Instant Pots are commonly touted as the kitchen appliance to end others. But is that really the truth? Should you believe the hype, or should you skip the Instant Pot?
What Can Instant Pots Do?
As you’re probably well aware, Instant Pots are capable of cooking just about anything, from chili to roast beef. But they’re really just pressure cookers with a few extra features. The only thing that’s new about Instant Pots is that they’re affordable and safe to use.
Rather than doling out all of the Instant Pot’s features and capabilities like an instruction manual, we’re going to run through a quick and dirty list of what the Instant Pot can do:
- Pressure Cooking: Again, Instant Pots are pressure cookers. They’re great for recipes that call for a pressure cooker, like roast beef or tender chicken.
- Sauteing/Pan Frying: Instant pots have a saute function, which means that you can use them in place of a pot or pan when something needs to be sauteed. This is useful for recipes that require sauteed ingredients, like sauces or stews.
- Slow Cooking (Kind Of): Instant Pots have a slow cook function which lets off more steam than the typical pressure cook function. This option isn’t really a replacement for dedicated slow cookers (more on that later), but it’s a useful function that’s worth mentioning.
- Cooking Frozen or Dry Foods: Instant pots are great for quickly cooking frozen foods, like frozen peas or frozen chicken breasts. They’re also great for rapidly cooking dry foods, like beans, boiled peanuts, or brown rice.
- Oil-Less Cooking: Because Instant Pots cook with steam, they’re great for people who want to avoid cooking with butter, fat, or vegetable oil. Instant Pots are also a great stand-in for veggie steamers, in case you’re wondering.
- Preparing Ingredients: Instant Pots are great for preparing ingredients for other recipes. You can use an Instant Pot for cooking potatoes before you fry them, for example.
- They’re Safer Than Pressure Cookers: People are afraid of pressure cookers and for a good reason. One dumb mistake could turn your average pressure cooker into a bomb. But, Instant Pots are super safe to use, as they digitally monitor pressure and prevent any accidents from happening.
Alright, so now you know what an Instant Pot is capable of. But that brings us to the next logical point—where do Instant Pots fall short?
Instant Pots Can’t Do Everything
You can’t cook everything in a frying pan, and you can’t cook everything in an Instant Pot. Here’s a quick list of the things that an Instant Pot can’t do:
- Slow Cooking (Kind Of): Yes, we just said that Instant Pots have a slow cook function. But it isn’t perfect. We’ll get back to this, don’t worry.
- Anything Crispy: The Instant Pot can’t be used as a pressure fryer or a deep fryer. You can get crispy foods by using the Instant Pot to pan-fry foods, but if that’s the goal, then you’re better off using a pan.
- Pressure Canning: To do any sort of canning, you need a pressure cooker with a temperature gauge. The Instant Pot doesn’t measure temperature.
- Stir Frys: Because of the Instant Pot’s lid and limited surface area, it’s terrible for any kind of stir fry, even on the saute setting.
- Pasta and Noodles: Some people may want to cook noodles in the Instant Pot, but that’s a bad idea. Pasta and noodles are best cooked uncovered. Not to mention, you have to turn off and depressurize the Pot before you can check whether or not your pasta or noodles are cooked properly.
Instant Pots (and pressure cookers in general) are specialized devices. They can’t do everything, but they can do a whole lot. It’s worth thinking of the Instant Pot as an oven, but with steam. Ovens can do a lot, but you probably don’t use your oven for cooking everything. The same goes for Instant Pots.
Can Instant Pots Really Replace Other Kitchen Appliances?
Instant pots are equipped with a ton of pre-programmed buttons, ranging from “slow cook” to “yogurt.” The slow cook option allows the Instant Pot to let off some steam (not build up pressure), but the other settings don’t do anything special, they’re just pre-set pressure cooking times. In fact, most Instant Pot chefs suggest avoiding these buttons in favor of the simple “pressure cook” button.
Knowing this, it’s worth asking whether or not an Instant Pot can replace your other appliances. And the answer is a solid maybe. It depends on what you’re cooking and what you’re coking with.
An Instant Pot can replace your rice cooker, veggie steamer, or hard-boiled egg maker a little better than it can a slow cooker. In some instances, the Instant Pot can replace your slow cooker, too.
In our experience, slow cooker recipes don’t always carry over to the Instant Pot. This comes down to the fact that, while slow cookers release a decent amount of steam, pressure cookers (the Instant Pot) retain steam, which prevents reduction (even on the slow cook setting). Although to be fair, you may be able to modify the recipe to suit the Instant Pot.
The other big advantage to a dedicated slow cooker is that it’s easy to pop the lid off to give things a stir or add new ingredients over time. That’s a little more complicated with an Instant Pot.
On the downside, Instant pots require a bit of programming, they don’t have glass tops, and they’re vertically oriented (that’s less surface area for cooking than on a horizontal slow cooker). If you’re used to using a slow cooker, you probably won’t want to replace it with an Instant Pot. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t enjoy an Instant Pot for its pressure cooking capabilities.
In the end, an Instant Pot is not quite as good at slow cooking as a dedicated slow cooker. It’s not quite as good at cooking rice as a dedicated rice cooker. And it’s not at good at sauteeing as just using a regular pan. If you already own and use those gadgets, you’ll be disappointed with how the Instant Pot compares.
However, the Instant Pot is reasonably good at all those tasks. If you don’t already own those other gadgets (or you’re just looking to replace multiple gadgets with a single one), the Instant Pot is worth taking a look at.
Instant Pots Are Fast, Not “Instant”
The “instant” in Instant Pot is a little misleading. You can’t make five-minute meals in the Instant Pot. If anything, you spend at least five minutes waiting for the Instant Pot to pressurize before cooking.
But when it comes to substantial, time-consuming dishes, the Instant Pot is extremely fast. Dry beans, for example, only take between 30 minutes to an hour to cook in the Instant Pot (and you don’t have to soak them beforehand). On a stovetop or in a slow cooker, that process could take three hours or more (plus often soaking the night before). The same goes for meats, stews, and fiber-rich grains (like black rice).
This isn’t to say that you can’t use the Instant Pot to make relatively quick meals. You can easily make potatoes, white rice, or mac and cheese in an Instant Pot in under half an hour. But for those quick meals, you’re really just benefiting from the Instant Pot’s ease of use, not it’s speed.
Just keep your expectations in check. An Instant Pot can shave a few hours off of your pulled pork recipe, but it can’t cook five-minute meals.
There Are a Ton of Easy Instant Pot Recipes
Even if you’re happy cooking your meals on the stove or in a slow cooker, an Instant Pot may be worth your cash simply for the easy recipes. There are a ton of resources to get started with an Instant Pot—even the most inexperienced cook can follow an Instant Pot chili recipe, and seasoned chefs can appreciate simple Instant Pot curry recipes.
So, if you’re trying to explore new recipes without putting in a ton of effort (or you don’t know how to cook at all), an Instant Pot might be worth your money. But if you’re happy with what you’ve got, there’s a chance that your Instant Pot will just sit in a cabinet under the sink after one or two uses.
Buy an Instant Pot for Its Strengths
Instant Pots are just affordable, easy to use pressure cookers that come with a ton of recipes. If that appeals to you, then buy an Instant Pot, you won’t regret it. But don’t buy an Instant Pot just to replace your rice cooker or slow cooker, or you may end up disappointed.
We aren’t trying to downplay the fact that Instant Pots are genuinely wonderful, super useful, and totally worth $60 if you actually want one. In fact, just about every writer at Review Geek owns and loves the Instant Pot. We’re just trying to say that you shouldn’t buy an Instant Pot just because it’s been hyped up as a replacement for every kitchen appliance you’ve ever touched, that’s all.