To say there’s been recent buzz around multicookers is putting it mildly. The concept of instant meals in one pot surely is popular, and there are many brands on the market that offer this right now.
There’s a frenzy around multicookers of all kinds, which has overtaken Facebook, inspired countless cookbooks, and more or less left the stalwart slow cooker by the wayside. This craze might have already overtaken your Facebook feed. It might have promised you a one-pot solution to weight loss and fitness goals. It might be sitting on your counter, intimidating you with its shiny surface and dozen buttons. After much research and a casual poll of 300,000 (seriously, 300,000) members of a community group called Instant Pot Recipes Only, we’ve decided three things. One, the multifunction countertop cookers have not rendered the slow cooker obsolete. Two, it probably isn’t a magical weight loss tool. And three, it can indeed produce some excellent meals. It has a bit more versatility than the slow cooker, but also requires a bit more effort to master.
With help from this zealous Facebook community of home cooks and expertise from the Studio H kitchen at Hormel Foods, we have come up with the key differentiating factors of slow cookers versus multicookers, what each is best for and cautionary tips to keep you safe while cooking with steam.
How Do Countertop Cookers Work?
Slow, even heating traps the moisture of the food product, so usually there’s no need to add water. The appliance is temperature controlled, and you’re not supposed to take the lid off during cooking, so little supervision is required. It is typical that meals in a slow cooker take approximately four hours on high heat or six to eight hours at a lower temperature.
Slow Cooker Pros
- Preferred for “low and slow” recipes like beans and gravies where longer simmering or stewing adds flavor. (Beans don’t even necessarily need to be soaked first like they would if you’re using a multicooker.)
- Deemed the ultimate “set it and forget it” cooking appliance.
- Preferred for making party food because it can be kept warm for a long period of time.
Slow Cooker Cons
- There are fewer functions (though certain late models have a sear function).
- Though they don’t need to be tended to, it might not be the best idea to leave them on all day when no one is home.
- Meal prep still requires planning. For instance, if you forget to put the ingredients in the pot before you leave the house or before you go to sleep, there’s no fast fix to the meal.
Best in the Slow Cooker
- Foods in which flavor will be improved by ingredients stewing together, like gravy and chili
- Party food like meatballs, artichoke dip and nacho cheese
- Mulled wine and toddies
- Less expensive roasts and other cuts of meat
This is the next evolution of the pressure cooker, and it does many things, including slow cooking, pressure cooking and rice cooking. The pressure function works with steam heat (achieved by heating water to 30 degrees over the boiling point) and yes, pressure — measured in pounds per square inch (PSI). These cookers also perform other functions like searing, sautéing, making cakes
- Extremely versatile, performing all the cooking steps that used to require a stovetop and oven.
- It can accomplish formerly hands on tasks, like sautéing, with the push of a button.
- Can make multiple dishes at the same time with “pot-in-pot cooking.”
- The pressure setting cooks food much faster than any conventional cooking method.
- There is a learning curve to mastering the multifunction cooker; many believe they need a science lesson before they can cook with it.
- It has a heating element only at the bottom instead of around the perimeter like slow cookers do.
- You can’t see or taste the food during the cooking process.
- While it can sear, sauté and steam, it cannot replace the flavor gained from a grill.
Best in the Multicooker
- Cooking meats from frozen
- Moist breakfast breads
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Root vegetables
- Making yogurt
We Asked Real-Life Users
“We still use both. My husband has really embraced the multicooker. I haven’t taken the time to learn to use it, simply because he’s cooking dinner now. Win!”
Kieran from Virginia
“I found the multicooker intimidating. It sat in a box for months. Now I use it a few times a week. Once I remember to account for the warm-up and venting time, I can throw these dinners together very quickly with minimal preplanning.”
Andrea from Wisconsin
“I’ve mostly only cooked chili in the slow cooker and still do. We like the flavor and texture better than in the pressure cooker.”
Dana from Maine
“I use my slow cooker far more than my multicooker. I love them both though. I think they’re just different, and it depends on the recipe. With liners, the cleanup is better in the slow cooker.”
Karen from Illinois
“I was a long-time slow-cooker user. I loved it for simplicity. I got a multifunction cooker (not name brand) a couple of months ago, and I haven’t gone back. The speed and the fact I don’t have to thaw is awesome — I can pull dinner together in 30 minutes or less from frozen.”
A Word of Warning
While devotees extoll the simplicity of countertop cookers, these appliances aren’t accident-proof. They all heat their contents beyond the boiling point, and whether it’s the heated surface of a slow cooker or the burst of steam from a multicooker, you should always be extremely careful when checking up on your finished meal. Also, research manufacturer recalls and user reviews before buying any countertop cooker.
If you’re not intimidated by the latest appliances and features, you might be excited to know that some of the newer models of countertop cookers come with Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi connectivity, and can be remotely controlled using apps.