The iconic brand Crock-Pot has created an answer to Instant Pot, an electronic pressure cooker that's become an internet sensation.
The $70 Crock-Pot Express Crock Multi-Cooker is the company's first countertop gadget that doubles as a pressure cooker. Like popular Instant Pot products, the Express is a true multicooker. It heats food under pressure, sears and sautés meat, plus steams rice and veggies. It cooks at low temperatures over long periods of time like a traditional slow cooker, too.
Crock-Pot's first foray into pressurized multicookers is a strong one. The Express is simpler to operate and clean than the Instant Pot Lux 6-in-1 V3, the Instant Pot model most similar to the Express. And while the Express can't match the Instant Pot's ability to conjure deep caramelized flavors through searing, it's easier to use as a rice cooker.
The Crock-Pot Express' convenience and hassle-free operation matter a lot to ordinary customers. That's why it's easy to recommend the Crock-Pot Express to novice home chefs over the Instant Pot Lux 6-in-1 V3.
If you've seen an Instant Pot before, then the Crock-Pot Express will look very familiar. Just like an Instant Pot, this Crock-Pot is a dense steel and plastic cylinder topped by a thick circular lid. A large control panel sits on the front side of the cooker. There, you'll find buttons to activate the machine's various cooking programs. In the middle of the panel is an LED display that glows bright blue.
Wrapped around the cooker's body is a wide belt of shiny stainless steel. It lends the appliance an air of class, and helps it blend in with contemporary kitchens. I actually prefer the sleek lines of the Crock-Pot over the Instant Pot's more irregular shape.
The Crock-Pot's buttons are well spaced and clearly defined. It's easy to read the panel's white lettering against its black backdrop, as well. The Instant Pot's controls feel cluttered and confusing by comparison, since they're jammed closely together.
To open and close the Crock-Pot Express, swivel its circular lid clockwise and counterclockwise. The lid has a heavy-duty handle on top for that purpose and for carrying it around. There are two steam valves on top of the lid. A small Bobber valve extends upwards when the interior of the Crock-Pot hits optimal pressure level. It also operates as an overflow to release excess vapor pressure. The second is the Steam Release valve. It allows you to seal or vent the cooker's airtight chamber manually.
At the heart of the Crock-Pot is its inner cooking pot. The chamber has a non-stick coating and it's removable, as is the electrical cord, which makes it easy to store.
The Crock-Pot company has sold slow cookers for decades. Crock-Pot's Express Crock Multi-Cooker is a whole new breed of appliance animal. Like its Instant Pot competitor, the Express is a pressure cooker first and foremost. Eight out of the multicooker's 12 preset cooking functions need steam pressure. The options include Meat/Stew, Beans/Chili, Rice/Risotto, Poultry, Soup and Steam.
Other pressurized presets are more unconventional. A Dessert program is designed for steam-baking cakes and puddings. The Multigrain function tackles breads and sturdy cereals like barley or oats. The Yogurt preset is also a standard for pressure cookers.
The Crock-Pot has a few conventional cooking modes too. Slow Cook instructs the appliance to simmer food low and slow. On the other end of the spectrum is Brown/Saute. This program puts the cooker's heating element in overdrive. The high temperature allows you to sear meat and sauté vegetables for dishes without changing pots.
The Crock-Pot doesn't have a separate manual mode like the Instant Pot. Even so, the Crock-Pot lets you choose how long you want a dish to cook. Adjust cooking time by pressing the + or - keys when starting the program. In many cases, you can select between high or low values for pressure and temperature, as well. In comparison, the Lux 6-in-1, though, doesn't provide a way to electronically adjust its cooking pressure. In fact, the entire Instant Pot Lux line (Lux Mini, Lux 50, Lux 80) cooks under high pressure only.
To understand what an appliance like this can really handle, I pared things down to few key cooking tests. I made brisket, rice, and beans individually, then I tried a whole batch of chili to see how it handled a full recipe.
As tough cuts of beef go, brisket is in a class by itself. Cooking it right usually requires 10 to 12 hours of low heat. The main upside to pressure cookers is their ability to shorten cook times. I was especially eager to see just how many hours the Crock-Pot could shave off of a brisket cook.
I grabbed a 3-pound flat of butchered brisket. I then dropped the brisket into the Crock-Pot's inner pot, nestled on its steaming rack. Next, I poured in 1 cup (8 ounces, 237 ml) of water, locked the lid and turned its valve to the sealed position. This is essentially a paired down Instant Pot recipe for corned beef, minus all the ingredients.
I engaged the cooker's Meat/Stew pressure preset. By default, the program has a runtime of 35 minutes. As with the Instant Pot, my brisket was cooked through after the time elapsed, but it was far from complete. Sadly, the brisket was still not soft, and its connective tissue still intact. I ran another 35 minute cycle (on the same brisket). This result was much better, and hard to stop sampling.
I placed 1 pound (0.45 kg) of dry black beans, soaked overnight and strained, into the Crock-Pot. I also added just enough fresh water to cover them. I then hit the multicooker's button to activate its Beans/Chili preset. By default, this program has a runtime of 20 minutes.
After the Crock-Pot finished actively cooking, I turned it off so it could cool. Twenty minutes later, the internal pressure inside the appliance had released naturally. The beans were soft and very close to what you'd get after a long stovetop simmer. Ordinarily, that process requires one to two hours. The Crock-Pot managed to complete the task in a fraction of the time. Likewise, the Instant Pot achieved identical results in the same amount of time with its Multigrain program.
Both Crock-Pot and Instant Pot say their products can function as rice cookers. While that's technically true, I had a better experience preparing rice with the Crock-Pot.
I rinsed 1 cup of long grain rice in cold water four times. Then, I strained the grains and combined them with 1.5 cups (12 ounces, 355ml) of fresh water, a ratio common to traditional rice cookers. Finally, I sealed each machine and started its Rice program.
The automated setting for both cookers stopped running after about 10 to 12 minutes. I waited another 10 to 15 minutes, then released any remaining pressure using the float valve. The rice from the Crock-Pot came out relatively fluffy and with a pleasant texture, but the Instant Pot's rice was much too wet and mushy. And unlike the Instant Pot, the Crock-Pot's non-stick pot is a snap to wipe clean.
I whipped up a batch of chili in the Crock-Pot, too. The idea was to feel how the appliance handles making a full recipe. My ingredients were basic: just beans, ground beef, onions and spices.
I used the Crock-Pot's Brown/Saute function to sweat down minced garlic and onions without any issues. I was also able to brown a portion of ground beef inside its pot. The process felt slower with the Crock-Pot than it did in the Instant Pot. The latter's stainless steel pot caramelized the ingredients more, no doubt because of the metal pot radiating heat more evenly than the Crock-Pot's non-stick pan. As a result, the Instant Pot's chili came out with stronger meat flavor, more spice notes, and greater richness. The identical recipe in the Crock-Pot tasted muted by comparison.
As Crock-Pot's first stab at a pressurized electric multicooker, the $70 Crock-Pot Express Crock Multi-Cooker gets a lot right. Its pressure cooker modes save lots of time and delivers satisfying results. The Crock-Pot conveniently browns and sautés ingredients in the same pot as well. And when you really want the taste of truly slow-cooked dishes, it can tackle that, too. The Crock-Pot is more forgiving with rice, and it's easier to operate. All this makes the Crock-Pot Express the clear choice for beginners. Savvy home cooks or those willing to put the time into the Instant Pot Lux 6-in-1 V3, though, will prefer its superior flavor.