Instant Pot’s newest model, ULTRA, not only re-designs the way we interact with a pressure cooker – but it puts the power of creating a nearly unlimited number of programs right in your hands. In this review we reveal what the new functions do, take an ULTRA for a spin and solve the riddle about why some people can’t brown in their Instant Pot ULTRA.
Decoding The Ultra Feature
The new key feature of this new model is “Ultra” which is Instant-Pot-ese for the ability to pre-program the cooker with any cooking time, any temperature or one of two pressures.
The uses for this granular control aren’t obvious until you realize how it turns this 10-in-one cooker into a 51,120-in-one* cooker. That’s because, in addition to sauteeing, slow cooking, rice cooking, pressure cooking, yogurt making, steaming, sterilizing (more on this later) and keeping warm the Ultra feature will let you set the right temperature to, for example, scald milk (180°F/82°C) and melt chocolate (104°F/40°C).
It’s a cake and egg cooker, too?
Yes, and no. Yes, you can place a container (not included) containing cake or cheesecake batter in the pressure cooker on a steamer basket or rack (included) with water in the base and the cake will be steamed at pressure (like this).
Ditto with the eggs – you’re steaming them at a pre-set time and pressure which you can actually already do in any pressure cooker without a dedicated function by following our instructions.
Oh.. and that Sterilize function
According to Instant Pot, this function is designed to address three scenarios:
- Low: pasteurizing milk
- Med: boiling-water canning at for acid fruits, tomatoes, pickles and jellied products, etc.
- High: at high pressure, steaming baby bottles, utensils, etc.
Unfortunately, Instant Pot does not provide any information on how this function is supposed to be used. Instant Pot could not cite data, guidelines or research sourced to come up with the ULTRA’s recommended sterilization processing times, temperatures and pressures.
There’s also no information to be found on Instant Pot’s website on how this function should be used for boiling-water canning – given that their no-pressure function is below boiling and the setting they recommend for this is actually “low pressure.”
Currently published steam sterilization guidelines are based on autoclaves which operate at a minimum of 15psi to eliminate a majority of harmful microorganisms (not including their spores) from surfaces or objects and inactivate viruses. The Instant Pot ULTRA operates at approximately 11psi and I haven’t found any published references for sterilization for any pressure lower than 15psi.
I will update the review with additional information on uses for this setting if and when the requested information is provided by Instant Pot – but at this time we cannot recommend using it.
The Instant Pot ULTRA new features include…
- Dial Interface – navigate through all the options by spinning the dial and pushing it to select them.
- Cooking progress indicator – clearly displays the cooking states and progress: Preheat, Cooking and Keep Warm.
- Custom Programming – for most functions and programs choose pressure/temp, whether to delay cooking and for how long, and weather keep-warm should kick-in at the end of the cooking time.
- Settings “Memory” – remembers all the settings from previous use, including time, pressure/temperature.
- Self-closing weighted valve- will automatically reset to the ‘sealing’ position for pressure cooking when you open or close the lid.
- Sound Off – the ability to turn off all button-press and alert beeps.
- Altitude adjustment –uses fuzzy logic to adjust pre-programmed times and to ensure the cooker does not time-out before cooking at high altitudes can commence.
- Dual Sensors – contains both temperature and pressure sensors for more accurate readings.
- 10 in 1 Multi-cooker – pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice/porridge cooker, yogurt maker, cake maker, egg cooker, saute/searing, steamer, warmer, and sterilizer.
- 2 pressure settings – For full-power or delicate pressure cooking.
- 3 slow cooker settings + custom temp– For versatility, choose to slow cook at low, medium high or a custom-set temperature.
- 3 saute’ settings + custom temp– For versatility, choose to slow cook at low, medium high or a custom-set temperature.
- Stainless Steel Inner Pot – unlike most electric pressure cookers, the inner pot – where the food cooks- is stainless steel with a 3-ply base with aluminum sandwich
- Lid-Holding Handles – no need to figure out where to put a hot steamy lid. Just stick it in the handle, lefty-compatible.
Here’s an overview of the safety features:
- Primary Safety Release Valve – will release pressure if the internal pressure exceeds 15.23psi or 105kpa
- Anti-Blockage Vent – prevents food debris from blocking the vent.
- Safety Lid Lock – prevents accidental opening of the cooker while it is pressurized – even without electricity.
- Lid Position Detection– monitors whether the lid in an unsafe zone for pressure cooking.
- Temperature Sensor– monitor the cooking temperature and ensures that it remains in a safe range.
- Burn Protection – high-temperature monitoring during heat-up, saute’, keep warm and other programs, avoids burning food.
- Pressure Sensor – keeps pressure always in the safe range.
- Electrical current and temperature fuse – cuts off power if the current or internal temperature exceeds safety limits.
- Encapsulated last-resort pressure release – Should the primary pressure regulating valve fail, the excess pressure is released into the body of the unit (between the outer lining and the inner pot).
- Leaky lid detection – Detects when the pressure cooker has run dry which is likely due to a leaky lid
- Quick Release Button – Automatically puts the valve in locking position (more on this, below).
While all the other Instant Pot models have 10 safety systems, the ULTRA claims to have 11! Before you get too excited about the extra safety feature, let’s explore what the new Safety System is: Quick Release Button. I asked Instant Pot how this was a safety system and they told me it was a mechanism “to reset the steam release to the Sealing position when the lid is closed or opened”. Which, according to them, eliminates the common error of leaving the vent open during cooking.
Great, sounds like a useful feature but…. how is that a safety system, again? I’ll tell you: The offset-button keeps your hand away from directly touching the pressure valve making the pressure release more secure and less likely to scald the cook. You’re welcome. : )
Like the DUO, and SMART, before it the ULTRA is getting a lot of action in my kitchen. In addition to cooking dinner, writing and testing pressure cooker recipes, I’ve also been dabbling with all the other settings including Slow Cooker. Although it does lack the temperature range and sequential programming abilities of the SMART (where you can tell it to pressure cook first, and then slow cook afterward) it makes up for that with a snazzy progress bar and detailed customization screens.
Minimum Liquid Requirement
Instant Pot recommends at least 1.5 – 2 cups (355 – 473 ml) of water or liquid for the cooker to reach pressure. Although Instant Pot says that you can use as little as 1 cup (250ml) or even a few tablespoons of liquid- in my experience, the reduced liquid recommendation does not work reliably enough to recommend to hip readers. Ditto with the much touted “no water added Instant Pot Pressure Cooker Chicken” recipe making the rounds. A number of consumers for whom that didn’t work wrote to me about how their cooker never reached pressure and they were stuck with a hungry brood and only half-charred and half raw chicken pieces to serve by dinner time. The no-liquid technique is one you should only be used if you’ve got time, money and chicken to burn.
As with any other pressure cooker, this minimum amount can be reduced with calculations for how much liquid other ingredients will release.
Choosing a Program & Adjusting it (or spin, tap, spin spin, tap, spin)
Choosing a program on the ULTRA, is kind of fun. You just spin the wheel until you get to the program or function you want. The writing is a bit small, and in a bright room it’s hard to see the selection but who cares when you can spin a knob and make lights turn on and off sequentially a circle! Weee!
The spin-and-tap interface works for both newbies and oldies. The newbies can just choose the program they want and then press the “start” button, while a whole new world opens up for the cook who wants to drill down and into the options.
Customizing a Program or function
Here, things get decidedly more challenging to see. If you want to customize a program or function, you press the knob once it’s selected and a very thin small rectangle flashes around the pre-set time. If you want to change the cooking time, press the knob in again and this time spinning it changes the time. Once you’ve selected the time you want, press to set it and spin the knob to the next flashing rectangle of options. In this case, the flashing option is the selection. Press “cancel” to back out and re-start any time or “start” to send the customised program on its way.
Readers have reported problems seeing the rectangle around the options – especially the cooking time – even on Instant Pot’s Facebook group consumers thought that they could not adjust the cooking time because they could not easily spot the rectangle around that option.
Unfortunately, this drill-down interface becomes quite laborious when you simply want to turn up the “Saute'” temperature (see “Program Overview: Saute'” section for details, below).
Oh, and for those of you who already own one of Instant Pot’s previous models, on the ULTRA the “less” option is now “low” and “more” is “high” – if there is an option because now these only exist in the Slow Cook, Saute’, Warm, Yogurt functions (there are no longer three recommended cooking times for programs such as Bean/Chili, Soup/Broth, Rice, etc.).
Saving or Cancelling Customized Program
The Instant Pot ULTRA will remember the settings you customised on that program, for next time as long as you actually “start” that program. That’s less fiddling. Even if you unplug and store the cooker away, the last setting used is still “remembered”. If, instead, you want the cooker to “forget” those settings, and go back to the default recommended time, simply go into the program and then hold down the “Cancel” button for 5 seconds until it beeps. If you want to reset everything back to factory settings (this includes the altitude setting): hit “Cancel” and then wait for the screen to display “Off” (about 15 seconds) and then press and hold down the “knob” for 5 seconds until it beeps again and displays the sound/altitude/temperature choice screen.
Problematic Self-closing Valve
Lots of newbies forget to close the valve on the lid before for pressure programs – so the addition of a self-closing valve is a great idea. In fact, the mechanism does put the pressure valve in the correct position for pressure cooking everytime you close the lid. The problem arises when you want to open the valve after pressure cooking to release pressure or use the cooker for any other non-pressure function (such as slow cooking, for example) where you don’t want the valve closed.
Illustrations on the lid explaining how the valve works are not particularly helpful. Yes, if you press the button the valve will release pressure. However, if you want the valve to stay open position there is no explanation for how to do that on the lid. Instead, the lid has instructions on how to seal the valve (doesn’t it already seal automatically?!?) which do not even match with how it actually works. While an arrow winds around the button nearly half-way to show how to seal the valve, the actual valve will only turn less than a 1/4 of a turn. Readers have reported difficulty and also have written to me wondering if their lid was working correctly. It’s not you. It’s the lid.
When the button is finally maneuvered in the correct position to release pressure, the valve does not open enough. It takes almost twice as long as Instant Pot’s previous models for the ULTRA to release pressure – which equivalent to what I call “Slow Normal” release.
HIP TIP: To lock the valve in the “open” position during a pressure release, simply press the button on the lid and turn it an imperceptible smidgeon to the right to lock the button in the “down” position.
Instant Pot sent me a photo mock-up to show how the wording on the lid around the mechanism was changed in later production batches and they also mentioned that the mechanism was easier to use. If you already have one of these “fresher” ULTRA’s, please leave a comment with your opinion to let us know if you found the mechanism was easy to use and figure out.
We’ll update this review with any relevant information once we’ve tried the new mechanism ourselves.
This program replaces “manual mode” on Instant Pot’s other models. With it, the cook can set the set the cooking time, pressure level (high or low), whether to delay the cooking (and for how long), and whether you want “Keep Warm” to kick-in at the end of cooking.
The High-Pressure setting has a cooking range of 10.2- 11.6psi (239-244°F or 115-118°C) while Low Pressure 5.8 -7.2 psi (229-233°F or 110-112°C). The cooking time can be set to from 0 minutes-6 hours, and the delay for the program can be up to 24 hours. The keep warm, if selected, can run for up to 24 hours.
The highest temperature achieved with the “High Pressure” setting during our test is 116.7°C or 243°F (aka 11.2 psi) and remained fairly consistent through the last six minutes of the 10-minute test.
We also measured evaporation in a new way (here’s how) and found that in the build-up to high pressure and pressure cooking for 10 minutes, the cooker evaporated 10g of water (compare this to 44g from an older – not new – Breville Fast Slow Pro and 8g from the spring-valve Fagor LUX).
Soup/Broth, Meat/Stew, Bean/Chili, Rice, Porridge, Multigrain, Cake & Egg Programs
All of these programs are just pre-set cooking times and pressures recommended by Instant Pot for cooking those particular foods – as in their previous models. Each of these programs can be adjusted manually with all the options offered in the Pressure Cook program. Missing in most of these programs, compared to their previous models, are the additional “less” and “more” recommended times which were useful in that each program had three, and not one recommended cooking time, depending on the size or desired outcome.
The only surprise here is the Rice program, that has the default setting of cooking at “Low Pressure.” Instant Pot received complaints from consumers that the pressure cooked rice looked “gray” so, in addition to finding out how rice reacts and changes color under pressure, they changed the default recommended pressure for this program to “Low Pressure.”
Unfortunately, the manual does not have any specific instructions on how to use these settings, so I used my rice method (with their low pressure) and it turned out predictably well, ditto on using my own cake and pressure cooker egg methods.
HIP TIP: Since all of these programs, in addition to “Pressure Cook”, do the same thing use them to save your most frequently used pressure/time combinations.
It’s interesting to note that all previous Instant Pot models had an inner pot with “rice cooker” measurements markings and the ULTRA is the first model not to include this. Yet, the cooker still comes with the “rice cooker” (180ml) measuring cup. I see a missed opportunity without these guides where rice program could’ve had a “no pressure” option offering the functionality of traditional rice cooker.
This function lets you steam at high, low or no pressure for 0 minutes to four hours. Not everyone is a fan of pressure cooked veggies, so I like that Instant Pot offered the extra no pressure option for steaming.
HIP TIP: If you still want the speed of pressure cooked veggies, but don’t like the extra-tender results, set the cooking time of this program to “0:00” using “low pressure” which means that the cooker will reach pressure and beep so you can liberate the veggies from the high heat ASAP!
The Slow Cook function can be adjusted to slow cook anywhere from just 30 minutes to 20 hours and choose from the following settings: Low (185°F/85°C), Medium (194°F/90°C), High (208°F/98°C), and Custom (104-208°F/40-98°C). Instant Pot recommends slow cooking with the glass lid (not included).
Readers have reported under-cooked food and less evaporation when slow cooking with all Instant Pot models, including this one. The under-cooking is actually a side-effect of all new generation thermostat-regulated slow cookers versus the traditional wattage-regulated cookers and the uneven heat distribution between a stainless steel insert compared to ceramic inserts.
HIP TIPS: To achieve results similar to those from a traditional slow cooker, bring the contents of the cooker to a boil with saute’ before closing and then set the pressure valve on to “seal” to more evenly distribute heat inside the cooker.
Reduce the contents in the un-covered using the “Saute'” program before serving.
If budget allows, purchase the extra aluminum ceramic-lined inner pot to more closely replicate the vertical heat distribution of a traditional Slow Cooker. The included stainless steel insert only has a disk of aluminum on the base and does not distribute heat evenly up the sides of the pot.
The saute’ function can be adjusted to cook from just one to 30 minutes, at Low (275 -302°F or 135 -150°C ); Medium (320 -349°F or 160 -176°C) ; or High (347-410°F or 175 – 210°C).
The problem here is that the displayed temperature default setting for Saute’ “Medium” is 194°F – but mine actually fluctuated between 240-280°F which is actually lower than the specifications for this cooker (320 -349°F). Oops!
When I contacted Instant Pot about this issue, they said my unit was defective and this “temperature display” bug has been fixed in later Instant Pot ULTRA batches. But I’ve seen this issue discussed on Instant Pot’s own Facebook group, detailed in an Amazon product review, noted in a Consumer Reports article and reported directly to me by at least 15 consumers (who purchased their cookers at Kohl’s, Amazon and Sur La Table) that answered my call out for info on Twitter, Reddit and Facebook – where a reader responded with a photo of her ULTRA getting the same temperature readings as my unit.
HIP TIP: For the highest Saute’ temp, use the custom temperature mode of this program at the highest temperature setting (338°F/170°C).
Instant Pot assured me that they will send a replacement Instant Pot ULTRA to anyone who has a unit that does not get hot enough to saute by contacting them at email@example.com.
It’s important to note that all of Instant Pot’s models require the cook to increase the Saute’ temperature above the default setting to sear meat, anyway.
But adjusting the saute’ function on the ULTRA is unnecessarily complicated by the new turn-dial interface. Most of Instant Pot’s previous models just need the cook punch the “Saute'” button and then the “Adjust” button (two taps) – except for the DUO Plus which just needs the “Saute” button punched twice (also, two taps).
Unfortunately, with the ULTRA getting to the highest pre-set temperature requires the cook to twist to the “Saute'” function, tap in there, twist to the temperature setting, tap to choose it, twist to “High”, tap to select it, and press start (three twists and four taps). Raising, or even lowering, the saute’ temperature requires a high level of patience, attention, and skill in a moment where the cook is likely using a knuckle and the one finger that’s not coated in oil, spices and raw-meat juice.
This function replaces the “Keep Warm/Cancel” setting on previous models warming at Low (185°F/85°C), Medium (194°F/90°C), High (208°F/98°C), and Custom (104-194°F/40-90°C). It appears that there is an issue with the custom setting of this program, as it cannot be programmed to a high enough temperature range as the pre-set.
The Sterlize function can be set to run anywhere from 0 minutes to 4 hours at no pressure, low pressure or high pressure. The product listing on their website says that this can be used for certain kinds of canning and provides a reference to USDA’s guide for home canning.
Because of the issues detailed earlier in this review, we could not test this function without additional information or guidelines from Instant Pot. We cannot recommend using it, at this time.
Instant pot kept the much-loved yogurt program with the same three settings including Low (91°F/33°C) for fermentation, Medium (107°F/42°C) for yogurt incubation, High (181°F/83°C) for bringing milk to a boil, they also included and Custom Program (104-176°F/40-80°C) – but there is an issue with this last setting as well because the lowest you can go in the custom program (104°F) is not as low as the cooker can actually go using the fermentation setting (91°F). Awkward.
Because of the highly advertised “Ultra” function, consumers are confused about whether this cooker can cook at any pressure as well as any temperature. Unfortunately, no. This function, and all other functions with a “pressure” option, only allow the cook to choose between “high” or “low” pressure. The Ultra function lets you pressure cook from 0 minutes and 6 hours only using pressure; or, using a custom non-pressure temperature (104 to 208°F) from 0 minutes to 99.5 hours.
HIP TIP: If you want to pressure cook anything for longer than 6 hours take advantage of the post-cook “Keep Warm” option in the program that will continue to cook the food for up to 24 additional hours. It won’t pressure cook – but it will extend the cooking time overall (think Bone Broth, for example).
Cooking Progress Indicator
I made fun of this feature in my Instant Pot ULTRA Preview because of its unusual curve (seriously, leave a comment about whether you see a hat or a boa that swallowed an elephant) but when I finally started using the cooker I found it quite useful.
The cooking indicator adjusts dynamically based on the temperature readings inside and also the cooking time. As the temperature rises the curve slopes upward. When the target temperature, or pressure, is reached and cooking begins the indicator begins to draw a handle-bar-mustache – the width of which adjusts automatically to the cooking time chosen. Finally, when cooking time is up the indicator works its way back down. I don’t really know what that slight “drop” is on the way down – artistic liscense?
Joking aside, a visual representation of the phases of pressure cooking is extremely helpful for those new to pressure cooking – as many new cooks don’t understand that the food inside has to come to a boil in order for pressure cooking to begin.
Instant Pot ULTRA has a lot to offer, but compared to the attention to detail that was clear in the previous Instant Pot models, I found the ULTRA to be a bit sloppy in its execution.
I like the spin-dial interface a lot, but it can be confusing and overwhelming because all the functions and programs are given the same weight. For example, a function is something you would use for every recipe such as saute’, pressure cook, slow cook or steam but they look just like pre-set program times such as “beans/chili” or “cake”. I think a visual distinction or even placement distinguishing between oft-used functions and pre-set programs would go a long way to making the interface more user-friendly.
The new “Ultra” function, for which this cooker gets its name, promises to let the cook choose any temperature or cooking time – but.. does it? The temperature range of the Ultra function (104-208°F) does not even go as low as the ferment setting on Yogurt (91°F) or as high as the custom setting on Saute’ (410°F) or even hot enough to boil water (212°F). If you’re going to give me options: I want all the options.
The sterilize feature, that also appears on their previous model (DUO Plus), is either a poorly-named (in that it does not actually “sterilize”) or poorly-explained as its usefulness and value are not readily apparent.
The “self-closing” pressure valve solves the problem of cooks forgetting to close it before pressure cooking, but the clunky imprecise mechanism makes it difficult for anyone who needs to keep that valve open for slow cooking, steaming and reducing. Is a problem really solved if a new one is created by the solution?
Instant Pot, you can do better.
Despite all the nit-picking, there are two redeeming qualities to this model that still make the ULTRA a worthwhile investment.
There are no electric pressure multi cookers on the market that have anything close to the cooking progress indicator on the display. In a fun little shape, it communicates a lot of information and also keeps the cook’s expectations in check. Because it doesn’t just tell you it’s “pre-heating” it shows you how much closer you’re getting to the target temperature; it’ doesn’t just blink that it’s cooking, it shows you how close you are to the end; it doesn’t just show you that cooking is finished, it clearly shows that the temperature is still high and the contents are cooling down. All of this is critical information to have and share with spouses, children, and guests hungrily nipping at your ankles for dinner.
Although it’s a little difficult to use (and randomly limited), the ability to customize a program all on one screen is a big leap in multi cookery. I absolutely love that I can customize the cooking time, temperature or pressure, whether I want the cooking to be delayed and whether I want the keep-warm to turn on all at once. Previous Instant Pot models, and other brands, have these options all over the control panel and you have to remember to set them all BEFORE cooking starts and do it quickly, or cooking will start without them.
Instant Pot ULTRA, I wanted to love you – but we can still be friends.
In my opinion, the good still outweighs the drawbacks of the ULTRA. The fun interface, customizable settings, and cooking progress indicator of the ULTRA are another leap forward in the electric pressure multi cooker game – plus, what other cooker on the market is going to offer you 51,120 programming possibilities?!?!
- Inner pot is dishwasher safe Outer body wipes clean Lid hand-wash only
- Outer pot has trough near where lid goes that is tricky to clean
- Pressure release valve can be yanked off the lid and internal valve screen can be pulled off without any tools – though it is rather small and it’s a bit slippery to pull off.
Rice cooker measuring cup (180ml)
Stainless Steel wire rack with handles
Manual flashy, colorful, but of little use compared to the not-so-fun-but-informative manuals of their previous models and does not include instructions or tips on how to use any of the functions or programs. Thanks to a suggestion from a reader, we have written a Supplment to Instant Pot ULTRA Manual.
- 1000W Heating Element
- Available Sizes:6L (6.34qt)
- Floating valve with (70-80kpa) 10.1-11.6 PSI working pressure
- Maximum Cooking Temperature measured at high pressure: 116.7°C (11.2 psi)
- Liquid evaporation after 10min pressure cooking at High Pressure: 10g/1000g
- Cord Length: 27.5″ (70cm)
- 1 Year Limited Warranty
- Designed in Canada, Made in China
- Instant Pot Ultra Instruction Manual with Hip Supplement
- Manufacturer Website: Instant Pot
- Videos, recipes and articles on this website featuring the Instant Pot Ultra
Not available, for now.
Have you used this pressure cooker?
Add to this review by leaving your comments, below!
In the interest of full disclosure, we would like to note that: The pressure cooker was sent to Hip Pressure Cooking by the manufacturer at no cost. Our relationship with the manufacturer, or lack thereof, does not affect the outcome of the review.
* We calculated 51,120 possible time, temperature, and pressure combinations using the “Ultra” setting.