The Basics Are All You Need!
Instant Pot has generated a tremendous fan base for its multiple lines of high quality cookers and for constantly improving its products to incorporate consumer feedback. One side effect of all that innovation, however, has been a tremendous number of models and sizes, each with their own pluses and minuses. So how to decide which unit is the best for your home? At ReviewDECIDE we recommend going with a basic unit to keep things simple and cheap. Our top picks...
- OUR TAKEPROSCONS
- OUR TAKE
- Our overall top pick. This model is super easy to use and basically fail proof, but still comes with a great set of functions. At 6 quarts it is also the perfect size for a family of 3-5. Get it, set it and forget it!
- Intuitive and easy-to-use push button controls
- Cooking stage indicator let you know what the device is doing.
- Easy-to-read LCD screen.
- A widely popular model with TONS of recipes.
- A great pressure cooker but not the best slow cooker.
- Although simple to use, this device is more "analog" than newer models like the Ultra and Smart WiFi (we prefer the simplicity, but some like the latest and greatest).
- OUR TAKE
- A basic, budget friendly option that is great when cooking for a large family or group. Go with this, our "large size" runner up, if you want a hassle free device that can cook for a lot of people for less of your hard earned "dough."
- Largest unit in our comparison—great for large families and groups.
- Great price point (under $100 when on sale), especially for its size.
- Easy-to-read LCD screen.
- Intuitive and easy-to-use push button controls.
- Large unit size may not fit in smaller kitchens.
- No pre-programmed functions for sterilization, eggs or cake.
- Even more "analog" than the Duo Plus (again, we think this is a good thing).
- RUNNER UP (Sm. Size)
- A smaller version of our top pick, this is the perfect unit if you have a small family (2-3 people) or intend to travel or camp with your multi-cooker. All this and a great low price (typically under $100), make this model our "small size" runner up.
- Smallest size in our comparison—great for smaller kitchens and families.
- Intuitive and easy-to-use push button controls.
- Although small, has the full functionality of our top pick.
- Competitively priced.
- Small size is not ideal for certain functions. For example, the cake function will result in a cake with a relatively small diameter.
- Most recipes on the web are for 6 quart models, meaning adjustments will be necessary.
- OUR TAKE
- A more complex user interface and reports that the device doesn't work with many recipes for the more popular Duo line placed this unit out of the "running" for our runner up spots .
- Comes with altitude adjustment function and cooking progress indicator.
- Quick Release Button for the easy manual release of steam.
- "Ultra" button for custom programming.
- Controls are not particularly intuitive—can take some time to learn how to operate.
- Reports that results for recipes designed for the popular Duo line are less than desirable.
- Highest price point at the time of our comparison.
Our Selection Philosophy...
Keep It Simple!
As alluded to in the introduction to today's review, when you search for “Instant Pot” online you will see list after list of multi-cookers with different sizes, features, model numbers and even manufacturers. The number of variations is such that the whole enterprise feels as if it was purposely designed to confuse. And don’t think you are alone—when researching for this comparison we made ourselves dizzy! Moreover, with so much information about these popular devices available on blogs, social media, traditional media and in other formats, it may feel like it is nearly impossible to get to the bottom of what really matters.
At ReviewDECIDE we decided to simplify your (and our) Instant Pot decision-making process, by selecting fail proof options that will do the basics without the fancy bells and whistles (a simple web search shows that many extra “one touch” functions sold in more expensive models can be replicated by simply inputting the right cooking temperature, time and method). Our goal is to guide busy families to the right models—those that will allow you to set it and forget it.
To our surprise, this focus on simplicity made the selection process relatively straightforward and led to our choosing the Duo and Duo Plus models over those from more complicated lines with added features, such as the Ultra and Wifi lines. As an added bonus (and to further simplify your meals), the popularity of the Duo and Duo Plus lines also means that there are TONS of tried and true recipes on the web for these cookers.
Unlike most of our reviews, the information you need to know to make your selection is contained throughout today's post. There is so much going on with these items that providing this information in narrative form here simply didn't make sense, other than for us to let you know that keeping things simple was our overriding selection criteria.
Instant Pots in a Nut Shell
What Is It? – In short, an Instant Pot is an automated multi cooker. Depending on the model, they can perform the tasks of a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice/porridge cooker, yogurt maker, cake maker, egg cooker, steamer, warmer, sterilizer and more. The devices have gained a huge following for their versatility and ability to quickly and easily cook a variety of dishes.
Why Instant Pot? – The Instant Pot is the original and best-known line of multi-cookers and is manufactured by Instant Brands. The Instant Pot line of devices is our choice for these multi-cookers given its popularity (i.e. there are a ton of recipes out there) and the wide range of models available.
What’s With The Names? – Popular Instant Pot models include the Lux (6-in-1), Duo (7-in-1), Duo Plus (8-in-1), Ultra (9-in-1), Smart Wifi (10-in-1) and Max (10-in-1), to name a few. The specific name provides an indication of features, pot size (though not always) and where the model is sold (for example a model called the Viva Plus sold on QVC is very similar to the Duo Plus sold on Amazon, while the Nova Plus at Costco is similar to the Duo sold on Amazon). We warned you that things can get confusing!
A Little More Advanced
What’s With The Numbers? – The numbering system (e.g. 6-in-1 vs. 10-in-1) means the number of cooking functions the device has and, theoretically, the number of cooking devices the Instant Pot can replace in your kitchen. For example, a 10-in-1 has the ability to replace a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice/porridge cooker, yogurt maker, cake maker, egg cooker, steamer, warmer, and sterilizer. Instant Pot models with this numbering can also sauté or sear, although we doubt you will be replacing your stove-top.
How About Sizes? – Most Instant Pot models come in sizes of 3, 6, or 8 quarts. The 6-quart size is the default size (some like the Smart Wifi only come in this size), while those with the “Mini” designation are 3 quarts and there is no special designation for 8-quart units. Be sure to double check you are getting the size you want before making your purchase!
In our experience, a 3-quart unit is great for a family of 2-or-3, a 6-quart unit is great for a family of 4-or-5 and a 8-quart unit is great for large families and groups.
Also, keep in mind that many recipes are designed for 6-quart units, so you may need to make adjustments if you go with a smaller or larger size.
Pricing? – Instant Pots tend to range between $65 and $200 in price. Typically, moving up a size (e.g. from 3 quarts to 6 quarts) will cost between $30 and $40 depending on the model. If you want a non stick inner pot for your new Instant Pot (all models, even those not in our comparison, come with a stainless steal cooking pot at the time of our writing), this must be purchased separately and will run you an additional $15 to $30 depending on size.
Extra Features - Make Sure They Are Worth It
As mentioned above, the Instant Pot line is well known for constantly adding new cookers with new features. These new models may offer additional cooking functions, enhanced user controls, changes to user interfaces and even WiFi connectivity.
At ReviewDECIDE we recommend making sure you need all of the extra features on offer with more expensive models as many consumers will never use the additional functions such as those for making yogurt makers or cooking eggs. In fact, our experience is that most recipes use the manual settings found on all Instant Pots. Unless a particular feature is an absolute must have in your home, you can save with a more basic model.
If anything, instead of extra features, we would recommend purchasing a non stick cooking pot to compliment the stainless steel one included with your purchase. In our experience, you will use this nearly every time you use your Instant Pot; we cannot say the same for the porridge or egg cooker.
Actual Cooking Time: Fast But Not THAT Fast
It is important to set your expectations for cooking time with your new Instant Pot, especially if you are using the pressure-cooking function. Specifically, it takes the units 15-to-20 minutes to reach the necessary temperature and pressure and 5-to-10 minutes to depressurize (there is the option to depressurize manually, but this will result in a significant release of hot steam). Although you will still cook items like pot roasts much quicker with the Instant Pot than with a slow cooker, you may be surprised that some items take almost as long as the “traditional” way when you account for the time needed to pressurize and depressurize the unit. This depressing news aside, keep in mind that the Instant Pot is largely set and forget, allowing you to work at other tasks or relax while you meal is cooking.
Usable Size Matters
When using the popular pressure cooking function that is responsible for those blazing fast cooking times you read about with Instant Pots, you typically don’t want to fill the cooking pot more than 2/3 full (or even 1/2 full for items that expand during cooking like beans and grains). This is because a cooking pot that is overfilled can cause the quick-release pressure valve to clog and the unit to spew hot steam and food. When considering which size to purchase and how much room you’ll need to make your favorite recipes, it’s important to think about the actual usable size of the cooking pot.
How To Safely Operate Your Instant Pot
Fill Unit Correctly – Don’t over or under fill the inner cooking pot. Specifically, over filling can cause the release valve to clog and the unit to potentially spew hot food when opened, while under filling can cause issues with proper pressurization. Be aware that overfilling can occur when the unit is as little as half full if you are cooking dried and/or expanding foods like rice or beans. Consult your owner's manual for the specifics.
Use The Right Ingredients – Cranberries, applesauce, cereals like pearl barley, split peas, noodles and rhubarb should only be used if called for in an Instant Pot recipe from the manufacturer. These items can sputter or foam, clogging the unit's release valve and potentially causing it to spew hot food when opened.
Properly Affix The Lid – Make sure to properly affix and lock the lid in accordance with the instructions that accompany your Instant Pot (all of the units in our comparison have an indicator that will let you know if the lid is not locked). Otherwise, the unit may spew hot food and liquid.
Wait For The Unit To Depressurize – Never open the lid until after your Instant Pot has depressurized (that means no peaking at your dish!). This can cause the unit to spew hot food and liquid.
Keep Children Away – Duh. They can get burned or otherwise injured.
Watch The Cord – Make sure that the cord is safely positioned so that running children, animals, your clumsy uncle, etc. won’t accidentally contact it and bring the hot device as well as its contents along for the ride.
Steam Is Hot – Make sure to keep your body away from the release valve as the escaping steam can cause severe burns.
Do Not Use For Pressure Canning– None of the models in today's comparison generate suitable pressure for canning. Instant Pot does make a new model with a canning feature (the Instant Pot Max), but a quick search of the web shows that there are doubts about how suitable even this model is for many applications. We'd recommend to avoid using these devices for any canning applications and instead go with a dedicated pressure canner.
We started ReviewDECIDE on the premise that a great deal of the information required to properly evaluate a given product is already right in front of your (and our) eyes. In fact there is too much information! A crucial skill necessary to picking the best products is instead the ability to cull through the available information, focusing on what should really drive a purchase decision.
To make those crucial determinations as to what matters and what doesn’t, we begin by thinking through what really matters to us when we use a particular product. We then use the that type of product to further refine the features we care about and that we think you will care about too. Next we search the web, looking to manufacturer’s websites, product specifications, consumer reports, expert blogs, research reports and the like to obtain crucial insights and the facts.
Finally, we distill the results of our research and combine it with our own experiences as consumers, professionals, techies, mothers, fathers, hobbyists, designers, software engineers, attorneys (sorry) and more. Ultimately, this process results in the reviews we present to you. We hope you enjoy!
- Background photo of spices from iStock.
- Photo of curry being prepared in multi-cooker from iStock.
- Photo of bread and bowl of soup in front of multi-cooker from iStock.
- Photo of Instant Pot Ultra controls by Katherine Chase.
- Photo of upset boy from iStock.
- Photo of ceramic pots by Tom Crew.
- Photo of men fighting fire from pixabay.com.
- Photo of group jumping in office from iStock.
*Images have been cropped and/or resized.