Instant Pot (noun):
1. The multicooker that can thaw a few frozen chicken breasts in less than three minutes, slash a six-hour slow cooker recipe down to 45 minutes, and replace a slew of appliances that are collecting dust in your cabinet.
2. A star on Prime Day, Black Friday, and general holiday sales (if not for you, then as a gift for literally anyone)
3. Possibly the most important technological advancement in recent history. The Mars helicopter is a close second.
The Crock-Pot competitor-turned-cult classic has been a staple in foodie kitchens since 2018(opens in a new tab). The collection of three or four models has grown into an army of pressure cookers, toaster ovens, air fryers, blenders, and coffee makers. Google autofills “Instant Pot” over “slow cooker” after typing in “potato soup.” When you consider the time, effort, and counter space that these powerhouses save, it makes total sense.
What does an Instant Pot do?Yeah, why can’t you just get a regular slow cooker? At their core, Instant Pots are electric pressure cookers. The proprietary locking lid creates a seal that heats any water inside far past its boiling point, turning it to steam. When that steam has nowhere else to go, it creates pressure — thus cooking food 2-10 times faster than what an oven or slow cooker could do.
What a retailer’s Instant Pot descriptions won’t tell youThe “manual” button on some entry-level models is the source of so much confusion. Most people only know this from watching tutorials or bugging the shit out of people on Instant Pot Reddit: The manual button is the pressure cooking button. (Why it’s not labeled as such, we can’t be sure.) Think of it as manually inputting how long you want something to pressure cook. This is the setting to use if you want to defrost something fast, and most foods don’t take longer than a few minutes at this setting.
Even if your recipe only calls for one minute of cook time, you are not about to go from frozen chicken breasts to a perfect roast with a well-done center. The act of sealing and coming to pressure feels like it takes forever (in reality, 5-10 minutes), and yes, it’s fine if your Instant Pot blows steam in the process. It will automatically switch to pressure cooking when pressurization is complete and will automatically switch to warming when the timer is up.
And, if you happen to get an older model that doesn’t have the new automatic sealing lid and steam release button, we suggest wearing an oven mitt or using a wooden spoon to turn the release the pressure and avoid a jump scare.
There are also some general categorization rules to remember on your quest:
The number in each Instant Pot’s title, e.g. “6-in-1” describes the number of kitchen appliances it claims to replace.
Aside from the appliance-replacing functions, each model has built-in smart programs that get more specific: These 12 programs are bean/chili, meat/stew, soup/broth, sauté, poultry, steam, congee, multigrain, rice, pressure cook, warm, and slow cook. Some models have more than this, but every model has at least these. They’re the things listed on the buttons.
The 6-quart is the most popular size and is ideal for families of five or fewer, and every model comes in this size. The 3-quart is obviously best for smaller families, couples, or roommates and smaller dishes like appetizers and soups. The 8-quart is best for roasts or prepping a few days’ worth of meals for large families. Instant Pots occasionally come in a 10-quart size, which is probably overkill unless you frequently cook for groups or are renovating your kitchen and won’t have access to your large appliances for months.
All prices listed will be the lowest price for each model, likely the smallest size. As quart size increases, the prices of each model will also increase. Here’s how to compare the Instant Pot models available in 2023:
Year released: 2015 Functions: Pressure cooking, slow cooking, rice cooking, steaming, warming, sautéing, and yogurt making Sizes: 3-quart, 6-quart, and 8-quart New lid with safe steam valve features: No This is the model that caused the Black Friday stampede. The 7-in-1 Duo(opens in a new tab) is a cult favorite and one of Instant Pot’s all-time best sellers. Though its “successor,” the Instant Pot Duo Nova, comes with an extra safety feature and cooler screen, anyone who prefers a more straightforward approach may prefer the classic Duo.
The loyalty to the Duo lies in its combination of function, simplicity, and price. It’s a slight step up from the 6-in-1 Lux function-wise, adding the yogurt-making function. (Now that the Lux has been discontinued, it’s technically now the cheapest Instant Pot.) Since the birth of the Duo Nova, the six-quart Duo’s retail price of $99.95 is almost always slashed to $79.95 or less. $79.95 was the original price of the six-quart Lux, so that’s essentially getting the yogurt-making function for free. Other distinctions from the bare-bones Lux include the ability to switch between high- and low-pressure cooking.
Most connected Instant Pot
Credit: Leah Stodart / Mashable
Year released: 2021 Functions: Pressure cooking, slow cooking, rice cooking, sautéing, steaming, warming, yogurt making, canning, sous vide, and NutriBoost Sizes: 6-quart New lid with safe steam valve features: Yes, plus wireless steam release Read our full review of the Instant Pot Pro Plus.
The newest Instant Pot isn’t the most expensive or fanciest in terms of how many appliances it can replace (though only the Pro Crisp beats it), but it is the smartest. The “plus” in Pro Plus refers to its wireless connectivity to the Instant Brands app, which holds over 800 Instant Pot-specific recipes that the Pro Plus already has memorized. Guided instructions on the app tell you when to stir,
Of all the things you can do from your phone, the remote steam release is the most clutch. While the other pots require you to be present to hit the steam release button, the Pro Plus can be vented through the app. Food can be fully ready to serve upon your arrival.
Best for not switching lids
Year released: 2022 Functions: Pressure cooking, air frying, slow cooking, dehydrating, sous vide, sautéing, roasting, baking, broiling, yogurt making, and bread proofing Sizes: 6.5-quart New lid with sage steam valve features: Yes The Ninja Foodi is shaking, honey. What was previously its advantage over any Instant Pot — a single lid used for pressure cooking and air frying — is no longer with Instant Brands’ summer 2022 introduction of the Ultimate Lid. The pot itself features a redesigned display with a combination of a dial and touch screen buttons, including one for bread proofing. The only other Instant Brands proofer is the Precision Dutch Oven, which doesn’t pressure cook.
The new 2-in-1 lid comes with the upgraded version of the Duo Crisp, which is significantly shorter than the swirly, funnel-shaped air fryer lid included with the old Duo Crisp when closed. Frustratingly, Instant Brands didn’t hop on the most obvious way to one up the Foodi: making the Ultimate Lid completely removable. It hinges and requires space above the counter to flip upwards.
Most practical air-frying Instant Pot
Year released: 2020 Functions: Pressure cooking, slow cooking, steaming, dehydrating, sous vide, sautéing, air frying, roasting, baking, broiling, and warming Sizes: 8-quart New lid with safe steam valve features: Yes Instant Pot dropped a juicier version of the Duo Crisp amid holiday shopping madness in November 2020. The sophisticated chrome charcoal exterior is home to new additions like side handles, a safer lid, a stovetop-friendly pot insert, and a thermometer that hits 450 degrees — a temperature jump perfect for air-fried steak.
Like the Ninja Foodi, the Pro Crisp comes with two interchangeable lids. (The regular Instant Pot Pro is the same thing, sans the crisping lid.) One transforms the pressure cooker (among other things) into an air fryer, with one lid dedicated to EvenCrisp technology. Unlike the Ninja Foodi, the crisping lid is completely detachable. The Pro Crisp covers 11 functions total, with lid-specific functions lined up on the same side.
Most affordable air frying Instant Pot
Year released: 2019 Functions: Pressure cooking, slow cooking, steaming, dehydrating, sous vide, sautéing, air frying, roasting, baking, broiling, and warming Sizes: 6-quart, 8-quart New lid with safe steam valve features: Yes After a rather undercooked release of the Instant Vortex and Vortex Plus, the Duo Crisp came out as Instant Pot’s first true pressure cooker and air fryer combination. The Pro Crisp shows it up function-wise, but for $100 less, the Duo Crisp covers a lot.
The convenience of not having to switch appliances to complete multiple steps in a recipe can’t be overstated. A blogger at The Salted Pepper(opens in a new tab) mentions how easy the Duo Crisp made a ribs recipe: The pressure cooking lid can be used to speed up the thawing and thorough cooking of frozen meat, and a simple lid swap lets you air fry in the same pot.
Best bang for your buck
Year released: 2021 Functions: Pressure cooking, slow cooking, steaming, dehydrating, sous vide, sautéing, roasting, baking, broiling, and warming Sizes: 6-quart, 8-quart New lid with safe steam valve features: Yes The mere existence of the regular Instant Pot Pro alongside the Pro Crisp and Pro Plus feels muddled, but it’s really quite simple: The Pro skips the air-frying lid and WiFi connectivity to offer 10 of Instant Pot’s most useful functions without going over the $150 mark. If you opt for the 6-quart, the Pro is almost always on sale between $129.95 and $109.95 — the obvious champ over the older but still similarly-priced Ultra or Duo Plus.
Best for versatility without too many options
Year released: 2022 Functions: Pressure cooking, slow cooking, rice cooking, steaming, warming, sautéing, yogurt making, cake making, sous vide Sizes: 6-quart, 8-quart New lid with safe steam valve features: Yes The classic, but make it even better: The other #1 best-seller in the fam, the Duo Plus, has undergone a drastic makeover. Between the touchscreen display, newly-added dial, and modern dark gray rubber details instead of black, it doesn’t even look like the same cooker.
What doesn’t look super different is the price. An overwhelming list of upgrades only pushes MSRP about $20 or $30 above the old Plus, depending on whether there’s a sale or not.The new Plus series keeps the cake feature that the Duo doesn’t have and replaces the egg cooker with sous vide.
Best for pressure canning
Year released: 2018 Functions: Pressure cooking, slow cooking, rice cooking, sautéing, steaming, warming, yogurt making, sterilizing, egg cooking, sous vide, and pressure canning Sizes: 6-quart New lid with safe steam valve features: Yes One of Instant Pot’s most highly-awaited and talked-about releases, the Instant Pot Max was in a league of its own when it came out in fall 2018. Its major upgrades include two new appliance functions: sous vide and pressure canning, along with the expected functions of its predecessors (officially a 12-in-1 cooker.) The Max also uses NutriBoost technology, which uses a boiling motion to supposedly add nutrition and flavor to soups and broths. (We’re skeptical about the nutrition claim, but that’s not likely to be your reason for buying, anyway.)
Let’s focus on something positive: It’ll look hot sitting on your counter. Like the Ultra, it features a sleek LCD screen with functions on the screen rather than on buttons along the outside. Unlike the Ultra, it’s the first Instant Pot with a touchscreen, offering seamless controlling and a futuristic look.
Most affordable high-tech Instant Pot
Year released: 2017 Functions: Pressure cooking, slow cooking, rice cooking, sautéing, steaming, warming, yogurt making, sterilizing, egg cooking, and customizable programming Sizes: 3-quart, 6-quart, and 8-quart New lid with safe steam valve features: No Experienced cook and second-time Instant Pot buyers like that the Ultra allows for more precision and experimenting instead of being locked into the built-in settings. (PSA: There is no Ultra Pro. Just the Ultra. This is it.)
The dial and an upgrade from buttons to touch screen-like buttons let it blend seamlessly with a kitchen full of modern appliances. But the update that you should really care about lies in the bottom right corner of the display: the Ultra button. With it, nit-picky foodies can tamper with every part of the cooking process from pressure level, to temperature, to time settings. Once you find a combination that renders your desired results, the program can remember those custom settings for next time.
Best for braising
Year released: 2021 Functions: Braising, searing/sautéing, slow cooking, keeping warm, and manual mode Sizes: 6-quart New lid with safe steam valve features: N/A From dough proofing to searing, the new Instant Precision Dutch Oven simplifies intricate recipes that typically require a careful eye. It can hold 77 degrees for hours (a cool environment preferred for yeasted bread that’s lower than many traditional ovens go) or spike the temperature on command for searing.
This Instant Brands cooker isn’t going for “fast” — it’s going for “right.” The cast iron inner pot is ideal for low, slow cooking compared to the stainless steel inserts in the pressure cooking Instant Pots, and the colorful outer shell is kind of giving Le Creuset. Its ovular shape is optimized for roasts and flat dishes.
Best for rice and other grains
Year released: 2019 Functions: White rice, brown rice, steam, quinoa, oatmeal, mixed grains, barley, couscous, bulgur oatmeal and risotto Sizes: 8-cup and 20-cup New lid with safe steam valve features: N/A Rice is one of the easiest side dishes to pair with a meal and, coincidentally, one of the easiest dishes to screw up. The Instant Pot Zest could save you from a lot of overcorrections to sticky rice, as well as add perfect quinoa, couscous, steamed veggies, and dumplings to your home menu. Just press the white or brown rice button, close the lid, and come back when it beeps.
The 20-cup Zest Plus is where you can really add some zest to your meals. Mixed grains, barley, couscous, bulgur oatmeal and risotto are added to the lineup, plus four smart programs for sauté, steam, slow cook, and keep warm. You can even cook quinoa on the bottom while using the steam basket simultaneously.
Frequently Asked Questions The Instant Pot’s heart is a microprocessor aided by built-in temperature sensors that give Instant Pots the ability to 1. Mimic the cooking functions of multiple different appliances and 2. Switch between those functions at the press of a button. This collection of programs can be tweaked and tailored to perform super-specific tasks that you may have struggled with pre-Instant Pot (e.g., the perfect way to cook rice).
This means that dishes that traditionally need all night to cook can be ready in 20 minutes, which makes the torture of impatiently waiting to eat far less painful, and saves you from the “screw it, let’s get takeout” mindset after a long day. All Instant Pots can pressure cook, slow cook, sauté, cook rice, steam, and warm. As you climb the ladder of different models, buttons for things like cake making, roasting, and sous vide appear. When one appliance can do so many things, it also nixes the need to buy and find storage for separate kitchen devices, like an egg or rice cooker.
You sure can. Where the Ninja Foodi’s crisping lid once had a leg up is no longer Instant Pot’s blind spot. The fall 2019 collection brought the first Instant Pot Duo Crisp(opens in a new tab), which opened the door for a collection of other air-frying Instant Pots with Pro, Plus, or both tacked onto the end of the name. There are also multiple dedicated air frying convection ovens by Instant Brands that do not pressure cook.
For folks who already have an Instant Pot and don’t want to replace it just to buy the Duo Crisp, Instant Pot released a standalone air fryer lid(opens in a new tab) that attaches to regular Instant Pots and turns them into an air fryer. This lid works on all existing models with the exception of the Instant Pot Pro Plus, the now- discontinued Duo Evo Plus, Duo SV, Smart WiFi, or Max. This lid is compatible with the Duo Nova, which is also discontinued.
There are no set-in-stone rules about what cannot be cooked in an Instant Pot. Most meals you can think of can probably be done on one Instant Pot setting or another. The trick is to not force pressure cooking out of impatience, especially when crunch or precise texture (like the fine line between perfect and rubbery seafood) is involved.
Dairy can also get tricky — the high heat is just begging for milk-heavy ingredients to curdle. This isn’t so much a concern for, say, soups that call for a handful or two of shredded cheese, but most Instant Pot mac and cheese recipes actually advise adding the milk, cheese, or creamy sauce post-pressure cooking the noodles.
Depends on the month — or at least it feels that way. Instant Pot has introduced new pressure cookers every year since 2019, though the titles given to each model don’t give much away. (Aside from the Pro Plus, which are the only two adjectives you need to hear to know it’s the fanciest one.)
Leah is a shopping reporter at Mashable, where she covers shopping trends, gift ideas, and products that make life easier. She graduated from Penn State University in 2012 and is watching horror movies or “The Office” when she’s not shopping online herself. You can follow her on Twitter at @notleah(opens in a new tab).