In the age of meal kits, grocery delivery apps and subscription-based shopping, it seems like everybody’s out to save a little time and effort where they can when it comes to cooking.
Which may be why the multi-cooker has been surging in popularity lately. This appliance is a jack-of-all-trades, designed to save you a little time, a little effort and a lot of counter space. Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering buying a multi-cooker.
What is a multi-cooker?
A multi-cooker combines the features of multiple appliances into one. Multi-cookers typically have a core set of features in common like slow cook, rice cook and sauté. Some have specialty features that excel at roasting, some have extra rice and grain functions and still others can pressure cook.
Multi-cookers typically have digital features like timers, delay start, keep warm and auto shutoff, depending on what’s appropriate for the cooking function selected. This means they offer a degree of walkaway convenience that you won’t get cooking on the stovetop.
They all have a single dishwasher safe cooking pot, usually nonstick but sometimes stainless steel.
Finally, they’ll come in a variety of sizes, starting as small as 1.5 quarts (great for one person or students who live in college apartments or small kitchens) and up to around 8 quarts (ideal for tasks like family-sized meals, whole chickens and batch cooking).
There are lots of reasons to buy a multi-cooker. Consider one if:
- You’re short on cabinet space. Multi-cookers have the functionality of multiple appliances, so you don’t need to pack your cabinets with a slow cooker, rice cooker, pressure cooker, roaster oven, steamer and hot cereal maker, to name a few. You just need to choose the multi-cooker that has all the features you need.
- You want to save hands-on cooking time. Automated functions simplify the cooking process for meats, stews, casseroles and more.
- You crave easier cleanup. Many meals can be made from start to finish in a multi-cooker, meaning you’ll only need to use one cooking pot. Just put that pot right in the dishwasher and you’re basically done.
- They’re economical. Instead of paying for multiple appliances, pay for just one item that can do the work of many.
Choosing a multi-cooker
There is really no “standard” multi-cooker—many offer different combinations of functions—so it can be hard to narrow down your list.
You might start by honing in on how large or small you want your multi-cooker. Here’s a quick guide for reference:
- 1.5 quarts: Ideal for serving 1-2 people; a good size for dorm rooms or small kitchens.
- 4.5 quarts: Ideal for serving 4+ people; can hold up to 20 cups of cooked grains.
- 6 quarts: Ideal for serving 7+ people; good for large cuts of meat like whole chickens.
- 8 quarts: Ideal for serving 10+ people; a great size for party and potluck dishes.
Here’s a glimpse at the three biggest multi-cooker categories we’ve identified. Once you know which category you’re leaning towards, and the size you need, selecting your multi-cooker from there is a much simpler job.
Sealed Lid Multi-Cookers
Multi-Cookers with Pressure Cooking Functionality
What is it?
With its familiar round cooking pot and sealed lid, you might mistake this style of multi-cooker for a rice cooker. But these multi-cookers can do so much more than rice. Features vary from model to model, but they typically have ones like slow cook, sauté, steam, rice, grains, soup and hot cereal.
What is it?
These multi-cookers also have a sealed lid and round body style, but with the addition of a pressure cooking function, they’re in a league all of their own. You can get juicy, tender, slow-cooked-style results in a fraction of the time. There’s preset pressure cooking functions like poultry, stew and casserole in addition to basic multi-cooker features like slow cook, sauté, rice, steam, and soup.
What is it?
This style of multi-cooker has an elongated shape and glass lid, similar to a roaster oven or slow cooker. This makes it good for preparing larger cuts of meat and keeping an eye on your food as it cooks. You can also remove the lid to give your food a stir during the cooking process if desired. To capitalize on its unique shape, these types of multi-cookers will typically have a roasting function, in addition to others like sear, brown, sauté, slow cook, steam, rice and grains and more.
What can I cook in a multi-cooker?
This is dependent on the model you have, but in general you can cook any slow cooker recipe, any rice cooker recipe, steamed foods, skillet recipes, eggs, hot cereals, grains and soups. From breakfast foods like gooey cheesy breakfast casserole to comfort foods like Mississippi pot roast, you can get use out of your multi-cooker all day. Here’s some of our favorite multi-cooker recipes, which not only taste great, but they take full advantage of all kinds of features you’ll find on most multi-cookers.
- Vegetarian lentil soup. Since you can sauté and then slow cook in the same pot, cleanup couldn’t be any easier. Make this part of your Sunday night meal prep for a week’s worth of lunches.
- Pork carnitas tacos. Here’s the easiest Taco Tuesday recipe ever. Throw the ingredients in the cooking pot in the morning, then set it to slow cook while you’re at work. Using the sear function before slow cooking to brown the pork lends it some extra flavor.
- Chicken piccata. This dish will bring the Italian restaurant to your home without having to pay Italian-restaurant prices. Or make reservations, for that matter.
- Pork pozole rojo. This soup hits all the right notes: fragrant seasonings, a flavorful red broth and a hearty helping of shredded pork. Using the soup, stew or simmer settings ensures the temperature is just right while the flavors develop. Prep the pork separately and freeze the leftovers to use in future recipes.
- Shrimp and grits. Serve up some southern comfort for your next brunch get-together. This recipe comes together easily, since you can steam the shrimp in the steamer basket while the grits cook in a Cajun-inspired sauce below.
- Butter chicken. The flavors might be complex in this classic Indian dish, but the how-to isn’t. This dish comes together in a single step: just combine all the ingredients in the cooking pot, program it to slow cook and go about your day.
- Cranberry apple steel cut oatmeal. Steel cut oatmeal usually takes some babysitting when you make it on the stovetop, but with this recipe, you can just use the hot cereal or whole grain function on your multi-cooker and let it work its magic.