What is an Instant Pot, and why is everyone obsessed with it?
Imagine having a slow cooker that also functions as a pressure cooker, a rice cooker, a steamer, and a yogurt maker. That’s the Instant Pot. It’s simply an electric pot that lets you cook fast (with the pressure-cooking function) or slow. People love it because it’s a convenient, time-saving device that lets you quickly cook dinner without keeping an eye on the stove.
If I already have a slow cooker and a rice cooker, do I really need another appliance?
Well, we can’t dictate what you need. However, the Instant Pot is more functional than both a slow cooker and rice cooker combined because it can also pressure-cook. The word instant in the name gives it away: You can cook things astonishingly fast in a pressure cooker—even notoriously slow-cooking or labor-intensive foods like risotto and brisket.
We think rice cooked in the Instant Pot is fine for most people, though the grains don’t come out as fluffy and light as they do from a high-end rice cooker like our upgrade pick, the Cuckoo CRP-G1015F. Rice aficionados might want to keep their rice cooker, especially for cooking sushi-grade grains.
If you’re worried about clutter, you can donate your old appliances to a charity, or hand them off to someone in your life who’s just starting out. We’re sure they’d appreciate them.
Are pressure cookers safe?
Yes, electric pressure cookers like the Instant Pot are generally safe and easy to use. The Instant Pot has so many safety mechanisms built in, it’s hard to make a catastrophic mistake. The lid has two safety catches: a valve that releases excess pressure automatically, and a lock preventing you from opening the pot while it’s under pressure. If for some reason the steam-release valve isn’t doing its job, the appliance has another sensor that shuts off the heating element if excess pressure builds inside the pot.
But as with any kind of cooking, there is a risk of injury if you are careless. If you follow the safety instructions, you should be good. We’ve found only one confirmed report of an injury caused by an Instant Pot, and it was the result of user error: The person suffered minor burns after she covered the steam valve with a dish towel while the pot was under pressure. When she touched the towel a few minutes later, hot soup sprayed onto her arm and neck. The Instant Pot manual, however, explicitly states that all venting valves should be clean and free of debris.
There are so many models—which one should I get?
We recommend the Instant Pot Duo to most people, though the Instant Pot Ultra is also very good if you’re willing to pay extra for more sophisticated controls. The company has a number of other models we’re not as crazy about, but mainly because we think the Duo and the Ultra offer the best set of features for their respective prices. If you can find another model on sale, we think most of these will serve you well. The only versions with significant downsides other than price are the Lux, which lacks a low pressure setting and a handle on the lid, and the Duo Crisp, which comes with an additional air fryer lid that takes up a lot of extra space without adding a lot of extra functionality. (If you like the idea of an air fryer lid, you can also buy one separately that fits most 6-quart Instant Pots).
Here’s a chart showing the most important differences between our picks and other Instant Pot series. You can read more about all of the models we don’t recommend later in this guide.
|Model||Price (6-quart)||Pressure-cooking levels||Temperature options||Available sizes||Cooking programs||Pressure-cook time||Altitude adjust||Keep-warm time|
|Duo series (our pick)||$80||Low and high||Less, normal, or more||3-, 6-, 8-quart||Up to 14||4 hours||No||~100 hours|
|Duo SV||$80||Low and high||Less, normal, or more||6-quart||14||4 hours||No||Up to 10 hours|
|Lux series||$80||High only||Less, normal, or more||3-, 6-, 8-quart||Up to 12||4 hours||No||Up to 10 hours|
|Viva||$100||Low and high||Less, normal, or more||6- and 8-quart||15||4 hours||No||Up to 10 hours|
|Duo Nova||$100||Low and high||Less, normal, or more||3-, 6-, 8-, 10-quart||Up to 13||4 hours||No||Up to 10 hours|
|Duo Plus series||$120||Low and high||Less, normal, or more||3-, 6-, 8-quart||Up to 15||6 hours||No||~100 hours|
|Duo Evo Plus||$120||Low and high||Low, high, or custom||6- and 8-quart||48||8 hours||No||Up to 10 hours|
|Ultra series (upgrade pick)||$150||Low and high||Less, normal, or more||3-, 6-, 8-quart||16||6 hours||Yes||~100 hours|
|Smart WiFi||$150||Low and high||Less, normal, or more||6-quart||13||4 hour||No||Up to 10 hours|
|Duo Crisp||$180||Low and high||Low or high||6- and 8-quart||11 (5 of which use the air fryer lid)||4 hours||No||Up to 24 hours|
|Max||$200||Low, high, and max||Low, high, or custom||6-quart||9||8 hours||Yes||Up to 10 hours|
Instant Pot Duo
Freesmart ’s top pick, the Instant Pot Duo 6-Quart, represents the best bang for the buck. It’s the least expensive Instant Pot that has two pressure-cooking levels (low and high), and it can keep warm for nearly 100 hours (99 hours 50 minutes, to be exact). The Duo design also has a big top handle, additional slots in both side handles that hold the lid, and a detachable cord (3- and 6-quart versions only), unlike Instant Pot’s earlier Lux-series model.
The display and control panel look complicated (and frankly, a little dated), but they’re easy to figure out and the instruction manual is clear (we promise). The Instant Pot Duo series offers three sizes: 3, 6, and 8 quarts. If you don’t want to shell out $80, wait for Prime Day or Black Friday, when Amazon has historically knocked $30 to $40 off the regular price. For more on what we love about the Duo series, check out our full guide to electric pressure cookers.
Instant Pot Ultra
If you want to spend an extra $70 or so for more features and control, get the Instant Pot Ultra, our upgrade pick. Compared with the Duo design, the Ultra model:
- has a bigger LCD screen that’s easy to read and displays a graph showing what’s happening inside the pot (preheat, pressure cook, keep warm)
- lets you make changes during the cooking process without canceling the program and starting over
- has a streamlined control panel with a main dial to toggle between programs and settings (it’s a lot less intimidating than the cluster of buttons on the Duo)
- gives you precise temperature control (as opposed to simple low, medium, and high settings) for slow-cook, warm, and sauté programs
- adjusts cooking time according to your elevation (you have to set this, it isn’t automatic)
- has a few more settings, including ones for sterilizing, making cake, and cooking eggs
- can pressure-cook for up to six hours (although we have no idea what would need to cook under pressure that long)
Like the Instant Pot Duo series, the Ultra design has two pressure levels, a detachable cord (3- and 6-quart versions only), and three size options (3, 6, and 8 quarts). Again, if you’re still hungry for more details about the Ultra, we’ve covered it more extensively in our electric pressure cooker guide.
Why aren’t the other Instant Pot models Freesmart picks?
The Instant Pot Lux is the oldest model of the bunch. By the time we thought to test it, the Duo series was already available, with features the Lux model lacks. Mainly, the Lux offers only one pressure-cooking level (high). And the lid of the Lux has no handle, a smaller but still irritating drawback.
The Instant Pot Duo SV is exclusive to Costco, though it’s unavailable at this writing. It’s very similar to the Viva but lacks an EasySeal lid and comes in only a 6-quart size. If you have a Costco membership and can find it, it’s priced similarly to the Duo and offers a few extra settings (such as sous vide).
The Duo Plus is an “upgraded” version of the Duo series (our top pick), but its changes are so minor that we don’t think it warrants the $40 price hike. The only real differences are a sous vide setting and the LCD, which displays more information and has an easy-on-the-eyes blue background. But compared with the Ultra design, the Duo Plus’s screen is smaller, and the control panel isn’t nearly as streamlined. The Duo Plus also lacks features that makes the Ultra special, namely altitude adjustment and customizable temperature control.
Previously a model that was available only at Costco, the Instant Pot Duo Nova is simply the Duo Plus with a slightly streamlined interface, a lid that automatically seals when you close it, and larger LCD screen. We dismissed it for the same reasons we dismissed the Duo Plus: It costs more than the Duo but doesn’t offer any added settings (in fact, it has one fewer smart program).
The Instant Pot Viva is another variant similar to the Duo Plus, although it lacks the upgraded blue LCD screen. It has a couple more settings than the Duo (including sous vide), plus a lid that seals automatically when you close it, and it comes in a few different colors. We haven’t tested it, but we don’t think it’s worth paying more for than the Duo.
The Instant Pot Smart WiFi comes with a companion app that allows you to control the pressure cooker. Although we found the ability to view recipes when the pot was preheating to be a nice touch, the app often crashed, and connecting to the cooker was difficult. In the end, we were left with a cooker much like the Duo and without the convenience of the app.
The Instant Pot Max offers a higher pressure setting than other Instant Pot models, as well as stirring and sous vide features. In theory, such features should increase the overall functionality of the cooker and speed up cook times. Unfortunately, we found during testing that the Max took longer to come up to pressure, the sous vide feature never reached its target temperature, and the stirring function left much to be desired.
Instant Pot’s Duo Evo Plus offers a number of small upgrades that impressed us. The inner pot has stay-cool handles that not only allow you to lift it easily but also keep the pot from whirling around inside the cooker as you sauté and stir. We also like that the clearly marked “vent/seal” switch on the lid is separate from the steam valve and automatically seals when you lock the lid in place. And the Duo Evo Plus comes with an extra silicone gasket. But we were disappointed by Instant Pot’s somewhat misleading promises of a “Quick Cool” feature that’s supposed to reduce depressurization time by 50%. Only after we read the instruction manual in detail did we learn that, contrary to what the marketing video suggests, using this feature requires a “Quick Cool” tray, which is sold separately (we haven’t tested that add-on yet, because it wasn’t even available when the Duo Evo Plus was first released).
The Instant Pot Duo Crisp is a huge machine (it comes in only an 8-quart size, whereas we recommend a 6-quart electric pressure cooker for most people) that comes with two different lids, one for pressure cooking and one for air frying. Both functions work as they’re supposed to, but we don’t think the Duo Crisp is as convenient for pressure cooking as the Instant Pot Duo or Ultra (our favorite electric pressure cookers) or as effective for air frying as a convection toaster oven.
What size should I get?
The 6-quart Instant Pot (in any series) is the most popular size by far, and the one we recommend for most folks. It offers plenty of capacity for weeknight dinners, soups and stews, a pot of beans, or even a whole chicken, yet doesn’t take up a crazy amount of counter space or shelf space.
But the choice is entirely up to you, and dependent on your cooking habits and storage space. Both the Instant Pot Duo and Ultra also come in a 3-quart Mini size and an 8-quart size.
The 3-quart Mini version is a good option for one or two people, or folks with limited kitchen storage. But the appropriately named Mini has a tiny pressure-cooking capacity that tops out at 2 quarts. For foods that expand when they cook, such as beans and grains, the total volume can’t exceed 1½ quarts.
If you cook for a lot of people or frequently make stock or broth, consider the 8-quart size. The hulking 8-quart Instant Pot will take up as much space on your countertop as a dish rack, which is why it isn’t for everyone, but it can yield almost 1 gallon of stock. If for some reason you want to go even bigger, the Duo Nova model also comes in a 10-quart size.