Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, Instant Pot, OH, MY!

I think we all can agree that we are inundated these days with advertisements for the latest and greatest. The hunt for the newest, fastest or best version of everything is at an all-time high. But what do we, the consumer, do to justify or rationalize making purchases for these often expensive items when we may have already have something comparable from an earlier decade? If you are like me, you turn straight to the Internet to read reviews, blog posts and advertisements to help form a multifaceted opinion.

Around Christmas time last year, it seemed like tidal waves of advertisements for the newest multi-cooker was spread across every media channel I laid my eyes on. A multi-cooker was marketed to do the job of a slow cooker, electric pressure cooker, rice cooker, steamer, yogurt maker, sauté/browning pan and warming pot. It’s a single appliance that does the job of seven different appliances or tools, and it sounds too good to be true, right? I thought so, too. And it drove me to wonder what made this different than the other countertop appliances that were on the market. So, here I am, with a brain full of research ready to relay my new found findings to you all.

What’s a pressure cooker and what’s the catch?

There are various kinds of pressure cookers, but the most common versions are the stovetop and electric varieties. With the electric being the most common today, it is designed to provide kitchen assistance that can save you time and money, while being very convenient.

But while many recipes for these appliances portray the illusion of a faster stove-to-table timeline, it is important to consider the 10 to 15 minutes that are required for building and releasing pressure, which is about the same time it might take to preheat an oven and roast your vegetable dinner. Another important note to consider: no crisp and no crunch. Although most cookers allow you to brown meats and vegetables, any crunchy bits of flavor will wilt under the pressurized steam. When you think of a pressure cooker, think of flavors that often take numerous hours to achieve. Stews, soups and slow cooked meats will be the best bet.

What’s the Instant Pot and what’s the difference?

While the Instant Pot boasts functions of most pressure cookers, it also advertises to do much more. While most use the Instant Pot similarly to a pressure cooker, it may have appeal if you’re an avid slow cooker chef or find great use in making large batches of rice. The biggest appeal to most, myself included, is its ability to replace three appliances for one. The opportunities to cook a variety of items seem to be almost endless. But is it too good to be true? Consider these variables if you find yourself in the market:

The Upfront Costs: With a $100 price tag (via Amazon) it may sound reasonable considering the appliances you may not have to purchase, but if you have a cabinet full of smaller appliances, that price tag may not be worth the weight of discarding those items.

The Learning Curve: Most users give caution to the new style of cooking that will need to be discovered while using these appliances. Rest assured, however, that with time, cooking will become intuitive with a few references to the instruction manual.

Lower PSI: Average stove top pressure cookers operate at a 15 PSI level, while electric ones, including the Instant Pot, range from 10-12 PSI. If speed is your main concern, then using the Instant Pot may require and additional 5-10 minutes on some recipes.

Safety: While the Instant Pot claims to be simpler to use than most traditional pressure cookers, the steam release can cause severe burns if not used properly. Use on a sturdy surface and away from children.