Appliances

Send Help: I'm (Kind Of) Falling in Love With the Instant Pot

February 10, 2017

There'll be no tragic ending to the Instant Pot love story. (Sigh of relief!)

When we asked you last month if this $99 electric pressure cooker (and slow-cooker, and yogurt-maker, and milk-pasteurizer, and sautéer, and rice-cooker...—an all-in-one sensation that hundreds of thousands of people adore for its speed and, yes, versatility) had changed the way you cooked, many of you echoed a resounding "YES!" in the comments.

And since then, the Instant Pot (not named the "InstaPot" despite your deepest desire to call it that) has been written up by Buzzfeed, TASTE, and the New York Times. That means that all of my teenage cousins know about it—and so do my parents, grandparents, and many a stranger I pass on the street.

All that word-of-mouth praise and all of that subconscious marketing had surely seeped into my cranium (that's how marketing works)—so much so that I lugged the thing home to my Brooklyn apartment (no easy feat—it's big and heavy and not at all subway- or staircase-appropriate) and challenged myself to the Instant Pot equivalent of Tough Mudder: Never having used an Instant Pot (or a pressure cooker of any sorts), I would cook "all" (more on this later) of my food for the week in one half-day. What fun! I would wear an apron, but only because I couldn't find my sweatband.


Let's Get Started! (kIND OF)

Some parameters first. You'll know, if you've skimmed the aforementioned articles or the comments of our own, that most Instant Pot reviews hold the same thesis: The IP is better for some purposes than others; while it may enter every competition, it doesn't always win (let's say it gets a bronze, though). To break it down...

  • The good: large hunks of meat you'd like to tenderize without sacrificing your whole day; lean meats (Food52er ktr uses it to cook moose and venison); stocks; stews; dried beans; yogurt; soft- and hard-boiled eggs that peel like a dream; and ricotta.
  • The not so good: whole chickens; anything that'd take less than 20 minutes on the stove; and, as Melissa Clark writes for the Times, Instant Pots "just don’t do crisp or crunchy."
Hey there, new kitchen friend.

I tried to keep these guidelines in mind as I picked my staples, which, since I'm a vegetarian, wouldn't include any tender moose stews or revitalizing bone broths. Instead, I chose sweet potatoes, eggs, a pot of chickpeas (from dry!), steel-cut oats, braised cabbage (not a "staple" per se, but I had one languishing in the fridge), and a lentil, potato, and kale stew. It wasn't "all" the food I'd need for a week, but it was a mighty fine head-start.

I also decided that I'd cook in a sequence that would sidestep "the odor issue." As many of you wrote in the original article's comments, the flexible plastic sealing ring can take on the smell (and, I imagine, the color?) of the most pungent, turmeric-heavy concoctions. So I started with neutral- and/or inoffensive-smelling foods (sweet potatoes, eggs, steel-cut oats) and saved the stinkier stuff (chickpeas and lentil stew) until the end of the day.

Somehow, I ended up with this very bizarre meal at the end of the night—I blame myself, not the Instant Pot.

Before I could begin, however, I had to set it up. This was easier than assembling IKEA furniture but harder than getting out the Dutch oven. I washed the inside of the lid and the stainless steel bowl, then spent an embarrassing amount of time figuring out how to plug it in. Once that was done (and it beeped a "Hello!"), I had to affix the "condensation collector"—and that I could not do without watching multiple YouTube videos telling me how.


oKAY, FOR REAL NOW: Potatoes

Fifteen minutes later (oh well), I was ready to make the sweet potatoes. Following the directions from A Pinch of Healthy, I rested two clean sweet potatoes on the steamer insert (a metal tray that props your food up from the bowl's bottom), poured 1 1/2 cups of water over top, and set the IP to pressure cook mode for 18 minutes.

The IP doesn't start doing anything apparent (as in, it's hard to tell that your command has registered) until it comes up to pressure, and it's only at this point that the timer starts counting down. And this can take a while—sometimes 20 or 30 minutes, depending on how much liquid is in the bowl.

Once the IP reaches pressure and the timer counts down, the Instant Pot then has to depressurize—another snag I knew but hadn't quite acknowledged: When you let the process happen naturally, it'll take an additional 20 minutes (so, with the sweet potatoes, we're looking at about an hour total—about as long as it takes to bake a small potato in a hot oven).

Those indentations are from the steamer insert (and indicate extreme softness).

When you depressurize instantly ("quick release"), you open the vent, which shoots steam loudly into your kitchen—this is exciting (like a steam room! or a water park!), but will scare any unwitting animals and make your entire house smell like the most pungent version of whatever you've just cooked. Or, you can take the middle road: Let the cooker depressurize on its own for 15 minutes, then twist the vent and let the steam spew. "Instant" is, obviously, a generous term.

For the sweet potatoes, I let the IP depressurize on its own (this was my first rodeo!), but that may have meant that they had too much time in the hot tub: When I took them out (with tongs), they were almost too soft: great for mashing, but a little delicate to wrap in foil and gnaw on throughout the day, as is my habit.

In the meantime, the third potato—an enormously long fellow who couldn't fit in the IP—was in the oven. He took about 1 1/2 hours to cook, but I was able to monitor his doneness more closely (open oven, poke a bit), which can't happen in the IP.


Next Up: Eggs

Peeled in a hot second.

Next up, eggs—which presented new challenges (and new cooking modes). I nestled them on the steaming insert in a single layer and set the IP to "steam" for 3 minutes, as per the advice of Kirbie's Cravings. This time, once the IP came to pressure and counted down 3 minutes, I had to engage the quick release and scoot the eggs into an ice bath, pronto, to prevent overcooking.

I must have been too hesitant with the quick release (did I mention the spewing steam?) because my eggs—which did, indeed, peel very easily (some even had little cracks straight from the cooker, helping me along)—were not quite as soft-cooked as I'd intended.

Yes!

Oats of *Steel*

Once I was familiar with the timing of the instant pot (as in, the process takes longer than you think) and the quick release versus natural release distinction, the remainder of my cooking was a breeze (but, a slow, gentle one: I started at 2 P.M. and finished at 7:30).

I decided to make steel-cut oats, which I've never made on the stove because of the daunting soak and cook times, according to a recipe in the accompanying booklet. The biggest disappointment was having to use almond milk instead of whole (as dairy milk tends to scorch, according to the headnote); the biggest joy was how hugely fat and sweet the 1/4 cup of raisins got after only 3 "active" (neither pressurizing nor depressurizing) minutes in the ol' cooker. They were practically grapes.

Those are some chubby raisins.

Chickpeas, I Love You

Then, it was time to move on to the smellier foods, like dried chickpeas. Well.... sort of. Even though you can cook chickpeas from dry in the IP (and any pressure cooker, for that matter), I backpedaled a bit and decided to do The Kitchn's one-hour quick-soak method. Soaking reduces the pressure-cooking time (from 35 minutes to 12, according to Eat Within Your Means) and ensures fewer split beans. But even with the quick-soak, the process was exceedingly faster than anything I could've done on the stove or in the oven.

As for the taste, the beans—neither seasoned nor silky-smooth—sort of tasted like... they came straight from a can? Since knowledge that they did not actually come from a can couldn't fix that problem, maybe more flavorings would.

Beans, glorious beans!

The Final Countdown (A.K.A. THE smelly stuff)

For my penultimate challenge, I made Sweet and Spicy Braised Cabbage from The Kitchn. This was my graduate school recipe: It required searing the cabbage with the "sauté" function (since the vegetable would soon slump under pressure, this seemed pointless) and then, once it had been pressure-cooked in a water-vinegar-sugar-cayenne mixture, removing it and reducing the sauce. I thought the final product was super strange, like a hot, ultra-acidic slaw-kraut, but Kenzi Wilbur liked it, so I count that as a win.

With the cabbage done, it was time for dinner, which was an extremely modified version of Pressure Cooker Lentil Soup from Eat Within Your Means. At this point, I knew how to use the sauté function, which I found to work fairly pretty effectively, to cook down the onions and garlic. And I wasn't terribly scared when it took the pressure cooker 20-plus minutes to reach pressure and start counting down. The soup was fine—the lentils and potatoes perfectly cooked—but sort of watery.

After spending half the day "cooking"—but not chopping or stirring or boiling or straining—, I felt like I hadn't done much at all. I had learned a lot about an appliance (and dipped a toe into the Instant Pot online community), but it was more like ticking off a to-do list than making art. But considering the quantity of food I cooked, that has to be fine.

The two ugliest dishes I made (no offense).

the aftermath

After my marathon Instant-Pot-ing day, I thought I was done forever. Nothing was spectacular, and I hadn’t accomplished anything I couldn’t have accomplished before, albeit I did it with less hands-on hassle. I was feeling curmudgeonly. I’ve gotten along without it this far, I thought: Why do I need this new thing now? And where would I store this hulking device—which is deep and wide enough to bathe my overfed cat in—in my pint-sized apartment?

But at 9 P.M. a few nights later, when I wanted to cook a couple more sweet potatoes but the idea of turning on the oven (and waiting for it to get to temperature) felt like a barrier, I powered on the IP, put in my barely-scrubbed potatoes, and poured 1/2 cup of water inside. With a friendly beep and the pushing of a few buttons (plus a shortened cook-time and a quick release, all to lessen mushiness), my sweet potatoes were done in just 30 minutes.

What had I "tested," really, in my obstacle course: the idea of having the Instant Pot and only the Instant Pot? Any one of the tasks—cooking sweet potatoes in under an hour or dried chickpeas in under two—would have been useful on its own. The Instant Pot might not handle all of your cooking, but it makes possible the dishes and kitchen tasks that seem otherwise inconceivable on a rushed weeknight. When you've forgotten to soak the beans or cook the meat overnight, the Instant Pot's your guy. As Ali Slagle put it, "It's anti-weekend cooking, almost."

Besides, if I did have to choose just one appliance, the Instant Pot would probably be it: It can do what your oven and stove can, but faster; it's electric and it can pop popcorn, bake a cheesecake, make moose palatable. "I now MUST have an Instant Pot," wrote Kristie. "We are building an outdoor kitchen and I won't have a cooktop but who needs one when you have an outlet? Wahoo!"

Wahoo, indeed. Tonight, I make tapioca pudding.


For more Instant Pot resources, check out Pressure Cooking Today and Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure by Lorna Sass, both of which come recommended from our readers. You might also read the list of tips the New York Times compiled from readers who read and responded to the story.

What's your favorite dish to make in the Instant Pot? And where have you found your go-to recipes? Tell us in the comments below.

114 Comments

Alexandrea October 1, 2018
I've grown to like cooking since I was given a birthday present. Yeah, It's instant pot. The first dish is French Dip Sandwich. Hope you have wonderful experiences like me.
 
Ellie L. October 2, 2017
I am ready to purchase the instant pot, but can someone recommend if the DUO60 or Ultra 6 quart - which is a better choice... Thank you!
 
ntt2 October 2, 2017
Ultra is he best! Newest version of duo,2nd best.
 
Ellie L. October 2, 2017
Thank you!!!
 
SandyToes October 2, 2017
OTOH, the DUO 6 qt is it's lowest price ever on Amazon today, $69.99, while they last.
 
Ellie L. October 2, 2017
Thank you! I did buy that one today - great price!
 
Christine S. September 17, 2017
My college-student daughter wants a crockpot for Christmas. I've been considering the InstaPot instead, but it sounds like it takes some time to learn how to use it, etc. The cost doesn't bother me only because I'm sure she will use it for many years. But I want to know what people who have used the IP think. Would the IP be more practical or a basic crockpot?
 
Lisa S. September 17, 2017
The learning curve is really short and steep. Whenever I try something new I go onto the web using the food item name and instapot and up comes a multitude of usually foolproof recipes. With some items like rice it can take a few tries to get it perfect but once you do you will never look back. On the other hand there are some items I wouldn't bother using the instapot simply because steaming on the stove can be faster. For me, its best uses are for cooking tough pieces of meat quickly: pot roast, brisket, ribs...and I mean quickly at a fraction of the slow-cooking time usually used. Dried beans and chickpeas as well: they don't require soaking and can be cooked in about 32 minutes time. Soaked, the timing is even less. Best of all, I no longer have to rely on the supermarket for plastic tubs of yogurt. Make it at night it's ready in the morning. No more recycling to add to the world's woes.
 
SandyToes September 20, 2017
@Christine, the slow cooker function is almost as intuitive as a dedicated slow cooker, if you buy one of the DUO models. Hit the Slow Cooker button (defaults to Low), then if you want high or simmer, press the Adjust button. Done. She could learn to use the pressure cooker functions eventually, but it's really easy to slow cook right out of the box. For a college kid, the new DUO Mini 3-quart might be ideal. Smaller capacity, smaller footprint. I've been eyeballing it myself after a friend got hers and has been raving about it. After your daughter begins to play with it a bit, she'll be so glad. She can even pop corn in it if she doesn't like the microwave stuff.
 
Lazyretirementgirl September 3, 2017
Ironic, but the comments are considerably more enlightening than the article.
 
Bonnie August 4, 2017
how about a Food 52 Instant Pot Club?! Please?!
 
Sherry Z. August 5, 2017
Seconding this!!!
 
Annmarie September 17, 2017
Yes, yes, yes, please
 
Chris A. May 21, 2017
You have to figure out the cook times and tricks to using this thing. I use mine more and more. Steamed broccoli or asparagus? Set it for 0 minutes use water that's already hot and it's done in no time and not a pile of mush. Brown Rice. Beans. Short ribs cooked in red wine. Beef Tongue cooked over a bed of onions. Soup. Figure out the right cook times, toss in the ingredients and walk away. Better to cook something too quickly then too long so you can put it back in and add a few more minutes.
 
Laura415 May 15, 2017
I already have all the appliances that the Instant Pot is set to replace. As someone who cooks almost all their meals, plus other projects like cheese and yogurt making, I have other efficiencies to make up for what the Instant Pot does. However, I'm still no stranger to evenings when I get home late and don't want to start a slow food dinner that won't be done until midnight. What I am interested in is something that I can use as part of a minimalist lifestyle. I've been looking for a tool that could replace most of the items i have now so I can cook in my tiny home and have virtually no other appliances. I would like something that allows me to do almost everythng my crockpot, rice cooker, stove and oven do now. that's probably too much to ask but I would prefer using solar electricity to cook than propane since that is not at all renewable. I appreciate the honesty in this review and will look at this item. I do wish they had mentioned the actual dimensions so i don't have to go offsite to find them out but this may be my solution. Thanks.
 
SandyToes May 16, 2017
@Laura415, After living with my IP for a year, I got rid of my rice cooker (I did order a 2nd (nonstick) liner to facilitate back-to-back cooking) and a few slow cookers. I've kept one slow cooker, relegated to the garage, that I use for sous vide and keeping potatoes warm at Thanksgiving. The Instant Pot is an excellent slow cooker and rice cooker, better than either of the dedicated units I owned.
 
tamater S. September 3, 2017
I have a few big slow cookers that I use on extension cords outside under the arbour, when I get a big load of bones for broth making in the summer. Naturally I keep them in storage when not in use. Maybe I should try canning the broth, instead of taking one of the freezers up for filling with 'salmon' (canning jars) of broth.
 
ntt2 October 2, 2017
The IP is wet cooking. Anything that you want that’s baked, or browned or crisped can’t be done in the IP.
 
SandyToes October 2, 2017
That's not entirely true. You can bake things like cheesecake (creme brûlée, yum) and cream pies. bundt cakes (almost any cake whose pan will fit), and so on. Crisps and similar things can be finished under the broiler. Oh, and Boston brown bread. Pressure cooker cheesecake even has an advantage over one baked in the oven. Because it's baked in a moist environment, there's no danger of it cracking.
 
Lisa S. May 15, 2017
As a food professional I can tell you there is no one appliance that can do it all. However, the Instant Pot is as close as it comes to saving time and giving you the quality that it used to take over longer periods of time and, let's not forget, using copious amounts of energy. For example, I recently made a rack of incredibly tender, falling off the bone port ribs in just under 30 minutes (yes, it takes about 10 minutes to build up to pressure) when the recipe called for simmering it in a 275F oven for 4 hours. A waste of time and a waste of energy. Emboldened, I then made some pork belly using the left over BBQ sauce from the ribs in less than 20 minutes. True, the Instapot is not efficient at sautéing to a nice caramelized brown but you would have to do that if you are using an oven anyway so it's no big deal but the end result of succulent and tender in just 30 minutes makes what was once a weekend project into the possibility of a weeknight event. And yogurt! Using the sauté feature to bring just below the boil and removing the hot milk to a cooling rack for about 20 minutes then returning it to the pot and walking away after pressing the yogurt button only to return 4 hours later to perfectly set, thick and delicious yogurt was a delight. As for rice and beans, this takes some getting used to in terms of adjusting cooking times down but once learned the time (and again energy savings) are noticeable without any reduction quality but indeed an improvement in consistency from one batch to another.
 
PS007 May 15, 2017
How much energy does it take to let something simmer in the oven? And it's only a waste of time if you sit and do nothing else while it's cooking. True you can eat sooner if you're in a hurry, but faster is not always better.<br />Personally, I welcome the wonderful smells that fill the house while the anticipation of dinner builds. I don't sit and stare at the oven for 4 hours twiddling my thumbs. Believe it or not, I can use that time to prep other courses, run errands, or even do some yardwork.
 
Lisa S. May 15, 2017
Of course you can. I'm not disparaging the slow food movement or the possibility of using your time to do other things. I am only commenting on the equivalent quality and consistency that you can obtain for some items-not all-using a faster method especially if you are pressed for time and want/need a quality outcome. But believe it or not, your oven does use a lot of energy -especially if it is a large one-and at some point we have to acknowledge that our energy usage affects the environment.
 
Rob May 15, 2017
how about perfectly rich and flavorful chicken stock in 45 minutes, instead of simmering on the stove for 3-4 hours? i've put whole frozen chicken into my pot and, covered it with water, thrown in some onions, carrots and leeks and come away with fantastic stock and meat in no time. no fuss.
 
SandyToes May 16, 2017
Sure it's easy to let things bubble and cook at low temps in the oven for hours. But living in Florida I had given up on roasts, carnitas, ribs and Bolognese for about 8 months of the year. The energy lost to my kitchen from my oven is all the proof I need of the efficiency of the Instant Pot.
 
fricky1 May 16, 2017
Thanks for mentioning the energy consumption angle. I've read that slow cookers use 75% less energy than ovens for the same task. <br />
 
tamater S. September 3, 2017
I have a few crock pots which I use on 'bone broth day' and they get plugged in outside. The house stays cool!
 
Katalin P. May 15, 2017
I'm so glad to have read the nice and it does seem HONEST comment on the "Instant Pot". Not having that much patience will NOT buy one of these. Always looking for items to help lower the time spent in the kitchen, it looks like the pot would add time and lessen it. Again,thank you for the
 
dcremerssf May 14, 2017
can you fix the link? It still takes you to an article about an instant pot.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. May 14, 2017
I don't have that ability, but our email team is aware of the problem. Here's the intended link, for your reference! https://food52.com/blog/19650-the-tool-french-cooks-swear-by-to-get-dinner-on-the-table-fast
 
KR May 14, 2017
um...exactly where is this part in the article/review??? "The tool French cooks swear by to get dinner on the table—& fast."<br />If this is what Food52 is doing now, false tag lines, then I will unsubscribe. You gotta walk the talk, or it would be what I would call FALSE ADVERTISING.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. May 14, 2017
This was a mistake on our end—the email should have linked here: https://food52.com/blog/19650-the-tool-french-cooks-swear-by-to-get-dinner-on-the-table-fast
 
Rob May 15, 2017
calm down. mistakes happen. this is a great site.
 
Negative N. October 31, 2017
Damn, dude!
 
Kathi P. May 14, 2017
It would be nice to see what you think after some more time ... but also, hard to get a full idea since you are vegetarian. I disagree about the whole chicken too, that is one of my favorite things ... Chicken, stock, I've been making different kinds of cheese (I love that I can program the exact temperature in the IP Smart) ... Also the best rice I've tasted in my LIFE, and the risotto is amazing. It takes a while to try everything though, one afternoon isn't really enough time ... I love that it is a great tool for the lazy cook, but also can add a lot for an accomplished gourmet cook ... I now find myself wishing for a second one ...
 
SandyToes May 16, 2017
Stock is a wonder, isn't it? Last Thanksgiving, I made cranberry sauce, potatoes and then stock in mine. The gravy that resulted from the stock was the best I've ever made, and by the end of the meal there were no more potatoes and gravy. Some people went back for third helpings!
 
Anna May 14, 2017
The link to this article in the e-mail I received was incredibly misleading. I read the article twice to see if I missed the mention of the cooking tool French cooks swear by!
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. May 14, 2017
My apologies! I think there was an error in the email. The article you're looking for is here: https://food52.com/blog/19650-the-tool-french-cooks-swear-by-to-get-dinner-on-the-table-fast
 
Valerie P. May 14, 2017
You need to reissue the email and correct the link... just saying.
 
dcremerssf May 14, 2017
Totally agree.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. May 14, 2017
I'm so sorry—I don't have that ability but our email team is aware of the issue. For now, please follow the link to the article: https://food52.com/blog/19650-the-tool-french-cooks-swear-by-to-get-dinner-on-the-table-fast
 
QI4U May 14, 2017
Steel cut oats take 20-25 minutes on the stove, no soaking. I don't know why you'd put them in this IP or why you think they are daunting.
 
Donna H. May 17, 2017
I do my steel cut oats in the slow cooker overnight. Use coconut milk and it's fantastic! Haven't used stovetop for those in years
 
Soozie May 14, 2017
This link was not to the article about the French tool cooks swear by., but another love letter to Instant pots. Seems like common bait and switch content. What gives?
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. May 14, 2017
Our mistake! That link should've taken you here: My apologies! I think there was an error in the email. The article you're looking for is here: https://food52.com/blog/19650-the-tool-french-cooks-swear-by-to-get-dinner-on-the-table-fast
 
PS007 May 14, 2017
I'm sorry but having a vegetarian write a "review" of something so versatile is pretty useles...
 
Rita C. May 14, 2017
I find it scary to use...and my rice always comes out either mushy or undercooked. And I have to store it in my office because I have no room in my kitchen. But...it pops popcorn? Tell me more!
 
Caroline May 14, 2017
The email I got about this saying that "the French swear by this tool" is completely untrue. I am French and have never heard of it. This Insta Pot sounds pretty American to me!
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. May 14, 2017
Our mistake! That link should've taken you here: My apologies! I think there was an error in the email. The article you're looking for is here: https://food52.com/blog/19650-the-tool-french-cooks-swear-by-to-get-dinner-on-the-table-fast
 
fuzzytop May 14, 2017
I still don't see what all the big whoop is. Especially w.r.t. sweet potatoes, which come out of the microwave just fine. Poke a few holes in them, cook at 50% power level (1400-w) for 10 minutes, then check 'em for tenderness. Cook a few more minutes if necessary. I'm not convinced I should give up $100 and another square foot of my (overcrowded already) counter space for one of these.
 
Rob May 15, 2017
try doing a perfectly succulent and intensely flavorful pot roast in 45 minutes in your microwave. this appliance is a game changer.
 
SandyToes May 16, 2017
@fuzzytop, Like other cooking modes, pressure cooking isn't the perfect answer for everything. But it does dramatically speed up the process on a great many foods with no loss of flavor or quality. That's why it's earned a place on my counter, one of very few appliances to do so.
 
Renée (. May 14, 2017
I will add my 2¢ - I've made a small cheesecake (delicious and creamy!); the fastest and best brown rice ever; and multiple straight-from-the-freezer one-pot meals in my Instant Pot. The other night I made a traditional beef stew, using the sauté function to brown the meat, then just hitting the "Stew" button. When it was done, I put it back on sauté, added seasoned flour to thicken the juices. One of the best beef stews I've ever made, and the meat was incredibly tender! While I don't use the IP every day, it will definitely always have a home, here.