Instant Pots. Slow Cookers. Are they really that different? And do I need both? We’ve got the answers for you to make that decision easier.
Everyone everywhere is talking about the Instant Pot. It’s very much the modern fad in cooking. And frankly, there’s a lot to love about it. But in my research, I’ve found a lot of questions raised over the similarities and differences between the Instant Pot and the internet’s former darling piece of cookware, the CrockPot (or any slow cooker, really).
It seems as though a lot of people are under the impression that an Instant Pot is just a slow cooker under a different name. That’s far from the truth. Instant Pots and slow cookers are wildly different from one another – as much so as a microwave and an oven.
But what are the major differences? And which one should you buy, given your cooking preferences? Those are questions that I’m going to answer throughout this article, giving you an in-depth look at the function and features of both products. Compare and contrast them for yourselves and decide which of these very different appliances will work better in your home.
While Instant Pots and Crock Pots look similar, they are incredibly different, and that difference begins with cooking times.
A Crock Pot is a slow cooker. That’s more descriptive than anything else so from here on out we’re going to reference slow cookers in general. A slow cooker cooks food slowly at a low temperature over a period of 4, 8 or even 12 hours on average. They’re designed to operate on their own, with no stove or oven needed.
A slow cooker will trap heat. By simmering ingredients in their own juices, a slow cooker can produce a deeper and richer flavor than conventional cooking methods. The longer you cook, the more savory and tender your meal becomes.
Instant Pots get their name from their extremely short cooking time. A typical Instant Pot meal is ready in less than an hour. Instant Pots do have a slow cooker feature and can cook slowly over low temerpatures, but the Instant Pot is most often used as an electric pressure cooker. That’s its main cool trick. It heats liquid under pressure, which cooks food faster. Much faster. Because the lid is airtight, the interior of the pot heats up quickly. Hot air expands and the liquid within the pot turns into steam.
It stands to reason that, since Instant Pots cook faster than slow cookers, they must have a greater internal temperature. And this is one of those times when reasonable thought wins the day.
The temperature within an Instant Pot is much, much higher than that of a slow cooker. Your typical slow cooker will reach internal temperatures between 175 and 200°F.
An Instant Pot’s highest temperature can reach between 239 and 244°F. The boiling temperature for water is 212°F, so you’re not going to get any kind of boil from a slow cooker. However, boiling ingredients at 244 degrees moves the cooking process along, accounting for Instant Pot’s lightning fast cooking times.
Although Instant Pots and slow cookers might look similar on the outside, they vary a lot once opened up. The interior hardware of an Instant Pot is far more complicated than its distant ancestor the slow cooker.
For starters, an Instant Pot has an insulated housing, which is not found in a slow cooker. The insulated housing makes the Instant Pot far more energy efficient.
The fact that an Instant Pot’s lid seals into an airtight chamber is another huge hardware difference. A slow cooker allows a very small amount of heat to filter out through the lid, but the bulk of the heat remains trapped inside. That’s why it’s never a great idea to open the lid of your slow cooker while it’s working. Once that lid comes off, you’re undoing some of its good work. Instant Pots, however, keep every last bit of air and heat trapped inside. That helps boost its internal temperature and contributes to an Instant Pot’s lightning fast cooking speed.
Choose Your Side: Instant Pot or Slow Cooker?
Now that you know the key differences between them, are you a fan of the Instant Pot, or do you prefer the slower more methodical approach of the slow cooker? What are your favorite recipes for each? I’m sharing a few for each below. Comment and let us know!
Instant Pot Favorites
Slow Cooker Favorites
This post originally appeared in September 2018 and was revised and republished in May 2023.
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