Essential Tools

There Are *So* Many Instant Pots to Choose From—Here’s the Right One for You

Tender meats and big-batch stews, here we come!

December 11, 2018
Photo by Instant Pot

When it comes to the Instant Pot, there's a lot to love. Primarily, the electric multi-cooker—which is a fancy term for "all-in-one pressure cooker, slow cooker, sauté pan, steamer, and more, that plugs into your wall instead of cooking over an open flame"—can create the type of deep, caramel-y flavor typically associated with an all-day braise in under an hour. It can tenderize the toughest legumes (sans a pre-soak!) in the time it takes to watch one episode of Great British Baking Show. It can slow-cook with the best of 'em.

So it's no wonder that Instant Pot models have nabbed the top four bestseller spots on Amazon's electric pressure cooker list.

But if you're thinking about investing in one of Instant Pot's electric multi-cookers, it can be tough to parse all of the information out there. Which model makes the most sense for your day-to-day? Behold, a quick(ish) guide to choosing the correct Instant Pot for all of your kitchen needs:


Size Matters

Most Instant Pot models come in the 3-, 6-, and 8-quart sizes, with a few exceptions (as noted in the "Models" section below).

  • The 3-quart, the baby of the bunch, is best if you tend to cook in smaller batches—it has capacity for 12 cups. Think: several servings of grains or beans, a couple of bowls of soup, or a solid amount of yogurt (or cottage cheese!). It's a good size if you expect to travel with it, and you don't plan to use it to feed a large group. If you do like to cook in larger volumes (and want to optimize for things like big-batch broth prep, etc.), a larger size might be more up your alley.
  • The 6-quart Instant Pot is a safe bet if you cook for medium or large-sized groups, or if you're cooking for fewer heads but like to take a big-batch approach (yay, leftovers!). Many recipes you'll come across online and in Instant Pot cookbooks tend to fit in a 6-quart cooker, which holds 24 cups.
  • The 8-quart version—which clocks in at a whopping 32 cups of capacity—should be your go-to if you're the type of cook who likes to double recipes (Super Bowl party chili, anyone?), and/or stock your freezer to the nines.

So Many Models to Choose From

This is the part of the conversation that sort of makes my head spin. The summary-level version? There are tons of different models—aka "series"—of the multi-cooker, and generally (when sales aren't going on), the more expensive the model, the more functionality it has. In my opinion, the Duo models are amongst the strongest contenders when you take into account price, size, and common uses—but that said, some of the pricier models do have functionalities others might use more than I do. Additionally, the prices have been fluctuating quite a bit as the holidays approach, so you're likely to see some of the typically more expensive versions priced closer to the classics, over the near-term.

Some specifics on each broadly available series, with prices listed as of Dec. 11:

Lux series:

  • Available sizes: 3-quart ($60), 6-quart with standard black finishes ($79), 6-quart with red finishes ($80), and 8-quart ($110).
  • Main functions: "6-in-1"—1. Pressure cooking (high only), 2. Slow cooking, 3. Rice cooking, 4. Sautéing, 5. Steaming, and 6. Warming.
  • Anything else notable: This is a lot like the Duo series, except without the yogurt function, and with only one mode of pressure cooking (high) versus two (low and high).

Duo series:

  • Available sizes: 3-quart ($65), 6-quart ($100, currently sold out on Amazon and Instant Pot), and 8-quart ($100).
  • Main functions: "7-in-1"—1. Pressure cooking (low and high), 2. Slow cooking, 3. Rice cooking, 4. Sautéing, 5. Steaming, 6. Warming, and 7. Yogurt making.
  • Anything else notable: This is the classic model—I have the 6-quart version, and it works like a dream for stews, braises, sauces, no-soak bean soups, cheesy grain-based dinners, and more.

Duo Plus series:

  • Available sizes: 3-quart ($70), 6-quart ($90), and 8-quart ($100).
  • Main functions: "9-in-1"—1. Pressure cooking (low and high), 2. Slow cooking, 3. Rice cooking, 4. Sautéing, 5. Steaming, 6. Warming, 7. Yogurt making, 8. Egg cooking, and 9. Sterilizing.
  • Anything else notable: Basically the Duo model, with a little extra jazz. If you can nab it on sale—at the time of posting, the 6-quart's listed price is cheaper than that of the regular Duo—go for it.

Ultra series:

  • Available sizes: 3-quart ($120), 6-quart ($109), and 8-quart ($180).
  • Main functions: "10-in-1"—1. Pressure cooking (low and high), 2. Slow cooking, 3. Rice cooking, 4. Sautéing, 5. Steaming, 6. Warming, 7. Yogurt making, 8. Egg cooking, 9. Sterilizing, and 10. "Ultra" program for added control over adjusting temperatures and cooking functions (like making adjustments for altitude).
  • Anything else notable: This model would be good for someone looking for super precise control over every step of the process—it allows for a custom temperature setting when sautéing or slow cooking (versus pre-set levels of heat in all other models but the Max).

Max series:

  • Available sizes: 6-quart ($150).
  • Main functions: "Unlimited" according to Instant Pot—the features of the other series, plus pressure canning, a sous vide program, and "NutriBoost™ technology" that they say works by creating a boiling motion during pressure cooking to break down food, and add additional nutrition, flavor, and taste.
  • Anything else notable: If you're a maximalist when it comes to function, this is the model that you'll want to try.

Smart series:

  • Available sizes: 6-quart ($90).
  • Main functions: Also "unlimited" per Instant Pot, though according to this chart it lacks the sous vide and canning functions of the Max model.
  • Anything else notable: Importantly, the Smart series allows users to control cooking via an Instant Pot app on an iOS or Android device (which has greater than 750 pre-programmed recipes).

Do you own an Instant Pot? If so, which kind? If not, would you ever consider purchasing one? Let us know in the comments.

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Ella Quittner

Written by: Ella Quittner

Ella Quittner is a a writer at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches.

2 Comments

Joan S. March 16, 2019
I found this useful. Now I know the differences in all those models.
 
Susan March 7, 2019
I'd be interested in some consumer based comparison's of other brands of Instant Pot competition; ie Gourmia, for one....