I received an Instant Pot for Christmas last year, which is cool because I’d been seeing a lot of recipes for this new(er) gadget. However, there’s a definite learning curve for this device, which I share in this review. It’s potential is cool and I’m still using it, but I’ll admit that I wasn’t instantly impressed.
I’ll begin by stating that I’ve never used a pressure cooker before. I didn’t grow up with one, and my parents never taught me to pressure cook. So for me, learning this device also involves learning a whole new way of cooking.
The idea behind the Instant Pot is this: trapped steam increases the atmospheric pressure inside the pressure cooker. This raises the boiling point of water to around 244 degrees Fahrenheit. The higher temperature makes food cook faster. The high pressure also forces more moisture into the food, which can help tenderize meat more quickly.
This all sounds pretty cool, but I couldn’t help but feel that there’s a bit of false advertising in the Instant Pot promise. The main issue I struggled with was knowing how early to start cooking.
Time to Build Pressure
You see, what most recipes gloss over is the extra time the Instant Pot takes to pressurize, and again to depressurize. The Instant Pot doesn’t immediately generate that high pressure–the liquids in the pot need to boil first and pressure builds as the steam gets trapped. This takes time.
Likewise, depressurizing takes time. There are two methods of doing this: letting it depressurize naturally as it cools, and turning the lever for a “quick release” (letting the steam out of the valve.) And as I learned, even the quick release can take several minutes. Natural, if the pot is full, can take a very long time. And some recipes even count on the indirect cook time of a natural release.
The Instant Pot guide gives a time range for building/releasing pressure, but it’s pretty vague and most recipes don’t give specifics. Part of the problem here is that standard recipe formats don’t account for something like this.
The recipe plugin I use on this blog, for instance, has fields for “Prep Time” and “Cook Time,” and many programs will add those together to generate a “Total Time.” Pressurize/Depressurize Time doesn’t really fit into either of those categories. After all, “Prep Time” indicates hands-on time for the recipe, and “Cook Time” needs to match the amount of time you set the device to cook for. So I think many people sharing recipes aren’t sure where to include this extra time. (You can rest assured that if/when I share any Instant Pot recipes, I’ll be sure to build these times into it somewhere!)
For example, one of the recipes that came in the book with my new Instant Pot had the audacity to call itself “One-Minute Quinoa.” Yes, one-minute, despite needing 5-10 minutes to pressurize and 15 to depressurize. (It specifically said to use the Natural release of steam, which is what I mean by counting on indirect cooking as it cools down naturally.) But it only “cooks” for one minute, so….
I was not amused.
I’ve also seen bloggers make claims that a recipe that cooks at high pressure for 25 minutes “comes together in 30 minutes.” Uh, no. Not unless you can chop, add, pressurize, depressurize, and add all your “extras” at the end in a total of 5 minutes. Not hardly. 40 minutes, maybe.
And that’s probably what rubbed me the wrong way about my new Instant Pot–all of the false promises of how fast it is. Sure, it’s faster than cooking a large piece of meat for several hours, but it’s not as fast as the hype implies.
A lot of the foods that Instant Pots excel at are foods I normally cook in my Crock Pot. Like the very first food I tried, for example: Pot Roast.
Now, there’s no denying that the Instant Pot cooked the Pot Roast much faster than my Crock Pot would have. But it wasn’t as fast as the recipe implied. It seemed to take forever to build up pressure that first time–long enough that I was questioning whether I’d done it right.
Also, I usually add potatoes and carrots to my Crock Pot with a roast. I just add everything together. Here, the recipe told me to depressurize the roast, add my veggies to the top, and then cook for six minutes more. Those six minutes turned into another 20 or 30–because of pressurizing.
Instant Pot versus Slow Cooker
The total time of some of these recipes is, perhaps, my other main qualm with the Instant Pot. When I cook things in my Crock Pot, I know that they will take all day. But that timing works for me because I can prepare things in the morning, leave them all day, and have dinner nearly ready when I get home.
The Instant Pot reduces this time. But for recipes that take longer than an hour, it requires someone to be home to start dinner. Slow cookers allow you to come home to a ready meal after a day at work or school, but in order for the Instant Pot to impress you with its cooking time, someone must be home in the late afternoon to start the meal.
It’s easier for me to start the meal in the morning than right when my kids get out of school. So basically, you have to ask yourself when you want your “hands on” cook time: in the morning, or a few hours before eating.
Now, the Instant Pot does have a Slow Cooker function. So some people may be able to replace one small appliance with another. However personally, I just upgraded to a 6 quart Crock Pot a few years ago, and it can even fit a small turkey. I’m not about to remove that item from my kitchen just because I got an Instant Pot. I love my Crock Pot too much.
The second recipe I made was another I typically make in the Crock Pot–my Hawaiian Kalua Pork. Kalua Pork usually takes 18-20 hours, so there’s no doubt the Instant Pot was much faster. After searching online for similar recipes and suggested cook times, I gave it a whirl for our Superbowl party.
Unfortunately, the cook time recommended was way off. Or maybe I just had a bigger cut of meat than the resources I was checking. At any rate, the pork did not shred properly when I first opened the pot, which meant I had to re-seal the pot, wait for it to pressurize again, and cook it for longer.
That pressurizing really adds a ton more time if your dish isn’t done. You can’t just close the oven door and check again in 5 minutes. Fortunately, my guests could munch on other foods while watching the Big Game. Nobody went hungry, and everybody was happy once the pork was finally ready. But if this had been a dinner party, it would have been a different story.
I also thought this dish’s flavor wasn’t as intense in the Instant Pot.
The Instant Pot boasts the ability to cook a whole chicken in 8 minutes per pound–~40 for a 5lb bird. I’ve cooked a whole chicken in my Crock Pot before, so I decided to give this a try.
I was starting to get the hang of the Instant Pot by this point (including accounting for pressurizing time), so this recipe came out decent. But again, it seemed a little underdone. We ate the outside pieces in order to not get any food poisoning, and cooked the leftovers longer.
I think it’s important to check a recipe to see if the weight of meat is included before you start cooking. If you can’t find it, google meat cooking times by weight in the Instant Pot. Err on the side of caution, if you have to.
Finally, when I made French Dip, I had a successful recipe that I was prepared for the timing of!
I love roast beef, but the rest of my family isn’t very fond of it. I went searching for other ways to serve pot roast, and decided on French Dip with a natural au jus from the drippings. It was delicious! Recipe will surely follow.
I do like how the Instant Pot makes soup broth. I have made several batches of chicken broth, after the above-mentioned chicken and also from store-bought rotisserie chickens. The resulting broth is delicious and is much faster than making it in the Crock Pot. It also doesn’t require me to babysit and replenish a pot on the stove.
I won’t make my full soups in it though, as my current rotation of soups require me to add multiple things at different times. I don’t want to deal with all the extra pressurizing time that would take. So after I have a broth, I transfer it to a stove-top soup pot to make dinner.
My Instant Pot boasts several functions I haven’t tried yet, including rice cooking and yogurt. I also have yet to use it as a slow cooker.
I thought yogurt sounded silly at first, until my sister-in-law expressed an interest. Then I read a few recipes and tutorials. Now I’m intrigued and will probably try it at least once.
In conclusion, my Instant Pot Review is that it’s a handy device with a large learning curve. I wasn’t instantly impressed. In fact, it stressed me at first. But it is growing on me, especially now that I have a better sense of how long recipes take. I think it has earned a place in my kitchen, but we’re still getting to know each other so I can’t say our relationship will be long-term just yet.
Do you have an Instant Pot? How do you like it?