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 Pots and pressure cookers
1. Best Instant Pot overall: Instant Pot Ultra 10-in-1
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."
2. Best Instant Pot for beginners: Instant Pot Duo Nova 7-in-1
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."
3. Best pressure cooker air fryer: Ninja Foodi OL701 Smart XL Pressure Cooker
The new Ninja Foodi SMART XL is truly a cooking powerhouse. It can pressure cook, air fry, bake, make sous vide and more.
One of its biggest selling points is the SmartLid. Despite being both an air fryer and pressure cooker (and almost everything in between), it doesn’t require two separate lids like most other models. It’s just one, which you can set to one of three different modes: pressure, “steamcrisp” and air fry.
It can air fry and pressure cook like the best of them, but what truly sets this new Foodi model apart is the SteamCrisp mode. SteamCrisp simultaneously steams and cooks the food while essentially frying or boiling its surface. What you get is a juicy inside and a crispy outside without the risk of either drying or undercooking your food.
There’s also an included plug-in smart thermometer that allows you to set a goal temperature for your meat without the need to check it that often.
While it can seem pretty expensive at $350, the features, versatility and convenience that the new Foodi provides is unmatched. You can also often find coupons for $75 off.
If that price is still too high, you can consider these two other options: the slightly older OL601, and the smaller, OL501 6.5-quart version. These alternatives can be found for $280 or less, but they don’t include the thermometer or have programmable pressure settings.
4. Best pressure cooker air fryer runner-up: Ninja Foodi 10-in-1 OS301 Pressure Cooker and Air Fryer
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.
5. Best Instant Pot for low prices: Instant Pot Duo Mini 7-in-1 3-Quart
If what you want is a just a basic Instant Pot for the lowest price possible, and you rarely cook for big groups and don't have the need for a big unit, then check out any of the 3-quart Instant Pots, like the Duo Mini. Regular prices start at $69.99, and there are often big discounts — especially around promotional events like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Amazon Prime Day.
For that matter, it's also fairly easy to find 6-quart Instant Pots on sale for less than $50 or $60 during big holiday sales. So if your main objective is to spend as little as possible, it's important to understand that when you buy is often as key as what you buy.
6. Best for low prices runner-up: Presto 02140 6-Quart Electric Pressure Cooker
If you’re looking for a little more cooking space for roughly the same or lower price as a basic Instant Pot ($70 to $90), the Presto 02141 6-Quart Electric Pressure Cooker could be right up your alley.
This pressure cooker can handle many different types of cooking such as stews, meats, veggies and several varieties of rice. However, it lacks multicooker features for yogurt and steaming.
Notably, it does feature both high and low pressure settings, which gives it a degree of versatility that some multi-cookers otherwise lacks. Overall, the Presto is a great choice for home cooks looking for a versatile appliance with plenty of space for larger meals.
7. Best for smart features: Chef iQ Smart Cooker
Courtesy of AmazonMany 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.
Best basic slow cookers
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."
A great alternative to the Elite Gourmet MST-900R, the Crockpot Express Slow Cooker also offers streamlined functionality, with just a front-facing knob for temperature control. Its exterior is also made from stainless steel, which helps with heat conductivity.
Unlike the Elite Gourmet, however, the Crockpot Express features a stoneware cooking insert, which is similarly useful for distributing heat and keeping food warm. It can be especially helpful for anyone who enjoys the crispy browning found on dishes such as casseroles and gratins.
For the same $45 to $60 price range as the Elite Gourmet, it’s definitely an alternative worth considering.
Here are some more slow cooker recommendations if that's more what you want, rather than an Instant Pot or other multi-cooker.
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."