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Instant Pots and air fryers are two kitchen tools that can both be used to make meal prep easier – but which is better?
In an Instant Pot vs. air fryer comparison, instant pots win in our book.
They’re more versatile, you can fit more, and give you way more flexibility with the type of food you make.
Instant Pots are also ideal for specific diets such as keto. Plus, they are handy if you’re cooking in a rush, as you don’t have to wait for food to thaw before putting it in the Pot.
However, some would argue that fryers are better because they can produce faster results, are more compact, and can make healthy ‘fried’ foods that are brown and crispy.
The answer to the Instant Pot vs. air fryer question depends on what it is you need in a meal prep kitchen appliance. This article will go over the strengths and weaknesses of each appliance, examine the best models, and come to a final verdict on the matter.
By reading this, you’ll have a better understanding of the differences between them and know which one to buy.
Instant Pot vs Air Fryer: Which One is Best for You?
An air fryer is perfect for…
- Healthy-conscious individuals. If you love the taste of fried foods but your waistline doesn’t, you need an air fryer! You get the texture and taste of deep-fried goods but with FAR fewer calories.
- Small kitchens. Air fryers generally take up less space than Instant Pots, so if you don’t have much room to spare on your work surface, an air fryer is the way to go!
An Instant Pot is perfect for…
- Versatility. While there are many foods you can cook well in an air fryer, it’s hard to argue with the versatility of an Instant Pot! It can cook just about anything, AND it also works as an air fryer!
- Those looking for maximum convenience. As said above, you can pretty much put anything in an Instant Pot. But, you don’t need to keep an eye on it either, and you can have your food kept warm if you’re not ready to eat when the dish has finished cooking!
If you’re wondering whether the instant pot or air fryer is best for meal prepping, we have good news! Both are great for prepping a bunch of food. The air fryer makes amazing veggies while the instant pot can be great for meal prepping meat.
Check out some of our favorite recipes!
What is an Instant Pot?
An Instant Pot is a multi-cooker that can be used to steam, sauté, and cook food. This product is produced by the Instant Pot (IP) brand and is designed to replace several kitchen appliances.
Specifically, it can replace the need for a separate slow cooker, rice cooker, saute pan, and yogurt maker, as an Instant Pot can perform each of these tasks. And, it can do them at a faster rate than other appliances.
Instant Pots use a pressure cooking method, which means that it utilizes high-pressure steam to thaw and cook meals. Steam is created under a tight seal, which builds up pressure and cooks food. Instant Pots can reach a peak temperature of 244°F.
You can choose either to use a preset meal option or customize your cooking by setting a unique time and temperature.
Instant Pots come in 3 different sizes, which are 3 quarts, 6 quarts, and 8 quarts. The most popular size is the 6 quarts.
The possibilities for Instant Pots are endless once you consider the varieties and combinations that can be cooked. For example, you could make several different soups in an Instant Pot, from minestrone to chicken noodle soup.
Just like any kitchen appliance, there are a number of pros and cons for Instant Pots, which includes:
- Extremely versatile: You can cook a lot more in an Instant Pot than you can in an air fryer. The range of foods you can cook in this kitchen appliance, from cakes to soups, makes it one of the most versatile multi-cookers available.
- Cook from frozen: You don’t need to thaw food before putting it in an Instant Pot. Simply put the frozen food in the Instant Pot and stick it on sauté for 5 minutes. This should thaw the food out completely so that it is ready for cooking.
- Large capacity: You can generally fit more food into an Instant Pot than you can in an air fryer, making it the better option for bulk cooking. A 6-quart model will be able to cook a big enough meal for a family of 4.
- Saves energy: An Instant Pot is very energy efficient, given that no steam can escape from the tightly closed lid. This means that Instant Pots use the same energy for the duration of the cooking time.
- Meals ready when you are: In addition to their energy efficiency, Instant Pots can also keep food warm after you’ve finished cooking it. Again, because no steam can escape, the Instant Pot doubles up as a food container that keeps your food consistently warm. It will keep your food warm automatically for 10 hours, but you can add additional hours if necessary.
- Safe materials: The inside of the pot is made of stainless steel, which ensures that your cooking is chemical-free. This also makes the Instant Pot dishwasher safe.
- Leave it on when you’re busy: You can leave an Instant Pot alone and trust that it won’t burn. This is not the case with an air fryer.
- Slow to heat: It can take a while for the Instant Pot to reach maximum pressure. Depending on the heat setting you’ve selected, it can take the Instant Pot anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes to hit the temperature. Therefore, the product is not as ‘instant’ as its name suggests.
- Take up a lot of space: Instant Pots are slightly bulkier than air fryers and therefore have less portability. Depending on the size you get, your Instant Pot could weigh anywhere between 9lbs and 22lbs, with the 8 quarts size being the heaviest. This makes it difficult to transport, however, it’s not that big an issue if you’re only keeping it in your kitchen.
- Hard to clean: Given its size, not only does the Instant Pot take up a lot of space, but it also is particularly difficult to clean. Plus there are several different parts, including the lid, sealing ring, and the inner cooking pot, that each need to be individually cleaned regularly.
What is an Air Fryer?
Unlike an Instant Pot, an air fryer uses hot air to cook meals and is often compared to a deep fryer. This is because it partially performs the same functions as one, except to a much healthier degree. An air fryer requires only a fraction of the oil that is needed for deep frying, plus, it’s possible to even use an air fryer without oil at all.
There are also a number of different air fryer sizes you can pick from.
Because of this, air fryers can cook food that appears to be deep-fried, minus the dripping oil. Air fryers are massively different from multi-cookers such as Instant Pots as they can only serve one function: to air fry and turn food crispy.
The food goes in a basket and is cooked using a heating element. A fan is used to blow hot air around the food, which cooks it and turns it into fried food. This cooking appliance goes up to around 482°F but can be set to any temperature necessary.
You can also use an air fryer to reheat food that normally wouldn’t come out well microwaved!
Like Instant Pots, air fryers have several pros and cons:
- Healthy way to cook: Air-fried foods are much healthier than deep-fried food, and pretty much taste the same. This is because only minimal oil is necessary to produce crispy foods.
- Smaller than Instant Pots: Nearly all air fryer models are compact and take up minimal counter space in your kitchen. In terms of scale, basic models are about the same size as a coffee machine or a microwave. For this reason, they’re ideal for camper vans and small kitchens.
- Easy to clean: Air fryers are much easier to clean than both deep frying appliances and Instant Pots. This is again because minimal oil is required, meaning minimal mess is left behind.
- Heats quickly: An air fryer can preheat a lot faster than an Instant Pot, with some models taking just 3 minutes to reach peak temperatures. Air fryers are a lot smaller than Instant Pots, so has less space to heat up.
- Compact: Air fryers are a lot more portable than Instant Pots, being smaller and lighter in build.
- Save energy: Again, thanks to their scale, air fryers are energy efficient as they require minimal energy to run.
- Dehydrating: You can actually use air fryers to dehydrate foods, which is a creative way to make awesome snacks.
- Slower to cook: An air fryer generally takes longer to cook than an Instant Pot, with an average cook time of 15-25 minutes. However, this is not necessarily because it is slower – it’s actually because of the meals that air fryers tend to require longer to cook. Whereas, the meals that an Instant Pot cooks are lighter and, therefore, require less time to cook.
- Not for big families: Because of their size, air fryers produce a lot smaller portions than Instant Pots. This is fine if you’ve got a small family, but not great if you need to bulk cook.
- You’ll need to watch them closely: Most air fryers require your regular attention, as the food may burn if you don’t turn it regularly. If used improperly, food can also easily dry out.
- Limited functionality: Nowhere near as versatile as an Instant Pot. An Instant Pot can replace 7 different kitchen appliances, whereas an air fryer can only replace one.
The Best Instant Pot – Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 Pressure Cooking
The Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 is a great choice if you’re looking to reduce your family meal prep time by 70%. Although it’s possible to get bigger sizes with more functions, we believe that the Duo 7-in-1 lets you experience the best of the Instant Pot’s abilities.
This model works as a pressure cooker, warmer, steamer, sauté/browning machine, rice cooker/porridge maker, yogurt maker, and slow cooker. It’s available in a range of sizes, which includes 3, 6, and 8 quarts. The biggest size has a total capacity of 7.57 liters!
One of the biggest drawbacks of the Instant Pot is its bulkiness. With the 7-in-1, this is less of a problem as it is one of the lighter models. It also comes with a convenient top handle to make it easily portable.
Additionally, the 7-in-1 is also more affordable than the likes of the 8-in-1 and 12-in-1 models.
Read more: Instant Pot Duo vs Duo Nova
The Best Air Fryer – Instant Pot Vortex Plus 6-in-1 Air Fryer
Also from the Instant Pot brand, the Vortex Plus 6-in-1 previously topped our list as the best commercial air fryer based on its versatility. Few air fryers can offer 6-in-1 functions, which makes this model stand out from the rest. This model is capable of roasting, dehydrating, reheating, broiling, baking and, of course, air frying.
The information presented on the screen of this air fryer is clear and easy to follow, with simple one-touch controllability. With a 6 quart capacity, this model works best for preparing family-sized meals.
If you want to experiment with different temperatures, it’s also possible to adjust the heat on this model from 95 to 400° F. Once mastered, you can easily create your desired level of crispiness each time.
For being more versatile than most air fryer appliances, the Vortex Plus is also very affordable.
Instant Pot vs. Air Fryer: The Main Differences
Some Instant Pots come with lids with handles attached, which makes them easy to carry. However, this is not always the case.
For example, the Instant Pot 11-in-1 doesn’t feature a top handle, making it more difficult to carry. Although it does feature handles on the side, both are required to be held to carry the Instant Pot successfully, which takes a lot more energy.
Air fryers tend to be lighter and more compact, and often don’t even require handles.
If you want a kitchen appliance that you can both bake cakes as well as cook soup in, you should opt for an Instant Pot.
Most air fryers are limited to producing fried foods. Although you do get some models, like the Vortex Plus, that can perform other functions like dehydrating and reheating, they are still not nearly as versatile as an Instant Pot.
Air fryers require less time to preheat than Instant Pots, taking 3 minutes on average. Air fryers also require less cooking time and can prepare most meals within 15 to 25 minutes. However, this is partly because air fryers are used to cook much lighter meals.
When it comes to air fryer vs. Instant Pot, the price factor is a difficult one to judge. You can get both an air fryer and an Instant Pot for under $100, with both having roughly the same price range, depending on the make of air fryer you opt for.
It’s possible to get a good working air fryer for around the $100 mark unless you go for the Philips Premium TurboStar, which goes for well over $200.
Instant Pots have a price range between $75 and $150, which depends on the size and model you go for. With all this considered, we’d say that the Instant Pot offers the greatest value for money, particularly considering all the functions it has. If you invest in an Instant Pot, you’ll save money on a rice cooker, slow cooker, and so on.
Air fryers tend to win on the size factor, being more compact and lighter in weight. This makes an air fryer a better option if you have limited kitchen space, or if you plan on using it for traveling purposes. Even the lightest of Instant Pots tends to be quite bulky in scale, meaning that the appliance requires more kitchen top space.
Instant Pots come with several safety features, including the following:
- The steam release valve removes the steam pressure before you take the lid off. This steam is sometimes at a temperature of 244°F, so can cause serious injuries if not removed accordingly.
- The lid detection feature prevents the machine from cooking if the lid is not on properly.
- The temperature control feature ensures that the correct temperature is maintained for the duration of the cooking process.
- The overheat protection ensures that the food doesn’t burn. If it detects that the food may potentially burn, it will immediately reduce the temperature.
- The pressure control ensures that a steady pressure level is maintained.
Other safety features include leaky lid detection, a thermal fuse, an electrical fuse, and an anti-block shield.
Although the safety mechanisms on an air fryer differ from model to model, they generally feature less than that of an Instant Pot. Air fryers can overheat if not properly monitored and food may burn.
Ease of Use
Both Instant Pots and air fryers come with presets, which makes them fairly easy to master. The Instant Pot may overwhelm users initially, given the number of separate buttons and preset options that it comes with. However, this can be mastered in time. Similarly, an air fryer takes a little time to master, to ensure that it doesn’t burn.
You generally need to keep an eye on air fryers to ensure that the food doesn’t burn or get overcooked, whereas you can leave Instant Pots alone. However, we’d say that the air fryer is a lot more straightforward to use, given that it can only perform one function. It is, therefore, a lot easier to master.
Instant Pots tend to have a longevity of about 5 years, which is pretty good in terms of kitchen appliances. They are designed using premium materials, such as high-quality stainless steel and aluminum. If treated with care and cleaned regularly, an Instant Pot can far outlast the life of an air fryer, which tends to be made using inferior materials.
Air fryers have a general lifespan of about six months to 3 years. Although the machine itself might live long, the different parts of the air fryer, such as the basket, tend to break down over time. Again, this may not be the case with all air fryers, and, if looked after accordingly, they may even be able to outlast a poorly looked after Instant Pot.
An Instant Pot has boundless potential when it comes to recipes and meal ideas. Given the wide range of foods that can be cooked in an Instant Pot, the appliance offers a far greater range when it comes to meal types. Air fryers are limited to frying and can’t cook a full meal.
Plus, with the addition of a crisping lid, an Instant Pot can produce nearly the same results as an air fryer. The amount of meals that can be made using an Instant Pot is so vast that it has even inspired Facebook community groups, where people share unique Instant Pot meal ideas.
Yes, the Instant Pot can be used as an air fryer, but you will need to use the crisping basket or air fryer lid attachment, which is usually sold separately. This means that you could cook the same things in an Instant Pot as you can an air fryer. However, it’s not possible to use air fryers to cook the same thing you would in Instant Pots.
Air fryers and Instant Pots are about the same price. However, Instant Pots offer better value for money considering the functions.
Instant Pots are better for family use as you can cook a wider range of meals.
If you can’t decide between the two, we’d recommend going with an Instant Pot because it’s more versatile.
Final Verdict: Should You Buy an Instant Pot or Air Fryer?
Overall, the Instant Pot offers much more than just pressure cooking: it can make everything from a cheesy bacon casserole to hard-boiled eggs.
Saying that, air fryers do have some benefits and are particularly good at making foods crispy and making your favorite meals healthier – even French fries! However, they can only really be used for air frying, and are far more limited.
The Instant Pot pros far outweigh the cons, which is why we’d recommend it as a kitchen appliance, particularly if you’ve got a large family to feed!
If you need more helping picking between kitchen products, check out our Instant pot vs Rice cooker comparison!
Richmond Howard started Meal Prepify in 2019 and has helped over a million people learn how to meal prep, get better at meal planning, and create a kitchen they love to use. He’s an avid home chef and loves to bbq, grill out, and make awesome food for family and friends. He’s been featured on MSN, Renaissance Periodization, and Good Financial Cents.