"Pro" and "plus" are modern product marketing buzzwords that essentially signify that a product is the upgraded version of the original. Otherwise, they're abstract as hell, meaning something different to each brand.
Instant Pot has given into the pro/plus trend twice, making the crowded Instant Pot lineup even harder to keep straight. Both the Instant Pot Pro and Instant Pot Pro Plus came out in 2021 (the latter toward the end of the year) but the difference past one panel having buttons and one having a touchscreen is murky. Intrigued by its doubly tech-y name alone, I tried the $200 Pro Plus to see if it's the Instant Pot to put on your wishlist.
What does "Pro Plus" mean?
Here, "plus" means WiFi functionality. Any Instant Pot owner can download the Instant Brands app to find Instant Pot-specific recipes, but Pro Plus owners can sync their actual cooker with the app to control features from their phone, like starting cooking or releasing the steam remotely.
The Pro Plus actually isn't the first Instant Pot to connect to the internet. Literally called the Instant Pot Smart WiFi, the older smart pot was basically a WiFi-enabled version of the Duo Plus, where "plus" did not mean internet connection. The Smart WiFi has been discontinued for a while now despite sometimes being available at retailers like Amazon.
What can you do with an Instant Pot Pro Plus?
The Instant Pot Pro Plus is officially a 10-in-1 cooker. It covers classic Instant Pot functions like pressure cooking and slow cooking, rice cooking, steaming, sautéing, warming, and yogurt making, and brings along rarer, newer Instant Pot functions like pressure canning, sous vide, and NutriBoost (a soup-specific function that stirs while the lid is on to fuel flavors). The Pro Plus's revitalized LCD touchscreen display and ✨inner pot with silicone-lined handles✨ look like the pinnacle of luxury compared to my parents' Instant Pot Lux (the cheapest, now-discontinued 6-in-1 model).
The "multiple cooking functions, one appliance" approach is a dream for the crowd that cooks out of necessity, not because they find it fun. (Not to be a quintessential internet astrology quiz Taurus, but I'm a really lazy food lover.) I appreciate that any Instant Pot allows a loyal frozen food stan to try new methods with little to no learning curve (and no money spent on some special pan that I, quite frankly, will never be excited about). Any of the clunkier, more basic Instant Pots can technically serve that purpose, but I'm not going to not get the model that'll look best sitting on my kitchen counter.
Don't let "smart" psych you out
You mean there was a time when every device in your house didn't have an app? Sure, let's get you to bed, Grandma.
Don't worry — the hardest part of testing out the Pro Plus was photographing it, because its display panel is so mirrored that I kept being able to see my grimy WFH outfit and giant bony hand in the reflection.
Connecting your Pro Plus to WiFi is just like connecting a robot vacuum or any other smart home device to your phone. After downloading the Instant Brands app, make sure you're standing near the Instant Pot to scan for a device and enter a WiFi password. From there, app commands are mostly an echo of the options you can press on the Instant Pot's screen.
App aside, the Pro Plus's digital touch display is really intuitive. Any setting can be tweaked by giving it one tap, then scrolling through the options with the dial. It's a nice change from the nonsensical displays of older Instant Pots that had a button called "manual" for pressure cooking.
The app: A pass for recipes, but useful for planning ahead
If a recipe touting a five-minute pressure cook time sounds too good to be true, it is.
While the cooking itself is much faster than a traditional oven or stovetop, building that pressure (by trapping steam that gets hotter than the boiling point of water) isn't instant. Frozen chicken cutlets could take five minutes to thaw and thoroughly cook, but if there's a lot of liquid inside the pot, coming to pressure could triple that time.
This is where the app came in handy. Rather than having to be in my kitchen to physically press the button, I liked that I could pull out my phone and tell my Pro Plus to start the pressurizing process while I was out running errands. I work from home, but this could be a game changer for people with busy schedules who would appreciate food being hot and ready when they get home.
The caveat is that your ingredients have to already be in the pot for pressure cooking to start. For meat that you would have left out to defrost anyway, this probably works — not so much for, say, recipes involving dairy.
Releasing the steam, arguably the most chaotic Instant Pot characteristic, is also much easier with the app. Instead of manually pushing the valve, scaring the shit out of yourself, and hoping you don't burn your hand, you can control venting from the app.
As for using the app for recipes, I just prefer to find one on Google. The interactive pre-programmed steps felt less approachable when a majority the recipes call for way more prep than I signed up for. Some fancy cookbook options are fine, but I feel like the app could cater more to the crowd that's looking for a quick post-work meal that uses ingredients they have sitting around.
Thaw, cook, and sauté without switching appliances
The collective fear of a parent coming home to find that you forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer still lives deep within us all. An Instant Pot would have been a lifesaver in that moment — with one, frozen food doesn't require hours of thawing on the counter, and doesn't involve a puddly plate like microwave defrosting does. Pressure cooking on high can typically fully cook frozen meat in three to eight minutes after coming to pressure.
Adding to the convenience is that you can carry out subsequent steps like sautéing or searing without dirtying a skillet. For Tuscan chicken I made, I pressure cooked four frozen chicken breast tenderloins, sautéd them in minced garlic, and again pressure cooked them with chicken broth, heavy cream, sun-dried tomatoes, and thyme. The result was this bomb, creamy dish featuring fall-apart chicken — all made in a single pot. I never would have attempted it had my Instant Pot not streamlined the process like this.
So many pasta recipes don't require straining
I'd always kill for some Swedish meatballs — unless "kill" involves me personally having to garner the motivation to roll raw meat into meatballs or use (and wash) two separate mixing bowls. That's where my lazy ass draws the line.
So, I was particularly pumped when I found a super easy Instant Pot Swedish meatballs recipe. Pressure cooking took a pot of crunchy egg noodles and frozen meatballs three minutes to fully cook and be ready for the sauce — no separate boiling, straining, or baking required. All I had to do was sauté them in a mixture of half-and-half and butter.
My lazy day menu expanded greatly after learning that pressure cooking can make the perfect al dente pasta without boiling or straining. I also made mac and cheese and beef noodle soup in, like, three steps.
Gorgeous, gorgeous girls love soup that self-stirs
The Pro Plus is one of two Instant Pots that has NutriBoost: a self-stirring feature under rice and pressure cooking that mimics the motion of boiling to enhance flavor and texture. For anything rice-based, this can keep rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot and can nail that creamy risotto texture by ensuring the rice surface is jostled enough to break down.
Because the lid has to be on for pressure cooking to happen, you can't actually watch the Instant Pot stir itself. I have no idea if NutriBoost actually does anything. I'll just say that my loaded baked potato soup was one of the only things I could genuinely taste when I had COVID, so sure, NutriBoost did that.
Unfortunately, I did get the "food burn" warning during a time when NutriBoost was on, and I feel like automatic stirring should prevent food from getting stuck to the bottom of the pan.
Sous vide was so not intimidating
I still don't know if sous vide is a verb or adjective, and at this point, I'm too afraid to ask. But I can say that I've done it successfully.
I was craving pork tacos one night and insisted on just using the frozen pork loin my dad had on hand rather than making a trip to the store. The internet taught me two things whilst looking for recipes: Pork loin can be tricky to shred because its lack of collagen, and sous vide is a great method for tenderizing lean cuts without overcooking. And look, the Pro Plus can sous vide.
Since I don't have a vacuum sealer, I found a hack online that shows how to squeeze all of the air out of a sandwich bag by setting it in a pot of water and leaving a small opening in the zipper. After seasoning, the pork loin basked in its flavor-filled bag in the water for a few hours at 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
There was no learning curve to sous vide-ing with the Instant Pot. Like pressure cooking, you can use the physical screen or the app to tweak settings, then wait for the water to reach its precise temperature. You may need some trial and error to pin down the best time and temperature combos for specific foods, but this required less babysitting than many other ways of cooking meat. For the record, the pork loin was pretty shreddable, and had a lot of flavor pre-taco seasoning.
Downsides: No air frying is kind of a bummer
Instant Pot finally dropped an air frying lid in 2019, evening the playing field with the Ninja Foodi. It can be purchased separately and added on to most existing Instant Pots. But the Pro Plus is one of the only models that isn't compatible with the lid. This is fine if you already have an air fryer or convection oven that you really like, but if air frying is one of the areas where you were looking to consolidate appliances, the Pro Plus falls flat. No overhead crisping also means that the Pro Plus doesn't bake, broil, or dehydrate like the regular Pro does.
Add to cart?
"Buy the model that best fits your needs" is hardly a groundbreaking Instant Pot buying tip, but it's especially true when $200 is on the line. The cost can partly be attributed to the WiFi compatibility. That alone may be worth the splurge for people with busy schedules who'd often take advantage of being able to begin cooking before they get home.
WiFi or not, the Pro Plus is the second-most robust Instant Pot on the market. It covers 10 cooking functions in the counter space of one appliance.
But if you work from home or don't see yourself using an Instant Pot on a weekly basis, WiFi probably isn't necessary. The app's convenience is pretty limited outside of saving some effort on pre-heating. If you don't see that being overly helpful, your money would be better spent on the Instant Pot Pro Crisp, which doesn't have WiFi but comes with the air fry lid.
FWIW, the majority of Pro Plus functions are present in every Instant Pot. If sous vide or pressure canning won't be making a daily appearance in your menu, you can definitely downgrade to a cheaper model with basic speedy cooking.