As the weather gets colder, nothing will warm you up like soup, stew or chili. Luckily, whether you use meat or go vegetarian, take a culinary journey to the Mediterranean or go all-in on potatoes, there are so many easy dishes to make with an Instant Pot or similar multi-purpose cooker.
Sure, you could make soup or your favorite stew on your stovetop using a regular old pot, but then you're stuck at home all day. If you buy a pressure cooker, you can do the prep before leaving for work, errands, or just a nice walk, and then come home to a house that smells like soup, all while knowing that your device will keep everything safe.
Pressure cookers are so named because in addition to slowly raising the temperature of the water, broth or whatever liquid you pour in, the device adds steam pressure to force liquid into your ingredients, causing meats and vegetables to get tender and flavorful.
Pressure cookers are closely related to slow cookers such as Crockpots. The main difference is that devices such as Instant Pots also come with options to cook dishes, such as hard-boiled eggs, fast as well, using high-heat pressure. You probably won't get the complex flavors of a good soup this way, but pressure cookers can be handy if you want to make risotto. Fortunately, most pressure cookers come with a slow cook option.
Depending on your device, a pressure cooker can potentially be used to make rice, bake bread, steam vegetables and slowly cook a chicken or make chicken stock, and many pressure cookers can take the place of common kitchen devices such as steamers.
While the colder months may be considered prime time for cooking with an Instant Pot, pressure cooker, or multi-cooker, these appliances are so versatile and easy to use they make sense at every time of year. Here are the best options to add to your kitchen, according to our research and the recommendations of chefs and food experts.
Best Instant Pot Overall
Chef David Boyd is the owner of Down to Earth Cuisine in Seattle, as well as a Certified Personal Chef. He says that the Instant Pot Ultra is "expensive, and usually used by experienced cooks, but lacks nothing," he says. It "does the work of 10 appliances," he says, including slow cooker, yogurt maker and steamer, and comes with "16 smart built-in programs that monitor the pressure and temperature, keeps time, and adjusts heating intensity and duration."
Best Instant Pot for Beginners
The Instant Pot brand looms large in the pressure cooker space, but which model is best? The company offers so many different products that it can be tough to know which one is for you. Alex and Ryan Davis, the St.Paul-based husband and wife-duo behind Ryan and Alex Duo Life, a wellness and lifestyle site for couples that offers cooking and nutrition advice, call the Duo Nova the best device for beginners.
"What we get from the Instant Pot is consistency every time, making it far easier to share healthy recipes without worrying about different stove tops and ovens. From homemade granola to yogurt to quinoa, the Instant Pot is our most versatile kitchen appliance," says Alex. "Plus, for those who live at high elevation like us, the pressure cooker feature is a must, saving us hours of cook time."
More of the Best Pressure Cookers & Multi-Cookers
Pressure cookers and air fryers revolutionized easy and speedy cooking. Ninja’s 10-in-1 Foodi does both jobs as good as the dedicated appliances themselves. And its air fryer components (the top-down fan and heater) provide features such as roasting, broiling and more conventional baking capabilities.
At 6.5 quarts, it’s slightly bigger than the average pressure cooker or air fryer. It’s also designed wider instead of deeper to allow more comfortable one-layer placement, especially when using the air fryer configuration.
This mix allows for a more complete cooking experience and a widened recipe book out of just one device. You can sear or sauté before pressure cooking, or look for that golden finish right after. It also makes cleaning easier and more streamlined, since all the juices and grease from air frying fall from the rack onto the removable pressure cooking pot.
It’s worth noting, too, that the Foodi’s pot is ceramic coated, which is rare for pressure cookers. This makes it very easy to clean as food doesn’t stick like on bare metal surfaces, and it doesn’t have the health concerns of Teflon.
The Foodi comes with two lids, one for pressure cooking and one for air frying. However, the air frying lid is permanently attached; you just move it out of the way to place the other one. This could be annoying for some, but it also means you don’t have to worry about losing it or dropping it.
Although a relatively new brand, TaoTronics has been making quality consumer devices for about a decade. The company's TT-EE006 pressure cooker, which sells for only $40, represents an extraordinary value.
You normally have to sacrifice size for such a low price. But with an ample 6 quarts of capacity, that’s not the case here. It also has a solid list of 16 preset cooking options that you can select on a very easy-to-use interface.
The TT-EE006 heats up faster than many competitors, at an average of 5 minutes, reducing cooking time even more than other pressure cookers. It comes with a good set of accessories too, including an extra seal ring, which a lot of models skip.
One downside is the inconvenient lid handle, which deviates from the classic full grip that goes from side to side. Also, the steam valve is known to be flimsy and may require attention to be sealed properly.
Many devices and appliances now incorporate smart technology, but they usually only feature controls through a phone or smart assistant. This new 6-quart Chef iQ multi-cooker takes a more comprehensive approach and has tried to integrate smart technology into its overall design and function.
It has a few smart features worthy of attention. First, it has an integrated scale. This means you can measure as you pour ingredients, to save time and avoid using additional bowls. The Chef iQ's built-in calculator guides you through the cooking process. You can dial in what you want to cook, and it’ll let you know how many ounces of each ingredient you need, how much time it’ll take and at what setting. You can also simply select a preset: rice, for example. Add a random amount (the scale will know), and the cooker will tell you how much water you need.
The phone app, as expected, lets you control the cooker, and provide details like a dish's remaining cooking time or the weight of ingredients. The app also has lots of recipes with instructional videos, and its calculator function can be used to help you navigate more ways to cook different foods (not entire recipes, but individual foods like chicken or rice).
The app comes preloaded with a total of 33 recipes, and one of the benefits of a smart appliance is that you can usually expand the options with software updates. The recipes you use the most can be saved to the cooker itself, so you can say the device learns as it goes.
With a list price of $200, the Chef iQ Smart Cooker is a little more expensive than competitors. But we have seen it on sale for $150, and at that price it's a terrific value.
It costs more than some brands, but the Ninja Foodi 7-in-1 is Pitchkhadze's favorite multi-purpose cooker. "It's no coincidence that this pricey slow cooker has over 16k positive reviews on Amazon. It crisps, bastes, air fries, and more," he says. "It comes with a non-stick, dishwasher safe, PTFE-free 5-quart pot... and an equivalent three-quart pot for when you don't need all that space. It comes with an easy-to-use digital display and buttons that make programming the device fast and easy."
Pressure cookers offer a way to get great flavor out of vegetables, which why the device is a staple in the households of vegetarians and vegans such as George Pitchkhadze, the New Yorked-based CMO at Thrive Cuisine, "a vegan blog focused on product reviews. I use pressure cookers about three to four times a week."
Pitchkhadze says the COSORI C3120's "sleek design is a good complement to any worktop or kitchen design. It comes with dozens of possible cooking setups and can help you cook rice, legumes, meat and even yogurt," and "the aluminum base distributes heat evenly, making sure you don't over or under-cook any part of your meal. And at just two quarts, this is an excellent product for picnics, hikes, or minimalist kitchens."
Best Basic Slow Cooker
If you really, really like chicken, then Pitchkhadze recommends the Elite stainless steel slow cooker.
"The electronics on this unit are rudimentary and simple. The cooker itself, though, is an absolute delight. At 8.5 quarts, it's massive enough to cook for large groups, and meat lovers will be glad to know you can fit a whole chicken inside," he says. "The stainless steel means the cooker is chemical-free, resistant to scratches and extremely durable. Moreover, heat travels well through steel, ensuring your food is cooked evenly."
Best Instant Pot Accessory
If you're worried that the Instant Pot just isn't versatile enough, well...you're a pretty demanding person. But fortunately, Lauren Wardini, Los Angeles-based founder of the lifestyle blog RelaxingDecor, recommends the Instant Pot Air Fryer Lid, which can snap right on top of your Instant Pot. Just add oil and you can fry up some onion rings. You can also put it to healthier uses.
"I had an Instant Pot for years and loved it, but I recently purchased the Air Fryer lid included and it's incredible! It eliminates another small appliance taking up kitchen space. It adds a bunch of features to the regular Instant Pot including roast, bake, broil, and dehydrate," she says. "The air fryer lid is compatible with most models and works great, and you can also purchase the set if you don't already have an Instant Pot. It does cost about $80 for the lid alone or $180 for the set, but again, it's well worth having one small appliance that does everything I need. The set also comes with a few convenient extras like an air fryer basket, tray for broiling or dehydrating, steam rack, and other bonus items."