I have owned an Instant Pot (IP) for about a year and a half now, and have integrated into my kitchen and life. I like it, but it took me a while to get there. It has its place in the kitchen and my cooking repertoire, but I’ve found that I use it differently than the endless Instant Pot blogs and recipe sites describe. But, I would buy it again (on sale) if I broke it.
I was The Instant Pot Skeptic, for a long time! I bought it on a whim on a Black Friday sale after a few friends recommended it. They would morph into speaking a whole other language when talking about it, which was a bit intimidating, but I decided to bite the bullet and give it a try. I was intrigued, and a little nervous. I fired it up and was extremely underwhelmed, disappointed, and annoyed I’d spent what I had on it (even though it was a smoking deal). Dinner was really late that day, and not especially good.
But, I really trusted the friends who had it and raved. I read some recipes, joined an enormous Facebook group dedicated to its use, and persevered. And then I lowered my expectations…or rather, shifted them. And now I’m quite happy to use my IP often. Still a bit skeptical, but I’ve gotten over my initial reaction!
Here are my tips for making the best use out of an Instant Pot, and to help you decide if it would be a good addition to your kitchen, or just take up far too much cupboard space to make it worthwhile for your family.
Firstly, what is it? It’s an electronic pressure cooker, with computerized smart technology to make sure you don’t blow a hole in your ceiling like old school stove top pressure cookers. The inner pot (the cooking surface) is food safe stainless steel, and it’s easy to clean and care for. The model I have is a “Duo 7-in-1” 6 quart, and it works well for what I cook for our family of 4. There aren’t really 7 different settings, rather there are 7 pre-sets covering a few different temperature and pressure options: low heat for yogurt, slow cooker settings, a sauté function, and then different time and high/low pressure options for pressure cooking. There is a long list of accessories you could buy, but don’t feel that you have to, at least not right away. You’ll come to learn how you use your IP and what is worth it to you.
Secondly, as soon as you start searching for Instant Pot recipes you’ll see titles like “cook a whole chicken in 25 minutes!” Those claims, while perhaps technically true, are very misleading and were in part what made me feel incompetent in the kitchen when I first started using my IP. I can roast a mean chicken, and all told it takes about two hours. The IP might only have 25-30 minutes of cooking time, but the time to prep the chicken, have the pot come to pressure, cook, and then depressurize isn’t much different from that two hours. When finished there is no delightful and enticing smell of roast chicken, and it looks pale and sickly because there was no roasting. And you still haven’t cooked your sides yet. But I digress.
What has the Instant Pot given me in the kitchen then? TIME. Hands-free time to be exact. I have a list of standby items I cook in the IP, and they turn out great, but more importantly they free my hands up from stirring or minding a pot so that I can do other things, such as prep the rest of dinner, or do a chore, or play a board game with the kids. Nothing to stir, nothing to spill over and make a mess on my stovetop, and nothing to worry about. That is enormously beneficial to me as I multi-task in our busy household.
What is the Instant Pot most useful for?
We like steel cut oats in my house, but we do not like to have to stir a pot, or clean up the inevitable gluey mess that spills over when we forget to mind it. Prepping steel cut oats when I first roll out of bed on the weekend takes a minute and a half, and then we can take our time waking up, having coffee, reading, and otherwise rising and shining. If I’m really organized I can have it all set out at night, along with a note for my kids to finish the steps and start it themselves. By the time we’re ready to eat the cooking is complete, the oats are warm and soft in the pot and can be served immediately. Everyone likes something different on their oats so we cook it plain and dress it up with maple syrup, nuts, seeds, yogurt, and fruit in our own bowls, but there are lots of recipes that call for adding things into the cooking pot.
I’ve never used a rice cooker but presumably the technique is the same. Add rice, water, and any additional flavouring to the pot, and push start. Walk away, come back and it’s done. Perfectly cooked rice every time, no spillage on the stove top when you forget to watch the boil and the lid. Or is that just me? Maybe I’m easily distracted.
Beans from dry
We love eating beans: beans in things, on things, as a salad or on a salad, plain with salt…the list goes on. Buying dried beans is far cheaper than canned, and probably healthier because there’s no added sodium, but I never remember to pre-soak. But with the IP I can cook beans from dry to on my plate in less than an hour. I cook saucy black beans often, as well as chickpeas to have on hand for soups, salads, or curries, or to make hummus.
Cooking large chunks of cheap meat
Lovers of pulled pork, pay attention! I cook about 5-6 lbs of cheap boneless dark meat pork roast, giving myself 2.5 hours total to include the prep, time to pressure, time to cook, time to depressurize, and then shredding/clean up time. During most of that 2.5 hours I am doing other things in or out of the house, and the end result is delicious, tender, and everyone loves it. I’ll freeze the leftovers in portions and use it later to make other meals like enchiladas. I usually do a version of this recipe.
Cooking small pieces of cheap meat
Stewing beef or strip steak in a soy-ginger sauce, with rice and broccoli on the side, is one of our new favourite meals. I did buy some accessories for the IP to try this meal (and other similar ones) so I could do “pot in pot” cooking. This means the meat and sauce cook in the main pot, but I set a trivet into the sauce onto which I put a separate pot where I cook the rice. I do still have to do the broccoli separately (it would be unrecognizable mush if I cooked it all at once) but that effort is minimal, and most of the meal is taken care of in the IP, at the same time. Because of the sauté function you can cook in the IP like an open pot, although there is only one heat setting. Some recipes call for doing a fair bit of sautéing before pressure cooking, and then lid on and off and adding things or taking things out but nope, that’s not for me. Too fussy, and too much minding. I’d rather wash one extra pot to steam broccoli and be done with it.
Devilled eggs on Christmas morning is a family tradition here. Perhaps I lack egg skills, but my efforts were often of the “hard to peel” variety, and the resulting eggs were…ugly. Even if I remembered to plan ahead and buy eggs two weeks early and stash them in the back of the fridge to age, they almost never peeled easily. But…the IP is AMAZING for hard boiled eggs. Our family has taken to eating them often in lunches, or for a quick snack, so I’ve started having a bowl in the fridge for easy munching. Eggs do require a little bit more minding for perfection – cooking time, depressurizing time, and then cooling time in an ice bath, but I’m willing to pay the extra attention for the added payoff of perfect hard boiled eggs every time.
Print or save this 4×6 egg method for quick reference – click to enlarge.
A popular IP blogger is This Old Gal, and the recipes she shares are reliably great. I’m a particular fan of her keftedes (Greek meatballs) recipe and have also had success leaving the Greek seasonings out and making up plain meatballs to use with different sauces. The texture with 2 parts lamb to 1 part pork is our favourite. Easy to make, easy clean-up, no grease splatter from cooking in a frying pan or in the oven on a cookie sheet.
Combing through an old cookbook recently I was drawn to a recipe for Russian Beet Salad, but it was hot out and I didn’t want to have my oven on to roast beets. IP to the rescue! A quick wash of a few tennis-ball sized beets and then into the IP they went. They peeled easily, and I could cut and cube them for use in salads (with goat cheese, greens, sprouts, and sunflower seeds…yum).
We moved last year and the Costco in our new city didn’t carry our favourite kind of plain yogurt that we’d been eating for years. Since my IP had a yogurt setting I decided to try. I’d made yogurt before, in a retro yogurt maker that had eight single serving jars and classic 1970s colours, and wasn’t happy. But all it was going to cost me was a gallon of milk to give it a go, and am I ever glad I did. Now, instead of paying a ridiculous amount for a single litre of smooth, creamy, delicious plain yogurt, I make my own at about ¼ the price. We eat it daily with homemade granola and fruit, and it keeps well in four wide- mouth 1L jars. The initial phase of yogurt making does require some attention, a thermometer that can read the temperature accurately, a tiny amount of starter yogurt (any good quality plain yogurt without gelatin and with active cultures), some attention paid to the time it will take in the pot (you need to be awake and available to take it out of the pot and put it into the fridge on time), and you also need to plan ahead and not need your IP during that 16 hour time frame! Or, if you’re really committed, it’s possible to buy a second inner pot. I’m not at that point yet, and so far so good. Only once did I almost forget to add starter, and only once did I mis-time things so the yogurt was done at zero-dark-thirty instead of a reasonable waking hour.
If you sometimes develop a collection of sad looking or mushy apples that no one wants to eat, the IP will be put to good use making sauce. It takes longer to peel the apples than it does to make the sauce. Add a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg, cook it, mash it a bit, and then jar it up. Make a little or a lot as you prefer, or use it in muffins.
I often make a quick fruit compote to go with our yogurt and granola, using an unmeasured amount of frozen fruit from the mixed berry bag at Costco. No sugar, a tiny bit of cornstarch whisked in at the end to thicken, and then jar it up in the fridge. See note above about sad fruit…sometimes I hide the fresh fruit on its last legs in with the compote and no one notices. That bag of plums the kids begged to buy and then ate one from? Pitted, frozen, and tossed into the compote and all was well.
So, do you want to give it a go?
The IP might be for you if…
- You like to try new kitchen gadgets, and are willing to deal with the learning curve of this one;
- You make many of the things listed above;
- You already use a rice cooker and/or a slow cooker (the IP can replace those).
The IP might also be for you if…
- You want to learn to prep weeks worth of meals, freeze them, and then be able to come home and quickly cook a one pot meal from frozen (I haven’t tried this myself but have friends who swear by it);
- You like to make your own meals while car camping or RV-ing and want a non-BBQ non-stove top option;
- You want to cook for yourself but have limited cooking facilities.
The IP is probably not for you if…
- Your kitchen is cluttered with gadgets you don’t use;
- You’re very comfortable in the kitchen and don’t like messing with successful recipes or methods of cooking.
Accessories you might consider:
- Extra gasket in case one gets smelly or breaks (one probably doesn’t want curry flavoured oatmeal)
- Flat whisk to get into the corners of the pot (my new favourite kitchen tool actually – so simple, yet so useful!);
- Trivet (taller than the one it comes with – look for something at least 3″ tall);
- Metal dish for “pot in pot” meals. This one isn’t made for the IP specifically but does double duty with crême brulé dishes (I got a blow torch for my birthday and tested it out – AMAZING!)