Food prepared in an electric pot just makes life easier and almost always results in mouth-watering meals the whole family will love. The hard part is deciding which kind of electric pot to choose as an everyday kitchen appliance.
In one corner is the Instant Pot. This multi-cooker practically does it all, from quick dishes that help your crazy schedule to rice cooker and even slow cooker. It’s become a buzzword phrase in recent years, and if you don’t have one then you know someone who does.
In the other corner is the Crock-Pot or other brand slow cooker. It is the great creator of free time for millions of chefs for a half-century, allowing you to fix it and forget it, so that you spend most of your day getting other stuff done while dinner gets done.
Crock-Pot is for meal planners. Instant Pot is for whipper-uppers. Sometimes we want them both, and sometimes we just argue about which is best. It’s time to do a little more arguing here, so sit back while the soup’s on and remember that we never have affiliate relationships with any of the products or foods we review on this site, so that you get unbiased information.
All About the Instant Pot
We live in an instant world with Instagram and instant gratification, able to order something online and have it delivered the same day. It’s just a modern expectation for many busy people, and so the mere term “Instant Pot” fits into that lifestyle. Speed wins in most cases today, and when you throw in multiple functions including yogurt maker, it’s easy to see why this 2010 invention is so popular.
This versatile fixture in modern kitchens really boomed amid Covid-19 quarantines, and the momentum hasn’t stopped. This morning I was watching a “Today” show segment about new Amazon speed-delivery technology, and the first thing they showed as an example to buy was an Instant Pot, out of maybe a billion options. Bottom line, Crock-Pot has been around as a brand for over half a century, and Instant Pot is simply catching up as the modern must-have.
Here are just five of the things it can do:
1. Cook fast. Starting with frozen meat for both, a chili recipe that takes four hours in the slow cooker will take about 20 minutes in the Instant Pot electric pressure cooker. Cheesecake takes 25 minutes to make. So imagine that’s your entrée and dessert all in one fun and short afternoon.
2. Sauté veggies. This mode means you brown meat, pre-cook onions or do any prep work on the stove, and it’s one less pot or pan you have to clean up. Just sauté ingredients in the bottom of the Instant Pot 8 quart pressure cooker with oil as needed and then switch to the pressure cooker function to continue with the recipe.
3. Steam rice. There’s no need to buy a separate rice cooker if you have a food steamer like this, and that means more storage space as well. Just remember to use a 1:1 rice to water ratio. The rice cooks and then you let it sit for 10 minutes and serve. If you want a good quantity and don’t do the 90-second microwave bags, then this rice maker is pretty miraculous.
4. Slow cook. This is what often wins the argument here for the instant pot duo, the brand’s bestseller. If it’s also a slow cooking pot, then why spend money on something that only slow cooks? Well, it’s not quite that easy. Nothing slow cooks like a regular slow cooker such as a Crock-Pot. But the Insta Pot tries, and for the most part it gets the job done.
5. Offer flexibility and spontaneity. Don’t have time in the morning to think about dinner that night? Come home from work and decide then and there if you have to. You still won’t have to wait long to eat. The typical reasoning here is: “I’m rushing in the morning and don’t have time to think about getting beans and veggies into the crockpot.”
All About the Crockpot
Nothing can beat walking into your home after a full day and getting a whiff of that home-cooked dinner still bubbling under the glass lid of a slow cooker. Especially when you’re staggering in from a hard day and that smell reminds you as a welcome home.
More than five million copies of Phyllis Good’s book Fix-It and Forget-It (Skyhorse Publishing) have been sold, because indeed you put the meal together in the morning and don’t need to stir or even think about it until dinnertime rolls around. The Crock-Pot brand had the 1970s advertising slogan that still applies: “Cooks all day while the cook’s away.” The slow cooker makes it possible to get cooking out of the way early so you not only save time, but you also increase the odds of everyone in the family eating together at the same table.
Slow cookers come in a wide variety of sizes, and that is another part of the appeal. The 1.5-quart slow cooker is extremely popular, especially as an alternative to the Instant Pot. Rule of thumb: You don’t need more than a 6-quart cooker unless you cook for a large family or you make meals in advance to freeze them. A 4-quart is good for two people plus leftovers the following day, or just to feed four. You can downsize from there if it’s just to feed a couple or a single that day. Err on the side of bigger, because you can partially fill a big cooker but can’t make a small cooker go beyond.
You can go for the traditional manual option, or buy one like the $158 Cuisinart 3-in-1 Cook Central Multicooker, a 6-quart countertop beauty has preset functions to saute, steam or slow-cook, plus an additional Keep Warm feature so the meal stays warm after it’s done in case you or guests are running late. You can even go with a smart slow cooker if you want to manage the temperature and cook time remotely. Most people opt for simple manual settings, which are not just reliable but also pretty much indestructible.
Easy cleanup has been a hallmark of the crockpot. Removable stoneware crocks and glass lids are dishwasher safe, although best to just wash easily in the sink. Whether yours is removable or not, you can make things even easier and buy a box of slow cooker liners, so you spend less time scrubbing the hot pot afterwards and an easy way to store leftover food.
Slow cookers have low-wattage, so they just don’t get hot like standard stove pots and pans. Because of that, a half-hour of oven cooking time is about equal to the electricity output of eight hours in the slow-cooker. Multiply that times hundreds of crock-pot meals and you have electric bill savings. Some Instant Pot owners claim they use even less energy although that is not proven.
Head to Head: Instant Pot vs. Crockpot Strengths and Weaknesses
Do you want to fit cooking around your schedule, or fit your schedule around cooking? That is by far the most important question you have to answer for these kitchen appliances. Do you carve out time in the morning to fix it and forget it with a slow cooker, or do you say it depends what your crazy schedule is like that day and you’d rather have the flexibility of an Instapot pressure cooker electric to make time for food preparation on the fly?
Instant Pot fans will tell you that they don’t always have time to chop food, clean a cutting board and finish off a crockpot recipe before their morning commute. They like being able to quickly prepare a meal at whatever time of day makes sense with their pressure cooker slow cooker.
You can use your Instant Pot as a slow cooker, so for many people this is the deal clincher. It might not be up to the standards of a crock-pot’s full-day low-and-slow dinner, but if it’s even close then you have to remember that it does so many other things that a slow cooker can’t.
The average Instant Pot is round, whereas a slow cooker is usually oval -- with more length to hold a good pot roast or other main event. That shape is a big advantage.
As you go down the list of strengths and weaknesses, it’s obvious that the list of strengths here is naturally going to be much longer for the Instant Pot pressure cooker. After all, it’s technically a multi-cooker, so it has many more features. But does that it make it better? No.
There is a slow cooker feature on the Instant Pot 6 quart and the Instant Pot 8 quart, but it’s no comparison. That’s because real slow cookers heat evenly on the bottom and the sides, so you can leave them alone for many hours. And a crock pot is especially zen-ful on the weekends, when you have extra idle time to chop lots of veggies and put everything together early in the day to make unbelievable appetizers.
Who Is It For?
The Instant Pot has a cult following, no doubt about it: massive social community, skewing younger and more male than the typical Crock-Pot owner, a quick Amazon Prime delivery, an easy fit in cramped city apartment for young professionals on the go. Many of the same people like the Nina air fryer for kitchen small appliances that reduce time.
Crock-Pot, meanwhile, was actually an historic technology advancement in women’s equal rights. It became a brand in 1970, and not long after that came the women’s liberation movement with many women touting the Crock-Pot cooker as a key source of more free time. They could fix it and forget it, with many more hours in a day to be anywhere but a kitchen, and it grew and grew over that half-century with more slow cooker models than ever available now.
So if you’re a young female professional opting instead for the fast options of an Instant Pot, thinking the slow cooker is more your mom’s (or grandmother’s) speed, just don’t forget what the Crock-Pot literally did to help at least in a small way enable that lifestyle. In fact, you might have inherited one and didn’t realize just how much it was made for you.
Final Thoughts: Instant Pot vs. Crockpot
It comes down to what you’re looking for and what you need. If you want to set it and forget it, opt for a Crock-Pot. If you want to buy ingredients on the way home and whip up something, buy an Instant Pot. If you’re somewhere in the middle, then you’re probably ready to join that Insta Pot cult following and take advantage of the added slow-cooking feature, maybe even add an airfryer.
However, keep in mind that slow cookers are available in wide ovals which can easily accommodate a brisket and a shoulder of pork, while Instant Pot models are round and tall so they might not be able to hold those cuts of meat.
Some people own both, and more power to them. Each appliance has made a great contribution to the American kitchen. But one separator could be reliability: The slow cooker is foolproof whereas the Instant Pot comes with plenty of stories about goofs large or small. You have to be more careful with an Instant Pot.
Some people love everything all at once. Some people love minimalism. Some people love the word “instant” in this instant-gratification society. Some people believe patience pays off.
Slow cookers require some planning. You have to prepare your food before you leave for work in order for it to be ready by the time you come home. That means, at the very least, measuring and adding ingredients in the morning. If you want better flavor, it also means searing and sautéing meat and vegetables in a separate skillet, preferably cast iron, or Dutch oven, and perhaps deglazing and reducing some wine or stock before transferring it all to the ceramic insert. That leaves you with a pan to clean before your commute as well.
The starting price for a slow cooker is typically lower than that of a multi-cooker . . . but you can also look into a brand like Cuisinart or one with more bells and whistles, and pay a lot more for a slow cooker than an Instant-Pot. Both Crock-Pots and Instant Pots are generally affordable when you consider the many hours you’ll spend preparing meals for a happy family or just yourself.