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What's the Difference Between a Pressure Cooker and an Instant Pot?

Pressure cooker vs. Instant Pot
So what's it going to be in your kitchen — a traditional pressure cooker or the Instant Pot? paulvision-Getty Images/Instant Brands/HowStuffWorks

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Sometimes, the lore of a kitchen gadget can spread with the ferocity of a wildfire, dominating countertops across the country for years.

The latest kitchen tool resonating with amateur cooks and professionals alike is the Instant Pot — an all-in-one next-gen pressure cooker that is now one of the bestselling small kitchen appliances in the world. Let's find out who invented each device and how they are used.

Who Invented the Instant Pot?

After being forced out of a startup he had co-founded, entrepreneur and doctor Robert J. Wang teamed up with two tech-savvy friends in 2008 to simplify the process of pressure cooking. Putting in more than $300,000 of his own money, Dr. Wang and his team spent 18 months perfecting a device with the same "set it and forget it" attributes of a Crock-Pot. The first iteration of the Instant Pot was released on Amazon in October 2010.

As of 2018, the Instant Pot has made more than $400 million, while inspiring hundreds of cookbooks and hundreds of thousands of fans on Facebook. So, how does this miracle machine differ from a standard pressure cooker and why has it achieved cultlike status throughout North America? To get to the bottom of these questions, one must go back almost 400 years to the year 1679.

Who Invented the Pressure Cooker?

Denis Papin was a French-born British physicist who is credited with inventing both the first cylinder and piston steam engine and the pressure cooker. His invention was simple enough: a "closed vessel with a tightly fitting lid that confines the steam until a high pressure is generated, raising the boiling point of the water considerably." A safety valve (which Papin also invented) stopped leaks and prevented explosions.

An early iteration of the commercial pressure cooker was showcased at the 1939 New York World's Fair, while the first home-use unit was made available six years later, in 1945. Pressure cookers work by keeping extremely hot water and vapor in an enclosed space, maintaining the internal temperature of the vessel, thus speeding up the cooking time for food that typically takes a long time to prepare.

What's the Difference Between a Pressure Cooker and an Instant Pot?

The difference between a standard pressure cooker and the Instant Pot comes down to usability, technology and control. While old-time pressure cookers were often subject to explosion, causing mess and often injury, the Instant Pot is designed with safety mechanisms that make it much safer to use. There are currently four generations of the Instant Pot out in the world, each more advanced than the last. By incorporating digital controls into the design of the Instant Pot, users have a seemingly endless amount of control over their breakfast, lunch or dinner. So, what specifically can one do with one of these ingenious devices? Anything. According to the product description, with the push of one button, users cans make "ribs, soups, beans, rice, poultry, yogurt, desserts and more" at the rate of up to six times faster than a standard method of cooking.

While both are still used widely at home and in restaurants, there's no denying that the level of control you get from an Instant Pot is second to none — especially with newer editions which include Alexa integration and WiFi connectivity. Once you read the instructions — and we urge that you do so — making anything from stew to yogurt is ridiculously easy. For instance, making pulled pork is as simple as adding meat and spices into the pot, pressing a button and waiting 40 minutes. When you compare that to the four to eight hours it can take to prepare in a slow cooker, one can understand the popularity of this device.

When it comes to choosing an Instant Pot over a pressure cooker, it's all about preference.

"It's a really great piece of equipment," says chef and Redditor, CricketPinata, also known as Wesley S., who is the kitchen manager at Rosemary in Nashville, Tennessee, in an email interview. "I used to have a rice cooker and a pressure cooker, and now I just use the Instant Pot to schedule everything." The chef says that the gadget not only cuts down on prep time but he's able to keep his space free from clutter in the kitchen.

"I like all of the different things it can do, and the Instant Pot being automated means I can work on prep-work elsewhere in the kitchen while setting something up to finish on its own. It's a really useful tool that makes my life easier," says Wesley.

While it always depends on personal preference, the user-friendly features of the Instant Pot give it a certain air of approachability and innovative intelligence not matched by many other kitchen devices.

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