Should You Swap Your Slow Cooker for the Instant Pot?

Here's how these two popular small appliances measure up in the kitchen.

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Photo: Christina Holmes

Slow cookers have long been popular as a way to cook time-consuming, yet hands-off dishes like pot roast, pulled pork, and stew. Since the 1950s, they have helped home cooks create comfort food dinners for busy weeknights and jhave made entertaining easier thanks to their ability to create an entire meal in one pot. Instead of having to prep several different dishes right as guests arrive, you can quickly build a dish in a slow cooker in the morning and it will be ready by party time. Once Martha started experimenting with the slow cooker for her book, even she was impressed by its ability to braise, poach, and stew. Since the introduction of the multicooker or Instant Pot in 2010, many home cooks have sought out this new, versatile kitchen appliance. And Martha is right on trend; she came out with her own 7-in-1 pressure cooker for under $100. So, what's the difference between a slow cooker and a multi-cooker?

Slow cookers cook food at a lower heat for a longer period of time, whereas Instant Pots have multiple cooking functions, including ones for rice and grains, sauté, and pressure cooking, which is used to cook food at a higher heat for a shorter period of time. Those who don't own an Instant Pot may wonder what all the fuss is about and cooks who own both appliances may wonder if it's worth keeping both in their kitchen. Here's what you need to know.

Instant Pot vs. Slow Cooker

Both appliances offer ease and convenience with relatively little hands-on cooking but that doesn't mean that using these high-tech appliances sacrifices quality or flavor. A one-pot approach will still taste fabulous and makes clean-up a breeze. The best meals will always be a product of utilizing fresh, high-quality ingredients. The philosophy behind these appliances it that you can set something to cook and forget about it until serving time. A benefit of the slow cooker is that you can lift the lid at any point to stir and season. The lid of the Instant Pot is locked during the cooking process; to unlock it, you must release all of the pressure trapped inside, which compromises the cooking process. The price of both of these products is comparable-you can buy a good slow cooker for under $100. The mid-sized, six-quart Instant Pot costs about $80.

What Can I Use a Slow Cooker For?

While slow cookers are best known for slow cooking and tenderize big pieces of meat, they're also handy for cooking hearty vegetable sides like Greek stuffed peppers, simmering white-bean soup, and even for making triple chocolate brownies. Most recipes cooked in a slow cooker will take four hours on high, or eight hours on low.

What Can I Use a Multi-Cooker For?

Multi-cookers are acclaimed for their versatility. They have different cooking functions including pressure cooker, steamer, slow cooker, and warming pot. The benefit of using an multi-cooker for a recipe like Turkey Chili is that you can both sauté the meat, then cook the meat, vegetables, and sauce low and slow together in the same pot; a slow cooker would necessitate starting the chili on the stovetop, then transferring to the slow cooker. Multi-cookers do create pressure, which helps cook dishes like chili in 30 minutes versus several hours in a slow cooker.

instant pot

Is it Worth Buying an Instant Pot?

Instant Pots do a good job of cooking rice, for example, but are not necessarily superior to a rice cooker. If you're just starting to build your collection of small kitchen appliances and are considering investing in a slow cooker and a rice cooker or a pressure cooker and a slow cooker, then purchasing an 8-in-1 multicooker makes sense: It can tackle all these tasks and takes up less space than having several different small appliances. Plus, if you have a tiny kitchen, the Instant Pot can be used for basics like mashed potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and pasta. Multi-cookers also eliminate the need for the somewhat intimidating process of using a springform pan and water bath for cheesecake, or the fear of under- or over-cooking a meal. However, if you already own a slow cooker and enjoy cooking everything from perfect white rice to pasta to braising short ribs the old-fashioned way on the stovetop, then an Instant Pot might not be something you need to invest in.

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