Instant Pot, Slow Cooker?

An Instant Pot can be used in the pressure cooker program for simple cooked legumes, and some curries and prepared dal dishes. The pressure cooker program will be the better choice for some dishes. The pressure cooker program is also useful to cook or quick soak dry legumes for slow cooker 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 may be a hulled split moong bean (moong dal duhli). The split red (or pink or salmon) lentil 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.

An Instant Pot is not a traditional slow cooker. Recipes for traditional slow cookers assume:

  • heat is delivered by the element around the lower vertical sides of a ceramic crock to food totally or partly immersed in a cooking fluid;
  • 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. Food near the element may cook faster or even reach a sauté/fry/burn temperature;
  • the average temperature of the food in the pot will increase over time but circulation of fluid and heat depends on what’s cooking;
  • the device will not get hot enough to bake or steam the ingredients within normal cooking time;
  • two cooking settings: low and high
    • low 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;t
    • 6 hours on low is equivalent to 4 hours on high.

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

https://www.hippressurecooking.com/instant-pot-ultra-review/

A traditional slow cooker “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. 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:

Traditional
Slow Cooker≃
DuoUltraRange Set
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 – ≤ 208
(40-97.7)


The heat source in a pressure cooler 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 at the High/More setting means 4 hours at the set cooking temperature. at 4 hours on high in a traditional slow cooker involves a lower average temperature for the first hour (subject to hot spots) and a higher average temperature during the last 2 or 3 hours.

Instant Pot and other appliance manufacturers exaggerate the convenience of electric pressure cookers and multicookers as devices that can cook an entire main course in one pot at the same time. A sub-genre of multicooker cookbooks and recipes provides recipes that have a common first stage, with alternative fast (pressure cooker) and slow (slow cooker) methods for finishing. The first stage includes prepping ingredients and may include using the sauté function to fry some ingredients. This approach fosters the impession that the should be a convenient 9 (i.e. less that 4-6 hour) slow cooker alternative for every fast recipe. The cookbooks in this genre:

  • Melissa Clark’s Dinner in an Instant (2017);
  • Cooks Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen Multicooker Perfection (2018);
  • Milk Street Fast and Slow (2020).

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 ℉. – a simmer. The Multicooker Perfection Team warned that High/More did not reliably do what traditional slow cooker high was supposed to do. Cooks Illustrated/ATK asserted that the Instant Pot did not deliver enough heat, the right way, in its slow cooker program, to emulate a traditional slow cooker. CI/ATK suggests using Instant Pot slow cooker high setting where a Multicooker Perfection recipe says slow cooker low. Christopher Kimball and his team at Milk Street Cooking provided what they found to be realistic slow cooking times for the slow option for recipes in Milk Street Fast and Slow (2020), and practical tips on using the Instant Pot to prepare ingredients for a slow cooker recipe.

Slow cooker program recipes of Instant Pots and other pressure multicookers are rare. The Instant Pot genre is largely devoted to pressure cooking. 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)

The Instant Pot slow cooker program works, with limitations. A few suggestions when experimenting with the slow cooker program:

  • Precook or parcook or prepare dry legumes, or other suitable ingredients in fluid on the pressure cooker or sauté setting. The pressure cook program can be used for a short pressure quick-soak of dry legume or to cook the dry legumes;
  • Consider other tools and methods to sauté or brown other ingredients;
  • 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. (The glass lid can let some heat out while simmering on a higher heat settings);
  • Leave time to finish cooking by some faster method if a dish is not finished on time and consider using other tools and methods to finish.

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.

Higher heat settings may allow for simmering or boiling in the Instant Pot. This works with fluid in the pot and will not work if the food is thick – the burn warning will shut down the pot)

  • 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 Instant Pot slow cooker program can do dried legumes. I use smaller amounts (under 3 cups) in a 6 quart Instant Pots

Lentils and small split and skinned legumes can be cooked dry. I use the slow cooker High setting for 2-4 hours.

Larger dry legumes can be soaked and cooked on slow cooker High. I soak these legumes in the Instant Pot, and add more water to cover the beans if the soaked beans have swelled above the surface. I follow with a quick soak – cooking the legumes on Pressure Cooker High for one or two minutes, and let the pressure drop naturally. Then, and while the legumes and cooking water are hot, I start the slow cooker program on High (More in some models), cooking with the pressure cooker lid with pressure release valve left open.

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 traditional slow cooker recipes.

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