Instant Pot has become synonymous with pressure cooker, and with good reason: The company's products are the top-rated pressure cookers on Amazon and many other consumer review sites. It seems like you hear about them everywhere from fans of the devices, who say these cookers are their favorite new way to get dinner on the table in a flash. But with several different models, plus numerous sizes for each one, which Instant Pot is best for you? That's why we spent more than 50 hours evaluating the top Instant Pot 6-quart models (Lux, Duo, Duo Plus and Ultra Instant Pot) to find out for ourselves.
The best Instant Pot for most people is the Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1. At $99 for the 6-quart model, it was easy to use and worked well across almost all of its settings. For people on a budget, the Lux 6-in-1 is a good choice, as it sells for $20 less, but it wasn't as consistent a cooker as the Duo.
Editor's Note: Since our initial testing, Instant Pot released two new models: The Instant Pot Smart Wi-Fi ($149), which only comes in a 6-quart size, can connect to your home Wi-Fi and be controlled via Google Assistant or a smartphone app (Android and iOS); and the Instant Pot Max ($199), also available in only a 6-quart size, has a top pressure of 15 PSI, which enables faster cooking as well as a canning feature. It also has a touchscreen interface.
Top picks for Instant Pots
Although all Instant Pot models look similar and operate in a similar manner, we found some notable differences among them.
The Duo 7-in-1 is one of the best-selling and best-reviewed Instant Pot models for a reason. It performs consistently across all functions, producing great results, and it's very easy to use. Despite lacking an egg feature, this pot turned out perfect eggs on low pressure and perfect rice using the Rice program. However, the slow-cook function appears to be the slowest of all Instant Pots, so if braising is your thing, you may want to step up to the Duo Plus for an additional $30.
We loved how intuitive the controls were for setting the Duo 7-in-1 to cook, as well as how easy it was to deglaze and clean the insert after even a high sear. While this model has somewhat fewer program settings than other models, we found that you can get excellent cooking results using manual pressure-cooking settings instead. Instant Pot includes a time chart for cooking and a cookbook, making the manual process simple.
What users are saying
On Amazon, the Instant Pot Duo has been reviewed more than 29,000 times, and has an average rating of 4.5 stars. One reviewer wrote "I LOVE my Instant Pot! But I will be the first to admit that it can be a little intimidating at first, and it can feel like it has a steep learning curve."
Another user wrote: "It’s not Instant Cooking... it takes time to get to pressure, add the actual cooking time, and then a cool-down (or natural release) period. Your recipe might state a cook time of 30 minutes but it doesn’t mention the 10-20 minutes it takes to get to pressure and the 10-15 minutes it might need for a natural pressure release. Be sure to factor that in so your family isn’t waiting at the table 30 minutes before your dinner is ready. You’ll know what ‘hangry’ means then!"
If you're headed off to college, on a budget or just interested in occasionally experimenting with pressure cooking, the Lux 6-in-1 is a great choice. It does a solid job on rice cooking, slow cooking and basic pressure cooking, making it a great starter model. This Instant Pot does have some flaws. It has only one setting for manual pressure cooking (versus pots that have high and low).
It also leaks quite a bit of steam through the pressure-release valve while coming up to pressure, which can be a little scary until you get used to it. We also found inconsistent results when using the Egg program to make soft-boiled eggs and when sautéing. But overall, the Lux 6-in-1 is a solid choice for the money.
What users are saying
The Instant Pot Lux has more than 4,000 reviews on Amazon, with an average rating of 4.5 stars (out of 5). While most reviewers liked the device, several wished that the documentation was better. One reviewer noted that the 4th edition of the Instant Pot Recipe booklet omits the cook times for basmati, jasmine, and brown rice (22-25 minutes).
Another reviewer commented "Supposedly the IP [Instant Pot] can be used to make yogurt. The 'recipe' says it's 'critical' to have your milk the correct temperature. Does it say anywhere WHAT that temperature is? No. It says room temperature, but if the temp is 'critical' give me a number, please. And several of the recipes require IP accessories, not included with the IP. "
If you have limited storage space and are looking for an appliance to replace your slow cooker, the Duo Plus 9-in-1 can't be beat. It performed well on all of our tests, except for the Rice program, and was easy to clean and program.
The Duo Plus sells at a more reasonable price than the Ultra, and you can rely on it to handle most of your cooking needs, including those that call for the bonus Egg, Cake, Yogurt and Sterilize features that the Lux and standard Duo don't offer. This cooker also did very well at slow cooking, which makes it a true multipurpose appliance for small homes.
What users are saying
Like the other Instant Pots, the Duo Plus has an average rating of 4.5 stars on Amazon, and has been reviewed more than 3,900 times. One reviewer said she went with the Duo Plus over other models for its presets for cakes, eggs, and sterilization, as well as its large LCD screen. "It also had the yogurt function," she wrote.
If high design is important to you, the Ultra 10-in-1 is worth the price. Its sleek, modern look with a large, bright blue display boasts a a cooking time graph (so you can quickly see where the pot is in the pressure-building/cooking/releasing process). It has one feature we particularly love: a separate Quick Release button on top of the lid that keeps your hand away from the vent and its escaping steam. With the other models, you need to move the actual vent, which can be a little intimidating during the first few uses.
The Ultra's controls are digital (versus the analog buttons in the other models), with a large knob to switch among the features and a toggle button to adjust settings. However, the controls are a little confusing; you have to actually press Start after finding your program and timing (which is a different process from the other models, which start automatically). This model also has an Ultra feature to allow for complete customization of any setting, and it comes with an altitude-adjustment feature, which will be necessary if you're cooking at high altitudes.
The Ultra was the best model at replicating a slow cooker, so it should be easy to use this model without adapting recipes. However, the Egg and Rice functions didn't perform very well in our tests, which means you may have to play with custom programming to get the precise results you want for those foods.
What users are saying
The Instant Pot Max has a little more than 2,000 reviews on Amazon, with an average rating of 4.4 stars. One reviewer liked the Max's screen, which shows where the Instant Pot is in its cooking cycle. "The LCD display is miles ahead of any of the control panels on any other model offered by Instant Pot," he wrote. However, he also wished that the manual were more detailed.
What is an Instant Pot?
Instant Pots, or "multicookers," are countertop appliances that look very much like rice or slow cookers. However, they offer more capabilities, most notably pressure cooking. Instant Pots have dispelled the myth that pressure cooking is scary and have brought the time-slashing cooking technique back into vogue.
Instant Pots also allow for sautéing and slow cooking right in the same vessel, for true start-to-finish, one-pot cooking of often-complicated or time-consuming dishes. Some Instant Pot models also include programs for specific food preparations, like rice and egg cooking and even yogurt making.
How pressure cooking works
Instant Pots and other pressure cookers have unique lids that create an airtight seal. Once the lid is locked in place and the cooker is set, steam gets produced in the pot and can't escape.
The trapped steam increases the atmospheric pressure inside the cooker, increasing the boiling point of liquids and speeding up the time it takes to boil, braise or steam foods.
What to look for when buying an Instant Pot
Here are the key things to consider when choosing an Instant Pot:
Features: Some Instant Pot models come with preprogramed cooking functions and even additional capabilities such as Yogurt Making and Sterilization. However, these preprogrammed functions merely mimic low- and high-pressure cooking, and you can re-create them manually. Additionally, we found that some preprogrammed functions were unreliable (with, for example, rice and eggs turning out imperfect).
Evaluate the kind of cooking you typically do before splurging on bells and whistles that you don't need. You should also realize that you may still need to adapt your cooking times to get the results you want. We frequently found that the more features an Instant Pot had, the more confusing the controls were.
Size/capacity: We tested only 6-quart models, as they're the most popular size on the market. However, many Instant Pots are available in 3-quart sizes, which are better for individuals or couples, and 9-quart sizes, which are better for larger families.
Price: It's surprising how widely the prices vary for Instant Pots, given that most of them offer the same basic features, give or take a few specifics. Your personal budget for cooking gear will influence your decision on which price is best.
Accessories: Every Instant Pot comes with a trivet (where you can cook eggs or rest baking dishes), a plastic rice scoop and a cookbook. You don't really need any other accessories, although you can separately purchase a myriad of them on Amazon. Options range from a glass lid to use when slow cooking to steamer inserts, additional sealing rings, egg holders, springform pans and more.
MORE: Best Instant Pot Accessories under $30
Ease of use: It takes a little practice to get used to sealing an Instant Pot's lid, using the device's quick-release steam vent and setting the pot's cooking programs. There are only slight variations between models; the Ultra offers the most features, but it's also the most confusing to use.
Ease of cleanup: The stainless-steel insert and ring/locking lid of an Instant Pot are extremely easy to clean. However, some Instant Pots heat up faster and reach higher temperatures than others, resulting in scorching when you're searing, which can be a little difficult to clean.
Safety: Instant Pots have made pressure cooking extremely safe and nearly foolproof for home cooks. However, the lid of the pot gets extremely hot during cooking, and on all models but the Ultra, you need to get very close to the lid — and the hot steam — when quick-releasing the steam.
How we tested
We lined up all four Instant Pots — the Lux, Duo, Duo Plus and Ultra — for a side-by-side comparison in which we evaluated cooking capabilities, time, temperature, controls and the final cooked results. Although each model is available in multiple sizes, we purchased the 6-quart model of each to eliminate any variables related to volume.
We purposely selected these five cooking methods and their corresponding ingredients, as they represent the most common uses for Instant Pots.
- Soft-boiled eggs: to use the Egg program or Low Pressure setting
- Long-grain rice: to test the Rice program on each pot
- Diced onions: to test the Sauté setting
- Chicken thighs: to evaluate how the High Pressure setting worked
- Whole pork shoulder: to see how each Instant Pot would sear and braise on the Saute and then Slow Cook settings
Instant Pot recently released a new model, the Instant Pot Smart ($149), which can be controlled using your smartphone. It was released after we concluded our initial tests, but we plan to review it and add our impressions.
Soft-boiled eggs using the Egg program
Cooking perfect soft-boiled eggs can be a challenge, so we evaluated the accuracy of the Instant Pots' Egg programs. For this test, we cooked four eggs set on the rack in the bottom of each pot with 1 cup of water, with the pot set on Egg and then Low or Less. (Note: The Duo model does not have an Egg setting, so we used Low Pressure for 3 minutes.)
|Time to Reach Pressure (min:sec)||Total Cooking Time (min:sec)||Lid Temperature at End Cooking Time||Side Temperature at End Cooking Time||Results|
|Lux||5:55||8:55||124||96||Some runny yolks, but slightly cooked around the edges. More cooked than in Ultra|
|Duo||5:10||8:10||217||88||All eggs perfectly runny|
|Duo Plus||5:45||8:45||200||89||All eggs perfectly runny|
|Ultra||4:39||7:39||210||96||Eggs were runny but not perfectly so. Some cooked egg around the edge|
Cooking soft-boiled eggs resulting in that perfect, runny yolk works in the Duo and Duo Plus Instant Pots. However, doing so in the Lux and Ultra will require some adjustments.
Cooking long-grain white rice using the Rice program
Conventional recipes for cooking long-grain white rice call for a rice-to-water ratio of 1:2. The Instant Pot's sealed environment reduces this to 1:1.
Recommendations in the Instant Pot recipe book say you should rinse and then soak white rice for 15 minutes, which is not a time-saving approach. In our testing, we found that it was not necessary to soak the rice. Selecting the Rice button automatically sets the cooking time to 4 minutes. However, the Rice setting is only for cooking white rice. For other rice types — such as brown, jasmine and wild rice — you will need to select the Manual button and set the proper cooking time.
For each Instant Pot, we measured 1 cup of white rice and added 1 cup of water. For the Duo and Duo Plus IP, we selected the Rice program. The cooking time automatically defaults to 12 minutes for both the Duo and Duo Plus, but you can change the mode to Less (for al dente rice), Normal(for perfectly fluffy rice) or More (for a softer rice). In our testing, we selected Normal.
On the Ultra Rice program, the default cooking time is 14 minutes, and for the Lux, it is 10 minutes. You can adjust the time on each, but we used the default settings. After cooking, we allowed for a natural release and tested the doneness of the rice in each model.
|Time to Reach Pressure (min:sec)||Total Cooking Time (min:sec)||Lid Temperature at End of Cooking Time||Side Temperature at End of Cooking Time||Results|
|Lux||6:35||16:35||215||93||Perfect, fluffy rice|
|Duo||5:20||17:20||212||95||Perfect, fluffy rice|
|Duo Plus||4:55||16:55||186||94||Partially uncooked rice|
|Ultra||9:00||23:00||235||93||Slightly undercooked rice|
We found some rice stuck to the bottom of each of the Instant Pots. (You can avoid this with a quick spray of oil to the bottom of the pot prior to cooking the rice.) Otherwise, cleanup was relatively easy. We were disappointed that the Ultra still failed to finish cooking the rice, even though this pot took much more time cooking (23 total minutes) than the other three models. It's not that much of a time savings compared to cooking on the stove top, but it is hands-off.
Sautéed onions using sauté feature
The Sauté setting heats up the bottom of the pan and happens with the lid off, similar to traditional stove-top cooking.
On the Duo, Duo Plus and Lux IP series, after selecting the Sauté function, you must choose from among three temperature settings: Normal, which best matches stove-top sautéing; Less,which drops the temperature to a low flame; and More, which raises the temperature to give you a sear. More is best-suited for browning meat and is not best for cooking a vegetable like onions.
The Ultra series Sauté function also asks you to choose a temperature; however, Ultra has different names for its settings, using Med for stove-top sautéing, Low for a lower temperature and High for browning meat.
In our onion test, we selected Sauté and then chose the Normal temperature setting for the Duo, Duo Plus and Lux IP series. For the Ultra series, we choose the Med temperature setting.
For all four Instant Pots, we waited 2 minutes and then added 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and heated the oil for 2 minutes. Next, we added 2 cups of diced onions and 1 teaspoon of salt. We cooked the onions for 8 minutes, stirring often and checking for sticking and for evenness of browning. We measured the temperature of the outside of the Instant Pot and found that none were above 99 degrees during sautéing.
|Lux||Indicator says Hot, which is different from the other devices' displays; it had the least browning.|
|Duo||Edges of the onions started burning and sticking before the centers got browned, meaning the Med setting is actually a pretty high heat.|
|Duo Plus||Second best, even caramelization and closest to stove-top results|
|Ultra||Most-even results, with great caramelization and browning and no sticking|
All four Instant Pot models worked well as countertop sauté pans, allowing for one-pot cooking when sautéing vegetables or other foods before slow cooking or pressure cooking. The variations among the four were slight. You do have to use a long spoon to stir to avoid hitting the side of the Instant Pot insert, but as a side benefit, you won't have any splatters while cooking.
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs using pressure cooking
For this test. we placed 1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken thighs in the bottom of the Instant Pot insert and covered the meat with 1 cup of chicken stock. For all four Instant Pots, we selected the Pressure Cook button, set the Pressure to High and manually set the cooking time to 10 minutes. When cooking time was complete, we pressed Cancel and allowed the pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes.
|Time to Reach Pressure (min:sec)||Total Cooking Time (min:sec)||Lid Temperature at End of Cooking Time||Side Temperature at End of Cooking Time||Internal Chicken Temperature|
All four Instant Pots produced extremely tender, moist and juicy chicken. Of all our tests, this one produced the least variation in results, except for that the Duo Plus had the lowest exterior and food temperatures when cooking.
Pork shoulder using Sauté and Slow-Cook methods
For this test, we used a traditional pulled-pork recipe calling for a 2-pound boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of fatback and any excessive fat. We used an even amount of traditional spice rub on each pork shoulder, and the rub included some sugar to test for burning and sticking.
We next added 2 tablespoons of canola oil to each Instant Pot, set the device to Saute High and heated for 2 minutes. Then, we seared each roast for 5 minutes per side and deglazed with one-quarter cup bourbon.
Next, we added a mixture of 1 cup chicken broth and one-half cup BBQ sauce to each Instant Pot, returned the pork to the pot and set the device to cook on Slow Cook-Medium for 9 hours.
At the end of those 9 hours, the pork was still not tender (most slow-cooker recipes for a 2-pound pork shoulder indicate 8 to 10 hours on low). The temperatures of the outside of the machine, lid, meat and braising liquid at 9 hours varied slightly among the four pots (results below).
We then set the pots to Slow Cook-High for 2 hours and took measurements for outside, lid, meat and liquid. We tested the tenderness of each roast by pulling it apart gently with two forks.
Slow-cooked after 9 hours on Low
|Lid Temperature at End of Cooking Time||Side Temperature at End of Cooking Time||Internal Pork Temperature||Liquid Temperature|
Slow-cooked after 2 additional hours on high: Total cook time, 11 hours
|Lid Temperature at End of Cooking Time||Side Temperature at End of Cooking Time||Internal Pork Temperature||Liquid Temperature|
When adapting slow-cooker recipes for the IP, be aware that the cook time may be significantly longer with an Instant Pot. We were surprised that none of the pork roasts were done after 9 hours. We found that the Sauté High setting on the Ultra was clearly superior, with this pot heating the pork up faster than the other Instant Pots did. However, the Ultra also resulted in significant scorching on the bottom of the pan. The other Instant Pots had very little scorching and deglazed easily.
The Ultra resulted in the tenderest pork, as well as the easiest to pull apart. The Duo produced the least-tender pork of the Instant Pots, indicating that this pot may not be the best for slow cooking. The Duo Plus and the Lux IPs resulted in pork that was slightly more fork-tender than what the Duo produced but less tender than the Ultra's results.
Cleanup for the Sear and Slow-Cooker method in the Ultra Instant pot required extra scrubbing, making this pot the most difficult and time-consuming one to clean. The Lux, Duo and Duo Plus were much less difficult to clean, requiring only some scrubbing.
Julie Hartigan is a professional chef and food writer who has developed recipes for publications including Weight Watchers, Saveur, and Real Simple. She has also appeared on CBS New York and The Chew. You can find more of her recipes at cookingwjulie.com.
Credit: Tom's Guide