A Clear Breakdown of the Differences Between an Instant Pot, Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, and Crock Pot
All of these appliances will seriously slash your prep time. But if you’re confused about the rest of their functions, you’re not alone.
Modern homes are filled to the brim with electronics, appliances, and gadgets—from simple tools and toys to tricked-out tech like smart thermostats, flat-screen TVs, and mountains of more.
At Real Simple, we’re all about clearing clutter. We’re a little biased when it comes to kitchen appliances (because what’s better than slicing through tomatoes with a brand new knife?), but let’s face it: many of them overlap in their cooking capabilities. And generally speaking, less is more.
We’d hate for you to unintentionally splurge on two tools that accomplish the same task, or to buy a new appliance only to find out you already own something similar. Whether you’re considering jumping on the Instant Pot bandwagon (we’re all in favor!) or are considering adding a slow cooker to your countertop, we’ve broken down the differences between these confusing countertop appliances so you don’t double up.
Pressure cooking is one of the quickest and most convenient ways to make a one-pot meal, like soup, stew, or chili. Just add ingredients to the pot and cover it with the locking lid; when heated, pressure cookers raise the boiling point of water and trap steam inside, which is how they decrease cook time by up to 70%. When cooking’s finished, you can release the steam inside manually via the pressure release valve (if your model has one) or let it drop on its own.
There are two main types of pressure cookers: electric and stovetop. Stovetop models cook at a higher pressure than electric pressure cookers and therefore get hotter. Electric pressure cookers take a bit longer to heat up, but offer more fancy features (don't worry, they'll still shave hours off your cook time). Most electric pressure cookers on the market today are actually referred to as ‘multicookers,’ like the super popular Instant Pot (see below). This means they do tons more tasks beyond just pressure cooking: they slow cook, steam, make rice, sauté, and more all in one pot.
A note on safety: newer pressure cookers are anything but your grandmother’s. The idea that pressure cooking is unsafe is a figment of the past. Today, they have reliable built-in safety features, like locking lids, quick pressure release valves, and smart auto shutoff features. If things get too hot, most models will sense it and shut off automatically.
Instant Pot us the top-selling multi-cooker brand and one of the most popular kitchen appliances on the market today. There are a number of different sizes, configurations, and models of Instant Pot available, but what they all have in common is convenience, hands-free cooking, and multi-functionality.
All Instant Pots accomplish the following tasks: pressure cooking, slow cooking, steaming, rice cooking, warming, and sautéing. Some have additional functions, like the ability to sterilize baby bottles, make yogurt, or offer Wifi connectivity.
A slow cooker is an excellent set-it-and-forget-it appliance option. For those who want to come home from a long day at the office and have a hot meal already prepared, this is the one for you. Before you leave in the morning, simply load your slow cooker up with meat and veggies for soups or stews and it will cook everything over low heat all day. Many newer models can be programed to cook for a certain number of hours and then switch into keep warm mode automatically.
A Crock-Pot is a leading slow cooker brand. Some people use “Crock-Pot” synonymously with “slow cooker,” but it’s really just one of many slow cooker and multi-cooker manufacturers (like Kleenex vs. tissues). Crock-Pots are an excellent and affordable slow cooker option with endless models and sizes to choose from.
Bottom line: If you're into the idea of making stews, soups, and one-pot dishes much faster or with a lot less elbow grease, we think you'll appreciate owning a pressure cooker, slow cooker, or an Instant Pot. The Instant Pot pressure cooks and slow cooks, so you won’t need to buy both. And don’t go running out for a Crock-Pot if you already own a slow cooker you love (they’re great, but who needs the clutter of two identical kitchen tools)?