Multi-cookers were, 2009-2018, 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.
The conglomerate Midea of Guangdong Province, China patented a multi-cooker in 2006. The Instant Pot pressure multi-cooker took off in 2015-6 with social media and presence in Amazon Market Place. Fagor America and its European parent company brought the Fagor Lux 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.
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”. Multi-cookers without pressure cooking capabilities came into the market 2018-19. These were 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. In 2019, Instant Pot put is brand name on an appliance line including rice cookers and air fryers.
Every player in this market claims that a multi-cooker can “replace” a rice cooker, a steamer, and a slow cooker. A pressure multi-cooker ot electric pressure cooker may supercede other devices if it is more convenient or has a capability to cook some foods faster or “better”.
An electric pressure cooker or pressure multi-cooker will not 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 settings: 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.
Cooks Illustrated/ATK’s Multicooker Perfection (2018) reported that the Instant Pot Duo (8 quart) did not perform well as a slow cooker. 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 warned that the slow cooker settings on some devices are too cold, and on others too hot.
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. CI/ATK recommended the Fagor Lux LCD and Lux devices those devices met those marks and could perform a large subset of the CI/ATK slow cooker recipe repertoire. It recommend the comparable Zavor models when Zavor acquired the names, rights and supply chains and began to ship product. Fagor went out of business and provides no customer support; Zavor is still establishing itself, as of late 2019 and does not honor Fagor warranties or provide support for Fagor models. Zavor models are more expensive than Instant Pots, and not widely available (at end of 2019). Parts and accessories are rare.
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.
Pressure multi-cookers are useful when the user know how the devices tranfer heat to food over time, to cook food to a safe and palatable condition. A cook needs information about the device and about the assumptions of a recipe. The use of new tools is not necessarily instinctive or intuitive. Meal planning depends on the available tools and ingredients, and the goals of feeding people and satifying appetites.
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 frustration of using a pressure multi-cooker is finding a way to use the device as a simple cookpot, which becomes necessary 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. There probably is a simmer setting but where is the simmer button? 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!