-looking lights and no LED display. It certainly isn't as appealing to look at as appliances like the Breville Smart Oven and the Cuisinart CSO-300, both of which do a better job looking the part of a kitchen counter upgrade.

You'll be able to cook at up to 450 degrees using one of five cooking modes: bake, broil, toast, roast, or warm. To turn the oven on, you'll turn the timer dial to the desired cooking time, or to the always-on position. One quibble: the markings on the timer are rather imprecise, with 20-minute intervals. This is fine if you're roasting a chicken for forty minutes, but if you're using the toast setting, good luck getting the bread goldenbrown without babysitting it.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

To use the Puck Oven's pressure cooking capabilities, you'll preheat the oven and insert your food, as you normally would. From there, you'll pull a lever on the front of the machine to seal the door shut, then turn a valve on top to the sealed position as well. With the majority of heat and moisture trapped inside, the pressure will quickly start to rise, and super-hot steam will begin permeating whatever it is that you're cooking. The valve will continue to hiss during pressure cooking as hot air escapes out the top, which keeps the pressure from reaching unsafe levels.

This valve is actually one of my primary complaints with the Puck Oven, though. By design, it sits loosely in the vent, which can leave doubt as to whether or not you're using it right if, like me, you aren't terribly experienced with pressure cooking. Even if you are experienced, you still might find yourself confused, as there appear to be two separate "SEAL" positions to choose from (it's actually one large sealed position with two labels).

On top of that, the tiny pointer arrow indicating which direction to aim the valve sits opposite a large, conspicuous handle. On more than one occasion, I had to correct myself after absent-mindedly using the handle and not the arrow to aim the valve, a mistake that could potentially lead to improperly cooked food -- or worse, a safety concern.

I had a difficult time ever feeling truly comfortable with the pressure valve. When you're finished pressure cooking something, you'll need to turn it back to the vented position to let the hot air escape -- failing to do so could cause you to get scalded by steam as you unseal the door. Of course, this means you're putting your fingers in harm's way. I tried opening the valve while wearing an oven mitt, but it's difficult to do without gripping the handle with your fingertips. You can't just bump it into position. I never quite burned myself while letting the hot air out, but I also couldn't help but come close.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Performance under pressure
Of course, the reward for putting up with the added demands of a pressure cooker is the food, and this is where the Puck Oven truly delivers. The oven comes with a recipe book, along with a handy conversion chart comparing the normal cook-times of various dishes with their adjusted cook-times under pressure. We started with a standard recipe for an 8-pound roast chicken, which called for a little over 2 hours in the oven. The Puck Oven claimed it would take 43 minutes.

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