What’s the Difference Between a Slow Cooker and an Instant Pot?

updated Jan 5, 2020
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Credit: From Left to Right: Ghazalle Badiozamani, Joe Lingeman

Hello! If you’ve ended up here, we’re guessing you’ve asked yourself this question at least once. Maybe you never got the answer you were looking for? Or maybe you just need a refresher? Or maybe you’re here because you want to send this link to your mother-in-law who has asked you this question and didn’t seem to understand your answer. Whatever the case, we can help.

Here’s the difference between a slow cooker and an Instant Pot.

What Is a Slow Cooker?

A slow cooker is a small appliance that does one thing. It slow cooks, and that’s it. (Although there are a few exceptions in the very high price range.) A slow cooker may have a sauté or sear setting, but that button is meant for browning foods before you slow cook them. In a slow cooker, food gets cooked slowly for a long time on low heat. The heat is so low, you can set it before you go to the office and come home to a fully cooked meal. Slow cookers are known for their convenience. Of course, you have to decide ahead of time what to cook and do some prep work at night or in the morning. 

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What Is an Instant Pot?

Instant Pot is a brand name for a multicooker, the same way Kleenex is a brand name for tissues or Scotch Tape is a name for cellophane tape. (While we’re at it, Crock-Pot is a brand name for a slow cooker!) A multicooker is an electric appliance that, as the name implies, does many things. But its primary purpose — and the one that put the Instant Pot on the map — is pressure cooking. By using pressure to raise the boiling point of water, a pressure cooker makes it possible to cook things much more quickly, so you can make things like beef stew or braised short ribs, which typically take several hours, in less than 60 minutes. This quick cooking is what makes the Instant Pot (and other multicookers) popular for rushed weeknight dinners. It’s worth noting that there are a few different models of Instant Pots these days.

As we said, the Instant Pot is a multicooker, so in addition to pressure cooking, it can also slow cook, sauté veggies, steam rice, make yogurt, and more. See: Everything You Need to Know About the Instant Pot.

Which Is Better?

That depends on what you’re looking for and what you need. If you want to set it and forget it, opt for a slow cooker. If you prefer to shop for ingredients on your way home or don’t want to leave a machine on all day, buy an Instant Pot. If you want to keep your options open, choose the Instant Pot because, again, it can be used as a slow cooker AND a pressure cooker (among other things). However, keep in mind that slow cookers are available in wide ovals which can easily accommodate a brisket and a shoulder of pork, while Instant Pot models are round and tall so they might not be able to hold those cuts of meat.

As far as price is concerned, you can buy a very inexpensive slow cooker, while it would be hard to find a full-size name-brand multicooker for less than $50 and you’ll likely pay closer to $100 for an Instant Pot. Of course, you can easily pay $100 (or more) for a slow cooker, too — it’ll just have more bells and whistles (like an automatic keep warm setting, or a temperature probe) as you go up in price.

Do you have a slow cooker or an Instant Pot? Or both?