Instant Pot has reigned supreme since a meteoric rise to fame just over a decade ago. With a following that, it's a wonder anyone else even attempts to sell pressure cookers. We've tested from different brands, and while , none have beaten the great Instant Pot.
Friends, I'm here to tell you that is changing thanks to the. While it's pricey at $200 and requires an app that isn't always helpful, I found it to be intuitive and capable in every way.
Yes, there are Instant Pots with more functions in varying sizes, and purely from a price standpoint, a standard Instant Pot like the $80 Duo is still the better deal. However, if you're just getting started in this cooking style (and can stomach the price), Chef IQ's Smart Cooker will guide you through your learning curve with ease.
The Smart Cooker comes in just one size, a 6-quart model that weighs 10 pounds. That's standard for these cookers and certainly big enough to feed a family of four or even six depending on your appetites. The solid black exterior isn't what I would call attractive, but as an appliance I typically store in a cabinet, I'm not bothered by its unexciting exterior.
On the front, you'll find a 2.83-inch LCD display, controlled by a dial knob beneath. The rest of the buttons surrounding the display are capacitive touch-style on a flat panel. That modern trend is practical when it comes to cleaning up.
One of the most interesting features on the Smart Cooker is the built-in scale. Four sensors on the bottom of the chamber measure weight. You can use the scale independently without cooking anything or use it to add ingredients during a recipe.
The Smart Cooker includes pressure cook, slow cook, sear/saute and steam as buttons on the face of the pot. Additional modes like ferment, sanitize and keep warm are available through a "more" button. A favorites button shows recipes you've saved in the Chef IQ app, transferring instructions to the screen of your Smart Cooker. Like other pressure cookers, you'll get the option for quick release or natural release, as well as a pulse option all controlled by a venting valve on the back of the lid.
Setup is the most tedious part of using the Smart Cooker. You'll need to download the Chef IQ app for iOS or Android. Then, you'll need to create an account and use the app to connect the Smart Cooker to your home's Wi-Fi network. You may also need to update the Smart Cooker's firmware so it is working with the latest and greatest programming.
Even that slightly tedious setup isn't terrible, and it's par for the course for internet-connected devices in the home. With the internet connected and updates complete, you're ready to get cooking.
I started all my pressure cooker tests with rice because it is about as simple as you can get. I enlisted the help of a half-full bag of rice from my pantry. This is where that scale feature really shines.
I put the scale to the test by dumping in the rice I had. I don't know how much rice that was, because I didn't measure. The built-in scale measured for me (turns out, it was 2 cups). I zeroed the scale with the inner pot in place, dumped my rice in and let the Smart Cooker calculate. A plan appeared. The Smart Cooker prescribed 8 minutes of high-pressure cooking with a quick release. Heads up, that quick release is really something:
The cooker then instructed me to add 8 ounces of water. I measured this part to test the scale's accuracy. Sure enough, a 1-cup measuring cup not quite full registered as 7 ounces. I topped it off to get to the required 8 ounces and followed the helpful on-screen instructions for closing the lid and setting the venting knob to "sealed."
Cooking rice in the Smart Cooker was a breeze. The results were great, too. Each grain was cooked to a fluffy, delicious texture, and because the pot is nonstick, I wasn't left with any rice burnt to the bottom. Every fluffy little grain came out in one scoop.
Admittedly, cooking rice isn't difficult for these types of cookers. Time to step it up with pulled pork. I trimmed a 5-pound pork shoulder, cut it into 3-inch cubes, seasoned it and tossed it into the Smart Cooker. I selected pressure cook from the Smart Cooker menu, then specified what meat type and preparation ("pork" and "cubed") from the onscreen menu and let the calculations fly.
The Smart Cooker instructed me to add 1 cup of water before sealing the lid and hitting Start. One hour and fifteen minutes of high pressure with a quick release later, I checked the temperature of my pork pieces. Safely above 140, I shredded them up into a delicious and tender bowl of pulled pork. Again, thanks to the nonstick pot, I had minimal cleanup.
Chili is a standard test we use for pressure cookers and the most complex of the three. It makes use of the saute function, pressure cook function and natural release method. I followed this New York Times recipe for a simple, classic pressure cooker beef chili.
After sauteing the ground beef, then the onions and peppers, I added tomato paste, seasoning and beans for a 1-hour pressure cook with a natural release. Natural release can be patience-testing no matter what brand of cooker you're using. Since the pressure releases slowly, it could take quite a while for your lid's red pressure indicator to drop. In this case, it took 18 minutes, bringing my entire recipe to about a 2-hour experience with the prep work and individual sauteing.
Still, the results were great. The chili was a flavorful, thick consistency with all the right textures. Pleased with my delicious lunch, I scrolled through the Chef IQ app for more ideas. This is where I began to lose my enthusiasm.
What the app adds (and doesn't)
You'll notice I haven't made much mention of that Chef IQ app since the beginning of this review. That's because the Chef IQ app is rather thin when it comes to culinary inspiration.
There are 33 lovely-looking recipes, but they aren't your basic meals. You won't find chili or hard-boiled eggs or rice. Instead, you'll see linguine and clams, curried lentil stew or spring pea soup. Some even require other tools like immersion blenders or food processors to complete the recipe. The lack of recipes is certainly disappointing, but not a deal breaker for me, since you can find hundreds of pressure cooker meals online.
While the app falls short in recipe recommendations, it redeems itself with its calculator function where you can input just about anything to find out how best to cook it. Choose your cooking method, food type and serving size and you'll get a set of parameters ready to send straight to your cooker. I used this calculator to steam broccoli and cook medium-boiled eggs, both with great results.
Should you buy it?
If you already own an Instant Pot, you don't need to toss it out and buy the Smart Cooker, especially if you're well-versed in these appliances. In fact, your Instant Pot may do more, likeor have specific modes for cake and eggs. If you've learned how to make your favorites in an Instant Pot, bought all the accessories and , there's no need to undo those acts of devotion.
I will admit the Smart Cooker is overpriced; $200 is a lot to pay for any small appliance. I can't justify spending $200 on the Smart Cooker. If it were even $50 cheaper, I would feel good about my purchase. I'm hopeful that, like Instant Pot, we may be able to find the Smart Cooker on sale periodically.
That said, if you've never owned a multi cooker, Chef IQ's Smart Cooker is still worth considering. The Smart Cooker does the weighing, calculating and timing for you. It gives you tips and pointers throughout the process to make sure you get it right. The nonstick pot means easy clean up and less "burn" notices (I didn't get a single one in my testing). Both the Smart Cooker and the Chef IQ app are intuitive, instructional and easy to use, even for beginners. The Smart Cooker is a great choice for a high-tech, low-fuss multi cooker.