I’ve been putting off buying an Instant Pot for at least two years, because I honestly thought it was some dumb craze. Like fidget spinners.
However, these things don’t seem to be going anywhere and readers keep asking me for Instant Pot recipes… so I bit the bullet and finally bought one.
But the biggest question is, should YOU buy an Instant Pot?
I had lots of thoughts going through my head as I used my Instant Pot for the first time, and since many of you either A) are thinking about getting one on Black Friday, or B) already have one, I wanted to share my honest thoughts on the Instant Pot.
First, the basics.
What is an Instant Pot?
Most people think the Instant Pot is a pressure cooker. Which is mostly true.
Technically though, the Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker that is ALSO capable of performing the functions of a slow cooker, pressure cooking, rice cooker and yogurt maker. It can also saute, steam and warm your food too.
Basically, it’s the one kitchen appliance that can replace MANY of your other kitchen cooking appliances.
2 BIG Things to Know About the Instant Pot Before You Buy
1. No recipe is truly “instant.”
I honestly didn’t know this, but the Instant Pot isn’t “instant.” Pressure has to build inside before the appliance actually starts cooking, and then the pressure has to come back down too once the set cooking time has ended.
This means that when a recipe says to cook for 20 minutes, you have to add time before AND afterwards to allow for this. The amount of time depends on how full the the Instant Pot is. Depending on the recipe though, it might not be a big deal. (See the “hacks” section below for a way to make the Instant Pot build pressure faster!)
For example, when I made spaghetti squash last week, it took about 10 minutes to come to pressure, then 7 minutes to cook, plus another 4 minutes to release the pressure using the quick pressure release (using the natural pressure release would have taken about 10 minutes). So while the recipe says 7 minutes, it really took 21 – 27 minutes from start to finish.
2. The size of the Instant Pot matters.
For safety reasons (and so it operates correctly), the Instant Pot should be filled no more than 2/3 full. That means if you buy the 6 quart Instant Pot (which is the most popular), you can only safely put 3 1/2 quarts of food inside. If you buy the 8 quart Instant Pot, you can put 6 quarts of food inside.
Is this a big deal?
Maybe not, but I know that one batch of chicken stock in my slow cooker gives me a gallon worth of stock. There’s no way I’d get that if I had the 6 quart Instant Pot. Which means I have to make multiple batches of stock just to get the same yield.
Is that a deal breaker if you can only afford the 6 quart Instant Pot (Which, by the way is regularly priced around $97 on Amazon, and is often on sale for $69 during Black Friday)?
Absolutely not, but it is something to consider.
The Instant Pot can make chicken stock in 30 minutes (or about an hour when you include the coming to pressure and pressure releasing), so I can easily make a gallon of stock in the same time frame as my slow cooker would. But it does mean more work on my end of emptying and re-filling. Just something to consider when you’re choosing a size.
In all my days and weeks of researching, those were the two biggest takeaways I had. Although truly, I learned so much more and I simply can’t NOT tell you!!
10 Pros to Owning an Instant Pot
1. You can saute in your Instant Pot.
If your recipe calls for browning first, and then moving to the appliance, you can do that all in the Instant Pot. You easily can go from one function to another with the push of a button. For example, you can saute chicken breast chunks first on saute, then add other ingredients to give your chicken a nice color.
2. The Instant Pot CAN save TONS of time.
On the same token, the Instant Pot can save you an ENORMOUS amount of time. Examples:
- Homemade chicken stock in 30 minutes (about an hour total, including coming up to pressure and releasing)
- Dry beans to fully cooked beans in 50 minutes (just over an hour total)
- Whole frozen chicken in 45 minutes (about an hour total)
Ordinarily chicken stock would take 24 hours, dry beans would take 4 hours and a whole frozen chicken would take several hours to thaw, and then an hour to cook.
3. The Instant Pot uses less energy than a slow cooker.
The Instant Pot is on for a shorter amount of time, so it uses less power overall. It’s also insulated much better than a slow cooker, which contributes to less heat loss and quicker cooking of food.
4. The Instant Pot doesn’t heat up the house.
I live in the South. ‘Nuff said.
5. You can delay the cook start time.
This is probably the biggest “pro” over a slow cooker, meaning you can set the cook time AND the start time.
For example, if you want hot soup when you come home but don’t want mushy vegetables, you can set the recipe to start at 4pm. It’ll come to pressure, cook for the time you specify and release pressure naturally. You come home to soup that just finished cooking with perfectly al dente vegetables.
6. You don’t have to babysit the Instant Pot.
Slow cookers sometimes require you to check to make sure there’s enough liquid, or to see if something is done yet. Cooking on the stove means stirring now and then so you don’t burn whatever you’re cooking.
You don’t have to do any of that with the Instant Pot. You can literally walk out the door and leave it be. You’ll come home to dinner done, with no burning, no scorching (because the liquid is gone) and the only stirring you’ll do is right before you serve.
7. The Instant Pot can turn off when it’s done.
My slow cooker automatically turns to warm when it’s done, which means my food is still slightly cooking until I manually turn it off. You can turn this “warming” function off on the Instant Pot, so the food doesn’t continue to receive heat. It will stay warm however, since the pot is sealed, but it won’t be “cooking” per se.
8. The flavor is AMAZING!
I think it’s how everything stays inside – the ingredients, liquid, aromas – that makes the flavor of foods so concentrated. Everything I’ve made has come out SO GOOD. It’s like good food, on steroids.
9. You don’t have to convert recipes if you have a different sized Instant Pot.
I bought the 8 quart Instant Pot, but most people own the 6 quart (probably because of the price point, but I’d be careful if I were you… read on below in the “size” section). You might think that you have to convert 6 quart recipes to fit in the 8 quart Instant Pot, or the other way around, but you don’t! You just have to be careful that you: A) don’t exceed the max fill line, and B) the ingredients for the recipe will fit in your Instant Pot.
10. The Instant Pot insert is stainless steel.
There was a point in time when many slow cooker crocks were made with lead. (By the way, you can test your slow cooker with these easy at-home swabs.) Fortunately, the Instant Pot insert is made with stainless steel, so you don’t have to worry about heavy metals leeching into your food or your family getting sick.
And in all fairness, there are a couple downsides to owning an Instant Pot too.
2 Cons to the Instant Pot
1. While the HOUSE doesn’t smell like whatever you’re cooking, the inner seal of the lid might.
I’m running into this now with my seal, since the first few things I made were a frozen whole chicken, chicken stock and then more chicken stock.
Basically, the lid of my Instant Pot smells like chicken stock.
Fortunately, this hasn’t altered the flavors of anything I’ve made… yet. I’ve heard of some owners who have experienced this “transfer of flavor” if you will, and there’s a great solution for that: buying a second seal!
Several vendors on Amazon make “sweet and savory” seals, with the idea being one seal is for sweet things, and the other is for savory. This is a great idea if you plan on using your Instant Pot more than a few times each week AND/OR for more than just dinner.
Personally, I plan on using my Instant Pot whenever I can, so I’m earning Amazon gift cards via Swagbucks and saving up to buy a set of colored seals (this set of tri-color three seals is the best deal I’ve found so far).
2. The Instant Pot isn’t ALWAYS faster.
Whether or not you save time depends on the recipe you’re making. My Instant Pot chicken noodle soup for example, would take just as long on the stove top as it would in the Instant Pot. (However, see pro #2 above.)
6 Hacks to Make You Love Your Instant Pot
1. You can get a second insert!
Sometimes dinner needs a few different components… maybe you’re making kung pao chicken and you’re going to serve it with rice. Or maybe dinner is in one pot AND you’re serving from it… which means you can’t use the Instant Pot for dessert until dinner is over AND the insert is washed.
Here’s the solution – get a second insert! You can buy a second insert (available for both the 6 quart and 8 quart sizes) and you’ll be able to make things back to back (to back!).
2. Turn your 8 quart Instant Pot into a serious ONE-POT-COOKS-ALL machine.
I was looking for a beef and broccoli recipe and what I found was either people were eating mushy broccoli (because it was put in the pot at the very beginning) OR they were steaming the broccoli separately (which in my mind, seems counterproductive to cooking dinner in the Instant Pot).
The fix, is to use a 6 quart insert INSIDE the 8 quart pot.
Basically, you put the meat and sauce directly in the 8 quart liner (that comes with the 8 quart Instant Pot) and follow the recipe directions. When it’s done, you put the 6 quart liner ON TOP of the cooked meat, inside the Instant Pot and make steamed broccoli in it using the trivet. The extra few minutes of cooking won’t hurt the meat, and you truly can cook your entire dinner in the Instant Pot!
The only downside is that this only works for the 8 quart Instant Pot…
3. Speed up the “coming to pressure” time by using the saute function.
A little expansion of pro tip #1 above. Yes, you can saute in your Instant Pot, but you can also use this function to speed up your “come to pressure” time.
Pour any liquids of the recipe in first, hit saute, and let it warm up while you prep the rest of the ingredients. This will reduce the time it takes for the Instant Pot to come to full pressure for your recipe.
4. You can use the Instant Pot to reheat food – for real!
I was kind of skeptical on how you could reheat food in the Instant Pot at first. I mean, if you’re reheating stew or soup or something else that’s okay to touch the cooking surface, I can see how it would work. But what if it was a casserole… or shredded chicken… wouldn’t that make a mess? Or ruin the leftovers?
Solution – steamer insert pans. These pans fit in 5, 6 or 8 quart Instant Pot and allow you to put food inside, while putting water or something else on the outside. The Instant Pot heats the water, and the water reheats your leftovers. Done!!
5. Take it with you on vacation!
How much do you spend on eating out when you’re on vacation? Now what if you took that money and invested in an Instant Pot instead? Odds are it would pay for itself in one or two dinners!
Instead of going out to eat EVERY night, bring the Instant Pot with you and plan for “one-pot” meals you know your family loves, like pot roast or chili or even a whole chicken. You’ll save money AND invest in a kitchen appliance that will quickly become one of your favorites (tied with the stand mixer and blender, of course!).
6. The Instant Pot comes with built in handles.
You know those little “edges” on the lid? If you stick those into the holes inside the handle of the Instant Pot itself, you don’t have to put a (wet) lid on the counter!
Which Instant Pot Should You Buy?
In all honesty, I personally wouldn’t buy the 6 quart Instant Pot. My slow cooker is 6 quarts and there have been plenty of times where my recipe barely fits (i.e. if I use a larger cut of chuck roast for slow cooker pot roast). If I bought the the 6 quart model, there’s NO WAY that recipe would fit because I could only safely put in 3 1/2 quarts worth of food!
I’d much rather have a bit of extra space that I don’t need too often, then frequently wishing I had a bigger Instant Pot.
You also have to consider the different capabilities of the models… some LUX models have a the cake and egg functions, the DUO has the yogurt, bean/chili and poultry functions, and the SMART model is blue-tooth compatible.
Taking it all into consideration – both the functions AND the max 2/3 full aspect – I ended up with the 8 quart DUO 7-in-1 Instant Pot (because of the yogurt setting) and I couldn’t be happier!