Multi-Cooker Buying Guide

Sales of multi-cookers have increased dramatically over the past few years, thanks in part to the runaway popularity of the Instant Pot.

These multi-tasking countertop appliances come with an implicit promise that you can get dinner on the table in less time and with less effort than it takes to prepare a meal on a stovetop or in the oven.

Our tests found that some multi-cookers are essentially souped-up slow cookers, though others, such as the Instant Pot, combine the speed of an electric pressure cooker with a number of other functions, including steaming and making rice.

Instant Pot, a perennial bestseller on Amazon, boasts a massive online community whose members rave and share recipes. Manufacturers of competing countertop appliances took notice; we've seen more multi-cookers hitting the market in recent years and months. That's why CR bought and tested multi-cookers from well-known brands such as Breville, Crock-Pot, Ninja, Philips, and, of course, Instant Pot. Prices range from around $70 to $250, as you’ll see in our multi-cooker ratings.  

Lab-Tested for Your Kitchen

In our lab, we tested the multi-cookers in as many modes as possible. For models with pressure cookers, we set the pressure to high and cooked pork ribs and beef chili (using dried beans). We also used the pressure function to cook white rice and steam broccoli mixed with carrots. 

For models without a pressure mode, we tested the steam and rice functions using the same foods and amounts as before.

All cookers have a slow-cook function, so we set each on high and cooked more chili, using dry beans, for 7 hours. Then we tested the multi-cookers by cooking beef stew for 5 hours. The best delivered delicious, tender results in that time.

Testers sautéed sliced onions to evaluate how evenly the models brown them. Then the testers kept on going, baking in some models and experimenting with functions that aren't on all models: air-frying, crisping, dehydrating, and sous vide. Staffers sampled each dish, and noted their opinions of the food’s taste and tenderness.

We also evaluated convenience factors, such as the clarity of the touch controls and how easy it is to program each multi-cooker, and evaluated the durability of the cooking surface.

Multi-Cooker Types

You can choose between two types of multi-cookers, depending on whether you'd like a pressure-cooking mode. 

A multi-cooker with a pressure cooker mode.

Multi-Cooker With a Pressure Cooker

The promise is hands-off cooking and dinner in a hurry. Prices range from around $70 to $250 among the five multi-cookers CR tested from Breville, Crock-Pot, Instant Pot, and Ninja.

These cookers use pressure to speed up cooking for a variety of foods, including meat, poultry, and rice, and, in most models, when steaming vegetables. Our tests found that all five of these models in pressure mode cook faster than a rangetop or an oven. The time to reach pressure and release it varies, but we didn’t find significant differences in start-to-finish times, and all earn an Excellent rating in our pressure-cook tests.

These multi-cookers can also slow-cook, sauté, and keep food warm, so you might consider freeing up some counter space by consolidating these tasks in just one appliance.

Some models add a yogurt-making function, and a few of the newer, more expensive multi-cookers come with features such as air-frying, crisping, dehydrating, or sous vide, all of which CR tested. You’ll see the results on a model’s summary page in our multi-cooker ratings. 

A multi-cooker without a pressure-cooker mode.

Multi-Cooker Without a Pressure Cooker

These are essentially slow cookers that can also sauté, steam, cook rice, and keep food warm. In some, you can also make yogurt and bake. You'll see three of these cookers in our ratings from Instant Pot, Ninja, and Philips. They sell for around $80 to $180.

There's no preheating required, except when steaming, but planning ahead is essential, given that the slow-cook mode starts at a standard 5 hours on the models we tested, and one model needed even more time to serve up beef stew that was tender, not tough.

Multi-Cooker Components and Features to Consider

Multi-cookers vary widely in price, so think about what you need this cooker to do, and pay attention to these details.

The Pot
Most multi-cookers we tested have a removable pot with a nonstick coating—ceramic or Teflon-like—for easy cleaning. Instant Pot, however, uses uncoated stainless steel for its multi-cookers with pressure mode. Usually the pots are round, which means that bigger cuts of meats do not fit quite as easily they do in an oblong-shaped pot. So check the manual’s advice, or recipes online, for tips on how best to cook large cuts. Two of the models CR tested have oblong pots. However, these models do not have a pressure-cooker mode.

The Lid
On the multi-cookers with pressure-cook mode, the lid (which is not transparent) is locked during pressure cooking, so you can’t check on food without stopping the cooker, allowing the pressure to release, then removing the lid. Multi-cookers without pressure mode usually have a tempered glass lid.

Capacity
It typically ranges from 4 to 8 quarts, and most multi-cookers that CR tested are 6-quart models, a widely sold choice. Keep in mind that you can’t fill the pot to the top (the manual will guide you). Instant Pot, for example, says not to fill the pot higher than two-thirds, and only half-way when when cooking foods that expand, such as beans and rice. The same rule applies for foods that may foam or froth, such as oatmeal and split peas.

Add-Ons
Manufacturers are continually adding other features, expanding the idea of what a multi-cooker can do. You’ll see these newer features on the pricier models that sell for around $200 to $250. Here’s what we’ve seen in our test labs:

• Air frying/crisping: Sales of air fryers have increased significantly in the past several years. Ninja took notice and added an air fryer/crisper feature to its Ninja Foodi OP302 multi-cooker. It has a pressure lid and a crisping lid that’s hinged to the pot. This lid houses a fan that circulates warm air inside the pot for air-frying foods such as french fries, or for browning when baking. If you quickly cook a whole chicken using the pressure-cook mode, for example, you can finish it by using the crisping lid to nicely brown and crisp the skin. Our tests found that this feature works as promised.

• Canning: The Instant Pot Max boasts a canning feature, but CR has not tested the feature. Instant Pot says that recipes used must be tested by the USDA for food safety, but their recommendations have not been tested in electric pressure cookers, according to the project director. It’s crucial to do canning right. Done improperly, canning carries the risk of botulism, a rare but potentially deadly form of food poisoning.

• Dehydrating: Removing the moisture from fruits, vegetables, and meats can make for delicious snacks. The Ninja Foodi OP302 is the only multi-cooker we tested with this feature. The process is long—6 to 8 hours for most fruits and veggies, and 5 to 7 hours for meats. CR testers tried out this feature by dehydrating two apples cut into slices, and the dried apples were tasty. But given the size of this 6.5-quart pot, you can’t dehydrate a lot of food at once, even using the multilayer rack we bought for $30.

• Sous vide: You'll find this feature on the Instant Pot Max. Our testers used the sous vide setting to cook three boneless chicken breasts, each sealed in a plastic bag, in a bath of heated water. Three hours later the chicken was juicy and tender, and evenly cooked throughout. To learn more about sous vide cooking, see "Sous Vide Tools That Up Your Game in the Kitchen."

Multi-Cooker Brands

A high-end brand that offers a variety of countertop appliances, Breville multi-cookers are available at major retailers such as Bed Bath & Beyond, Amazon, and specialty stores such as Williams-Sonoma and Sur-la-Table. Prices range from $250 to $380.
A brand leader in the countertop cooking appliance category with a wide selection of models, Crock-Pot multi-cookers are available at mass merchants, such as Walmart, Target, Best Buy, other major retailers, department stores, and Amazon. Prices range from $50 to $70.
This popular brand has become an internet sensation and an Amazon best seller. Instant Pot now offers a wide selection of models that are available not only online, but also at major retailers like Walmart, Target, and Williams-Sonoma. Prices of multi-cookers range from $70 to $160.
A popular brand with a variety of models, prices of multi-cookers range from mid-to-high, around $100 to $250. You'll see models on Amazon and at major retailers such as Walmart, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and department stores.
A major brand for small appliances, Philips multi-cookers are available online, including Amazon, department stores, and major retailers such as Bed Bath & Beyond and Best Buy. Prices range from $180 to $230.
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