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TV show host, restaurateur, and chef Ming Tsai is making cake in a multicooker.
Duncan Hines yellow cake, to be specific. He holds up the box as proof, cracking eggs and mixing his ingredients right in the machine. When it’s finished, he grips a chunk of it in his hand and tosses it into his mouth. “It tastes the same as it did when I was a kid,” he says. “Only better, because it’s so moist.”
That’s a big selling point for multicookers, as far as Ming’s concerned. They’re enclosed, trapping in moisture (great for baking) and letting flavors meld (better for meats and stews).
He explains that these kinds of devices come in handy in his restaurants, when they need to make lots of rice or cook oxtail easily and without taking up stove space. But Ming also uses a multicooker at home during the week. He likes the way it keeps food warm, allowing him to prepare dinner that feeds his family while he’s working, but stays warm until he returns to polish it off at the end of the night.
“This is a one-pot cooking machine,” he says, clicking the lid shut emphatically.
These are the kinds of perks that explain why people love the Instant Pot so much.
But even though the Instant Pot is arguably the most famous, it's only one brand of multicooker. If I’ve learned anything at the 2017 International Home & Housewares Show—a massive showcase for kitchen gadgets and small appliances that happens every spring in Chicago—it’s that there’s more to this category of gadget than the Instant Pot. Ming Tsai is here touting Aroma’s new multicookers, but among the thousands of kitchen items on the show floor are multicookers from brands like Gourmia, Fagor, and Salton.
It's time to look beyond the Instant Pot. Here’s a taste of what’s out there.
For the minimalist: Salton
I quickly discovered that there seems to be a pervasive confusion as to what a multicooker, well, is. A rep from Salton told me they’d originally billed their 5-in-1 pressure cooker as a multicooker, but people hadn’t understood what that meant. “It’s really a pressure cooker with a few extra functions,” he said, explaining why they’d relabeled the device as a pressure cooker.
Salton’s 5-in-1 cooker is pricier than an Instant Pot and has fewer functions, but the company is looking into expanding into pressure cookers that have more cook modes, even displaying a 10-in-1 prototype to gauge interest.
For the meat lover, perfectionist, or fried food fan: Gourmia
Up until this point, most of the multicookers I’d seen had looked more or less the same. At the Gourmia booth, I located something that looked like an Instant Pot and asked about it.
Like Salton, Gourmia chooses to call this type of multifunctional cooker a pressure cooker, but it can pressure cook, slow cook, make rice, and even sear—and there are lots of presets to choose from. It also costs about $200.
More interesting, actually, are the devices Gourmia markets as multicookers. The only one of these that can actually pressure cook is the SmoCooker Turbo, which can pressure cook, slow cook, steam, and smoke. That’s fewer functions than an Instant Pot, but you can make barbecue in it, so I’m on board.
Then there’s the 11-in-1 multicooker that can bake, steam, stew, make rice, slow cook, make yogurt, and sous vide. Yep, that’s right. Gourmia added super-accurate temperature sensors that allow you to sous vide in this machine.
Finally, Gourmia also has the 8-in-1 AnyCooker Supreme, which can slow cook, stir-fry, boil, grill, steam, and deep-fry. And for those who are fans of smart home—please note that while all of these gadgets are available now, Gourmia will be rolling out smart versions of them before the end of the year. These cookers will be exactly the same as the “dumb” versions, but they’ll be able to connect to your phone.
So, there really just might be a multicooker for everyone, huh?
For the weeknight cook: Aroma
It’s tough to hate on something that Chef Ming Tsai regularly uses to cook. I mean, the man is celebrated by foodies everywhere.
Ming worked with Aroma to design a few new multicookers, which I saw him use pretty effortlessly, making curry, braised meat, and cake.
He showed off two egg-shaped versions, both of which have the look of a rice cooker but are capable of a whole lot more. One can pressure cook and the other can’t, and a third multicooker looks a lot like the Instant Pot and has all the functions that come with it. However, unlike the Instant Pot, the third multicooker uses fast, efficient induction heat—perfect, Ming said, for making the best rice.
He also heaped praise on a particular function you’ll find on these multicookers, which is called “STS,” or “saute then simmer.” It allows you to saute food in your multicooker, add liquid, and then the machine will automatically turn down the temperature so you can simmer. Many multicookers have a saute function, but this is the first time I’ve seen one that automatically switches over to cook once you’ve added liquid.
For the tech-obsessed: Redmond
Redmond has a slew of multicooker devices to its name. Its SkyKitchen line offers a few multicookers that actually connect to an app on your phone so you can draw recipes from the extensive cookbook section of the app, or just control your multicooker from afar.
Redmond was also touting its 5-quart multicooker, which has heating elements on both the bottom and sides of the cooker for purposes of even heating. That’s the kind of clever design that uses the shape of the device to its full advantage. With stovetop cooking, you can only heat from the bottom.
Redmond claims this multicooker can function as a breadmaker and stand in for your microwave oven—two claims I haven’t seen from other companies with multicookers.
For the organized home chef: Fagor
Upgrading a product doesn’t always have to mean making it connect to your phone. Fagor took a good product that I’ve used (the Lux Multicooker) and upgraded it by adding a digital screen with a bunch of additional settings, all organized by categories of food. The rice cook setting has been expanded into a grains category, plus eggs and desserts now have their own settings as well. There are even favorites menus if you want to create and save custom recipes.
They say it’s all in the details, and I was impressed by some of the details I saw on this multicooker, like the fact that the screen changes color to indicate which part of the cooking process is happening. The Fagor Lux 360 will be available for purchase in three sizes (6 qt, 8 qt, and 10 qt) starting May 2017. Prices will range from $149.95 to $199.95, but having seen it in action, I can tell you that it might be worth it for the intuitive menus and extensive cook settings.
The bottom line
What I’ve learned about multicookers is they are, well, a multitude. I expected to see a bunch of Instant Pot clones at the show, and was pleasantly surprised to see a handful of new takes on the device, ranging from added functions to smart home connectivity to improved user interfaces.
Most people are busy, but we all have different kitchens, different food preferences, and different styles of cooking. One person’s convenience is another person’s nightmare. That’s why, if you’re in the market for a multicooker, it’s important to shop around. Don’t just spring for the Instant Pot—see what’s out there first. Buy something that suits you.