Oh yes my friends… Even though the Instant Pot electric pressure cooker seems to have been all the rage for quite a few years, and it can even hard boil eggs, there are still people on the fence considering whether they need one (or at least which pressure cooker is the best fit to buy for their family!).
If that’s you, I am here to answer all your pressure cooking questions to help you figure out which one you should buy: brand, size, and functions.
What Brand Pressure Cooker is Best?
Full disclosure, I only have the Instant Pot brand myself, but I definitely have some thoughts about others.
First, most of them have questionable interior surfaces, and I have always appreciated that the Instant Pot is stainless steel. That means it is my appliance of choice over my ceramic slow cooker (with questions about lead), and especially over the non-stick surface of many of the less expensive brands.
I have also heard too many people having trouble with other brands. One that comes to mind immediately is a friend’s fail with the brand sold at ALDI, a store you all know that I love dearly. A reader got an electric pressure cooker at Costco and returned it for an Instant Pot, and another said that the one she bought at Sam’s Club doesn’t have a high/low setting option, is a non-stick insert and feels flimsy.
I guess when it comes to pressure cooking, go with the big brand, but what you put in it you should get at ALDI (or maybe Costco). 😉
Where to find a Pressure Cooker
This is the 6-quart Instant Pot I started out with. After a few years, we added an 8-quart partly because I knew I would use two at the same time often enough, partly because it was the Prime Day sale, and also because I wanted more space for certain recipes. Both are a pretty basic model and you don’t need more bells and whistles than that!
If you’re deciding on size, most people say it’s better to get a deal on the 6-quart and just have 2 rather than go big, BUT if your family has 5 or more people or you really like to batch cook or do more than a pound of beans, the 8-quart may be the best choice. You can even get a carrying case to travel with it!
If you really want an old school pressure cooker for the stovetop, you can browse them at Amazon – this is the set that I got for our wedding so very long ago. Mine is actually a 7L size (which is over 7 qts) and the one included here is only a 6-quart.
The best thing about these is that they have a glass lid for normal cooking, and they are the two pots we use MOST of all in the last 14 years! So if you have no extra space, just replace a big pot with a pressure cooker and you only need to store the lid additionally. I admit I’m not sure I ever used the pressure function with the smaller pot, but I love both sizes for normal cooking.
If I had to do it over, I’d get this set because it has an 8-quart pot and a larger steamer basket that could also do pasta or potatoes. The members of our Kids Cook Real Food eCourse often ask about how to help kids heft a heavy pot of water to the sink to drain, and this is the best solution – pulling out a basket insert rather than lifting boiling liquids around.
What Size Instant Pot do I Need?
Here’s the deal: although you will see a handful of sizes, the 6-quart and 8-quart are really the only options if you want to cook actual meals. There is a smaller version that is cute and everything, but I can’t imagine cooking very much of any worth in it.
The 6-quart is sort of the gold standard basic model, and it is truly enough for any family of 4 and even up to 6 people in the family, like mine. We had a 6-quart Instant Pot exclusively for the first few years.
Most slow cooker recipes will adapt and fit in a 6-quart too, although you may not be able to double them safely since you need headroom to pressure cook. You cannot expect to fit 6 quarts of food in an electric pressure cooker when loaded properly. It can, however, easily fit most whole chickens, and it’s a great way to immediately make multiple batches of broth after cooking your chicken.
You might want to upgrade to the 8-quart if any of the following are true:
- Your family is bigger than six people, or you have hungry teenagers anywhere near your home.
- You love making double and triple batches for the freezer
- You plan to pressure cook legumes often… Because they foam, dry beans and legumes can only fill the Instant Pot halfway, which means you can’t even cook 2 pounds at a time in the 6-quart and do it properly.
- You have a few extra inches of space both vertically and horizontally for storage – at about 15x13x14 inches, the 8-quart is quite a bit more hefty than the 6 by more than an inch in all directions.
- you have a 6 quart and would love a second instant pot… That is how I ended up with our 8-quart and I’ve never looked back. I love it for larger batches of beans and Grains as well as massive chunks of meat.
The bottom line? A 6-quart instant pot is great for 80% of most families’ needs.
The only drawback to the 8-quart other than the obvious space limitations is that it does take a few minutes longer to get up to pressure with the same amount of food in it as the 6-quart. For example, to steam vegetables, you would need a cup of water no matter what size electric pressure cooker you are using. In 5 minutes you will be up to pressure with the 6-quart, but you might even double that for the 8-quart.
Some people price this out and decide that rather than an 8-quart for a large family, they get two 6-quarts. This is a GREAT option, especially if you might want to cook two dishes at once, like BBQ chicken and rice or a roast and Instant Pot no-drain mashed potatoes.
How Many Instant Pot Features Do I Need?
6-in-1, 7-in-1, 10-in-1… will 59-in-1 be next???
Yes, the options can be mind-boggling. However, if you can just cut through the numbers and look at each function one at a time, you can think with a clear head and ask which ones you will actually use with your lifestyle.
For example, if you never currently make desserts, it is unlikely that the Instant Pot’s cake function will magically turn you into a baking diva. For me, I was pretty sure I would never use the yogurt function because I have my beloved easy method of making homemade yogurt that I do at least once a week already. I didn’t need to tie up my new appliance for 12 to 24 hours once a week.
Do you need the “egg” function? Hard boiled eggs aren’t hard to do in the Instant Pot without a button, so that one is frills in my book, just so you don’t get hoodwinked and think that you must have it to boil eggs the easy-peel way!
Smart Pressure Cooking?
Do you need your IP to connect to your phone???
Well, I’m a bit of a no-frills kind of girl and don’t really want more things in my house emitting EMFs, PLUS the price increase tends to be more than just a few bucks, so I fall squarely on the side of “don’t bother.”
I have a friend who would worry every time she walked out of the room with her Instant Pot on, so for $50 (or whatever) it’s worth the peace of mind to her.
It’s a very personal question.
High and Low Pressure?
Do you need both?
I will say that one thing I loooove about my IP is that it makes perfect rice, every time. I mean, I can even measure the water-to-rice ratio haphazardly (or purposely wrong) and it still has my back.
I’ve noticed that the rice setting uses low pressure, as do some hard-boiled egg recommendations. If either of those are your goals, low pressure may be worth it.
Auto Keep Warm?
As far as I can tell, all the models that would even be in contention to purchase have both automatic and manual “keep warm” functions. That’s another favorite of mine, so if you happen to be reading about a model that doesn’t include “keep warm,” navigate away. Friends don’t let friends buy inferior electric pressure cookers, amen?
Is the Ultra Instant Pot Worth it?
The Ultra has a spin dial and digital screen and looks really different from its predecessors. It does have some cool functions that might catch your eye:
- Extreme customization, including temperature to the degree, delay timer, keep warm, and more
- “Steam” program without pressure, so you can actually cook al dente veggies
- All pre-programmed cooking functions of all other models…
- …plus it’s capable of memorizing custom settings for each function if you want
Is this worth it for you? Check the price difference, and that should guide your purchase decision IMO!
Make your Instant Pot work for you!
The Instant Pot has gotten a lot of hype over the last couple years – for good reason. It really can do just about anything.
Although it can seem a bit daunting to use at first, it really becomes quite simple once you give it a try.
Use the techniques, tips and simple recipes from the Instant Pot Guidebook to get started, and before you know it, your Instant Pot will become indispensable!
Come on, Katie – Just Tell me the Model Number!
I know, that would make it easier.
My head starts to spin when people use number/letter combos, though, and I’d rather think in facts – size, lists of features, done. Model numbers will always be changing, and you’ll want to read about what the Instant Pot can do, anyway.
Here’s my quick overview of why you might want to buy an Instant Pot in the first place (and a few reasons why NOT). (If you’re really dying to interpret the number/letter codes, Hip Pressure Cooking breaks it allll down, along with some more pro/con on the SMART version and app. I’ll always find the info for you somewhere!)
If you just want an easy-to-use electric pressure cooker without thinking very much, I’ll always recommend the first version I bought (and most popular), the IP DUO60 6-quart 7-in-1. You’ll also find the most accessories for this size.
To go more in depth (or if you like to listen to your info), my friend Wardee has a great podcast episode all about this topic here. And to learn HOW to use your new Instant Pot, check out her Traditional Cooking School classes, where she has a whole course on pressure cooking! Here’s a little taste:
My dear friend Wardee at Traditional Cooking School can do just about anything with her Instant Pot – cakes, bread, main dishes, veggies, even “stacking” multiple kinds of food at once!
She’s offering a free sourdough cornbread Instant Pot recipe!
This cornbread is delicious, nutritious, super easy to make, and it only needs 12 minutes of cook time.
A Few Instant Pot Buying FAQs
People ask questions on social media and in email allllll the time about how to choose the best electric pressure cooker for their family, and I’ve collected some here:
Can a bigger Instant Pot still cook smaller batches?
YES (Whether it’s a regular recipe in an 8-quart or a meal for a single person in a 6-quart). You can put as little as you want in any size Instant Pot, even one egg to hard boil. It’s all about the steam, so it might just impact the timing to get up to pressure if you have less or more in the appliance. As long as you don’t OVERfill the pot, you’re golden!
Will an Instant Pot replace my slow cooker?
If you need it to, YES. Some people say the slow cooker function isn’t awesome, but if you study the models, some of them even offer multiple heat settings for slow cooking, and I’ve always found mine to be quite sufficient and equal to any slow cooker I’ve had.
I use the slow cook function ALL the time for broth and quite often for a regular old slow cooker meal since I like the insert (and cleaning it) much better than my slow cooker, which is getting dusty in the cupboard. You might want to consider this lid for the slow cooking function, but you CAN slow cook with the pressure ring lid.
Will an Instant Pot replace my rice cooker?
100% YES. The IP has never failed me on rice. The only problem you might find is if you need an Instant Pot meal AND rice at the same time. For that…I got two Instant Pots.
Will an Instant Pot replace my yogurt maker?
(In other words, in case you haven’t noticed, people want to pare down single-use appliances!) And once again, YES, as long as you can live without your IP for a day while it makes your yogurt for you.
Can I take the Instant Pot to a potluck like I can a slow cooker?
Oh my friend, it’s so much BETTER! Because of the saute function, you can turn the IP on when you arrive, even with cold-from-the-fridge food, and it’s hot in 15 minutes or less. I always worried that a slow cooker might not get my food hot enough, fast enough (and it often didn’t when I tried to take a mini crockpot full of our favorite spicy chicken cheesy dip appetizer – we always had to serve it with the meal instead of before!)
I already have a stovetop pressure cooker. Do I need an electric one too?
Nope. You don’t need an electric pressure cooker. But if you want an upgrade – the electric version has some perks over the stovetop. It’s more “hands off” than the stove. You don’t have to watch for it to come to pressure and reduce the heat at all, and there’s a lot of automation. Plus if the stove is full of pots doing other things (like for a big gathering) this is literally a 5th burner since it can saute and everything. RELATED: How to use a pressure cooker (both kinds)
I’m worried – is pressure cooking safe? Doesn’t it kill too many nutrients?
Got you covered: Is pressure cooking healthy (and safe)? (with video)
Can I seal canning jars in an Instant Pot?
Nope. An electric pressure cooker doesn’t get up to (or hold) a high enough pressure. Do NOT trade in your stovetop pressure canner for this gadget.
Other Instant Pot Tutorials:
- What is a Pressure Cooker (basics for the rookie cook)
- How to Set up a New Instant Pot (VIDEO)
- Pros and Cons of the Instant Pot
- How to Use the Instant Pot in a Hotel Room (save $$$ on dinner out!)
- 10 Basic Techniques for your Instant Pot
- How to Make Squash in the Instant Pot
- How to Cook Frozen Ground Beef in the Instant Pot FAST
- Instructions to Convert Slow Cooker or Crock Pot Recipes to the Instant Pot (& favorite slow cooker recipes to make in the IP!)
- How to Pressure Cook Dry Beans (even without soaking!)
- Is a Pressure Cooker Still Healthy and Safe?
Other Instant Pot Recipes:
- Paleo & Whole30 BBQ Chicken – used thighs, so frugal!
- Gluten-free Chipotle Beef (chuck roast or stew beef)
- Instant Pot BBQ Beef
- Quick Cauliflower Rice in the Instant Pot (2 flavors)
- Instant Pot Quick Turmeric Rice Recipe
- Easy Mashed Potatoes (no drain!) in the Instant Pot
- Pressure Cooker Mexican Lentils and Rice (chicken or vegetarian)
- Instant Pot Sweet and Sour Meatballs (AIP & GAPS)
- Instant Pot Country Style Boneless Pork Ribs (that just fall apart!)
- Budget-Friendly Instant Pot Chipotle Beef
- Fast Smoky Mexican Chicken Soup
- Curried Lemon Coconut Chicken
- Italian Lentil One-pot Dinner
- Apple Cranberry Instant Pot Steel Cut Oats
- Easy Instant Pot One Pot Meals – that any beginner can make!
- Black-Eyed Pea and Beet Greens Soup
- Gluten-free Instant Pot Mac & Cheese
- Instant Pot Cherry Compote (and 10 Instant Pot Desserts)