TL;DR: Overall, we prefer the Crock-Pot because there's more room for error, you can add ingredients at any time and the nostalgia of chili cook-offs is strong.
The Instant Pot vs. the Crock-Pot. Both small kitchen appliances make putting a warm meal on the table simpler, but they're not the same. And as most home cooks know, countertop space is too precious to own both. Which is right for you? We tested the Instant Pot and Crock-Pot to find out.
To conduct the tests, we made three recipes in each device, opting to use the entry-level Instant Pot, the Instant Pot Duo, and the flagship Crock-Pot slow cooker. We modified cooking times based on a conversion chart found online (for example, half an hour in the Instant Pot came out to be four hours on high in the Crock-Pot) but we were able to make some successful dishes to find which cooking appliance is the best of the best.
Instant Pot 101
The Instant Pot hit the market in 2010, so it’s still relatively new. Technically defined as a multi-cooker, the Instant Pot is renowned — and beloved — for its convenience, versatility and speed. Coming in a variety of sizes from 3-quart to 10-quart, it's capable of cooking in myriad ways, but it’s best known for pressure cooking — put food in and set the timer, then you can get a whole meal in about fifteen minutes. That’s what we tested. Cooking in one pot makes for an easier clean-up, and honing in on cook times allows for last-minute prep and more consistent timing. Various models add different functions like the option to bake or sous vide, but the basic functions are: pressure cook, slow cook, rice/grain, sauté, steam, yogurt and warm.
Crock-Pot has been a staple for chili lovers, Buffalo chicken dip makers and pot roast enthusiasts since its inception in 1971. Available in standard 6- to 8-quart sizes, the Crock-Pot is designed to evenly cook your food for hours, allowing for plenty of time for the flavors to get to know one another. Ideal for parties, tailgates and after-work pick-me-ups, the Crock-Pot has almost reached Americana status. It's nearly reached generic trademark status — people call all slow cookers, even when they’re technically Hamilton Beach or Cuisinart, Crock-Pots. Crock-Pots recently got some flak after one of its slow cookers was revealed to be the cause of a major character's death on the show "This Is Us." But the brand defended itself, noting that in its 50-year history, no incident like that shown on the television show had been recorded in real life.
What’s the Difference Between Instant Pot and Crock-Pot?
• Shape: Instant Pot has a circular steel pot, whereas Crock-Pot has an oval-shaped ceramic one.
• Cooking method: The Instant Pot uses high pressure steam in a sealed container; the Crock-Pot is a lidded dish surrounded by a metal container that gently heats the bottom and sides of the dish.
• Features: Both have settings and accessories to expand your cooking options, but the Instant Pot definitely has more. Hard-boiled eggs? There’s a silicone tray for that. Sautéing? Press that button. The Crock-Pot is simpler and more straightforward, with its timer and three settings: high, low, and keep warm.
Test 1: Soup
We made minestrone, and it was amazing. I chopped vegetables, opened cans and poured in stock, and then boom! Three hours later, soup. The slow cooker minestrone tasted more flavorful than the Instant Pot minestrone, and it was an Instant Pot recipe. For shame. With the Crock-Pot, the flavor of the spices and vegetables were more discernible in the final soup, whereas the Instant Pot tasted more like canned soup, bland with the need for more salt. Crock-Pot wins this round.
Test 2: Vegan Mac and Cheese
We made vegan mac and cheese. Prep was much easier as there was no initial sautéing, just putting vegetables, nuts and broth in a pot. While I will admit that I had already had two bowls worth of the Instant-Pot mac — and then watched an entire movie — before I could try the Crock-Pot mac, out of the slow cooker the mac and cheese was somehow saltier despite having the same amount of salt, and it had a better texture — the "cheese" sauce seemed more like cheese sauce, rather than a wet soup. Crock-Pot wins this round, too.
Test 3: Baking
There is something to be said for the sheer joy of being able to use the Instant Pot to make brownies, even though they taste steamed instead of crusty. The Crock-Pot brownies are fully-cooked after about three and a half hours, and the texture is closer to what you’d get out of an oven, but these brownies are not as sweet or fudgy. This is odd given that, again, the ingredients are identical. Neither can compare to oven-baked brownies, which are crusty on the outside and fudgy in the middle. In an upset, Instant Pot wins this round, though it's a pyrrhic victory if there ever was one.
Overall, the Crock-Pot wins. It's a simple tool, we like that you can open it up mid-cook to change things up and we preferred the richer flavored food that came out of it to the Instant Pot equivalent.
When it comes to ease, it’s nice just to put things in a dish, press a few buttons and walk away, and both the Instant Pot and the Crock-Pot satisfy that need for simplicity well enough.
The Instant Pot doesn’t save that much time in comparison to the stove or oven. It takes a few minutes to build up pressure, supposedly the same way an oven preheats, but the difference is, you don’t need to have the food already in the oven by the time it starts cranking up its temperature. But as we said, they are adored, and the five-star reviews on Amazon are many.
Crock-Pots became popular in the 1970s when more women entered the workforce. They would prepare meals in the morning and let them slow cook while they were at work, so when they came home, there was a delicious, ready-to-eat meal. Today, not everyone is built for that kind of advance planning and time management,
Ultimately, you either need both or neither. Save for portability, these devices don't replace a stove or an oven. They are simply nice to have around, and highly useful for specific meals and sides. If you love to cook, and particularly love meal prepping, both are excellent options.