Crock-Pots were revolutionary in the 1970s. People loved that they could dump a bunch of food in them and come home to a finished meal at the end of the day. They were (and are) certainly reliable, but over the years they've proven to not be as cool or flashy as some of the other new kitchen appliances.
Then the Instant Pot showed up. It could slow cook, like the Crock-Pot, but it could also do a lot more. It was a pressure cooker, a rice cooker, a yogurt maker, and more. Suddenly, slow cookers were the hot new fad, and Crock-Pot was left sitting there like, "But slow cooking was my thing!"
But now Crock-Pot has quietly ushered a new challenger into the ring to take back its crown. The Crock-Pot Express is a slow cooker that is also a pressure cooker, rice cooker, and more. That probably sounds very familiar, and it looks very familiar, too. It even seems to have the Instant Pot's clever built-in lid holder.
Buy Now: Crock-Pot 6-Quart Express, $70
I wonder if the Instant Pot feels like it's looking into a mirror. I love this drama. I feel like I'm watching Showgirls, only nobody is naked and everybody is just cooking lentils. (Well, somebody is probably cooking lentils naked, but if they are, they haven't mentioned it in their Amazon reviews.)
How They're Similar
Both the Crock-Pot Express and the Instant Pot are electric slow cookers that are also pressure cookers. They both can steam, sauté, slow cook, and keep things warm. The fact that they're pressure cookers also means they can cook things like stews and beans much more quickly than conventional methods.
Both are well-reviewed on Amazon. The Instant Pot Lux has four-and-a-half stars after 2,400 reviews. The Crock-Pot Express has four stars after 1,100 reviews, but it just came out in December.
How They're Different
At $65 on Amazon, the Crock-Pot Express is less expensive than the Instant Pot. The entry-level Instant Pot model, the Instant Pot Lux 6-in-1 V3, is around $80, and the fancier, tricked-out versions with Bluetooth capabilities go up in price from there. The Crock-Pot Express doesn't do swanky — it's just designed to be a simple, affordable countertop appliance to make cooking and cleanup as easy as possible.
The Instant Pot has a stainless-steel cooking insert, and the Crock-Pot Express' insert has a dishwasher-safe nonstick surface. CNET compared the Crock-Pot Express with the Instant Pot Lux 6-in-1 V3 and said the Instant Pot's stainless steel cooking chamber browns food better than Crock-Pot's nonstick cooking surface. The Maillard reaction created by browning food is key to flavor, so better browning is going to make a lot of things taste better.
But then, the Crock-Pot's dishwasher-safe nonstick cooking surface is much easier to clean. So deciding between those features is going to depend a lot on whether the user prizes the nicer browning or the easier cleanup. (Instant Pot does sell a separate nonstick ceramic cooking insert for about $20 more.)
Men's Journal also tried out both slow cookers, and said the Crock-Pot Express comes to pressure much faster than the Instant Pot, which could cut five to 10 minutes off the cook time for a recipe.
Consumer Reports tested the Crock-Pot Express against the Instant Pot Duo, and found them mostly similar, although the Instant Pot made much thicker yogurt. Consumer Reports also noted that the massive community of Instant Pot fanatics means there are a ton of support groups and well-tested Instant Pot recipes all over the internet.
Another big difference between the two is that the Instant Pot has a manual setting, while the Crock-Pot Express does not. (The Crock-Pot Express recommends using the chili setting, and then adjusting the cooking time, and pressure from there, so it's sort of like a manual setting.)
Conclusion: The Instant Pot Lux and the Crock-Pot Express look very similar, but they're not identical. If you primarily want something fast, easy to use, and simple to clean, look at the Crock-Pot Express. If you want to experiment with more recipes, develop recipes on your own, and don't like the idea of an appliance without a manual setting, you might prefer the Instant Pot.