Buying one of the best Instant Pot multi-cookers is one of the best kitchen decisions you’ll ever make, especially with Black Friday Instant Pot deals available now. It’s one of the best-selling kitchen gadgets in the world with almost as many imitators as it has devoted fans.
If you’re not familiar with the Instant Pot it’s a programmable electric pressure cooker that became a huge online hit, spawning endless articles and recipe guides and turning people like your writer into Instant Pot evangelists. But is this a case of publicity over practicality?
On the face of it, it seems so: even the cheapest Instant Pot is much more expensive than a traditional pressure cooker. But there are some important advantages of the Instant Pot in terms of safety, flexibility and capacity. Before we discover what they are, it’s important to understand what pressure cooking is and why it’s great.
Instant Pot vs Pressure Cooker: what is pressure cooking anyway?
Pressure cookers go back much further than the Instant Pot: the first home pressure cookers went on sale in 1945, but the Instant Pot didn’t go on sale until 2010. At heart, though, they both use the same science: if you cook food at really high pressure, you can get the same results in a fraction of the time. So for example a casserole or chili you might slow cook for hours can be pressure cooked in less than an hour and be just as melt-in-the-mouth tasty.
To increase the pressure, a pressure cooker or Instant Pot has a tight seal that keeps steam from escaping (and a valve to release it when you’re done or if the pressure gets too high; without a valve there’s a real risk of explosion). The pressure increases the boiling point of water, reducing evaporation and extracting more flavor from foods.
Whether you use a traditional stovetop pressure cooker or an Instant Pot, the results are the same: amazing food in less than 1/4 of the time normal cooking takes. But the Instant Pot does more than just cook.
Instant Pot vs Pressure Cooker: what’s the difference?
One of the biggest differences here is that the Instant Pot is programmable: you can set it and leave it. With stovetop cookers there’s still a small risk of pushing the pressure too high and blowing the thing up, but the Instant Pot doesn’t have that danger. And it also has different pressure modes, so you can set it at low pressure for things like soup and high pressure when you’re in a hurry.
But the other key difference between an Instant Pot and a pressure cooker is that the Instant Pot isn’t just a a pressure cooker. It’s a multi-cooker. It has programmes to sauté, to make rice, to make yogurt… it’s a one-pot cooking system that saves time and also means less washing up. So for example when your writer is making soup it’s all done in the Instant Pot: sautéing the veg, bringing it all to the boil, taking it down to a simmer for the flavors to mingle, and keeping it warm once it’s cooked. Or if chili is on the menu the Instant Pot browns the beef, softens the beans and then slow cooks it to perfection.
Depending on the Instant Pot model you go for, you can turn it into other kinds of cookers too. The Instant Pot Pro can do sous vide cooking, where vacuum-sealed food is immersed in warm water for incredibly tender results, and the Crisp models have an extra lid that turns the Instant Pot into an air fryer so you can “fry” food too.
Another advantage of a programmable pressure cooker is that you can set it to run when you’re not there (with the exception of some programmes such as as sautéing). That makes it great for setting and forgetting, so you can have a tasty meal waiting when you get in from college or work.
Instant Pot vs Pressure Cooker: what are the pros and cons?
The key benefit of a traditional pressure cooker is that it can deliver a higher pressure than all but the most expensive Instant Pots, so it cooks even more quickly: where most Instant Pots deliver a maximum pressure of 12psi, traditional pressure cookers can go up to 15psi. More pressure means a higher boiling point and faster cooking.
The main pros of an Instant Pot are its ease of use, its convenience and its safety: it’s a brilliant all-rounder that’s incredibly simple to use, utterly reliable and has a dishwasher-safe removable pot (although it’s best to wash by hand). You can also save custom programs if the presets don’t do what you want.
The main downside is the price: where the cheapest basic pressure cookers we can find on Amazon cost around $50 / £40 / AU$115, even the cheapest Instant Pot – the 3-quart/3-liter Instant Pot Duo – is $59 in the US and £69 in the UK (it isn’t currently sold in Australia).
The good news is that as the capacity increases, the price rises much less steeply. The 8-quart/8 liter Instant Pot Duo is currently $79 / £109 / $AU188.
It’s also worth noting that the Instant Pot’s viral popularity means that you will see deep discounts during any big sales event such as Prime Day, Black Friday and other seasonal sales.
The other downside is that with the exception of the Mini model, Instant Pots are big: a 6-quart/5.7-liter Pro is roughly 13 inches/33cm high and the same width, while an 8-quart/8 liter model is just over 14 inches/36cm high.
Instant Pot vs Pressure Cooker: what should you buy?
Whether you buy a stovetop pressure cooker, an Instant Pot or a similar multi-cooker, you’ll be amazed by the food you can make: even something as simple as eggs can be astonishing when pressure cooked. But the choice depends a lot on what you want to cook and how much space you’ve got.
A stovetop pressure cooker is brilliantly simple, but that simplicity also limits what you can do with it: if you don’t pressure cook frequently it’s a big and heavy pot you’ll need to find somewhere to store. The Instant Pot’s bulkier and heavier, but its flexibility means it’s more likely to be used more often instead of being put away; our one is in almost constant use through the week and sits permanently on the kitchen counter.
If you’re a frazzled parent, a student or someone who’d like to have a brilliant meal waiting for them when they get in from a long day then the Instant Pot is the one to buy here: it’s a genuinely great and useful multi-cooker that’s capable of amazing things. But if you’ve already got a multi-cooker such as the best air fryer oven or just prefer to do things old-school, a stovetop pressure cooker is simpler, faster and more affordable. Whichever option you go for, though, you’re going to love the results.