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Instant Pot guide 2021: How to choose the best model for you

Instant Pot guide 2021: How to choose the best model for you


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. An extremely hot Prime Day and Black Friday item, rounding out as a top 10 item for Amazon on Prime Day and Black Friday 2019. Expect Prime Day 2021 deals on evolved models from 2019 and 2020 instead of (or on top of) deals on the older Lux and Duo, which have been *the* sale models for the past few years.

3. Possibly the most important technological advancement in recent history. SpaceX is a close second.

The Crock-Pot competitor-turned-cult classic has been a staple in foodie kitchens since 2018. 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.” The Instant Pot Duo was one of the top 20 best-selling items on Black Friday 2018 and 2019, and the Duo Nova is all but certain to steal the spotlight on Prime Day and Black Friday 2020. Instant Pots are kitchen powerhouses that save time and effort: What more could you ask for?

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.


Instant Pot vs. Ninja Foodi: How to compare these trendy cooking devices

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). They get down to the nitty-gritty of heat intensity, pressure, and cooking duration to achieve more precise results in the kitchen. Some of the more advanced models even offer personalized programming and will remember your settings for the next time.

Instant Pots rock because models ladder up in skill and price: Each model gains a new cooking method, so you aren’t paying for functions you won’t use.

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.

Whether an Instant Pot could make your life a hell of a lot easier is a no-brainer. What involves more thought is choosing the right Instant Pot for you. With multiple series, cooking functions, quart sizes, but very similar physical designs, frantically Googling the differences can end up taking longer than those agonizing recipe wait times that you’re trying to avoid.

Can you air fry in an Instant Pot?

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 Instant Pot Duo Crisp (and the Instant Vortex, a devoted air fryer oven that’s not a pressure cooker).

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 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 Smart WiFi, Duo Evo Plus, Duo SV, or Max.

If you’re still confused about what air frying even is, read up about the best air fryers here.

What a retailer’s Instant Pot descriptions won’t tell you

The “manual” button on some entry-level models is the source of so much confusion on otherwise simple, straightforward panels. 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. Telling your pot to begin pressurizing is as simple as hitting manual, then the arrows. 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.

Watch out for that steam release valve. Releasing the pressure before unlocking the lid is a necessary-but-terrifying experience if you’re not expecting an explosion of hot steam to hiss out of the valve, undoubtedly giving you and your pets a wee heart attack. We suggest using a spatula or wooden spoon to release this, or opt for a model that has the new automatic sealing lid and steam release button.

There are also some general categorization rules that could aid in your purchase decision:

  • 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 less, 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. Only one model is available in the 10-quart size, and it’s probably overkill unless you frequently cook for groups, have unlimited counter space, or are straight-up replacing an oven or stove (say, if you’re 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.

  • Instant Pots are on sale constantly. The price we’ll list is the full price, but if you’re lucky (you probably will be), you’ll click on a model to see that the price has dropped for the day.

Related Video: How to make rice in an Instant Pot

How many different Instant Pots are there?

Good question. If you’re counting all of Instant Pot’s devices including appliances outside pressure cookers, there are a lot. If you’re only counting pressure cookers, it’s still pretty confusing. Instant Pot added a slew of new cookers in 2019 and again in 2020.

Here’s how to compare each Instant Pot model:

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