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The multi-cooker, all-in-one gadget known as the Instant Pot makes an appearance on every list of must-buy kitchen equipment. Its popularity has led amateur chefs, both veterans and newbies, to simplify their culinary efforts into one-pot meals and make pressure cooking trendy again.
The electric Instant Pot’s ability to regulate its own heat is its advantage over older stovetop pressure cookers. This means whether you want to quickly whip up a batch of beans or a week’s worth of egg bites, you can literally set it and go about your business. There’s also a multitude of other features, like slow cooking, yogurt making, and air frying, to explore.
But each new Instant Pot offers even more cooking methods and customizations than the last, so you'll have to figure out which functions you need: whether it's for cooking basic staples, pressure cooking, making desserts, or any combination of choices. To help figure out which model to choose, we decided to put some of our top picks to the test in our own home kitchens.
First, we looked at how easy it was to use the Rice function by cooking a cup of white rice and then recorded how well its texture and flavor turned out. We also made a mushroom risotto recipe as well as one of our own choosing. Finally, we took note of how easy it was to clean up the Instant Pot after use. Our top choice was the bestselling Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 Pressure Cooker, which is easy to use and comes with dishwasher-safe attachments.
If you’re ready to take the plunge with your own Instant Pot or are looking to upgrade from an earlier generation, here are our picks for the best Instant Pots.
Best Overall: Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker 6 Quart
Capacity: 6 quarts | Dimensions (LxWxH): 13.4 x 12.2 x 12.5 inches | Weight: 11.8 pounds | Programs: 13
The Instant Pot company makes a wide range of multi-cookers, but its consistent bestseller comes in the form of the Instant Pot Duo. This classic workhorse model provides the best representation of what multi-cookers have to offer. It’s efficient, it’s affordable, and our staff tester loved it (with a few notes).
One thing to love about that Duo is that it comes in three sizes, with the 6-quart being the sweet spot: It’s big enough for meals feeding up to six people but small enough to easily store in a kitchen cabinet. In fact, our tester and associate commerce editor, Fran, who lives in a small Brooklyn apartment, was able to easily fit it in the small cabinet above her fridge. The appliance has also helped her meal prep (a big batch of risotto lasted her several days) and host dinner for her neighbors (her vegan chili was a hit). She did have to modify both recipes a bit using the Duo, but this was a minor inconvenience.
"The mushroom risotto tasted great. The rice was soupy according to the timing in the directions, so I added another 5 minutes, which did the trick," she says. The vegan chili, on the other hand, displayed a "Food Burn" message in the middle of cooking with the Chili setting, and the manual she received did not cover how to address it. (Plus, the chili wasn't actually burning.) But luckily, adding another half-cup of water and a few extra minutes to the cooking time did the trick.
All Duo Instant Pots come with 13 different functions, including a rice cooker, steaming, sautéing, a yogurt maker, and a warming device. Fran also tested the rice cooker function using medium-grain white rice, and while it tasted fine, it didn't fare as well as the other two more complex recipes. "[It was] a little al dente and dry. I think it could have used an extra half cup of water," she notes. That said, she found the rice pre-set easy to use.
The stainless-steel body is resistant to smudges, and its attachments are safe for the dishwasher, making it a breeze to clean.
"I will definitely be using this again, especially considering how user-friendly and quick it is to use: I have a busy schedule during and outside of work and often don't have time to make a nutritious or full (or complex) meal." — Fran Sales, Associate Commerce Editor
Best for Beginners: Instant Pot Duo Plus 6-Quart Multi-Use Pressure Cooker
Capacity: 6 quarts | Dimensions (LxWxH): 12.2 x 12.2 x 12.9 inches | Weight: 11.5 pounds | Programs: 15
If you’re totally new to the multi-cooker world, this intuitive version of the Instant Pot Duo might be ideal for you. The 6-quart Duo Plus can do all the things that the Classic Duo can do, including pressure cooking, sous vide, and slow cooking. But it also has an automatic sealing lid, which takes some of the guesswork out of the process, and keeps you from accidentally leaving the steam valve open and making a mess of your kitchen. There's also a progress indicator that will keep you updated in real time.
The Duo Plus also features 15 "smart" program options, which allow you to start your meal by just pushing a button. Our tester, senior editor Sara Bir, tested the yogurt and sous vide functions. She was pleased with how intuitive the yogurt setting was, especially compared to the other Instant Pots she's used, adding, "I'll be using this pot to make my yogurt from now on." The sous vide function, however, was underwhelming, particularly because it's this setting that makes this Duo model a "Plus."
When using the setting to make sous vide carrots, the cooker was never able to heat the water above 190 degrees Fahrenheit (the recipe required 194). "It's not terribly accurate, [and] it does not circulate the water, which is important for maintaining a constant temperature," Sara explains. The carrots themselves turned out too al dente for her taste.
But, on the whole, she likes this Instant Pot better than the other ones she's tried. Both the brown rice and mushroom risotto she made using the manual setting turned out great, and both times the Instant Pot came to pressure more quickly than other Instant Pot models Sara's used. Plus, "No goop came out doing the quick release."
"I might like this IP better than any other IP model I've used. That's because the interface has some UX improvements over past Duo models (it's more intuitive), and it's simply a way better interface and design than Ultra and Lux models." — Sara Bir, Senior Editor
Best for Advanced Chefs: Instant Pot Pro 10-in-1 6-Quart Pressure Cooker
Capacity: 6 quarts | Dimensions (LxWxH): 13 x 12.7 x 12.8 inches | Weight: 17 pounds | Programs: 28
Replacing our former "Best for Advanced Chefs" pick is the newer Instant Pot Pro. This model has the more modern matte black Instant Pot look, something that's a bit easier to keep clean than the previous stainless steel siding. Inside, you'll find the new silicone-handled inner pot, which is versatile enough to be used on the stove in a pinch. Of course, there are also more than 11 safety features so you don't have to worry about a disaster in your kitchen.
The front panel packs a lot of information into its display, while also making you feel very "welcome to the future." Once it turns on, no matter which of the 28 different programs you chose, you easily move to the next field by twisting the knob. And if you mess up, it's easy to start over.
When we sent this home for testing, we found that you do need to read through the instructions to familiarize yourself with all the options. Our tester, who's used Instant Pots before but never her own, appreciated that the booklet walks you through a "water test" before using it. Once she started using it for recipes, she found you definitely will need to wait until the "preheat" cycles are done (don't be hasty!) especially when using the sauté function. But as she used the Rice, Sous Vide, and Manual functions, our tester fell more and more in love with it.
The cherry on top for this was cleaning. Those silicone handles make handwashing in a shallow sink a breeze, which she couldn't say for her former multi-cooker. This is also available in an 8-quart version, which large households might find more useful.
"The design and performance are outstanding so far. Even though this is built for Instant Pot pros and experienced home cooks, it has enough instructions and options that a new-to-Instant-Pot beginner will be an expert in no time." — Siobhan Wallace, Commerce Editor
Best for Singles: Instant Pot Duo Mini 3-Quart 7-in-1
Capacity: 3 quarts | Dimensions (LxWxH): 11.8 x 10.5 x 11 inches | Weight: 8.6 pounds | Programs: 11
With the larger sizes, buyers planning to cook primarily for themselves may wind up with more leftovers than they’d prefer. That’s why the Instant Pot 3-quart Duo Mini—which packs all of the perks of the standard Duo into a compact package—is such a phenomenal choice for solo diners.
Since it's less than a foot tall and weighs about 8 pounds, the small size makes it simple to store no matter what size kitchen you have. But it doesn’t hold back on functions. It has all but two of the same program features as the larger Duos, and it’s just as easy to clean.
Related: The Best Pressure Cookers
Best Smart: Instant Pot Smart WiFi 8-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker
Capacity: 6 quarts | Dimensions (LxWxH): 13.2 x 12.2 x 12.5 inches | Weight: 11.5 pounds | Programs: 13
The benefits of smart technology center around convenience. With the push of one app icon or a verbal command to Alexa or Siri, you can accomplish a wide swath of tasks. And, if you decide to purchase a smart multi-cooker like the Instant Pot Smart WiFi model, then you can add “cooking a satisfying meal” to the list of easy-to-complete necessities.
The Smart WiFi line is fully compatible with Alexa, which allows users to program the pot and receive progress updates via their smartphones. It also gives you access to thousands of recipes and the ability to share cooker commands with friends and family. This Instant Pot can execute all of the classic Duo’s functions, along with cake-making capabilities.
Best Air Fryer: Instant Pot Duo Crisp + Air Fryer 11-in-1 (8 Quart)
Capacity: 8 quarts | Dimensions (LxWxH): 15.3 x 14.8 x 13.6 inches | Weight: 22.7 pounds | Programs: 11
Air fryers are here to stay. If you’re yearning for an air fryer, but hate the idea of packing yet another piece of kitchen equipment into your already overloaded cabinets, then a device that combines a multi-cooker and an air fryer will save valuable space. Luckily, Instant Pot designed a multi-cooker/air fryer hybrid, the Instant Pot Duo Crisp.
This model truly takes the Duo to the next level. The Duo Crisp performs 11 functions including sous vide, roasting, broiling, and dehydrating. It comes with two lids, the regular cooking lid with auto seal, and the air fryer lid. The 8-quart size provides enough space for air-fried foods to fully crisp up, and the included air-frying basket is specially designed to optimize airflow.
Related: The Best Air Fryers
Our top spot goes to the Instant Pot Duo 6-Quart 7-in-1 because it has everything you need (and the capacity) to feed a small group of people but it's still small enough to fit in a small kitchen, like our tester's (view at Amazon). And if you're an Instant Pot Newbie and are wondering what the hype is all about, our senior editor recommends the Instant Pot Duo Plus 6-Quart 9-in-1, which is the most intuitive of all the Instant Pots she's ever used (view at Amazon).
What To Look for in an Instant Pot
Multi-cookers may seem like glorified pressure cookers, but they actually have a lot of different functions. The difference between a pressure cooker and a multi cooker can be summed up as follows: All multi-cookers are pressure cookers, but not all pressure cookers are multi-cookers. A pressure cooker is a pot with a sealing lid that, when heated either over the stovetop or by electric power, builds up steam to cook food at a quicker velocity than traditional methods.
A multi-cooker includes pressure cooking as one of its functions, but it can typically also be a slow cooker, a rice cooker, and a yogurt maker. They can cook a frozen piece of chicken in 20 minutes and steam fish in less than 10. These are appliances with incredible flexibility.
Multi-cookers come in a number of different sizes, and the appropriate choice for you depends on your household size and your cooking goals. The 3-quart cookers work best for one or two people, generally. The 6-quart size is the most popular size for multi-cookers, as it provides enough space to prep meals for three to six-person groups or families. The 8-quart cookers are for you if feeding more than six people is a regular occurrence.
Different models of multi-cookers include different features. In terms of the Instant Pot line, the most basic models can pressure cook, slow cook, steam, sauté, keep food warm, and make rice and yogurt. More advanced models offer programs designed for cooking techniques like sous vide and air frying, as well as custom programming and Wi-Fi capabilities.
Can you put frozen food in an Instant Pot?
You can. "One of the huge benefits of using a pressure cooker is being able to place items like frozen chicken, beef, or soup directly in without defrosting," says Carla Contreras, chef, food stylist and health coach. Jessica Randhawa, owner and head chef of The Forked Spoon notes that it will change cooking time because “it will take more time to bring the temperature up and cook the recipe.”
What does natural release mean when pressure cooking?
First, you have to understand how the pressure got there. "Pressure cooking works with the buildup of steam inside the pot," explains Contreras. "When you let the pot natural release, that means the steam escapes slowly over 10-30 minutes once the food is done cooking. This is great for things like soups, stews, rice, and beans."
Essentially, this is a slower method for foods that you want to reduce the temperature of more slowly. "A natural release for pressure cooking allows the pressure inside the pressure cooker to come down gradually on its own, without manual intervention," Randhawa says. "The opposite of a natural release is a quick release, which intervenes the natural release process by opening the steam release valve on the pressure cooker to rapidly depressurize the pot."
Why Trust Simply Recipes?
Taylor Tobin is a freelance journalist who specializes in recipe testing and deep-dives into popular dishes and ingredients. She recently purchased her first Instant Pot Duo after extensive research on every available Instant Pot and multi-cooker model, and she’s already sure that it will claim a prime spot in her kitchen for years to come.
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