Instant Pot vs. Rice Cooker: Which is Best?

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If you’re looking for answers in the Instant Pot vs. rice cooker debate, this is the guide for you.

In this guide, I use the Zojirushi Rice Cooker and Instant Pot Duo Plus as type examples to help nail down concrete differences. 

As someone who has used both to make various family-friendly, healthy meals, I know my way around both of these ultra-convenient countertop appliances. They both have their ups and downs, so there’s no one size fits all approach.

I use both my Instant Pot and rice cooker with equal frequency, but I am a food blogger, after all. Whether I’m whipping up rice for a side dish or turning a slab of meat into a hearty stew, I know that one of these will get the job done. 

Read on to determine whether you should buy an Instant Pot or rice cooker.

At a Glance

Rice cooker vs. Instant Pot: Which is right for you? It all depends on the types of dishes you usually cook. 

If you’re a slow-cooking fiend or a pressure-cooking wizard, the Instant Pot might already be a staple in your kitchen. It’s perfect for soups, stews, and slow-cooked meats like pot roasts and briskets.

If rice is an everyday side (or main) dish in your family, a rice cooker, like Zojirushi, can save you time and attention. Simply setting your rice cooker, doing something else for 20 minutes, and coming back to fluffy, perfectly-cooked rice almost feels like a miracle. 

I know what you’re thinking: “Doesn’t Instant Pot have a rice cooker function?” Yep! Along with pressure cooking, the Instant Pot’s slate of features does include rice cooking, making Instant Pot more versatile. Yet if you are cooking a lot of rice, a dedicated rice cooker will be easier and produce better results.

The most important functional difference between the two appliances is that the Instant Pot has a pressure cooking function. Cooking food requires an increase in pressure or temperature. An Instant Pot increases both, significantly decreasing cook times.

Rice Cooker vs Instant Pot

We’ll discuss how each appliance works in more detail below: Let’s start with the rice cooker.

How a Rice Cooker Works

When making rice on the stove, impatience is a heck of a drug. You have to fight the urge to keep opening the lid to stir the rice and keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. When you do so, you lose the precious steam that helps create that perfectly fluffy texture. 

Rice cookers seal tightly, keeping most of the steam inside. Sure, you could peek inside and check on your rice, but the beauty of the rice cooker is being able to set it and forget it. 

If you’re a frequent rice-maker, you’ll love the convenience of the rice cooker. You can also use it for other dry goods, like:

  • Lentils
  • Dry beans
  • Couscous
  • Quinoa
  • Barley
  • Steel-cut oats
  • Risotto

But, if you don’t make any of these frequently or just prefer to make meals on the stove, skip the rice cooker. 

Remember that it only has one function: cooking rice (or any of the dry foods above). You can’t use it for soups, stews, meats, or vegetables.

How an Instant Pot Works

Instant Pots have numerous features, including:

  • Slow cooking (like a Crock-Pot)
  • Pressure cooking
  • Rice cooking
  • Sauteing
  • Keeping foods warm

Its many features make the Instant Pot perfect for one-pot dishes, soups, and even homemade yogurt. 

But, pressure cooking is the unique feature of the Instant Pot. By utilizing the cooking power of both increased temperature and pressure, it cooks foods faster than the oven, stove, or slow-cooker. 

The feature is incredibly convenient for meats, which can cook in less than 10 minutes in the Instant Pot.

The ideal Instant Pot user is the master of one-pot meals who needs more hours in the day. But, if you like to have total control over your dishes at all times, the “set it and forget it” factor likely won’t appeal to you. 

Keep in mind that if you have a sudden urge to stir your dish while the Instant Pot is in pressure cooking mode, it takes a few minutes for the pot to depressurize. It’s ideal for just about any food, from pasta to soups to slow-cooked meals.

Product Reviews

Let’s explore some of the most loved aspects of both the rice cooker and the Instant Pot.

Rice Cooker

Rice cooker manufacturers tout precise heating control, excellent lid sealing for optimal steam containment, and fast cook times. Most rice cookers, like the Zojirushi, use an interior bowl with a non-stick coating, but you can also purchase stainless steel rice cookers

Users generally report all of the above to be true for the Zojirushi. But, some report that it may not save as much time as advertised. 

The Zojirushi has special settings for certain kinds of rice, like Jasmine rice, and some of these special functions can take up to 90 minutes to complete.

Pros:

  • Dependably fluffy, perfectly cooked rice
  • No rice stuck to the bottom of the bowl
  • Generally faster cook times than stovetop rice

Cons:

  • Reduced functionality compared to other countertop appliances (like the Instant Pot)
  • Some long cook times for specialized settings
  • The induction heating process can be noisy

Instant Pot

The Instant Pot Duo Plus is so much more than a pressure cooker: Manufacturers call it a “multi-cooker.”

And, users seem to generally take advantage of all of its functions. The yogurt setting is popular, and users claim that making yogurt in the Instant Pot makes the cooling process (which is integral to yogurt flavor development) extremely simple.

Pros:

  • All of the functions are, well, actually functional.
  • Pressure cooking is a fast alternative to stovetop cooking.
  • It’s easy to clean.
  • It has strong “set it and forget it” potential.

Cons:

  • Pressure can take a long time to build up and release.
  • You can’t physically see what’s going on in the pot with the lid on. 
  • The seal around the lid absorbs many cooking flavors, which can sometimes cause unpleasant smells.

Rice Cooker vs. Instant Pot

The main advantages of the rice cooker include:

  • Making soft, fluffy rice hands-free
  • Low maintenance—simply wash the pot after removing the rice
  • Fast cook times
  • Freeing up stove real estate

The main advantages of an Instant Pot are:

  • The numerous functions
  • Ability to Pressure Cook
  • Ease of maintenance—just like the rice cooker, the Instant Pot has a washable pot
  • Ultra-fast cook times with pressure cooking
  • Saving space on the stove and in the oven

As far as the healthier option, both can encourage healthier eating. Rice, after all, has a pretty high protein-to-calories ratio. And, the Instant Pot is perfect for veggie-packed soups and stews.

The Instant Pot is definitely the most functional of the two choices. The rice cooker only does one thing, while the Instant Pot does many. 

Its increased functionality also leads to increased versatility. While you can make various dry goods in a rice cooker, you can make almost anything under the sun in an Instant Pot.

Cooking Rice

While it may only do one thing, it does it well: Rice cookers make excellent rice that’s fluffy and properly hydrated every time. 

The Instant Pot is also a strong rice cooker, however. But, sometimes, the Instant Pot gets too hot when using the rice cooker function, and users can’t control each mode’s temperatures. Rice can undercook or stick to the pot if the heat is too high.

If you’re looking for perfect rice every time, you should pick up a rice cooker.

Slow Cooking

But, if you need outstanding rice-making and slow-cooking functionality, the rice cooker isn’t right for you. Rice cookers can’t slow-cook soups, stews, or meats, but the Instant Pot can. 

For meats that require searing before slow-cooking, the Instant Pot’s Saute function can handle this vital prep step, making the dish truly a one-pot meal. You won’t even have to dirty a saute pan. 

For slow-cooking gurus, the Instant Pot is for you.

Cooking Meats

Add meat preparation to the list of procedures the rice cooker simply wasn’t made to do. 

The Instant Pot, on the other hand, cooks meat like a dream. Whether you’re slow-cooking a pork butt, pressure cooking some diced chicken before throwing it into a casserole, or sauteing thin strips of beef, the Instant Pot gets it done. 

Plus, the pot’s high walls reduce splattering during the saute phase. Grease stains, begone!

A win for the Instant Pot, though, to be fair, the rice cooker isn’t even competing here!

Cooking One-Pot Meals

Everyone’s idea of a meal is different. If you work from home and make hot lunches every day, a bowl of rice or couscous might be enough of a meal for you. If this is true for you, you can make a one-pot meal in the rice cooker. 

But, for a more nuanced one-pot meal—like a pot roast, stir fry, or saucy pasta dish—the Instant Pot can accommodate multiple ingredients at once, and you can even make multi-phase meals using different features.

Both can technically cook one-pot meals, but the Instant Pot is still superior.

Instant Pot vs. Rice Cooker: Which is for you?

In terms of functionality, usefulness, and versatility, the winner is clear: the Instant Pot. 

For the home chef who loves the convenience of one-pot meals, the Instant Pot will likely never leave their countertop. It might even make their stovetop obsolete. 

For fearless, experimental cooks who love to try out new cooking methods and flavors, the Instant Pot is an easy entry into some niche culinary skills like yogurt-making, sous vide, and pressure cooking. 

But, for the rice fanatic who simply has to have perfectly fluffy rice every time, the rice cooker is for you.

If you want perfect rice and love the other functions of the Instant Pot, why not pick up one of each?

Ultimately, both appliances are helpful and do what they claim to do. While the Instant Pot certainly has more functions, a good rice cooker is worth every penny. If you’re still on the fence, save up to buy both!