It’s been awhile since I last reviewed the Instant Pot line of pressure cookers and a lot has changed in the last couple of years. So here’s an updated look at the current Instant Pot lineup.
Instant Pot is one of the hottest brands of pressure cookers right now – both figuratively speaking as well as temperature wise! We broke down the differences between the various Instant Pot models to help you choose which is right for your kitchen.
When you compare Instant Pots, make sure to take a moment to look at the number attached to the unit you’re interested in. The name after the letters IP, such as LUX or DUO, tell you which model. The digits after it specify the Instant Pot size. For instance, 60 would mean six quarts while 80 would mean eight quarts. Version numbers are usually spliced at the end.
We wanted to compare Instant Pots that are readily available to regular consumers and stay in production. While a lot of families are excited to try Instant Pot’s new MAX design, it isn’t being sold yet. GEM slow cookers have suffered from manufacturing problems while the VIVA and NOVA designs are specific to certain vendors. Below you’ll find the five models currently on the market.
The Instant Pot LUX was the original model of Instant Pot pressure cooker, but now it’s been slightly updated and marketed as an economy option. You can find it in the same three, six and eight quart Instant Pot size variants as other models, but there’s also a five quart option available that comes with a mid-range 900 watt heating element. LUX units do, however, lack a low pressure feature.
While the Instant Pot LUX isn’t a good choice if you want to make yogurt, it can cook at high pressure and act like a traditional slow cooker. It started IP’s tradition of making pots with food grade steel and 3-ply bottoms while feature 10 different safety mechanisms all in a package that weighs less than 15 ½-pounds. Controls on the front give you the freedom of switching between rice cooker, steamer, warmer and sauté modes. Revised units that feature the 8-in-1 program label are built with third generation microcomputer technology to give you upwards of 240 minutes of pressure cooking. Sauté and slow cook modes feature three individual temperature settings.
LUX pots are good for those who want a pressure cooker that takes care of several different kitchen tasks but don’t have any need for the kind of sophistication ushered in by later models.
When people hear the term Instant Pot, chances are that they start thinking of the DUO right away. The Instant Pot DUO is probably the company’s most famous pressure cooker, and it was the first one that could handle things like regular yogurt making and many people have noted that it’s the easiest to use when making one serving of rice or beans. As long as you thicken soups and sauces with either roux or corn starch, the DUO is ideal for making these dishes.
With a 35 inch power cord, you shouldn’t have any problems finding a place in your kitchen to plug the DUO in. It’s easy to handle and includes a lid holder you can swap between both sides. An analog pressure indicator will let you know when it’s safe to open the lid, so while total unattended operation still isn’t a good idea this is a unit that will do all of the heavy lifting for you while you concentrate on more important things.
Due to the chemical-free three-ply bottom and the geometry of the DUO, it cooks shredded chicken and pork just fine. If you’ve ever tried to make these meats in a slower cooker only to find that they get mushy, then you won’t have to worry about it when working with the DUO. It’s possible to brown a pair of full-sized chicken thighs in the largest eight quart models at the same time. You should be able to pressure cook a few of these at once even if you were to go with the six quart DUO.
Many users have called the DUO the best overall value out of all the Instant Pot designs because it can do everything the LUX can as well as cook at lower pressures and make yogurt.
Think about what you do when you use a pressure cooker. You may adjust the controls multiple times throughout the cooking process. If you use an Instant Pot Smart Bluetooth Cooker, then you can program a script into the unit that will take care of all of this for you. It also comes with a number of preloaded scripts while still doing everything other Instant Pots do.
Whether you’re trying to make yogurt or pressure cook a delicate recipe, the Smart cooker is the only unit available from Instant Pot or anyone else that can pressure cook at sequentially different temperatures. You can author a script to pressure cook for a certain number of minutes and then slow cook for a certain period of time afterward. Other instructions could tell it to turn completely off or keep warm for a certain period of time.
Unfortunately, the companion app doesn’t work with many modern Android phones. While this is currently the latest model, Instant Pot is expected to release another version of the Smart cooker at some point in the future. When this happens, it’s unclear whether the current app will be influenced in any fashion. That being said, even without the app the Smart cooker is a very speedy pressure cooker that features the same 18/8 food grade 304 stainless steel build quality.
Overall, the Instant Pot Smart Cooker is a bit of an oddball that does everything the previous models do while also adding some support for Bluetooth connectivity that unfortunately carries some issues with it.
The Instant Pot DUO Plus has several new function buttons, but this model is otherwise very similar to the original DUO. It can do everything that the original could while also offering a sterilize function as well as one touch egg and cake programs complete with time and pressure presets.
The first thing you’ll notice when you look at the Instant Pot DUO Plus is how much time went into modernizing the display. It’s easy to tell if the cooker is currently warming up or whether it’s under pressure. You’ll also instantly know if the audio alert function has been turned off. Three quart cookers feature a 700 watt coil while six quart ones come with a full kilowatt. Full-sized eight DUO Plus machines have a 1.2 kW coil that should be hot enough to make any kind of yogurt. They also come with 15 smart programs built in as well as a steam rack, soup spoon, serving spoon and measuring cup. The largest units still weigh under 16 pounds in spite of being made out of food grade 304 stainless steel.
Unfortunately, the manufacturer didn’t provide much information on how to use the sterilize function. All they’ve stated is that you can’t use it to pressure can foods that don’t contain much acid, which includes meat. All DUO Plus units remember the last time and pressure setting, which can be useful when repeating the same cooking tasks multiple times. Some users have found this irritating, however. In some cases a DUO Plus will get stuck remembering how to do something simple and therefore won’t make yogurt correctly until it gets reset.
While some users might find the DUO Plus a bit rough around the edges, it offers greatly improved functionality over the original IP DUO that should please those who regularly pressure cook eggs or make cheesecake.
The Instant Pot Ultra has ushered in a new era in pressure cooker design built around a spin dial interface. It comes with 16 built-in programs to cook everything from chili to soup while also providing an option to make yogurt and moist cakes. Dual pressure cooking seems to have been perfected with the Ultra pot, which makes it a good choice for those cooking delicate foods.
Eight quart IP Ultra machines feature a 1.2 kW heating element while smaller six quart ones feature 1 kW of heat. There’s also a smaller three quart option available. Every program from the earlier DUO devices got carried over, including the somewhat questionable sterilize setting. This means that novice chefs have the option of just pushing the start button. Those looking for a more professional experience can scroll through numerous temperature and pressure settings or create their own with the so-called Ultra program mode.
Instant Pot’s Ultra is an excellent design for those who plan to get inventive with their recipes or who enjoy al dente vegetables that aren’t cooked under any significant pressure. It’s also suited for those making eggs and moist cakes since it retains these one-touch functions from the DUO Plus.
Choosing the Best Instant Pot for Your Household
The Instant Pot DUO is usually considered to be the best value if you plan on cooking at lower pressures, but you might want to look into the Instant Pot DUO Plus if you have any need for the more sophisticated features it offers. Don’t be afraid of cooking eggs or cakes in the original DUO, though, because you can set whatever temperature and pressure you need manually. Both are suitable for seafood and healthy lean pasta dishes as well.
While many people turn to the Instant Pot series because they want to get more calcium in their diet, the Instant Pot LUX might be the best Instant Pot for you if you don’t plan on boiling milk or making yogurt. The lower average cost could be quite attractive. Early adopters who love tech gadgets might want to try the Instant Pot SMART since it’s easy to control it from a cell phone. If this sounds like you, then you might want to look at the Ultra instead if you entertain often or like to cook big meals with leftovers. It doesn’t have any of the issues associated with the SMART design either.
Whatever your preferences, there’s an Instant Pot model for you. The best advice I can give is to just pick one and get started. Happy pressure cooking!