Ever since I started publishing Instant Pot freezer meal boot camps earlier this year, I constantly get questions about how an Instant Pot works. I totally understand – it can be a tricky appliance to figure out with a little bit of a learning curve. And one of the biggest questions I get it is…
“What's the difference in an Instant Pot and a Slow Cooker?”
As it turns out, that's kind of a loaded question! My short answer is that an Instant Pot is like a slow cooker on steroids. 😉 It can do every thing a slow cooker can do and so much more. But there really is so much more to answering that question than just one sentence.
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To begin, let's look at what all an Instant Pot can do. I'll be using my model of Instant Pot for reference in this post…some models do more and some do less, so this model is kind of a nice middle-of-the-road example point.
With an Instant Pot, you're getting a…
- pressure cooker
- slow cooker
- yogurt maker
- saute pot
- rice cooker
When buying an Instant Pot, you're probably getting it primarily for the ability to pressure cook. In my opinion this is the star feature of an IP. Most of the time, you can cook anything that's designed for cooking in a slow cooker as a pressure-cooked meal in a fraction of the time (see below for a few exceptions). I typically cook Instant Pot meals in as little as 1/10th of the time as I would in a slow cooker!
With the Instant Pot, you also have the ability to brown meats in your pot (reducing the need for extra dishes and appliances for one meal), cook rice, and make yogurt (something I love doing – I'm actually making a pot of it while I type this post). The possibilities are absolutely endless…there's a reason this has become my favorite appliance in the kitchen!
Can I cook slow cooker meals in an Instant Pot?
Yes, the Instant Pot does have a slow cooker feature as well. There are subtle differences in a traditional slow cooker and the slow cooking feature on an Instant Pot. For example, with my Crock Pot model (old model, newer version here), the low setting gets slightly warmer than the comparable “normal” setting on the Instant Pot slow cooking setting. I've noticed food lightly bubbling after 6-8 hours in the Crock Pot when it doesn't in an Instant Pot.
That being said, I don't think there are enough differences to change cook times or quantities when making a slow cooker recipe in your Instant Pot. Every slow cooker recipe I've tested cooked appropriately in the Instant Pot in the same amount of time. Just know it might not be quite as warm when serving (which, if needed, is solved by turning your pot on saute mode for 3-4 minutes before serving). One minor exception I've found is when tossing any grains in your pot at the last minute for cooking. For example, I made chicken and dumplings using my Instant Pot and the biscuit dough I added at the end wouldn't cook on the Instant Pot's normal slow cooking setting. I just used that easy fix of turning on the saute feature for about 5 minutes and, voila…problem solved.
So yes, in short, you can make slow cooker recipes (including my new FMBC slow cooker kits) in the Instant Pot!
What can I cook in a slow cooker that I can't cook via pressure cooking?
Most of the time, you're going to be able to cook the same slow cooker meal in an Instant Pot in a fraction of the time. However, there are a few exceptions.
The biggest advantage to slow cooking is that you don't have to add as much liquid to your meal to cook it properly. With the Instant Pot (or any other pressure cooker), you'll have to add at least a cup of liquid to the pot to allow it to cook properly. For the pot to come to pressure, you have to have steam; therefore, there has to be liquid in the pot that gets hot enough to make steam. This extra liquid can make your meal watery, so cooking meals that typically don't have a lot of liquid (like casseroles, dips, or recipes that include bread/fried items) via pressure cooking can be tricky. One solution is to use the “Pot in Pot” method to cook those meals in your pressure cooker. This means you add water to the bottom of your pressure cooker and use a second dish inside the pressure cooker to hold your food, separating the liquid from the dish. This is how I usually cook things like meatloaf, egg dishes, or steamed veggies.
I've also found that cooking vegetables and meat at the same time in an Instant Pot is difficult, simply because they require different cook times. In a slow cooker, you can really just dump everything in at once and cook without worry of over-cooking vegetables or under-cooking meat. With an Instant Pot, veggies typically require much less time than meat, and if you overcook veggies in a pressure cooker, they become incredibly soft. Pressure cooked recipes often require that veggies are added at the end of the meal if cook time is more than 5-10 minutes.
Finally, if you're cooking something with dairy or thicker sauces, go slow cooker. I've found that pressure cooking creamy or thick sauces (including anything with cheese) typically doesn't end well. I prefer using a slow cooker for these kinds of dishes.
Let's also look at what the Instant Pot does that a slow cooker can't. The biggest advantage the Instant Pot has is time. You can cook most meals in a pressure cooker, from start to finish, in under an hour, making it a great choice for last-minute dinners. The slow cooker requires a minimum of 4-6 hours for most meals, meaning you'll have to plan out your meals in advance. The Instant Pot is also great at cooking beans and grains (like rice)…something I've never had much success with in a slow cooker. You can typically cook grains alongside your main meal in an Instant Pot with the pot-in-pot method too, saving time and energy! And, don't quote me on this, but I've read before that the pressure cooker gets to much higher temperatures than a slow cooker, removing some toxins from foods.
Can I cook slow cooker recipes in an Instant Pot (and vice versa)?
Most of the time, yes! As long as it fits the criteria I talked about above, it can usually always go in a pressure cooker and be completed in much less time. There's not a cut-and-dry formula for converting it though…it kind of depends on the make-up of your meal.
To help out, I made up this handy dandy printable for your kitchen! You can grab the full printable version of this in the printable collection for email subscribers…fill in your info below (or click here if that form doesn't show) to receive info in your inbox on how to grab the printable. (If you're already an email subscriber and want access to this, head to the printable collection and use the password I included at the bottom of last week's newsletter).
Now for converting from Instant Pot to slow cooker, the process is usually much simpler. When in doubt, I recommend cooking for at least 6 hours (preferably 8) on low any meal that is tailored for the Instant Pot. This almost always ensures that the meal is cooked through (but, again, I do recommend testing with a meat thermometer if you're unsure). I usually do not cook any beans or grains in the slow cooker since it is so much quicker/easier in the Instant Pot, but you won't cook those anywhere close to 6-8 hours…usually closer to 2-5. Again, google is your friend if you're converting a particular recipe…most anything that has been made in a slow cooker has been made in a pressure cooker as well!
Do I need both a slow cooker and an Instant Pot?
That's hard to say…maybe, but probably not. I will say that I personally am keeping both my slow cooker and my Instant Pot for the time being. I really do need both of them to test the temperature differences on my Freezer Meal Boot Camp packs (so that's not an issue most of you will encounter). It's also nice to have a slow cooker around just as a spare appliance…if, for some reason, both of my Instant Pot inner pots are dirty, I can just use my old slow cooker to prep a meal.
If you already have a slow cooker and happen to have the extra storage space, I think it's nice to keep both. However, I wouldn't recommend buying both…if you don't have either, definitely go with the Instant Pot! It's a little bit more expensive, but has so much more versatility than a slow cooker.
(And one random note…if you're a big fan of my original Instant Pot Freezer Meal Boot Camp or Mini Freezer Meal Boot Camp, the containers I recommend for freezing those meals fit great inside a traditional Crock Pot as well! Of course, a gallon-sized bag will hold much more, but the contents of a frozen container will fit in either cooker.)
That leads me to today's big announcement…whether you use an Instant Pot or a slow cooker, you'll want to check out the latest 2 premium Freezer Meal Boot Camps packs that were released this morning! These packs are designed especially for slow cooking, making them perfect for prep in either a slow cooker or by using the Instant Pot's slow cooking setting. I've got a total of 20 new crowd-pleasing meals over on the Freezer Meal Boot Camp site…each set can be prepped in just a few hours and provide 10 nights of easy meals! That's in addition to the 40 recipes already available that are exclusively tailored for the Instant Pot.