If you’ve been on the internet sometime in the past five years, you’ve probably heard of the Instant Pot, the wildly popular multicooker that can pressure-cook, slow-cook, sear, and more. However, it wasn’t our top pick when we tested multicookers a few years ago. The model we included in our lineup, the Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 Multi-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker, excelled at pressure cooking, but its slow-cooked beef stew was still chewy 11 hours later. Instead, we named the Zavor LUX LCD 8 QT Multicooker, priced at about $180, and the GoWISE USA 8-Quart 10-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker / Slow Cooker, priced at about $90, as our favorites; they were adept at both pressure- and slow-cooking food, they seared food well, and they were easy to use.
Over the past few years, though, multicookers in general have undergone some big changes. For starters, manufacturers have added more features to boost the "multi" aspect of this small appliance’s name, with some products purporting to sous vide, ferment, and even adjust their capabilities to accommodate cooking at high altitudes. The amount of recipes created specifically for multicookers as well as product-specific cookbooks has exploded. What hasn’t changed? The fervor of the Instant Pot’s fan base. While exact sales figures are not made public, the company’s founder, Robert Wang, told CNBC that unit sales have doubled every year since 2011. The Instant Pot may have a lock on the market, but with so many new and updated models—including two from Instant Pot—now available, we wondered if the Zavor and GoWISE models were still the best.
To find out, we selected 13 multicookers, priced from about $77 to about $250, including our previous winners. We included both 8-quart and 6-quart models because our multicooker recipes work equally well in both sizes. In each model, we pressure- and slow-cooked beef stew and Boston baked beans and made white rice.
A multicooker has many functions, but the most important one is arguably pressure cooking. A poll of our readers revealed that 93 percent of more than 200 respondents use their multicooker primarily for pressure cooking. Since it’s a core function, we chose to really home in on each model’s pressure-cooking ability.
In essence, a pressure cooker is a tightly sealed pot that traps steam as the food inside it heats. This trapped steam creates pressure that, as it builds, causes the temperature inside the pot to climb higher than it would in a nonpressurized pot. Using a pressure cooker may be intimidating for many (we’ve all heard stories about old stovetop pressure cookers that have exploded), but electric multicookers are exceptionally safe. Most are equipped with warnings that flash when liquid levels are getting low or when they’re not sealed properly. Plus, most have multiple safety valves for releasing the pressure.
Multicookers typically have two pressure settings: high and low. (Our favorite model heats to about 242 degrees on high and about 238 degrees on low.) We used the machines’ high settings as called for in our recipes when making batches of beef stew and baked beans, and we followed manufacturers’ recommendations when making batches of white rice. The good news is that the pressure-cooking functions of all but one of the models we tested performed well—chunks of beef became tender in about 25 minutes, baked beans were robustly flavored and creamy in texture in just 50 minutes, and white rice was fluffy and evenly cooked in a matter of minutes.
The one model that failed at pressure cooking, made by All-Clad, didn’t have a tight seal. We checked to make sure that the machine’s silicone sealing ring was in place and even ordered and tried a second copy, but we continued to get the same results: Steam escaped from below the lid at the front of the machine, and then water leaked down the side and pooled on the countertop. This flaw resulted in beef that was not tender, beans that were nearly rock-hard at the end of cooking, and rice that was underdone around the edges.
To see if the All-Clad’s leaky seal was affecting its internal temperature, we loaded each model with the exact same amount of room-temperature water and used a wireless tracker to monitor the temperature of the water inside each model as its pressure increased (the higher the pressure, the higher the temperature of the water). The water in most of the multicookers reached very acceptable temperatures, from 236.5 to 244.9 degrees, when set to high. The leaky All-Clad, with its loose seal, reached only 213.5 degrees (about the same temperature as water being boiled on the stovetop). This proved how important a tight seal is with a multicooker: Without one, it just won’t reach a high enough temperature to successfully pressure-cook food.
This water temperature test led to another discovery. Two of the models took about 20 minutes to reach their maximum temperatures and maintained a consistent temperature once they did. It took some of the other multicookers up to 25 minutes to reach their maximum temperatures. Since machines cook more efficiently once they reach their maximum temperatures, we preferred models that came up to temperature quicker and held that temperature consistently throughout cooking.
Slow cooking has previously been our biggest disappointment when evaluating multicookers. After all, who wants to wait 8 hours only to find out that your food isn’t anywhere near done? To see how this new lineup of machines performed, we slow-cooked beef stew and baked beans in each multicooker, following our recipe settings (low for each recipe) and times. The good news? The best models were able to produce fully cooked beef stew in 7 hours and fully-cooked beans in 4 hours—well within our recipe times. The bad news? Some machines, like the Ninja, fluctuated more aggressively (it is, however, normal for machines to make small, fine-tuned adjustments to keep the temperature below boiling and hover around the target temperature), which led to them either taking longer to successfully slow cook or not being able to do so at all. Also, the Instant Pot Duo once again failed at slow cooking: On its low setting, its beef stew was still not done after 9 hours because its maximum temperature hovered below 200 degrees for most of the cooking time. However, not all the news was bad with the Instant Pot models. The company's newer model, the Instant Pot Duo Evo Plus, performed admirably. Both the 6-quart and 8-quart versions of this machine produced excellent beef stew in 7 hours and creamy beans in 4 hours, which is on par with our recipe times.
To dig deeper into the results, we loaded each model with the same amount of room-temperature water and used a wireless tracker to monitor the water temperature inside each model when set to its low setting. These tests confirmed two things: Even though the newer Instant Pot Duo Evo Plus took longer than the Instant Pot Duo to reach its maximum slow-cooking temperature, it ran about 20 degrees hotter once it did. And since past testing caused us to doubt the reliability of this brand’s slow-cooking capabilities, we conducted another test: We slow-cooked a boneless pork butt roast on low for 5 to 6 hours in the Evo Plus. We also made the same pulled pork recipe in the Zavor, our previous winner, and compared the results. Both multicookers produced tender, pull-apart meat within the recipe times.
Besides revealing that some of the machines took longer to reach their maximum temperatures, the water test data also revealed another fact: The temperatures of some of the machines fluctuated throughout cooking. Both of these factors resulted in some machines taking up to 2 hours longer than higher-performing models to fully cook beef stew and beans.
A good multicooker should also have settings that allow you to use it the same way you would a pot or a skillet set on a stovetop burner, which minimizes cleanup. These settings differ from machine to machine and are referred to in several ways—sear, brown, simmer, or sauté. Confusingly, some multicookers offer both sauté and sear/brown settings. When searing beef and sautéing onions for beef stew in those machines, we opted for the sear/brown setting, because we’ve found in previous tests that it runs hotter than a sauté setting. We also preferred machines with “low,” “medium,” and “high” sauté and sear/brown temperature settings to those with specific temperature settings, such as “356F,” because the former offered more familiar heat levels.
Our favorite multicookers had digital screens that showed when the units were preheating and alerted us when they were ready for sautéing or browning. If a multicooker wasn’t equipped with an alert system, we waited until oil we added just began to smoke before putting in the food.
Whether set to sauté or sear/brown, some of the multicookers could barely soften the onion or brown the beef for the stew. Other models that were equipped with stainless-steel cooking pots seared and sautéed more deeply and evenly and developed more fond than those with nonstick cooking pots. The dark interiors of the nonstick pots also made it harder to monitor browning. However, the nonstick pots were much easier to clean than the stainless-steel pots. There’s also a large camp of people who don’t want to use nonstick cookware for health reasons. When we previously tested multicookers, many of the pots were made of nonstick-coated aluminum. However, stainless steel is considered by some cookware industry experts to be safer to cook in, which could explain why some of the manufacturers made the switch. We ultimately recommend multicookers whose pots are made of either material, but if you are concerned about the safety of cooking in nonstick pans, models with a stainless-steel pot would be the better choice.
The sizes of the 6- and 8-quart models' cooking surfaces also mattered. The 8-quart models offered larger cooking surfaces, which were helpful when making the stew, because we could brown the beef in fewer batches and sauté the chopped onion more quickly than we could in the 6-quart models. The larger surface areas in the 8-quart models also brought liquids to a simmer more quickly and reduced liquids faster. But again, there was a trade-off, since the 8-quart models take up more counter space. While we recommend an 8-quart model if you have the space, we found that most 6-quart versions of our favorite multicookers were just as adept at cooking—as long as you don’t mind sautéing or browning food in more batches.
Many of the multicookers cooked food well, but not all of them were easy to use. We preferred multicookers with large digital screens to those with analog controls, which felt too busy with knobs and dials. We also liked models that easily allowed us to set our own cooking times and temperatures instead of choosing from a dizzying array of presets and models that had start buttons, which allowed us to make adjustments to the temperatures and cooking times without stopping and restarting the machines.
A couple interesting innovations have been introduced since we last reviewed these appliances. With most multicookers, you release the steam at the end of pressure cooking by turning a valve with an implement such as a wooden spoon (to distance your hand from the escaping hot steam). In place of a valve, our favorite multicooker has an innovative steam-release switch. And while most of the pots spun around wildly inside their multicooker bases as we sautéed and seared in them, the pots of two of the multicookers were anchored in place by silicone handles. Typically, the multicooker pots have slippery, small, hard-to-grab rims that get hot, which makes it hard to maneuver them in and out of the multicooker. But the silicone handles on the pots equipped with them stayed cool throughout cooking, making those pots easy to lift and maneuver when transferring the stew and baked beans to serving dishes. Finally, the somewhat heavy lids of two models were attached to their bases by a hinge. When opened and not locked in place, they sat precariously upright, pointing to the ceiling. Besides being viewed by some testers as slightly dangerous, they got in the way when we were loading ingredients and sautéing or browning food. The attached lids were harder to clean, too, as we couldn’t scrub them down in the sink unless we unscrewed them from the base (a tedious task). We preferred detachable lids, which were safer and easier to clean.
The new generation of multicookers also offers a plethora of additional settings for tasks such as sous vide cooking and yogurt making. While our favorite multicooker does also have a bake function, which is seemingly for making desserts, the manufacturer didn't provide any baking recipes, and we haven’t developed any multicooker baking recipes of our own that call for using this setting, so we didn’t test this feature.
We evaluated the yogurt and sous vide settings by making yogurt and our recipe for Sous Vide Soft-Poached Eggs. The yogurt function was easy to use and produced creamy, nicely thickened yogurt in about 16 hours. The sous vide function was less successful. The water, after almost an hour of preheating, never reached the target temperature and consequently produced underdone eggs. Nevertheless, its pressure-cooking and slow-cooking functions are top-notch, and, despite the sous vide function being unsuccessful, we thought the yogurt function worked well for those looking to make yogurt at home.
After months of testing, we found our new favorite multicooker: the Instant Pot Duo Evo Plus 9-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker, 8-QT, priced at about $140. Of all the models we tested, this multicooker had a lot of innovative features, such as the cooking pot’s silicone handles and well-designed pressure-release switch, that made it the easiest to use. Besides producing well-cooked pressure- and slow-cooked food within the stated recipe times, this multicooker had digital controls that were easy to operate.
We also recommend the Crock-Pot 8-Quart Express Crock XL Pressure Cooker, (Stainless Steel), priced at about $77, as a less expensive option. The pressure- and slow-cooked beef stews and baked beans it produced were excellent and done within stated recipe times, and it made great white rice, but its control panel was less intuitive than our winner’s, leaving some testers flummoxed by its jumbled plethora of presets. While its nonstick cooking pot didn’t sear as well as the stainless-steel pot of the Instant Pot Duo Evo Plus, it was a cinch to clean.