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Save Money Using a Slow Cooker or Instant Pot Instead of the Oven

Cooking low and slow is one of our all-time favorite methods, but running your oven for hours gets expensive. Here's how much you can save with a more energy-efficient appliance.

Wolf Gourmet Slow Cooker
An Instant Pot or slow cooker could save you some serious dough on your monthly energy spend.
Wolf Gourmet

This story is part of Home Tips, CNET's collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

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There's no food quite like slow food. Be it braised beef short ribs, slow-cooked baby backs or a tender mound of pulled pork, these foods take more time but are worth every minute. One downside that comes with cooking slowly is a potentially bloated energy bill since you'll need to run your oven for several hours, and gas ain't cheap these days. (Not to mention your oven will emit some serious heat during these hot summer months.) Other appliances including slow cookers and Instant Pots (pressure cookers) can mimic the results of slow oven cooking without using all that energy or turning your kitchen into a sauna. 

There's no wrong way to save money on your monthly utility bills with energy costs as high as they are. Little shake-ups in your routine can add up to savings, and one of those could be opting for a slow cooker or Instant Pot over the oven. Both small appliances use significantly less energy per hour than a full-size oven. For slow-cooked meals and recipes, that difference could mean a few extra hundred dollars in your pocket over the course of a year.

So how much can you save using a smaller appliance like a multicooker, slow cooker or Instant Pot in place of an oven? I did the math, and you might be surprised. The breakdown below illustrates roughly how much you'll spend on energy to braise a 5- to 6-pound pork shoulder with each.

Need recommendations? These are the best Instant Pots and best Instant Pot accessories for 2022.

Oven, slow cooker and Instant Pot compared

Appliance Max wattage pull Cost per hour of cooking Total hours (6-lb. pork shoulder) Total cost
Large oven 3,000 $0.51 7 $3.57
Slow cooker (6-quart) 260 $0.05 8 $0.40
Instant Pot pressure cooker (6-quart) 1,000 $0.17 1.5 $0.26

The easiest way to figure out how much a pressure cooker or slow cooker might save you versus using the big oven is to calculate the wattage pulled per hour, versus how much an electric stove would use. For the purposes of this exercise, we'll compare the energy draw from a full-size electric stove to that of a standard 6-quart crock-pot and a 6-quart Instant Pot pressure cooker. It's difficult to prorate the wattage pull for lower temps so I calculated each appliance at its max energy draw, even though you probably won't generally be cooking on high for these long sessions. The slow cooker and oven totals would likely drop a bit if they were set to lower temps. The Instant Pot would not.

I used one of Food Network's top-rated recipes for each to calculate the time needed and total cost it would take to cook a large pork shoulder (classic slow-cooked food) using all three appliances. It's worth noting off the bat that pressure cooking with an Instant Pot takes significantly less time than slow cooking in an oven or a Crock-Pot.

Red oven in kitchen

Ovens are great for cooking low and slow but they use about 90% more energy than a countertop slow cooker.

KitchenAid

How much does an electric oven cost to use?

To determine electric oven consumption, you'll calculate the wattage pull per hour of cooking. Most electric ovens draw around 3,000 watts, depending on the temperature.

Electricity rates also vary widely by state. To find yours, you can consult this chart with the 2020 prices listed in cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). The prices for 2021 won't be released until December 2022 but if you do some searching, you should be able to find the latest prices.

Once you find the wattage of your oven (either on the appliance's tag, the owner's manual or an online product listing), multiply that number by the number of hours you use the oven each day. Then divide by 1,000 watts (1 kilowatt) to find the kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity consumed.

Next, determine the average price per kWh of electricity in your state for the year according to the US Energy Information Administration. Multiply that amount by the number you just calculated (3, in this example) to determine your operating cost per day. 

Working with New York's electricity rate of 17 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), a 3,000-watt oven would cost me about 51 cents per hour. For the full seven hours it takes to properly slow cook a 6-pound boneless pork shoulder in the main oven, it will cost about $3.57.

Ninja slow cooker up close

With a wattage pull of around 300 watts, appliances don't get much more energy-efficient than the slow cooker.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

How much does a slow cooker cost to use?

Slow cookers are also electric, so you'll use the same methodology as above to find their cost. The wattage pull for slow cooker models varies and larger ones will use more energy. A standard 6-quart Crock-Pot slow cooker has a max output of 260 watts.

Using these figures, we can determine that a slow cooker uses about 9% of the total energy draw of a large oven. Again, factoring in New York's electricity costs, we can safely say a leading six-quart slow cooker will cost about 5 cents per hour. That's 91% more energy-efficient than the average full-size electric oven. The pork shoulder recipe calls for eight hours of cooking, which would cost you a total of about 40 cents using a slow cooker.

Black Instant Pot Pro

Due to a shorter overall cooking time, the Instant Pot (pressure cooker) turns out to be the most energy-efficient way to achieve that tender, slow-cooked result.

Instant Pot

How much does an Instant Pot cost to use?

A similar recipe for pork shoulder cooked in an Instant Pot called for one hour of cooking for a four-pound pork shoulder cut into pieces. Instant Pots will draw different amounts of energy based on the setting. For pressure cooking, a standard 6-quart model will draw about 1,000 watts or one-third the energy draw of a big oven.

Knowing this, we can determine that in New York State, it will cost you about 17 cents per hour to pressure cook. Because this recipe is for a smaller pork shoulder cut into pieces, I'll add 30 minutes to that cook time. That would net a grand total of about 26 cents to cook a similar 6-pound cut of meat that's not diced into pieces in an Instant Pot.

Pulled pork sandwich up close

You can make delicious pulled pork in an oven, slow cooker or Instant Pot but one will cost you significantly more in overall energy.

Chowhound

How much can a slow cooker or Instant Pot save you?

Of these three methods, the big oven is the most expensive way to cook low and slow by a good margin. While $3 of savings might seem small, if you expand it out over a year of long braises and slow cooks, it could save you some serious dough on your overall energy bill. If you slow cook once per week, that's a quick savings of $150 for the year.

Slow cooker next to an Instant Pot

Every Instant Pot is also a slow cooker so there's no real need to buy both.

Alina Bradford/CNET

All is not equal: One big consideration

One big caveat is that these three cooking methods, while similar in some ways, don't deliver the exact same results. Many people swear by braising meats and slow cooking in the real oven, even if it takes longer and costs more -- and they might not be wrong. With pressure cooking, for instance, I've never gotten exactly the same result as with slow oven-roasting, but certain recipes come pretty close. People are also critical of slow cookers for their propensity to make food emerge a bit mushy, not just tender, when used for long periods. 

Bonus: Instant Pots are cheap and slow cookers, even cheaper

If it's trimming money from your monthly bill that's drawn you to the slow cooker or Instant Pot, you likely don't want to shell out a ton of money to buy one. The good news is you won't have to: A 6-quart Instant Pot can be had for around $80 (less if you find one on sale) and slow cookers start at around $35. It's also worth noting that every Instant Pot also has a slow cooker function, so there's really no need to stock your kitchen with both.

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