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Your Complete Guide to the Instant Pot vs. Slow Cooker

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There always seems to be that one must-have kitchen gadget everyone can't stop raving about. Two of the most popular that never seem to go out of style? Pressure cookers like the Instant Pot and slow cookers like the Crock-Pot. Both models boast unique features, have thousands of rave reviews, and can make it easier than ever to whip up healthy weeknight dinners.

But these appliances can also take up a lot of space in your kitchen (especially if you live in a tiny apartment), so you'll want to think about which you'll get the most use out of before you make the purchase. Here, what to consider before you shop. (Related: The Best Healthy Slow Cooker Recipes)

What You Need to Know About Slow Cookers

Imagine throwing a few basic ingredients into a pot in the morning, then coming home at the end of the day to dinner that's miraculously cooked itself while you were at work. That could be your life with a slow cooker.

These gadgets—the most popular being the bestselling Crock-Pot—do pretty much what you'd expect: cook your food very slowly at low temperatures. They're famous for producing fall-off-the-bone-tender meats like chicken and pork, but you can also use them to make fish, vegetarian meals, and even steel-cut oats. Most models let you program your precise cook times so you can "set them and forget them" (many let you schedule for up to 20 hours!) and usually also have warm-down settings in case you're home late and don't want dinner to get cold. In other words, they just make everything easier.

Slow cookers are available in a range of sizes and styles. If you're feeding a family, you probably want a six- or seven-quart cooker such as the Crock-Pot 6-Quart ($40, amazon.com) or Cuisinart 7-Quart Multicooker ($178, amazon.com). Individuals or couples can get away with smaller models like the Crock-Pot 4-Quart ($25, amazon.com). Prefer your kitchen accessories with a little more flair? The Pioneer Woman blogger Ree Drummond recently launched a vintage-inspired Hamilton Beach slow cooker in collaboration with Walmart ($50, walmart.com) that's as adorable as it is functional.

The bottom line: Choose a slow cooker if you tend to eat lots of proteins (think chicken, beef, pork, or salmon) and are the type of person who has the foresight to plan dinner in the morning. It's also worth noting that the most basic slow cookers are a little cheaper than the Instant Pot. (Related: Slow Cooker Dessert Recipes That Require Minimal Effort

What You Need to Know About The Instant Pot

You went to the gym after work, and now you're completely starving. You forgot dinner guests were coming over, and they're going to be here in...20 minutes.

Enter pressure cookers. Unlike slow cookers, the Instant Pot (and others like it) use steam pressure to get dinner on the table up to 10 times faster than on the stovetop. Pressure cookers have been around for centuries, but the latest electrical models are safer and nearly foolproof to use. With the Instant Pot, you fill the base with liquid (this is what generates steam) and place your ingredients on a raised metal rack. After you set the pressure level and lock the steam valve, your food will be perfectly cooked within 20 minutes or so. (It takes a few minutes for pressure within the pot to build, and cooking begins after that.)

Here's where it gets confusing. Some pressure cookers, including the Instant Pot, are multipurpose and have settings that let them also function as slow cookers. The Instant Pot actually boasts seven different programs: It's a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, and yogurt maker all in one, and you can also use it to steam, sauté, and warm your food. (Related: 9 Healthy Recipes That Will Make You Want an Instant Pot

Like slow cookers, the Instant Pot is available in different sizes. The classic Instant Pot Duo has three-quart ($80, amazon.com), six-quart, ($100, amazon.com), and eight-quart ($140, amazon.com) models. The slightly pricier Instant Pot Ultra ($120–$180, amazon.com) is sold in the same three sizes but with additional features like an egg and cake maker.

Although Instant Pots are the most popular and well-known, there are other pressure cooker brands you might consider, too. There's the splurge-worthy Breville Fast Slow Pro Pressure Cooker ($245, amazon.com) and the Mueller Pressure Cooker Instant Crock 10-in-1 ($90, amazon.com). Crock-Pot even has its own multi-use pressure cooker, the Crock-Pot 6 Qt 8-in-1 Multi-Use Express ($80, amazon.com).

The bottom line: An Instant Pot is a good choice if you want the ability to cook dinner super quickly and will also benefit from the additional cook modes.

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