A Multicooker Shootout
Which Instant Pot Is Best? Read Before You Buy.
There are a now quite a few Instant Pot models, and once you decided it’s time to give them a shot, you’ll want to know which model to go for. This is our guide to the Instant Pots we most recommend — and the ones we don’t.
Best Instant Pot Cookers
Best Instant Pot: Instant Pot Ultra
Other than the Instant Pot Max, this is the most recent and decked out Instant Pot. It’s also the one with the most useful features to offer beyond what’s expected out of a multi-cooker.
Other than those basics — plenty of pre-set cook options, steaming rack, ample powers, etc. — the Ultra boasts a nice and easy to read LCD display (most helpful for displaying the progress of your meal, from preheat to pressure release), the most customizable cooking options in any Instant Pot (this is the “Ultra” function) and a helpful and simpler to use operational knob.
It’s also the only Instant Pot that takes your altitude into account with cook times and pressure levels (you will have to input your rough elevation level before first use), something new pressure cooks often forget and become confused by. (Note: though the Ultra has a “Sterilize” button, we can’t recommend it be used for sterilization. Currently, there are no official guidelines to sterilizing in an electric pressure cooker.)
The Ultra is available in 3-, 6- and 8-quart options, and typically retails at $120, $150 and $180 respectively. It does go on sale every few months or so, but usually not a steep sale like you might see for our alternative recommended model.
• Tons of preset cook times and temperatures (egg and cake are unique to the Ultra model)
• “Ultra” mode allows customization — temperatures, pressure, cook time — no other Instant Pot model does
• Full LCD screen (it’s not a touchscreen)
• Automatically adjusts to elevation pressure differences (after one-time user input)
Best Budget-Friendly Instant Pot: Instant Pot Duo
The Duo is the best Instant Pot for most people. It lacks the Ultra’s LCD display, a few of the preset cooking modes and an array of custom recipe options, but the loss isn’t enormously significant from a functional standpoint. The Duo allows pressure cooking on high and low settings, something lower tier Instant Pot models do not offer, and though its utility isn’t as wide as the default high-pressure setting, it is excellent for boiling eggs to a tee and delicate fish. Upon release, the Duo was also the first Instant Pot to feature a yogurt preset, something all more premium Instant Pots feature.
It features the “keep warm” preset — a helpful addition if you’re finishing another part of your meal elsewhere — and features a slightly upgraded pressure release system (it’s still a flawed design, given you are still putting your hand right next to the valve). Finally, a small but clever slot cut into the handle allows the lid to sit upright on the pot instead of your countertop.
The Duo is available in the usual 3-, 6- and 8-quart options, and typically retails at $70, $100 and $110 respectively. The Instant Pot Duo goes on sale frequently on Amazon, with price dips as far down as $68 for the ever-popular 6-quart model.
• Preset cook modes aplenty (the cheapest model with the yogurt preset)
• The first and cheapest Instant Pot to offer high and low-pressure cooking options
• Frequently discounted
Instant Pots to Avoid
Instant Pot LUX
There is nothing definitively wrong with the LUX model, it just lacks one or two features that its successor, the Duo, has. The Duo allows for pressure cooking on high or low levels, the LUX does not. The Duo has a yogurt preset, te LUX does not. The Duo also has that nifty lid holder built into its handles, where the LUX does not.
Are these game breaking features? No. But the LUX is only a few dollars more expensive, and the added features are well worth the extra $10 to $15 you’ll spend on getting the Duo instead.
Instant Pot Duo Plus
In brief, the Duo Plus adds the following to the regular Duo model: a mini-LCD screen, a sterilization function and a few other odds and ends that aren’t entirely noteworthy. As noted previously, there are no official guidelines to sterilization in electric pressure cookers, so we can’t recommend using this functions yourself, and the LCD screen is nice, but not $50 or so nice. The Duo Plus also goes on sale more irregularly than the Duo, and is not discounted as deeply. If you really want the LCD screen, just go up to the Ultra model and use the more useful add-ons unique to that model.
Instant Pot Max
The Instant Pot Max is not available yet (though it was originally slotted for a Spring time release), but it will be, upon release, the most expensive Instant Pot to date — $200 and up. We got our hands on a model before its forthcoming release and tested its new features — sous vide, canning and increased power most notably.
In tests, cook times were not significantly changed from older models to the Max. We can’t recommend the canning functionality, as the National Center for Home Food Preservation has not properly verified electric multi-cookers as a safe method of canning, writing “We do not know if proper thermal process development work has been done in order to justify the canning advice that is distributed with these pressure multi-cooker appliances. What we do know is that our canning processes are not recommended for use in electric pressure multi-cookers at this time.”
The sous vide function does work well and consistently in our tests, but the best upgrade for the Max is its hands-free pressure release system — requiring a push on the screen of the machine to open the valve (it offers different levels of release as well: immediate, delayed and burst).
All told, waiting for the release hype to die down and prices to follow is probably the smart move.