As the former presenter in Instant Pot’s product videos, I’m often asked by readers which Instant Pot they should get. While most manufacturers retire an older model and only sell the newer one, Instant Pot still markets earlier models while introducing new ones. Plus, whenever they make a new batch they sneak in some enhancements. This gives you lots of options, but it can be confusing. There is a dizzying collection of Instant Pot model names, numbers, and versions so the first thing you should know is what all those letters and numbers mean. Then, I’ll explain the differences between the models.
Decoding Instant Pot Model Names & Numbers
You probably already figured out that “IP” stands for Instant Pot so let’s get to the good stuff.
The next three letters in the name indicate the functions of the pressure cooker, which I will detail below. At the time of this writing, Instant Pot has five models for sale, the LUX, DUO, SMART, ULTRA and GEM. Their very first model (CSG) has been discontinued.
The numbers indicate the size of the pressure cooker. So the number “50” stands for a 5L pressure cooker, while the number 60 is for 6L and 80 is for 8L – not all models come in all sizes. My rule of thumb is generally 1L per person. So a 6L can cook for six people or less, and an 8L for 8 people or less. Don’t miss my detailed guide on how much you can fill the pressure cooker to see if the amount of food you feed your household matches to the size pressure cooker you need to buy.
Sometimes, Instant Pot might tack on additional letters to the end of the model numbers to signify exclusive marketing relationships with retailers or version numbers. In 2018 Instant Pot decided not to just re-name existing models and two “unique” retail-specific models- NOVA for Costco and VIVA for QVC.
Main Instant Pot Models
I’m listing them in the order Instant Pot introduced them because each new model was an improvement over the preceding model (until GEM was introduced). In other words, the next Instant Pot has the same functionality as the previous ones with a few snazzy additions.
The pressure multi cookers all pressure cook, slow cook and saute’. They all also have a “manual” program, this is important because it means you can tap in your own pressure cooking time and pressure, (if available). All of the Instant Pots with pressure function come with a stainless-steel cooking surface and, most importantly, the same safety features.
This is Instant Pot’s second model. It’s now their “Economy” offering. It’s a basic 6-in-1 multi cooker that can: pressure cook, slow cook, steam, make rice, saute’ and keep warm.
The LUX does not have a “low” pressure setting, it does not make yogurt, it does not work with the Programmable Instant Pot SMART app.
This is Instant Pot’s third and most successful model so far. This is a 7-in-1 multi cooker and it can do everything the LUX can do plus make yogurt. Instant Pot listened to feedback from consumers and added a few nice touches such as two pressure settings (high and low), and there are also little slots in the handles so that you can rest the lid there instead of putting it down on your counter-top.
The DUO does not work with the Programmable Instant Pot SMART app.
SMART + app
I call this cooker is a million-in-1 multi cooker, it can do everything the LUX and DUO can plus, a more informative screen with larger numbers, and a programmable app that connects to the cooker via Bluetooth. The Smart app lets you dictate specific temperatures and duration of your recipes in unlimited sequences.
I wrote a review of this pressure cooker and you’ll see that with the app you can control exactly what temperature it reaches, how long it’s held, and whether to turn off the pressure cooker or move on to the next temperature setting using “recipe scripts”.
The app adds another layer of complexity to the whole multi-cooker idea (especially if you’re new to this type of appliance) but at the same time, it enables unparalleled control over the cooking process – unleashing your cooking creativity.
It is currently the only pressure cooker on the market that can pressure cook at any temperature sequentially. This means that a script can be written to pressure cook for x minutes, slow cook for x minutes, turn off for x minutes, and then keep warm for x minutes – or really, any combination at an unlimited number of steps.
UPDATE: Since updating to a new phone (Android 7.0), I cannot get the SMART App to work, and despite my inside contacts with Instant Pot I have not gotten an answer on how or when this can be fixed. Because of this, and because Instant Pot is communicating through customer service that they will release a new model from the SMART track. I currently do not recommend purchasing an Instant Pot SMART.
This is where Instant Pot breaks from their tradition of adding to their latest model. The Instant Pot DUO Plus is actually a refresh of their previous most popular best-selling model, the DUO. It includes everything the DUO has plus a new “sterilize” function in addition to “egg” and “cake” programs (pre-set times and pressures). They call this a 9-in-1 multi cooker – we’ll let Instant Pot figure out the math. The display is completely modernized so the cook can easily tell if the cooker is heating, pressure cooking, keeping warm and if the beeping sounds are on or off. It also remembers the last cooking time and/or pressure setting (this could be good or bad – as this website receives numerous support requests on the how to make yogurt in the DUO v2 on a cooker that by default only remembers how to boil milk). At this time I can’t advise on the utility of the “sterilize” setting as there are no official guidelines on how to sterilize or can using an electric pressure cooker (times, pressures, and methods). However, Instant Pot has made it clear that this setting is not to be used for pressure canning low-acid foods such as meat. Here’s our preview of the Instant Pot DUO Plus.
This model brings a completely new interface to Instant Pot using the spin dial and allows a detailed level of customization not only for each program but also with the new “Ultra” program which is like a “custom mode” but on steroids. Not only can you choose the cooking time (from 1 minute to 6 hours), pressure level (high or low), set the delay timer and whether “keep warm” engages at the end of the program but you can also choose any temperature, one degree at a time, from 104-208°F. Although you can set the temperature in 1°F increments, this model has a thermostat that maintains the temperature plus or minus 5° – Instant Pot does not recommend this model for sous vide. Also, the “Steam” program also has the option to steam without pressure – a godsend for al dente veggie enthusiasts.This is the 10-in-1 multi cooker and it still includes the pre-programmed times and pressure introduced in the DUO PLUS (cake and egg) plus the unclear “Sterilize” setting (see critique in DUO Plus description, above). It also has every cooking program and function found on the insanely popular DUO (Pressure Cook, Soup/Broth, Meat/Stew, Bean/Chili, Slow Cook, Saute’, Warm, Rice, Porridge, Multigrain, and Yogurt) plus the ability to customize and memorize settings for each- or not. Beginners can just choose a program and press the “Start” button without any further tinkering. Advanced cooks can spin and punch their way through additional options. Don’t miss my detailed review of the Instant Pot ULTRA.
The GEM is a very confusing and surprising addition to the Instant Pot family. They broke with the tradition of gilding the cooking technology lilly to, instead, add their processor-run interface to a more primitive appliance. The most obvious change is that GEM does not have any pressure cooking functions. While it is a multi cooker, it’s closer in every way to a slow cooker than a pressure or rice cooker. In fact, the GEM is a fancy slow cooker in that it can saute’ and brown right in the pot, and allows the cook to customize the cooking programs (via time and temperature adjustments). This no-pressure multi cooker allows the cook to: Saute’, Slow Cook (two temps), Rice Cook, Bake, Steam, Roast and Stew. It does not make yogurt, it does not pressure cook, and the inner liner is non-stick coating.
We haven’t tried it, but at the time of this writing, this appliance only had two reviews on Amazon – one noted that there was nothing “instant” about slow cooking. This appliance is an awkward fit in both the name and premise for “Instant Pot” in my opinion. Instant Pot has recalled this model due to a manufacturing issue.
This model is slated to launch in the fall of 2018. It follows in the footsteps of ULTRA, with all the features there minus the custom program buttons (chili, soup, cake, egg, etc.) but with an automated pressure release on the lid and the ability to reach and maintain 15psi during the pressure program (until now the “high bar” has been 11.6psi). This higher pressure means the addition of a pressure canning feature – which is still not approved by NCHFP. For more details, read our peek at the introduction of this model.
VIVA – QVC Exclusive
This model is a DUO V3 with an additional function. It includes all the buttons and features of the original DUO but with the addition of “cake” and “egg” programs (seen starting in version 3 of the DUO) with the “sterilize” setting of the DUO PLUS 9-in-1 cooker even though it technically only has eight functions: Saute’; Keep-Warm; Steam; Rice cook; Slow Cook; Yogurt maker; “Sterilizer” and Pressure Cooker. You can find more information about this cooker on the QVC website.
NOVA PLUS – Costco Exclusive
This model is a hybrid of the DUO and DUO PLUS. It includes all the buttons and features of the DUO but with the new display of the DUO PLUS. The display clearly indicates if the cooker is reaching or containing pressure, plus there is the ability to turn off all the beeping sounds (just like the DUO PLUS). The NOVA does not include the ridiculous “sterilize”, “cake” and “egg” settings of the PLUS (see DUO PLUS description above) yet for some reason, it is still being marketed as a 9-in-1 cooker even though it technically only has seven functions: Saute’; Keep-Warm; Steam; Rice cook; Slow Cook; Yogurt maker; and Pressure Cooker. Instant Pot uses a proprietary fuzzy logic to come up with how many functions their cookers are marketed to have. At the time of this writing – there isn’t any listing for the NOVA the Costco website at this time.
Choosing a model
If you never eat yogurt, then the LUX might be for you.
If you want to experiment with making yogurt, and cooking at low pressure then the DUO and DUO Plus are going to be your best bet. Low pressure is useful for pressure cooking delicate foods such as eggs, seafood, and pasta. Don’t worry, you don’t need a special “egg” button to pressure cook eggs as long as you have a model that also lets you choose low pressure, you can just follow our instructions. The same goes for pressure cooking cakes.
If you want to do everything including the full set-it-and-forget-it experience, and you’re a little techie, then you’ll really enjoy the SMART – specifically, you can write a script with the app to choose the time, temperature/pressure of cooking plus additional cooking time, temperature/pressure combinations! If you still want to do everything, and don’t mind setting just one cooking time and temperature/pressure setting at a time (which, honestly, this is OK for most cooking situations) but don’t want to be bothered with using an app. then Instant Pot’s ULTRA will be a good fit for you.
If you want to upgrade your Slow Cooker, and the idea of pressure cooking does not entice you, GEM is worth a peek.
If all these options are starting to look the same, and you are overwhelmed by the similar offerings, the models I recommend the most to readers are the DUO and DUO Plus – they are the “active” Instant Pots in my own kitchen.
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I’ve personally used the LUX, DUO, SMART, DUO Plus and ULTRA and many of our readers have more than one Instant Pot so if you have any questions please post them below or in the Instant Pot forum!
Choosing a Size
Most Instant Pot models come in three sizes (3, 6 and 8 qt). The 3qt size is also known as the “mini”. For most households, my recommendation is to purchase a 6qt size – this size allows for cooking recipes for 1-6 people along with having the vertical space to try special stacking techniques where you can cook more than one recipe at once. For larger families, I recommend the 8qt size but I do not recommend the 3qt as the first pressure cooker purchase as it reaches a lower pressure than the other models which will require a novice to pressure cooking to do recipe adjustments- among other things. For more specific information on exactly how much food will fit in each sized pressure cooker, please read the Pressure Cooker Capacity FAQ.
Note: This article was originally published 4/7/2016 and updated 7/20/2018 – we feel the need to emphasize this since our detailed content, recipes, and techniques are copied by other websites without credit.