Slow Cooker vs. Instant Pot: What’s the Difference?

And more important: Which one should you buy?

Published July 13, 2022.

We’ve cleared up the difference between a slow cooker and a Crockpot, but there’s another common comparison in the world of slow-cooking appliances: slow cookers versus Instant Pots. Read on to learn the differences between them as well as which one you should buy.

What Is a Slow Cooker?

A slow cooker is a hands-off, “set and forget” countertop appliance that does one thing: slow-cooks. The best slow cookers deliver a properly cooked meal and are simple and intuitive to use. 

A slow cooker uses moist-heat cooking to cook things slowly, so you can start it in the morning and know you’ll have dinner ready by that night. Slow cookers have high and low temperature settings that you use depending on what you’re cooking, and many also have a “browning” function, so you can sauté and develop fond right in the slow cooker.

The Best Slow Cooker

KitchenAid 6-Quart Slow Cooker with Solid Glass Lid

This model nailed every test we ran it through, and testers liked its bright, intuitive control panel that has tactile buttons and beeps that alert you to changes.

What Is an Instant Pot?

An Instant Pot is a countertop appliance that slow-cooks—and then some. It is a brand of multicooker, an appliance known for having lots of features, typically including slow cooking, pressure cooking, rice cooking, steaming, searing, fermenting, and more. In sum, multicookers do more than slow cookers. But do they do it all well?

The Best Multicooker

Instant Pot Pro 8Qt

The most current Instant Pot multicooker is a great, easy-to-use appliance.

Are Instant Pots Worth It?

Yes. A good model, like the winner of our testing, the Instant Pot Pro 8Qt, is incredibly useful. 

Instant Pots’ primary function is pressure cooking, which as a cooking method is quick, safe, and easy. The moist, enclosed environment of cooking under pressure is great for a range of foods: meltingly tender meats, creamy beans, lightly crisp steamed broccoli, quick-cooking whole artichokes, gorgeously plump mussels, moist cheesecake, and hands-off fluffy rice. With the right Instant Pot (or other high-quality multicooker), you get perfect results every time. 

Instant Pots versus slow cookers: Watch this episode of Gear Heads to find out which is right for you.

My favorite part: Because multicookers have several functions, you can combine them and reduce the amount of dishes you dirty.

For example, in one of my favorite recipes, Multicooker Ziti with Sausage Ragu, you build the sauce right in the Instant Pot (or another multicooker), add the pasta, and close it up to cook. This saves you dishes because you don’t have to cook the sauce in a separate pan. It also tastes really good because everything is enclosed, so more flavor volatiles are retained during cooking. And because you cook the sauce in the same pot as the pasta, you don’t lose a speck of fond. Also, the pasta comes out perfectly al dente, which I did not see coming when I first heard of cooking pasta under pressure. I pictured a pile of mush! Now it’s one of my go-tos. (Here are a few more of my favorite Instant Pot recipes.)

Slow Cooker vs. Instant Pot: Which One’s Better?

That depends on what you plan to use it for. Here are our recommendations:

  • If you are interested primarily in slow cooking, you should buy a dedicated slow cooker. They’re more reliable with a range of slow-cooker recipes than an Instant Pot. We found Instant Pot multicookers specifically could not successfully slow-cook dense, high-volume recipes such as beef stew or pot roast. Beef was still chewy after 14 hours because the machine didn’t have enough power to fully break it down.

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