On-screen cooking gurus make everything look nauseatingly easy.
Food vloggers speed up a 20-step recipe into an Instagram video and make it look as simple as microwaved ramen. Antoni from Queer Eye is like, “Here, person with no cooking experience, let’s whip up some pork tenderloin canapés over a fire on this casual Tuesday night.”
But attempting an intricate recipe doesn’t have to be as intimidating as we make it out to be. Not with a pressure cooker.
Instead of hoarding a separate countertop appliance for every different cooking method you may need, these multifaceted devices tackle functions from sautéing, to broiling, to cooking a pot roast in half the time (often even less) than a traditional slow cooker requires.
The Instant Pot and Ninja Foodi are far from the only pressure-cooking multicookers that exist in the current kitchen device market — but they’re so far ahead of the competition that, in a way, they are the only pressure cookers in the market. Putting them head to head only makes sense.
Is the Ninja Foodi the same as the Instant Pot?
Not exactly, but kind of.
Instant Pot invented the pressure cooking game. Though the first Instant Pot model came out in 2008, the hype around a single kitchen device grew to unprecedented levels around 2015. (It’s been the big ticket item during Black Friday and Prime Day sales for the past few years, too.) People — both seasoned food enthusiasts and those who only cook out of necessity — obsessed over it so much that it felt like no appliance would ever even share the spotlight. But Ninja, a rather unexpected competitor that was seemingly focused on high-end blenders, found a way in.
This rivalry is stirring up some serious drama. The “Instant Pot vs. Ninja Foodi” debate is the center of countless articles, Reddit threads, and YouTube reviews. You can barely search for one without Google autofilling the other one.
This Reddit user, who is a proud Instant Pot owner, says that her best friend bought a Ninja Foodi specifically to one-up her. Using a pressure cooker to undermine a friendship? What a time to be alive.
Which is better: Ninja Foodi vs. the Instant Pot
Whether the Instant Pot or Ninja Foodi is better isn’t exactly a head-to-head battle. Both have LCD screens, multiple pressure settings, inserts that are dishwasher safe, and the rest of those expected specs. But the phrase, “it’s what’s on the inside that counts” has never been so accurate (literally), and which cooker you should get depends on the appliance features that you’ll use on a more regular basis.
It’s important to note that the convoluted answer to the Ninja Foodi vs. Instant Pot debate changes every time either brand launches a new iteration of its device. New releases happen much more often than you’d expect for the humble countertop cooker — almost like the drop of a new iPhone, but for people who share recipes with strangers in Facebook groups.
Keep reading as we dive deeper into where each device wins and loses, based off the models available in October 2020.
Where Instant Pot wins: More models with more tailored features
“Instant Pot” is an umbrella term. Like a grandmother yelling “or whatever your name is” to a gaggle of grandchildren, the Instant Pot family is so versatile that it can be hard to remember which model does which — but that’s a good thing.
There are currently 11 devices in the IP lineup: the most basic being the 6-in-1 Lux for $59.95 and the most robust being the 11-in-1 Max for $199.95. (We break down the differences here.) Every Instant Pot can pressure cook, slow cook, cook rice, steam, sauté, and warm, and as the models level up, more sophisticated features are added, like yogurt making, baking, or sous vide.
One big note: As of fall 2019, the Instant Pot was *finally* able to air fry. The one function that was once Instant Pot’s biggest downfall can now be added to almost any existing Instant Pot model with a separate lid — or if you don’t have an Instant Pot yet, the Duo Crisp is here to duel for your attention with the Ninja Foodi. (Non-compatible models with the air fryer lid include the Smart WiFi, Duo Evo Plus 6, Duo SV, and Max 60.)
Most models are available in the popular 6-quart size as well as a mini 3-quart model and a family-friendly 8-quart model. (There is no 3-quart version of the Foodi.) Instant Pot models vary so widely to the point where they’re almost customizable to your skill and budget. Prices for the Foodi start at $199.99 and max out at a whopping $279.99, the only difference between the two models being the size. It’s not much leeway if you ask us.
The best part is that if you don’t need all of those functions, Instant Pot won’t make you pay for them.
But where the Instant Pot really hits home is how easy it makes recipes that are traditionally a pain. Rice never turns out right on the stove, but the Instant Pot has nailed that moisturized-but-not-too-sticky texture. A rushed breakfast is less stressful when you can hard-boil, soft-boil, or poach an egg without having to think too hard about it. Oh, you forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer again? You can still thaw it and have a pull-apart garlic roast within the hour. The best part is that if you don’t need all of those functions, Instant Pot won’t make you pay for them.
But more liquidized recipes like soups, dips, and stews seems to be the Instant Pot’s specialty. Each model has built-in smart programs that get more specific than the number of appliances it replaces: bean/chili, meat/stew, soup/broth, sauté, poultry, steam, congee, multigrain, rice, pressure cook, warm, and slow cook. Purées require a special attention to detail, especially when meat is cooking simultaneously in the dish. These programs are already pre-set with the time and temperature needed for that specific texture, eliminating much of the guesswork on your end. It seriously opens up your options for meal prep and healthier dining — this tech reporter from Business Insider didn’t believe the hype about pressure cookers until he experienced the Instant Pot Ultra.
The Instant Pot Max also stands out with 15 PSI, which speeds up pressure cooking even more and opens the door for precise pressure canning — a must for wannabe chefs, grandmas, and homesteaders who preserve everything possibly. The Foodi maxes out at about 12 PSI.
When the Instant Pot Max (the first Instant Pot with a sous vide feature) came out in 2018, it became very clear that the ability to hold water at a precise temperature for hours was a cooking function that people hold dear. Now, almost every new model that comes out is equipped with a sous vide feature, including a Duo model dedicated to sous vide. If this is one of your main requirements, Instant Pot has many more sous vide-ready options than Ninja does.
No one really cared that the Instant Pot couldn’t air fry until the Foodi came along. The birth of the Instant Pot Duo Crisp as well as a removable air fryer lid for people who already had an Instant Pot certainly gave the brand traction in the booming healthy frying sector. But the Ninja Foodi is still better at air frying and crisping — at least with bigger batches.
Comparing pressure-cooking Instant Pot and Ninja Foodi models (disregarding other toaster oven or air fryer models for the sake of a direct comparison), the Instant Pot’s cylindrical shape doesn’t leave much room for a spacious air fryer basket. If you’re cooking for more than just yourself, this could mean multiple batches or a squished arrangement of various snacks that should probably be spread out. Don’t get us wrong, the Duo Crisp and separate Instant Pot air fryer lid definitely do their jobs. It’d just be nice to have more options to layer food or do more at once. The extra space provided by the 6.5-quart Foodi could be irrelevant for your needs, but multiple reviewers who have both devices say that they noticed the difference.
The Instant Vortex Plus or Instant Omni are bigger capacity options, but these mini ovens can’t do any of the pressure cooking, soup making, yogurt making, or sautéing that classic Instant Pots can — thus still requiring you to buy two devices.
Where Ninja Foodi wins: Air frying large batches
Air fryers were the gift to give during the 2018 holiday season, according to Amazon sales-rank data. Air frying and pressure cooking are two of the hottest trends in casual cooking right now, and Ninja having them both in the same device means some pretty heavy artillery. Instant Pot has technically caught up, but the Foodi’s slightly wider size and half-quart of extra room makes all the difference when it comes to evenly-browned snacks.
The entire point of air frying is to surround food with hot air just like they’d be surrounded with oil if dropped into a deep fryer. This consistent air flow is what creates the crispy exterior, ensuring that the same crunch is present on every side. Anyone who takes the golden-brown mark very seriously might prefer the Foodi’s flatter, slight oval shape, which gives more room to arrange snacks how you want them and flip food without other pieces toppling down the pile.
The Foodi expertly browns by providing the space food needs to receive consistent hot air.
The list of Foodi models is a damn mouthful, mostly because it requires the explanation of the difference between names like the Ninja Foodi Deluxe XL — a pressure cooker — and the Ninja Foodi Smart XL — an indoor air frying grill that does not pressure cook. (Seriously, what?) Essentially, Ninja has three pressure cookers that are directly comparable to Instant Pots: The 7-in-1 Ninja Foodi, the 11-in-1 Ninja Foodi Pro, and the 9-in-1 Ninja Foodi XL. The first two are only 6-quart and the third is 8-quart. The Pro Pressure Cooker is also different than the Pro 5-in-1 Indoor Grill. Whew.
At the heart of the original Foodi is Ninja’s TenderCrisp technology. It’s the thing that perfectly crisps the skin of the chicken or chars veggies, a technique that you could previously only really get with a broiler or traditional oven. Both the 6.5-quart and XL 8-quart models can also bake/roast, broil, sauté, steam, slow cook, and keep warm. The XL and 6.5 Pro can make yogurt, and Pro can dehydrate and perform sous vide.
Thanks to the tall grill rack, the Foodi can cook veggies, grains, and meat at the same time. So can the Instant Pot, but the Foodi has more surface area on the bottom, thus providing more room to lay your food down flat for more even cooking without flipping.
There are far fewer ways to “customize” your cooker needs here, both function-wise and size-wise. Despite what seems like 20 different Foodi models, only a few of them are actually pressure cookers. There’s less clear scaling up in terms of what each model can do, and cookers that are dedicated toaster ovens or air fryers are still just called the Foodi — just with “XL” or “Deluxe” tacked onto the end. The Foodi doesn’t come in a mini 3-quart size at all, and each model only comes in one size.
While you can buy an Instant Pot for $50-ish if you only want six appliance functions, buying a Foodi locks you into spending at least $199. And it’s a bummer that the Foodi costs so much and doesn’t even have a stainless steel insert. The nonstick coating isn’t as fragile as Teflon, but there are reports of chipping from the metal rack being pulled in and out. Some people also aren’t comfortable with their food chilling in a plastic-y ceramic coating for hours.
Ninja also has yet to equip its cookers with digital presets like the Instant Pot’s settings for recipes (things like rice, soup, or chili, for example). Sure, following the time and temperature settings that the recipe calls for is what people are used to doing anyway — but being able to press a single button and have things measured for you is pretty handy.
The fact that the Instant Pot just looks nicer sitting on the counter probably won’t be most peoples’ deciding factor, but it will matter to people who adhere to a strict kitchen aesthetic.
The Foodi is bulky, shaped like a Pokémon, and will eat up space on the counter. Ninja has started giving the stainless steel treatment to more cookers as they come out, but the clunky black lid (and chimney-type addition on the Foodi Pro) just aren’t going to blend with other chic appliances. You could simply hide it in the cabinet, but the Foodi is pretty heavy and not ideal to lift on and off the counter.
Adding to the awkwardness is the lid situation. The TenderCrisp-ing has to be done with a different, larger lid, which is attached to the Foodi via hinges and gets in the way when you’re only using the pressure cooking lid. You’ll need at least 21 inches of space to completely flip the crisping lid up, so if you have cabinets above your counter, this could prove challenging. The regular Instant Pot lid and the air frying lid are completely removable.
The verdict: It’s a toss-up
Really, it comes down to how much you want to be able to do with your cooker.
OK, that seems obvious — but there are a few caveats. When deciding between an Instant Pot and a Ninja Foodi, the first piece of criteria is easy: Do you want to air fry? If you already have a separate air fryer or are simply not interested in that method, you can save some money by crossing the Foodi off your list. Because the list of Instant Pots that are compatible with the air frying lid will be a non-issue, you can narrow your search to which Instant Pot matches your other cooking needs and end up paying much less.
Adding air frying to the mix most likely brings you to a decision of the Instant Pot Duo Crisp versus the Ninja Foodi. (Instant Pot’s air frying lid isn’t really a sensible purchase unless you already have an Instant Pot.) Both of these models can do most of the same things, though the Duo Crisp can’t make yogurt and pinning down sous vide with Ninja means paying $100 more than the most expensive Instant Pot.
Switching up the way you cook meat and fried snacks is the Foodi’s wheelhouse, and that perfect layout for crisping is a selling point that can’t be ignored. On the other hand, Instant Pot takes the guesswork out of testy dishes like soups, dips, and rice, and offers more versatile features at each price range, letting you opt out of spending more money on functions you won’t use.