Instant Pots and Pressure Multi-cookers

For 10-15 years, 2006-2020 multi-cookers were electric pressure cookers with:

  • a heating element in a round plate below the cooking vessel,
  • stainless or non-stick metal pots,
  • sensors,
  • a control panel and
  • a programmed control responding to feedback from the sensors.

Midea of Guangdong Province, China patented a multi-cooker in 2006. Fagor America and its European parent company brought the Fagor Lux multi-cooker to market in 2015, and the Fagor Lux LCD in 2017. Fagor America ceased operations including honoring warranties and providing support for customers and dealers in 2018. The devices reemerged from the reorganization of the Fagor companies under the Zavor brand. The Instant Pot multi-cooker came to the market 2015-6. It was handicapped by poor manuals, a lack of information about how to use it and a lack of recipes. Users found technique and recipes in publications about stove-top pressure cookers, and began to experiment and circulate information on web sites and social media. Jarden Consumer Appliances, owner of the Crock-Pot name and brand, introduced a pressure multi-cooker with a non-stick metal insert called the “Express Crock Multi-Cooker”.

Blenders with heating elements that can make smoothies and cook soup or even chili. Moulinex has sold Thermomix blenders since 1961. There have been newer and less expensive variations on this idea. Philips makes a Soup Maker – an electric kettle mated with an immersion blender. In 2019, Instant Pot put is brand name on an appliance line including rice cookers, air fryers and the new Ace blender/soup maker. Multi-cookers without pressure cooking capabilities came into the market 2018-19: new iterations of rice cookers or slow cookers programmed for saute, steaming and other functions including “slow cooking”. Examples: Zojirushi Multicooker EL-CAC60; Philips HD3095/87; T-fal RK705851; Aroma Housewares ARC-6106 MultiCooker; Midea Mb-fs5017 10 Cup Smart Multi-cooker. Cuisinart introduced a 3-in-1 Cook Central slow cooker with a nonstick insert with a saute setting.

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, and claim that their multi-cookers “replace” a rice cooker, a steamer, and a slow cooker. Cooking appliances presented challenges and opportunities for writers and publishers. Back in 2000, slow cookers were supported by a few books – many of them not particularly good. Cooks Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen put out the Slow Cooker Revolution books for the ceramic crock slow cookers. Those books were good and apparently successful at the time.

Some 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 there should be a convenient (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</em> (2020).

Cooks Illustrated/ATK’s Multicooker Perfection (2018) tried to rate the best pressure-multicooker. It favoured the Fagor Lux LCD and Lux devices in 2018, and then nearly identical Zavor device. Zavor models are more expensive than Instant Pots, and not widely available. Zavor does not honor Fagor warranties or provide support for Fagor models. Parts and accessories are rare.

Cooks Illustrated/ATK supported its recommendations with its test results. CI/ATK tested the low and high slow cooker settings by heating 5 lbs (i.e. 2.7 liters or 2.8 quarts) of water for 5 hours. It reported that the Instant Pot slow cooker high setting will heat 4 quarts of water in an 8 quart model, to 206 ℉. (a simmer). The test seems to clear and simple. Heating 4 quarts of water to a near boil temperature tests the capability of the device to heat that much water. Some cooks may want to make 4 quarts of soup or stock by a slow cooker recipe. The lesson in the CI/ATK test is that the Instant Pot slow cooker program will not get that amount of fluid hot enough, fast enough to make that a useful way to spend time and resources.

CI/ATK say that its slow cooker recipes in Multicooker Perfection work well if a device gets the food to 195-210 F and maintains that temperature. Cooks Illustrated/ATK :

  • warned that the slow cooker settings on some devices are too cold, and on others too hot;
  • warned that High/More slow cooker settings in some pressure multi-cookers did not reliably do what traditional slow cooker high was supposed to do; and
  • asserted that the Instant Pot did not deliver enough heat, the right way, in its slow cooker program.

No electric pressure cooker or pressure multi-cooker will be capable or cooking all recipes taken from a slow cooker recipe source. A slow cooker heats the food into the range where the food simmers slowly. The slow cookers sold in America in the 20th century used constant low heat. While in principle the food was not boiled, most of these device eventually cooked the dish at a temperature above the boiling point of water. Electric pressure cookers or pressure multi-cookers switch the power off when the device decides the pot is hot enough, and then turns the power on to bring the temperature up. It isn’t the same as controlling the flow of power to an element on a stove, and it is not the constant low heat of the traditional low cooker. Slow cooker settings in electric pressure cookers and pressure multi-cooker put out enough heat to warm the base of the pot to a set temperature, monitored by a sensor.

Instant Pots have three settings in the slow cooker program Low, Normal or Medium, and High. Slow cookers often have a warm setting and low and high slow cooking settings. Instant Pot slow cooker program Low setting provides the function of a slow cooker Warm setting in a slow cooker; it is not equivalent to a slow cooker Low cooking setting. A rule of thumb for following a slow cooker recipe with a pressure multi-cooker: cook at medium (“normal”) where the slow cooker recipe says low.

Pressure cookers can cook the same soups, stews etc. that can be cooked in a slow cooker or in a pot on a stove or in an oven. Pressure multi-cookers, including Instant Pots, can perform many slow cooker recipes in slow cooker programs. Madhur Jaffrey has recipes for lamb (and goat) including a lamb pilaf using Instant Pot slow cooker progam setting in her Instantly Indian Cookbook. Melissa Clark has Instant Pot slow cooker versions of every recipe Dinner in an Instant. Cooks Illustrated/ATK’s Multicooker Perfection did too.

A limitations on pressure multi-cookers: size and working space. An 8 quart model is as bulky as a 6 quart ceramic slow cook. Pressure cookers are bigger than other cooking vessels because the user has to leave them partly unfilled for dishes that expand as they absorb water. Another limitation is that the engineers have not allowed users to use these devices manually. There are preset temperatures and times, and programmed cooking programs. A pressure multi-cooker as a simple cookpot when a cook wants to cook a thin broth or sauce down, or cook for a few more minute when the dish is not cooked enough. The multi-cooker has to be set again to a setting that will boil or simmer. The sauté setting will bring the pot to a boil but may burn the food and fire the heat warning, which will turn off the device. Can the cooking pot can removed and put on the stove; is there an element available? This is not hard, if you know what to do when the time comes!


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