Finding the Best Pressure Cooker
If you asked any home cook 10 years ago if they thought the retro pressure cooker would ever make a comeback, you would have heard a resounding “NO!” But the old-fashioned appliance (the kind that you’d seal and cook over the stove) got a major face (and technology) lift over the past decade. (Here’s why you should trade grandma’s pressure cooker for an Instant Pot.) Now you can find Instant Pots and other programmable pressure cookers in stores everywhere—all claiming to make favorites like pulled pork and pot roast tastier and quicker than ever! But as these gadgets become more popular, there are more brands coming on the market. So our Test Kitchen had to know: Is the Instant Pot really the best pressure cooker out there or is another brand secretly even better?
To get to the bottom of that question—and to find out which pressure cooker would become our Best Loved Brand (what’s that?)—our Test Kitchen put several pressure cookers and multi-cookers through their paces. We made dozens of recipes in each pressure cooker over the course of months and held a few tests:
- Pressure cooking: How did the machine do at making a pork shoulder on the high setting?
- Pressure cooking on low: Using the low setting, how did the pressure cooker do making hard-boiled eggs?
- Slow cooking and sauteeing: How did the pressure cooker perform in searing and then slow cooking a pot roast?
- Price: Is the product affordable? Was the performance reflected in the price?
The Best Pressure Cooker: Instant Pot DUO 6-Quart Multi-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker
Well, it turns out the biggest name in the game is also the best. Instant Pot’s six-quart programmable multicooker option ($100) was our Test Kitchen’s favorite. It’s easy to use, worked like a dream and is easy to find. Check out why else we love it.
Features We Loved
- Size: At six quarts, the Instant Pot DUO is a bit larger than your typical slow cooker, meaning there’s room to make a meal that will feed your whole family and even a small crowd. If you really want to go big, you can try the eight-quart version!
- Easy to use: Our Test Kitchen also found that the Instant Pot was the simplest to use of all the pressure cookers they tried. Once you familiarize yourself with all the buttons and controls, cooking comes easily.
- Easy to clean: The insert and lid are both dishwasher safe meaning that cleanup is a breeze.
- Accessories galore: Many home cooks adore the versatile Instant Pot—it can make everything from dinner to dessert (it makes a great cheesecake!). It’s easy to find even more uses for this small appliance, though, when you couple it with accessories like stackable inserts and steamer baskets.
- So many resources: The Instant Pot has a devoted following online. With so many fans, you can rest assured that there are plenty of resources for getting to know this appliance better as well as troubleshooting tips and tons of online forums.
How It Performed
In our tests, the Instant Pot performed extremely well, garnering perfect scores from our kitchen staff. Food stylist Shannon Roum prepared a basic pork shoulder in the Instant Pot—first browning it with the sauté function and then cooking it using the high-pressure setting. In an hour (plus release time), our Test Kitchen staff was enjoying tasty pulled pork—”it was falling apart tender,” according to Shannon. The low-pressure cooking setting worked just as well. Just five minutes on this setting produced hard-boiled eggs that were just-right and easy to peel.
The Instant Pot worked just as well as a slow cooker. Our test cooks used this five-star pot roast recipe to prepare a three-pound chuck roast. Using the sauté function to sear the outside, our test cooks then switched the Instant Pot into slow cooking mode. After several hours on low heat, there was a fork-tender pot roast ready to sample. With this functionality paired with the pressure cooking option, you can feel good using the Instant Pot as an all-purpose small appliance. And at $100, it’s a great gift for any foodie friend.
We Also Recommend…
Curious to know how the other brands performed? These products worked well but rated just below the Instant Pot. We’d gladly use them in our kitchens and think you’d like them, too!
- Crock-Pot 6-Quart 8-in-1 Express Crock Programmable Multicooker ($58, left): The Crock-Pot multicooker comes with an easy-to-clean nonstick insert, which we loved for our—erm—messier cooking projects. The only drawback to this material is that it didn’t brown foods as well as other brands did.
- Black + Decker 6-Quart 11-in-1 Cooking Pot Pressure Cooker ($55, right): Like the Instant Pot, this device has many extra settings beyond pressure cooking to slow cook, brown or keep your food warm. Additionally, the directions were clear and easy-to-follow. However, our cooks found the handle on the lid to be a bit awkward—especially when avoiding hot steam after pressure cooking.
What to Make with Your Instant Pot
With settings for rice, chili, porridge and yogurt—there’s little you can’t make in an Instant Pot. However, our Test Kitchen’s favorite pressure cooker recipes is this sauerbraten dish. The Instant Pot’s pressure cooker mode cooks the beef, carrots, celery and onion until tender—and when switched to sauté mode, we add a secret ingredient: Gingersnaps!
For more great recipes to make in an Instant Pot, check out our best pressure cooker recipes.
How to Take Care of an Instant Pot
As our food stylist Shannon put it, “the more you use the Instant Pot, the more uses you find for it.” With all the use this small appliance gets, it does tend to need a little upkeep. Of course, you can toss the lid and the insert right into the dishwasher for easy cleaning, but a deep clean is welcome periodically. Don’t worry—no special tools or cleaning products needed. A quick vinegar rinse or steaming the insert with lemon can do the trick.
About Best Loved Brands
If you’re like us, you want all your favorite recipes to turn out fabulous every single time you make them. That means opting for the best tasting ingredients and the best tools. While picking your favorite brand of chocolate chips or bacon is a task, it’s a delicious one to be relished. Choosing the best gadgets and gear for your kitchen, though, is another story. Unless you buy several stand mixers or food processors and put them through their paces, how can you ever know which will make your recipes turn out their best? That’s where our Test Kitchen comes in. Our culinary experts tried dozens of products our Test Kitchen—testing your recipes—to find out which brands came out on top.