Instant Pot, Slow Cooker?

An Instant Pot is not a traditional slow cooker (“TSC”). The TSC has two cooking settings: low and high. Recipes for TSCs assume:

  • the heat is delivered by the element around the lower vertical sides of a ceramic crock;
  • food near the element may cook faster or even reach a sauté/fry/burn temperature;
  • fluid near the element may reach boiling temperature and bubble. The hot fluid circulates between and around the food at the micro and macro levels and transfers heat to ingredients further away from the hot sides. The average temperature of the food in the pot will increase over time but circulation depends on what’s cooking;
  • the device will not get hot enough to bake or steam the ingredients within normal cooking time;
  • low setting gets the food to same temperature as high, more slowly. The first couple of hours on either setting raise temperature to the lower end of the range when the food starts to cook;
  • 6 hours on low is equivalent to 4 hours on high.

Many TSC recipes for 5 to 6 quart TSC pots involve 2-3 quarts of food and fluid. Many TSC recipes call for 4-6 hours on low or 2-4 hours on high. An Instant Pot can simmer in fluid for long slow cooking, but recipes that work in TSCs will not necessarily work in an Instant Pot.

Instant Pot slow cooker program settings are not directly equivalent to TSC settings.

Laura Pazzaglia says:

Readers have reported under-cooked food and less evaporation when slow cooking with all Instant Pot models, …  The under-cooking is … a side-effect of all new generation thermostat-regulated slow cookers versus the traditional wattage-regulated cookers and the uneven heat distribution between a stainless steel insert compared to ceramic inserts.

Cooks Illustrated/ATK’s Multicooker Perfection (2018) reported that the Instant Pot slow cooker high setting will heat 4 quarts of water in an 8 quart model to to 206 F. – a simmer. Multicooker Perfection concluded the Instant Pot Duo (8 quart) did not perform TSC recipes as well as TSC. The Multicooker Perfection Team thought the Normal/Medium Instant Pot slow cooker program setting did not deliver enough heat to cook, and warned that High/More did not reliably do what TSC high was supposed to do.

Some resources provides recipes that can be done using slow cooker program in a pressure multi-cooker:

  • Melissa Clark’s Dinner in an Instant (2017) has Instant Pot slow cooker versions of every recipe;
  • Cooks Illustrated/ATK Multicooker Perfection (2018) has slow cooker versions of every recipe; CI/ATK suggests using Instant Pot slow cooker high setting where a Multicooker Perfection recipe says slow cooker low;
  • Madhur Jaffrey has recipes for lamb (and goat) including a lamb pilaf using the slow cooker program of an Instant Pot (her Instantly Indian Cookbook refers to a 6 quart Duo v. 3).

Instant Pot identifies three temperature settings for the slow cooker program in its pressure multi-cooker product lines in the 6 and 8 quart models. The Instant Pot manuals for the Duo and Ultra models (5, 6, and 8 quart) indicate the slow cooker program cooks in a range of 180-210 F. The ranges for each setting:

TSC≃DuoUltraRange F (C) Set F (C)
LessLow 180 – 190 (82 – 87.8)185 (85)
lowNormalMedium 190 – 200 (87.8 – 93)194 (90)
highMoreHigh 200 – 210 (93 – 99) 208 (97.7)
Custom ≥ 104 (40) – ≤ 208 (97.7)

A TSC “warm” setting and Instant Pot slow cooker program Less (Low) are not cooking settings!

The Instant Pot slow cooker program cooking settings involve a preheat period to get to the set temperature, as read by the sensor, and a timed period, in half hour increments. The preheat is short and relatively cool, and does not affect cooking.

The heat source is an element at the bottom of a tall narrow pot. There is a temperature variance between temperature read by a sensor at the bottom and temperature read 2 cm from the top surface. The Instant Pot slow cooker program on High/More gets 1 – 3 quarts of ingredients in fluid to a good simmering temperature and keeps the temperature at the set temperature – near the element – for the entire cooking period. 4 hours on Instant Pot slow cooker program High/More means 4 hours at the set cooking temperature that 4 hours in a TSC, but a lower average temperature than a TSC during the last 2 or 3 hours

The Instant Pot slow cooker program works, with limitations. I have experimented to find the right settings and time for some of my staples.

A cook can use the pressure multi-cooker in pressure or slow cooker program for ingredients that can be cooked separately e.g. to cook dry beans. A cook can use other tools and methods to make the rest of the dish i.e. sauté or brown other ingredients in a vessel of choice.

A few suggestions when experimenting with the slow cooker program:

  • Keep the quantity to 2 – 3 quarts of food and fluid in a 6 quart pot;
  • The optional tempered glass lid is not helpful in using the slow cooker program; it may be counterproductive. It is better to use the sealing lid with the pressure release valve open;
  • If a TSC recipe says high, use Instant Pot slow cook program High/More;
  • If a TSC recipe says low, try Instant Pot slow cook normal/medium but allow a long time; consider using Instant Pot slow cook high;
  • Leave time to finish cooking by some faster method if a dish is not finished on time

A dish that does not cook in a reasonable time can be started or finished in a stovetop vessel. This will involve watching and stirring to distribute heat. Or the the Instant Pot can be reset and started in another program ( the Ultra models’ slow cook custom settings and Ultra program are not useful for the extra heat parts of these tasks):

  • boiled for a while and then simmered on a slow cooker program setting,or
  • simmered on a slow cooker setting, and then boiled for a short time – as long as it takes to make sure everything is cooked. Boiling at the end works when the pot contains ample watery fluid that is free to circulate but can set off the Hot warning with a some foods.

The glass lid can let some heat out while simmering on a higher heat settings:

  • Sauté;
  • Steam setting – the no pressure steam setting can bring liquid to a rolling boil;
  • A short time on a pressure setting can speed up a dish that fails to cook on a slow cooker setting. The pressure settings require the sealing lid, locked in place. The release valve can be closed for pressure, or left open. If the valve is left open, it will vent; and some cooking fluid will evaporate.

The pressure cook program can be used for a short pressure quick-soak of dry beans to prepare them for cooking by other methods such as the slow cooker program.

An Instant Pot can be used in the pressure cooker program for simple cooked beans, and some curries and prepared dal dishes. Laura Pazzaglia has a chart of legumes and pressure cooking times, starting from dry, naturally soaked, and quick-soaked. It is comprehensive, with a few gaps and ambiguities:

  • Her “split chickpeas” means hulled split dark chickpeas (chana dal);
  • Split yellow and red lentils. The yellow split lentil is a hulled split moong bean (moong dal or moong dal duhli). The split red (or pink or salmon) lentil (masoor dal or masoor dal duhli) is a hulled split brown lentil. Her moong dal and masoor dal recipes call for longer cooking times for these dry beans than her table.
  • She doesn’t include pigeon peas or split pigeon peas (toor dal); but her recipe for toor dal suggests soaking for a short time and about 10 minute high pressure – like borlotti, cannellini, and pinto beans;
  • The black bean in her chart is the (small-medium) Central American black turtle bean, a Phaseolus.
  • She doesn’t include whole urad beans (black gram), small hard black beans (technically Vigna, a pea). Her recipe for urad beans suggests cooking whole urad beans like black beans – 7 minutes on high, followed by natural release. Madhur Jaffrey would soak them overnight, cook 30 minutes on high, and natural release.

The Instant Pot slow cooker program produces well cooked beans. The delay function allows me to leave beans soaking, and start cooking and finish by the time I want to use cooked beans and the cooking fluid. It is necessary to adapt cooking times and settings from TSC recipes.

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