One of the most common questions people have when trying to pick the right Instant Pot to buy is figuring out the right size. Most Instant Pot models come in three sizes — 3-quart, 6-quart, and 8-quart — but those numbers don't exactly give you any indication as to which is best suited for you based on how you cook, how big your family is, and what you cook.
While there's no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, here's a guide to help you make the right decision when weighing the most important factors.
When to buy a 3-quart Instant Pot
The 3-quart Instant Pot is really small, so there are two main reasons you might buy one. The first is if you're single, living alone, or don't entertain often. In this sense, you probably won't need more than a 3-quart. If you're making for only yourself, a 3-quart might suffice.
The second situation that might warrant a 3-quart Instant Pot is if you have very limited counter space, such as those who live in one-bedroom or basement apartment. A 3-quart might be all you can fit, although I have seen pretty clever images of rolling carts and other solutions Instant Pot fans have found for making space for a larger size.
You might also only want to consider a 3-quart if you'll only be using it for single meals or side dishes. If you aren't the type to make big batches of food and freeze it or eat leftovers, there's no reason to opt for a bigger sized Pot. And if you are going to be making your main dishes in the oven or on the BBQ, using a Pot just for vegetables or other sides, a 3-quart might do just fine.
It might sound tempting to just get a 3-quart if you're a two-person couple, but chances are you probably entertain or make meals to last for a few days. Going a size up to a 6-quart will open up the possibilities of what you can make and how much, so it's worth it.
Keep in mind, also, that most Instant Pot accessories are designed to fit the 6- and 8-quart Pots. While it's more difficult to find accessories you can use in this one to make a mini cheesecake, egg bites, or steamed vegetables versus the two larger sizes, more are becoming available over time. But many third-party accessories you find that are labeled as ideal for use in the Instant Pot just won't fit.
When to buy a 6-quart Instant Pot
This is the size I own and I find it ideal for my family of three, with room for leftovers and entertaining. I've made up to eight baked potatoes or ears of corn, massive batches of mac and cheese, and other meals that were sufficient for feeding up to eight people, side dishes for potentially even more.
If you have a family of up to about four people, maybe even five if that includes young children (Instant Brands says up to six), a 6-quart will probably work just fine. It's the right size for fitting on a standard-sized kitchen countertop, easy to bring with you if you want to travel with ready-made meals or keep your dish warm at someone else's house, and is large enough to fit a ton of food. Even for everyday cooking, I can make a batch of food that is large enough to feed myself, my husband, and our son as well as have leftovers for the next day and some to pack up for my elderly parents, too.
Keep in mind that if you tend to make a lot of dishes that are heavy on the liquid, like stews or pot roast with all of the fixings, an 8-quart might be better. It will provide enough room to include everything you want, especially if you're adding a garden's worth of chopped vegetables, potatoes, and more that will raise the water level higher and higher.
Another advantage with the 6-quart Instant Pot is that the vast majority of third-party accessories are designed for the 6-quart model, so you'll have plenty from which to choose. Though anything that goes inside the Pot would actually fit better in an 8-quart model, leaving you more room on the sides.
As noted above, while a 7-inch springform pan, egg molds, and other accessories can fit in a 6-quart Pot, it's really tight and sometimes difficult to get them out once a cook is finished. An 8-quart model provides much more room on the sides to fit your hands with oven gloves to grab a pan holding something delicate like a cheesecake.
When to buy an 8-quart Instant Pot
If you have a larger family of five or more people, plan to use the Pot a lot for entertaining large groups, or like to prep meals for an entire week at once (to keep in the refrigerator for reheating or freezer for longer-term storage) then it's time to look at the 8-quart.
Note that this size is really big so you'll want to make sure you have sufficient space for it on the counter. However, with this model, you won't be struggling for interior space if you want to cook an entire chicken (yes, you can cook an entire chicken in an Instant Pot) or pot roast. Both of these items can technically fit in the 6-quart (I have made full chickens before), but once you start adding things like liquid, potatoes, vegetables, and more, you reach dangerously close to the limit. If you want to sear the poultry or meat beforehand (which you can do right in the Pot!) it's much easier to move it around in an 8-quart than a 6-quart as well. The 8-quart will provide that extra room for stews, large cuts of meat and poultry, so you don't have to worry about overstuffing the Pot.
Except for fitted items like lids and sealing rings, most accessories designed for the 6-quart can work in the 8-quart as well. However, with an 8-quart model, as mentioned, you have lots of extra room. With a 6-quart Instant Pot, there isn't enough room to place your fingers and grab a 7-inch springform pan out of it when you're done baking something. The workaround is to place a rolled-up piece of foil under the pan as a sling for grabbing it. With an 8-quart, you have plenty of room to slide your hands (with gloves on, of course) on either side of a springform pan to remove it, organize multiple ramekins for individual-sized molten chocolate lava cakes, or twist and turn a chicken to sear its skin.
And of late, more and more accessories that were only available for the 6-quart models are becoming available for the 8-quart as well. Keep in mind, however, that fitted items, like silicone sealing rings, glass covers, travel cases, and others, might be a bit more expensive for an 8-quart than they are for a 6-quart. And trust me, you will find yourself buying lots of accessories! So you'll want to keep budget in mind as well when making a decision.
Which Instant Pot size is best?
For versatility and if you want to play it safe, go for the 6-quart. I have never regretted my decision and the times when I felt that an 8-quart would have made things easier have been few and far between. I also can't imagine the gargantuan 8-quart Pot sitting on my kitchen counter!
That said, the 8-quart model is great for those who love to prep meals ahead and for large families. My cousin (also a family of three) has the 8-quart and a relatively small kitchen and it works well for her because she loves to make massive batches of foods like stews and curries. I tend to make a lot of meat and poultry dishes, so cooking six chicken breasts at a time, for example, or a couple of pounds of short ribs of beef with some liquid, is no problem in a 6-quart.
Plus, chances are you'll find you could get more use out of having two Instant Pots to run simultaneously to cook different dishes at different cooking times, or dinner and dessert. In which case, two 6-quart Pots, or a 6-quart and 3-quart, might make more sense than a single 8-quart. But let's take things one at a time for now!
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