Instant Pot Lux 6-in-1 V3 review: Instant Pot's Lux beats back Crock-Pot with better flavor
Instant Pot mania is at a fever pitch right now. The newest models of this trendy countertop pressure cooker cost $100 or more, if you can find one -- these popular appliances are in short supply.
You can still find older machines available and sold for less. Case in point: the $80 Instant Pot Lux 6-in-1 V3. Released six years ago but running updated software, this Instant Pot is affordable and capable. The Lux has numerous automated programs to steam, stew and simmer with a quick button press. A stainless-steel interior pot allows Instant Pot to sear meat particularly well and add deep flavor to dishes.
Instant Pot comes up short when it comes to ease of use and cooking rice. A newer and cheaper competitor, the $70 Crock-Pot Express, actually trumps the Instant Pot in these areas and is a better appliance for casual cooks. But if you're patient and willing to tinker with recipes, the delicious capabilities this affordable Instant Pot are worth considering.
Read next: How to use your Instant Pot
Built for serious cooking
The Instant Pot Lux 6-in-1 V3 closely mimics the design of Instant Pot's other multicookers. It's squat, cylindrical and capped by a sturdy black-and-silver lid. The Lux lacks the thick "U"-shaped handle of its Duo and Ultra series models. Instead, its handle is recessed into the front of its lid. That translates to a lower overall profile.
Inside the Lux is a removable inner pot. The lining is stainless steel and has a maximum volume of six quarts. From browning and searing to soup-making, this is where all the cooking action happens. Crock-Pot's multicooker has a pot insert with non-stick coatings. It's easier to clean, but doesn't get quite as hot as the Instant Pot's stainless steel.
The outside of the Instant Pot is steel, too. Its surface is reflective, fingerprint resistant and crafted to match common kitchen decor. A panel on the front contains all of its many controls. There's also a cooking time display that glows in bright red LEDs. Around back is the Instant Pot's sole power source, a standard electrical cord and plug. The cord isn't detachable like those on the Instant Pot Duo line or the Crock-Pot Express.
Included with the cooker are a few extra accessories, including a metal wire rack for steaming, a plastic rice spoon, a soup spoon and a small measuring cup.
Pressure cook so many ways
True to its name, the Instant Pot Lux 6-in-1 offers six ways to handle food. The machine's primary function is heating ingredients under pressure. Place whatever you'd like to cook inside the pot along with some liquid. Make sure the float valve on top of the lid is set to "sealing" (vs. "venting"). You then choose one of the pressure cooking programs on the control panel. There are eight in all. These include common foods such as Soup/Broth, Meat/Stew, Rice and Multigrain.
There are a few modes to prep specialty items too. For instance, a Cake function pressure bakes batter. The Egg mode serves up soft-, medium- and hard-boiled eggs. And if you hanker for congee, the Porridge program can tackle that task. You use the Manual mode when you simply need to pressure-cook for a specific length of time.
It's too bad the Instant Pot doesn't have a dedicated chili program. It's a popular dish among the slow-cooker and multicooker crowd. (The Crock-Pot Express has a chili button.) This is only a minor beef since there are plenty of official and fan-created Instant Pot chili recipes out there.
The Instant Pot also has a steaming function, which is the preferred way to prepare delicate items like seafood, vegetables and dumplings. The appliances' Slow Cook function allows it operate as a traditional slow cooker.
Sear your heart out
One of the most impressive features of the Instant Pot is its Sauté mode. When you hit that button, the cooker kicks its 1,000-watt heating element into high gear. With a maximum temperature rated at 345 degrees Fahrenheit (174 Celsius), the inside of the Instant Pot gets good and hot.
That heat makes it easy to brown meats for stews and soups. You can also sauté vegetables and aromatic herbs in the same pot you'll simmer ingredients under pressure. The Instant Pot even did a decent job of searing steak, caramelizing my sample New York strip steak more than the Crock-Pot Express did.
Performance and taste
I tested the Instant Pot and the Crock-Pot with three single-ingredient dishes: brisket, rice, and beans. I also cooked one multi-ingredient chili. Here's what I found:
Beef brisket is a tough cut of meet that usually takes upwards of 12 hours to cook properly. The benefit of a pressure cooker is that it can drastically reduce that time.
I picked up a three-pound cut of brisket and placed the test meat inside the Instant Pot on its steaming rack. I then added 1 cup (8 ounces, 237 ml) of water, closed the lid, and ran the multicooker's "Meat/Stew" program. The default runtime of the mode is 30 minutes.
Unfortunately, the meat wasn't done when the program completed. While fully cooked temperature-wise, the brisket was still much too firm. The results were the same when I ran the 35-minute preset on the Crock-Pot. After another cycle of the program (with the same brisket), the meat from both cookers was soft and tender. The Instant Pot and Crock-Pot are evenly matched in terms of transforming challenging cuts into something delicious.
Whether to soak your beans before cooking is a contentious subject. As a creature of habit, I soaked my 1-pound (0.45 kg) batches of dry black beans overnight. After straining the beans, I placed them in the Instant Pot and added just enough fresh water to cover them. This multicooker doesn't have a special mode for beans like the Crock-Pot's Beans/Chili preset. To accommodate, I set the Instant to its Multigrain preset. I also punched in a program runtime of 20 minutes.
When the Instant Pot finished, I turned it off and let it cool down. After another 20 minutes, any internal pressure had subsided. Opening the lid revealed nicely stewed black beans in a starchy liquor. Their texture was soft, too, similar to what you get after simmering beans on a stovetop. That traditional process, however, takes one to two hours. Running a portion of test beans through the Crock-Pot (beans/chili mode) for 20 minutes had identical results.
Unlike brisket and beans, my experience cooking rice with the Instant Pot was disappointing. I rinsed 1 cup of basic long-grain rice to remove excess starch (four times). I then strained the grains and combined them with 1.5 cups (12 ounces, 355 ml) of fresh water. I chose this ratio arbitrarily. Some stovetop long-grain white rice recipes suggest 1 cup rice to 2 cups water, while others say a 2-to-3-cup ratio is best.
Unfortunately, the Instant Pot's manual doesn't provide specific guidelines for water and rice quantities. The recipe book that comes with the Instant Pot does spell out ratios for other rice varieties (jasmine and basmati), but not generic long grain rice.
Next, I sealed the machine and hit its Rice button. The Instant Pot halted active cooking after about 10 minutes. I waited another 10 to 15 minutes then released any remaining pressure using the float valve. Unfortunately, rice made this way by the Instant Pot was too wet and mushy. By contrast, the same rice cooked in the Crock-Pot came out much fluffier and with more pleasing texture.
I might enjoy better results by tweaking my water-to-rice ratio. Since there aren't simple instructions for long-grain rice, it'll take time to perfect. Also annoying is that rice debris tends to stick to the bottom of the Instant Pot's steel insert. To be fair, a good 20- to 30-minute soak will loosen any stuck crud. Still, it's an additional step. The Crock-Pot uses a non-stick pot that cleans up in a few seconds.
I made some chili to get a feel for how the Instant Pot handles multi-ingredient recipes. It's nothing fancy, just beans, ground beef, onions and spices. Sautéing aromatics and browning meat is where this cooker shines. The Instant Pot's steel pot radiates heat more evenly than the Crock-Pot Express' non-stick pan.
The result was that I spent less time stirring and mixing. My fellow editors and I could also taste more depth of flavor in the Instant Pot's test chili. Specifically, the cooker coaxed more meatiness, spice notes and richness. Using the same ingredients and recipe, the chili from the Crock-Pot was subdued and muted.
Not for casual home cooks
The case for both the affordable $80 Instant Pot Lux 6-in-1 V3 and $70 Crock-Pot Express are compelling. The Lux costs less than most other products in Instant Pot's lineup. It's also the least expensive 6-quart model the company sells. The Instant Pot Ultra 10-in-1 (6-quart) costs $150. The Duo Plus 9-in-1 (6-quart) runs for $120. Despite its price, the compact Lux sautés, browns and sears meat well. Its pressure cooker function prepares food in a fraction of the time it would take on a stove or in an oven.
But the Instant Pot Lux has issues, especially when you compare it to the Crock-Pot Express. This particular Instant Pot model's cooking programs are narrowly focused, especially its Porridge and Egg modes. I'll bet the $70 Crock-Pot Express' Chili/Bean preset has wider appeal. It's easier to prepare rice with the Crock-Pot and operate it in general, too.
For novice multicooker users, buying the Crock-Pot Express over the Instant Pot Lux makes sense. But if you don't mind tinkering with the Lux's manual controls and figuring out recipes, consider the Instant Pot for its superior cooking capabilities.