The 4 best Instant Pots and electric pressure cookers we tested in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
  • A good multicooker can pressure cook, slow cook, and brown or sear food effortlessly.
  • We cooked over 120 pounds of food in 10 multicookers to find the best ones on the market.
  • The Crock-Pot Express Crock XL is our top pick with its simple controls and accurate cooking.
  • Find out more about how Insider Reviews tests and reviews kitchen products.

Whether you call them electric pressure cookers, multicookers, or Instant Pots - the name of the most popular brand - these countertop appliances have become a mainstay in American kitchens, especially since the coronavirus pandemic forced many people to cook at home.

At their most basic, electric pressure cookers have functions for pressure cooking, slow cooking, and browning/searing/sauteing. And, some of the fancier models also air fry and sous vide. Unlike their non-electric stovetop forebears, today's electric pressure cookers have many safety mechanisms to protect you from blowing up your kitchen.

To test electric pressure cookers, I pressure cooked, slow cooked, seared, air fried, and sous vide cooked 73 pounds of pork, 25 pounds of chicken, 10 pounds of dried beans, 6 pounds of beef, 5 pounds of dry rice, and 2 pounds of frozen French fries in 10 multicookers.

I also consulted with Anne Wolf, a chef and chocolatier who worked on America's Test Kitchen's Multicooker Perfection, and Jeffrey Eisner, author of The Step-by-Step Instant Pot Cookbook, which features recipes we used in our testing.

I have tested kitchen appliances for four years and have developed several objective tests to determine which models are best for specific needs. You can find details about how I test electric multicookers here.

In addition to our top picks, we list other models we recommend, what we look forward to testing, and common FAQs at the end of the guide.

Here are the best electric multicookers

Our testing methodology
10 Instant Pot pressure cookers lined up as part of testing for the best Instant Pot in 2021

Here are the main attributes we looked for and how we tested them:

Setup: I timed how quickly I was able to get the cooker set up and building pressure from the moment I opened the box. I also noted whether I was able to do this without looking at the instructions or if the controls were confusing. Most units took five minutes or less to set up.

Pressurizing: Many pressure cooker recipes look like they won't take long, but few factor in the time it takes for the unit to build pressure. A cooker that builds pressure quickly is a real timesaver. I tested how long it took each model to get up to pressure with just four cups of water inside. I also tracked how long the pressure build took during all of the cooking tests. I gave more favorable scores to cookers that built pressure quickly.

Performance: I put each multicooker through five cooking tests:

  • Pressure-cooked pulled pork: I cooked about 3.5 pounds of pork butt on high pressure for an hour. After a 10-minute natural release followed by a quick release, I removed the pork and noted how easy it was to shred and how it tasted.
  • Slow-cooked pulled pork: To test the slow-cooking capabilities, I cooked about 3.5 pounds of pork butt on low for 10 hours. Then, I removed the pork and noted how easy it was to shred and how it tasted.
  • Rice: I added a cup of jasmine rice and a cup of water to each unit and selected the rice function. If there was no rice function, I used the basic recipe from The Step-by-Step Instant Pot Cookbook. In addition to noting the total cooking time, I tasted each batch to judge the texture, chew, and stickiness. I also judged how uniformly the rice was cooked.
  • Beans: I combined one pound of pinto beans and two quarts of water in each unit and selected the bean function, if there wasn't a bean function, I used the recipe from The Step-by-Step Instant Pot Cookbook. In addition to noting the cooking time, I tasted each batch to judge the texture and uniformity.
  • Included recipe: To determine the accuracy of the recipes included with each unit, I picked out one recipe that featured chicken, pressure cooking, and sauteing so I could test the cookers' searing function. I judged how uniform and close to golden brown the sear was, and how the food tasted.

Additional functions: Three of the units I tested featured sous vide cooking, and two had air frying capabilities. To test the sous vide, I cooked a NY Strip at 129 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours and assessed how tender and flavorful it was. All sous vide cookers performed well. For air frying, I cooked a pound of Ore-Ida Extra Crispy Fast Food French Fries at 400 degrees for eight minutes — shaking the basket halfway through — and judged the doneness.

To keep waste to a minimum, I donated most of the pulled pork my family didn't eat to a local restaurant. And, extra rice and beans went to feed the pigs at a local farm.

The best electric pressure cooker overall
best electric multicooker Crock Pot XL

The Crock-Pot Express Crock XL Multicooker performed well in all of our cooking tests, and its button controls make programming it a snap.

Pros: Intuitive controls, produced delicious and tender food, excellent browning, comes with an extra gasket, spacious 8-quart pot

Cons: The pressure took longer than average to build with some items, the sealing gasket comes loose easily

The Crock-Pot Express Crock XL Multicooker was the only model to do well in all of our tests. Within five minutes of opening the box, I had the unit building pressure. The controls are intuitive and include a button for making custom pressure and time adjustments. I like that it comes with an extra sealing gasket since the seal tends to hold onto flavors, which can be off-putting when switching between savory and sweet dishes.

All of the dishes we made in the Express Crock XL were excellent. It was one of the fastest to build pressure during our pork test, and the resulting meat shredded effortlessly. The slow cooker pork also shredded easily after the ten-hour cook, though there were still a few harder chunks.

In under an hour (including building and releasing pressure), the Crock-Pot electric pressure cooker cooked a pound of dried pinto beans, and the results were flavorful with nearly-perfect texture and great uniformity. 

The rice was also nearly perfect, though it took 33 minutes (including the pressure build), which was longer than most models. The pressure also took a little longer than other units to build after searing. The spacious 8-quart inner pot is large enough for a 5.5-pound chicken, which we cooked following the recipe in the included booklet. The browning was beautiful, and the final product was falling off the bone, juicy, full of flavor, and didn't taste overcooked. 

Though the inner pot is dishwasher safe, the nonstick surface makes it easy to clean by hand. The sealing gasket is also dishwasher safe, but I found this wasn't enough to remove the pulled pork odor — a problem with all of the units we tested.

The biggest problem we had with the Crock-Pot Express Crock XL Multicooker is that the sealing gasket didn't fit as well as other models. It came loose when jostled so we had to make sure it was positioned just right before putting the lid on. We seemed to nail it each time, though, and never had trouble building pressure.

The best budget electric pressure cooker
The best electric pressure cookers, Instant Pot Duo 60

If you're looking for a basic affordable multicooker from the top name in the industry, the Instant Pot Duo Multi-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker is your best bet.

Pros: Produced tender and juicy slow cooked pork, builds pressure quickly, good browning, dishwasher-safe and metal utensil-safe stainless steel inner pot, Instant Pot app features 100s of recipes

Cons: Takes experimentation to get cooking times right, controls take some getting used to

With more than 130,000 five-star reviews on Amazon, the Instant Pot Duo Multi-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker is the most popular electric multicooker on the market. It comes in three, six, and eight-quart sizes and features a stainless steel inner pot, which is found in most Instant Pots. Though overcooked food can get stuck to the pot making it hard to clean, we like that it's dishwasher-safe and metal utensil-safe.

The Duo did okay in each of our tests, but excelled in our slow cooker test. The slow cooker pulled pork shredded effortlessly and had excellent, juicy flavor. The pressure build was quick for the pressure-cooked pulled pork, but the resulting pork was tougher and harder to shred than we would have liked. It seemed like it could have used 10 more minutes of pressure cooking.

Again, the pressure built quickly for the rice and beans, but the rice was a little too chewy and the beans were slightly overcooked (although not to the point of mushiness). 

Rather than providing you with a print recipe book, Instant Pot has a free app with hundreds of recipes. I chose a recipe for "perfect seared chicken" which involved searing chicken breasts coated in herbs and spices before a quick pressure cook. The chicken breasts browned well, and the pressure build was fast, but the finished product was dry.

Setup was quick, but operating the Duo wasn't exactly intuitive. I was confused about whether it had started building pressure or not. It was so quiet and just said "on." There's no start button. I had to consult the manual to see that "on" means it's building pressure.

Despite these negatives, we still think the Instant Pot Duo is a good budget option — especially if it's on sale during Amazon Prime Day, Black Friday, or Cyber Monday as it seems to be every year. All of the functions work well, and the negatives can be fixed easily by adding or subtracting time as you get used to the appliance.

The best smart electric pressure cooker
The best electric pressure cookers, Chef iQ

With its hundreds of preset programs and step-by-step interactive recipes, the Chef iQ Smart Cooker is outstandingly precise.

Pros: WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, helpful app with 1000+ interactive recipes, full-color screen with 300+ present programs, quickest to cook rice and beans, good at searing, easy to set up

Cons: Didn't do well in our pulled pork tests

While we've given the Chef iQ Smart Cooker the title of best smart electric multicooker in our guide, it was the only WiFi-connected multicooker we tested this time around. However, regardless of its smart capabilities, it performed impressively.

The Chef iQ has the best screen and most precise cooking options of any of the units we tested, and it was easy to set up. 

Whereas other models have a button for beans, the full-color screen of the Chef iQ cooker offers much more detail. It has specific programs based on bean type, whether they're soaked, and how much you're cooking. And, the customization worked well. The Smart Cooker cooked a pound of beans 13 minutes faster than any other model, and the texture was uniformly excellent.

Another great feature is the three pressure release options: natural, quick, and pulse. The Chef iQ multicooker recommends a release method based on what you're cooking, or you can change it based on your preferences. If you choose quick or pulse release, the Smart Cooker automatically starts releasing the pressure (with a warning to ensure you're at a safe distance) at the end of your cooking time.

The recipes in the Chef iQ app offer step-by-step directions and interact with the Smart Cooker to automatically adjust the settings to fit the recipe. As the cooker completes each of the timed steps, a push notification is sent to your phone. Since it's WiFi-connected, you can receive the notifications anywhere you have an Internet connection. I went for a walk and received an alert when pressure cooking finished up, and was given the option to release the steam. 

One quibble I have with the smart features is you have to press the Start button on the cooker to initiate the cooking. You can't just start it on your phone. This is done for safety reasons, but if you want it to start while you're away, you can set a delayed start in the app.

I followed the app's step-by-step directions to make a whole chicken, and the recipe was accurate. Plus, the cooker browned the chicken well prior to pressure cooking it.

The Chef iQ Smart Cooker made rice with a nearly perfect texture in under 20 minutes (including building pressure). The only area where the cooker stumbled was making pulled pork. After the slow and pressure cooking, the meat wasn't tender enough to shred easily. I was surprised by this so I pressure cooked another batch, and the results were the same. I'd recommend adding an extra 10 minutes to the cooking time for easier shredding.

The best multitasking electric pressure cooker
Best electric pressure cookers, Instant Pot duo crisp

The Instant Pot Duo Crisp is a pressure cooker, slow cooker, air fryer, and sous vide machine all in one, making it one of the most useful and economical small appliances we tested.

Pros: Features air frying and sous vide cooking options, comes with an app with 100s of recipes, easy to set up and use, cooks rice in under 20 minutes

Cons: Tended to build pressure and heat up slowly, didn't sear well

Sure, multicookers can be used to perform a variety of tasks. That's why they're called "multicookers". But, some of today's models can do more than the usual pressure cooking, slow cooking, and sauteing. We tested three units that could either air fry or sous vide, but only the Instant Pot Duo Crisp Pressure Cooker could do both. 

The Duo Crisp comes with two lids: one for the usual multicooker activities and another with a built-in fan for air frying. And, an air fryer basket fits in the inner pot to allow for better airflow and flavorful browning. We air fried frozen French fries and were impressed with how quickly they were ready and how crispy they tasted.

When sous vide cooking, the Instant Pot was slow to get the water bath up to temp, but the resulting steak was tender and perfectly done. 

Setting up the Duo Crisp was effortless, though if you're new to air frying or sous vide cooking, you may want to take a minute to look at the user manual to ensure you set it up correctly.

In our standard cooking tests, the Duo Crisp was one of two models to cook rice in under 20 minutes, and the finished product had a good texture, was sticky, and wasn't too dry. The pressure cooker pork and beans also came out nearly perfect, though both took a little longer to build pressure than average. And, the slow cooker pork was a little harder to shred than we would have liked.

Lastly, the "perfect seared chicken" recipe we tested from the Instant Pot app was less than perfect. First, the pot didn't sear the chicken well. It didn't get the nice crust that we look for. The pressure build took the longest of any model post-sear, and though the results were flavorful, the chicken was dry.

What else we tested

We tested 10 electric pressure cookers for this guide. These are the ones that missed the cut.

What else we recommend and why:

Ninja Foodi XL Pressure Cooker ($199): The Ninja Foodi rose to prominence as the first multicooker to feature air frying, and we almost made it our multitasking pick, but we chose the Instant Pot Duo Crisp because it also does sous vide. Yet, if you have no interest in sous vide, consider the Foodi, which did a great job searing, slow cooking, and pressure cooking delicious meals, though it took longer than most units to build pressure.

Instant Pot Duo Evo Plus 80 ($139.95): The Duo Evo Plus's stay-cool handles built into the inner pot set it apart from other multicookers. Usually, you need to grab potholders to lift a multicooker's pot out, but that's not the case with this model. It also keeps the pot in place when you stir the contents. The screen is packed full of info, including several preset programs. It didn't make our guide because it didn't do better than average at any cooking task and was one of the worst at rice and slow-cooker pork.

Instant Pot Duo Plus ($119.95): This is the favorite Instant Pot of The Step-by-Step Instant Pot Cookbook author Jeffrey Eisner. We liked how easy it is to use and that it has sous vide cooking. It also did a great job of making tender, juicy pulled pork. However, it was slower than most of the other models at building pressure, which adds to cooking times. And, the sear didn't produce the golden brown crust we were looking for. Still, if you're looking for an affordable multicooker that can do sous vide, this is a great pick.

What we don't recommend and why:

GoWise USA 14-Quart ($149.99): We were interested in this model because it's larger than anything else we tested. We wondered if it could still perform well. It didn't. The controls are confusing, it takes longer to build pressure, it didn't sear well, and the included recipes were designed for GoWise USA's smaller multicookers. Still, it did well pressure cooking pork and rice. 

Crock-Pot Express Oval Max ($89.99): This was the only multicooker we tested that had an oval inner pot. We only found this useful for fitting longer cuts of meat and keeping the pot from spinning when stirring. However, it was slow to build pressure, didn't sear well, and the included recipes weren't accurate. 

Instant Pot Ultra ($139.99): The only positive we could find with the IP Ultra is it was easy to set up and use. Other than that, the performance was subpar. It was among the slowest to build pressure in every test. It did an okay job searing, but the chicken from the included recipe was dry and flavorless. If you want an Instant Pot, you'll be happier with any of the other models we tested.

What we look forward to testing

We're always testing new electric pressure cookers and retesting our top picks to determine the best ones. Here's what we're looking forward to testing for potential inclusion in this guide:

GoWise USA Ovate ($117.94): We're interested in seeing if GoWise USA has figured out the oval multicooker puzzle. This model has a nonstick pot with built-in, cool-touch handles. At 8.5 quarts, it's bigger than most, but hopefully, it can perform better than the disappointing GoWise USA 14-quart behemoth we tested.

Zavor LUX LCD ($179.95): Professional chef and chocolatier Anne Wolf liked this model when working at America's Test Kitchen. It has more than 30 programmable settings, including sous vide, and an easy-to-read LCD display.

Breville Fast Slow Pro ($249.95): I was not able to get a sample of this pricey multicooker for this update. It features eight pressure levels ranging from 1.5 to 12 psi. You can also release the pressure with the press of a button on the front control panel, which makes it easier to stay out of harm's way.

FAQs
10 instant pot pressure cookers lined up as part of testing for the best instant pot in 2021

How do electric pressure cookers work?

Dating back to the 1600s, pressure cooking involves using heat and pressure to cook food more quickly. Prior to the Instant Pot revolutionizing the industry, pressure cookers were non-electric stovetop devices. But, Instant Pot changed that with its countertop electric version. 

In order for pressure to build in the cooker, the pot needs to have sufficient liquid (check your unit's user manual for how much) and the lid must be airtight. The steam created from the heated liquid causes the pressure to build and permits for higher cooking temperatures and thus faster cooking.

Once you're done cooking, you must first release the pressure before removing the lid. This is a step that varies by model so consult your multicooker's user manual for how to safely do this.


Are electric multicookers safe?

For the most part, today's electric pressure cookers are safe. However, you still need to be careful. 

Many people are afraid to use electric pressure cookers because they have heard stories of them exploding on the stove. That was a problem with the old stovetop models, but there are several safety mechanisms that minimize the chance of this happening with modern electric cookers.

"I was never concerned about a multicooker exploding on the countertops," said chef and chocolatier Anne Wolf

Jeffrey Eisner, author of The Step-by-Step Instant Pot Cookbook agreed. "If you're going to compare pressure cookers from back in the day when they were on stovetops to today's that are electric and have locking, a big difference is today's lids will stay securely on top," said Eisner. "I feel comfortable using them, and I've never been afraid. I've never had any issues personally."

However, today's electric pressure cookers are not without their risks. "I did find that it's easy to burn yourself on the steam when you're doing a quick release," said Wolf. "So, there's some burn risk."

The best way to minimize the burn risk when releasing the pressure is to use a wood spoon or other long utensil to engage the lever that opens the vent. The steam always comes from the top so make sure you are not standing over the cooker when releasing the steam.

From using a pressure cooker for years and following the Instant Pot community on Facebook, one of the most common dangers I've seen is people using their multicooker on a stove and accidentally turning the burner on. Every brand warns against putting your cooker on the stove for this reason. So, I'm warning you. You're unlikely to get hurt, but it could make a big mess.


What size electric pressure cooker should you get?

"The sizes that I've seen are three quarts, six quarts, eight quarts, and now 10 quarts, which is enormous," said Eisner. "I always suggest getting the six-quart, even if you're just a family of two up to a family of six. The three-quart is good for maybe a single person, but it's limited. One of the best things you can make in an Instant Pot is a roast. But, you're going to have trouble in a three-quart model because it's so tiny. So, I always suggest going with a six-quart. Start with a six-quart, see how much you love your pot, and then, from there, people typically start to get addicted to it, and they'll get a larger size, like an eight-quart."

Many of the models in our guide come in several sizes. All except one of the models we tested was either six or eight quarts, the two most popular sizes. We didn't notice any significant differences in cooking time or food quality between the sizes.


Do Instant Pot recipes work in any multicooker?

Most of the testing for this guide was done using recipes from Eisner's The Step-by-Step Instant Pot Cookbook, which was developed using a variety of Instant Pot-brand electric pressure cookers. In our testing, we didn't find any difference in how well the recipes turned out in off-brand pressure cookers versus Instant Pots. The recipes appear to translate well across brands.

Though Eisner has never used another brand, he says his recipes work in non-Instant Pot multicookers. "I've had people write to me who have other brands," said Eisner. "And, they say the recipes in my book work just fine for them."


Which is better: a stainless steel or nonstick inner pot?

This is a matter of personal preference. All of the Instant Pots we tested featured stainless steel inner pots, while all of the other brands had nonstick. Stainless steel inner pots are great because they are dishwasher safe, heat evenly, and you can use metal utensils in them without fear of scratching the nonstick surface. On the other hand, it's harder to remove stuck-on debris from stainless steel.

Nonstick inner pots are great because your food is less likely to stick to the inside, and thus, it's easier to clean. Though it varies by brand, many nonstick pots are also dishwasher safe, but we recommend washing by hand to increase the longevity of the nonstick coating. The biggest negatives with nonstick pots are that they don't heat as evenly as stainless steel, and metal utensils can scratch them. We did not find there was a difference in cooking times or quality based on pot type.


What's the difference between quick release and natural release?

Quick release and natural release are the two main ways to release steam from your electric pressure cooker once you're done cooking. Quick release involves moving the steam release valve to vent to instantly allow the steam to escape. Once the pin near the valve drops, the pressure has been released, and it's safe to remove the lid.

With natural release, you don't release the steam immediately. Instead, you allow the pressure to decrease on its own. Again, you can open the lid once the pin drop indicates that the pressure is at a safe level. Many recipes call for a 10-minute natural release followed by a quick release. In general, we recommend following the recipe you're using for best results, though, as you get more experienced with the quirks of your cooker, you may want to make slight adjustments.

There's a third, less-common release method known as a pulse or controlled release. This involves releasing the pressure in short bursts by opening and closing the vent.

However you choose to release the steam, be careful! We recommend using a nice long wooden spoon to trigger the release mechanism so you're far from the steam when it's released. Also, never stand over the multicooker when releasing the steam. Releasing the steam is probably the most dangerous part of using an electric pressure cooker.

The best deals on pressure cookers from this guide

Instant Pot multicookers are some of our readers' favorite products. These appliances can perform a myriad of different functions, make a wide variety of meals, and are surprisingly easy to use. 

Due to their popularity, these products go on sale frequently. The Instant Pot Duo, for instance, is usually $10 less than retail price for most of the year. The best deals and all-time lows crop up during Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Amazon Prime Day, with some of our picks seeing discounts of $40 or more.

But it can often be difficult to judge what's a good price to pay. To make shopping a little easier, we've compiled all of the best deals on the Instant Pots we recommend.

Read more about how the Insider Reviews team evaluates deals and why you should trust us.

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