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What’s a multicooker, and do you need one?

Lots of people swear by their slow-cookers. They’re great for stews, pulled pork, and even desserts, and often just let you toss a bunch of stuff in a single pot and walk away. But they also take up a lot of counter space, and while they can cook lots of different things, they really only have a single function. Multicookers, on the other hand, are often a little smaller and perform lots of tricks.

T-Fal-10-in-1-Multi-CookerThe idea of a multicooker, an appliance that fries and boils without the use of a stove, has been around for decades, but the modern iteration grew out of rice cookers. Many of these machines can deliver a pot of fluffy rice, as we noticed in our review of the T-Fal 10-in-1 Multicooker, but they also double (or triple, quadruple, and so on) as slow cookers. Fagor has a 3-in-1 that slow cooks, makes rice, and is also a pressure cooker.

Not too many U.S. models have a pressure cooker option, instead favoring settings that let you make risotto and yogurt, like the KitchenAid 4-Quart Multicooker. That one has an optional paddle you can purchase that will stir your risotto for you.

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Like the Cuisinart Multicooker, many of these appliances also let you brown and sauté, steam and boil. They’re meant to take one-pot (or in this case, one appliance) cooking to a whole different level. To distinguish themselves from the pack, the Gourmia Supreme 8-in-1 has a fry basket and fondue mode, and the VitaChef gives you the option of adding wood chips to turn it into a smoker.

With so many options on the market, it can be a little overwhelming. If you’re considering purchasing a multicooker, there are a few things to keep in mind. What functions do you really need and will you use the most? If you’re never going to make yogurt, you might be able to find a cooker with functions that suit you better. Also, if you’re going to make food for a brood on a regular basis, an appliance that holds more quarts might be ideal, but you might not want something so big you’ll have to haul it out of the cupboard on a regular basis.

One of the biggest things to think about with multicookers is that you’ll have to get used to the machine’s settings once you exhaust the recipe book. It might be worth investigating which brands have robust communities posting their own recipes or that have lots of demonstration videos and tips on their own sites. After all, you might need a few trial runs to figure out how long it takes to steam broccoli in your cooker, but you don’t want to keep making the same stew recipe over and over.