The Instant Pot is as much a cultural as a culinary phenomenon that was successfully marketed using social media as well as through Amazon. If you followed the online comments and the various Facebook groups (which come and go regularly), you would think that this is the cooking appliance of a lifetime which not only prepares delicious meals in a single pot, but can also walk your dog and pay your mortgage.
It’s a handy appliance, but the hype easily gets out of hand. Basically the Instant Pot is a counter top electric pressure cooker: easier to use and possibly safer than the clunky old stovetop pressure cookers but that is its main function. However, they call it a “multicooker,” because you can also use it as a rice cooker (which it does very well), a slow cooker (which it does, but not so well) and a sauté pot, which is silly because you can do that on the stove without getting out and washing that big pot.
As the Instant Pot Internet fad grew, people were trying to make all sorts of recipes in their new gadget: some terrific and some not much better than the usual way. Like any other tool, you just need to ask whether you save any time, when allowing for dragging the pot out of the cupboard, and washing it all afterwards. The 6 quart pot is deep enough that your dishwasher may not get it completely clean.
In fact, there were at one time, quite a number of Facebook groups sharing Instant Pot recipes. Many seemed to have been sponsored by the Instant Pot company, and while they generated a lot of early enthusiasm, most have been shut down, partly because they were full of recipes that really weren’t very good.
So here are the things the Instant Pot does really well:
Anything you can make as a beef or chicken stew will come out faster and better in an Instant Pot. For example: Beef Bourguignon, Beef Stew, Coq au Vin and any similar dish. If your stew recipe includes wine or brandy, cut back on it as the alcohol won’t evaporate during cooking, and the steam may be flammable.
You can make really good pork ribs (or beef ribs) in the Instant Pot, cooking them with a couple of cups o
f liquid (like apple cider) for about 30 minutes. But then, to get the browned flavor, you need to spread them with sauce and brown them under the broiler or on a gas or charcoal grill.
You can take the bones from a roast chicken or a turkey and turn them into several quarts of delicious stock. This works for beef stock too. I add some veggies and a leek to the liquid along with the bones. You can freeze the resulting stock for some months. If you want to call it “bone broth,” cook it a little longer.
If you are into canning fresh tomatoes to make tomato sauce, you can save a lot of time by using the Instant Pot to cook down the fresh tomatoes.
Yes, absolutely. Not only does the rice cook perfectly, the pot keeps it warm for a long time afterwards. We often make the rice, take it out and cover it and keep it warm and use the Instant Pot to make the main dish. It really doesn’t matter if the rice cools a bit if you are covering it with hot stew anyway.
The main advantage of the Instant Pot is that you can make hard boiled eggs that peel perfectly. But, if you are making one or two eggs for garnish, you can cook them more quickly in a vegetable steamer. But for Easter, or for making a dozen or two for deviled eggs, the Instant Pot is your friend. We recommend cooking them for 5 minutes and letting the pot cool for 3 more before opening it. The timing is the same no matter how many eggs you cook: the pot just takes longer to heat up.
Just for fun, we decided to try scrambled eggs in the Instant Pot. They take about 7 minutes, but you can do them just as fast or faster in a pan. The only real advantage is that you don’t have to keep stirring them while they cook.
Some people have tried to make poached eggs in the Instant Pot, but since you have to put each egg into its own cup, you can’t make very many at once, and getting the eggs out of the cups without burning yourself is difficult. Further, it is much quicker to just poach them in boiling water as we show here.
Once of the best dishes you can make in the Instant Pot is Cheesecake. It cooks at about the same rate as in the oven, but because of the steam, it never cracks and is much smoother. The only disadvantage is that you are limited to a 6.5 to 7 inch pan that will fit inside the pot.
You can also make quite a good Indian Pudding in the Instant Pot as well as a good Christmas Plum Pudding.
Things that don’t work very well
The place where the Instant Pot falls down is in recipes where browning of the food is integral. You want the browning so the Maillard reaction add flavor, and unless you can brown after cooking, like with the pork ribs, most other recipes aren’t improved by the IP. Be very suspicious of any recipe that only take 3-5 minutes. You probably don’t need to get your pot dirty for it.
Fish and Seafood
This is really not a useful idea, since you can cook fish in 5 minutes or so. Why haul out the pot, when you can do it in any pan more quickly?
Macaroni and Cheese
Like a lot of other things that aren’t that good, macaroni and cheese really needs to be backed and browned. There’s no way to do that in the Instant Pot. It just gets another dish dirty.
Steel cut oats
This was one of the big recipes early on, but since it is just oatmeal, people have decided that there is very little different than other packaged oats recipes you cook in a pan. Even the Instant Pot recipe only takes 3 minutes.
Chinese Stir Fry Recipes
Chinese cooking involves browning, and just doesn’t work in an Instant Pot.
Even the Recipe in the Instant Pot recipe book only takes 5 minutes. You don’t need the pot for this one.
At first we thought cooking the potatoes in the Instant Pot was an improvement, but after several trials, we decided we could do just as well in a saucepan on the stove.
Veal scallops are sautéed quickly. The Instant Pot won’t help you here.
For the most part, vegetables cook too quickly for the IP to be much use. But you can quickly cook dried beans in your Instant Pot, and there are some decent recipes for squash soups.
Need to brown. Not much reason for the IP.
Probably the same as vegetables: not much use for the pot. Making jams and marmalades requires cooking the fruit down slowly, and this is not possible in a closed pot.
The Instant Pot is a valuable kitchen tool for shortening long cooking recipes and for making rice and maybe for hard cooked eggs. But don’t be over sold and throw away your pots and pans and cookbooks!
One thought on “Should you buy an Instant Pot for Christmas?”
Very good review. Thanks for pointing out the good and bad points.