The Instant Pot is one of the few things I’ve ever owned that’s lived up to the hype built up around it. It’s the Swiss Army Knife of your kitchen, able to do many things well. If I could only have two things to cook with (minus utensils, knives, etc.), it would be my Instant Pot and cast iron skillet.
What Can You Cook In An Instant Pot?
The short answer is…almost — almost — anything! There are a bazillion Instant Pot recipes on the web and in cookbooks for countless dishes. The list of recipes runs from apple sauce to yogurt (I’m sure there are recipes starting with Z). Pot roast. Pasta. Cheesecake. Whole roast chicken or turkey breast (or small turkey). Chili (one of my personal faves). Beans of every variety. Egg bites a la Starbucks. Indian cuisine. Mexican cuisine. Asian cuisine. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes, in the same pot at the same time. Instant Pot Ribs. Compote. Sweet tea. Just about any kind of soup or chowder you can imagine. Hard (or soft) boiled eggs. Shrimp boil. Steamed vegetables. Banana bread. Corn bread. Cake (yes, cake!) and brownies. Instant Pot Popcorn, for heaven’s sake! And on and on.
And not only can the Instant Pot cook so many different things, but in many cases it can cook more than one at a time. As I mentioned above, meatloaf and mashed potatoes can be cooked together. There are recipes that use the “pot in pot” method, where one ingredient is in the bottom of the pot and another is in a smaller pan on a trivet. You can often cook an entire meal in one pot.
Is the Instant Pot Really Instant?
While “Instant Pot” was a great marketing moniker, it’s not really “instant.” It does, however, make a number of cooking tasks WAY faster. Pot roast is a great example. A slow cooker might take 8 hours to produce a fall-apart tender roast. The Instant Pot can provide the same result in maybe an hour to an hour and a half. Instant Pot Ribs? You can smoke those puppies for hours, or toss them in an Instant Pot and have them done in 30 to 40 minutes. Beans are another one: you can cook beans in 30 or so minutes…without soaking them first.
There are other things, though, that you could probably cook in about the same amount of time by more conventional means. Take rice, for example. Sure, you can certainly cook rice in your Instant Pot. But I almost always use my rice cooker (mine is an older version of this one) in the microwave. Why? It’s just more convenient for me, because I can be cooking rice in there and the main dish in the Instant Pot. Other folks have commented that they can make pasta faster in the stovetop, etc.
Push A Button And Walk Away
Dumping ingredients into the Instant Pot, pushing a button, then walking away is one of the greatest advantages of the Instant Pot. Just as one example, I can make a ridiculously easy spaghetti dinner. You can take frozen (or fresh) meatballs, pasta sauce, and pasta, literally dump it all into the pot, push a button, then walk away. Or, hey, take a nap! Play with the kids or the dog or the cat. Catch up on Instagram. And about 15 or so minutes later, dinner will be ready. No stirring, no messing around. Poof! Done. Potato salad? A snap!
Even better, with many meals, the Instant Pot’s liner is the only major thing you’ll have to clean. And yes, you can put it in the dishwasher.
Many recipes will have you sauté meat or onions, for example, then dump in other ingredients. Again, push a button and walk away.
The Instant Pot gives you back some time while it’s doing its thing. How you use that time is up to you. I typically use that time to clean up my crazy kitchen, putting away spices, cleaning up measuring spoons and cups, etc. Or I’ll work on a side dish that won’t be cooked in the Instant Pot…or I’ll be preparing a second dish in my other Instant Pot!
Sous Vide Cooking
If you get an Instant Pot Ultra or Instant Pot Max, you can also do Sous Vide cooking. This is most often done with cuts of meat, but can also be done to other things. You stick the food you want to cook into a plastic or silicone Sous Vide bag, then submerge it in a water bath inside the pot. The Instant Pot then controls the temperature, cooking it to the doneness you want. The length of time is determined by the thickness of the meat (or whatever). Note that this is one of the downsides of Sous Vide cooking: cooking an inch thick steak (thawed) takes about 60-90 minutes. But again, you toss it in the pot and walk away.
This is the ONLY way I will ever prepare steaks anymore: Sous Vide Steak is da bomb! Season them with some butter with a bit of salt and garlic, stick them in the bag, and drop them in the pot. When they’re done, slap them on your hot cast iron skillet for a good sear, and you will have THE best steak you’ve ever eaten.
While the Instant Pot Ultra can technically cook Sous Vide, it wasn’t really designed for it: the temperature tolerance isn’t as tight as it should be (although mine is within 2F), and some folks have reported temperatures significantly above or below the setting. I’ve never had a problem myself, but there you have it. The Instant Pot Max is supposed to have much better temperature control. But the ultimate way to cook Sous Vide is by using what’s called a circulator, like this one from Wancle or this one from Instant Pot.
Another thing I really like about the Instant Pot is that it’s perfect for meal prepping. If you haven’t heard of that, it’s basically making up a bunch of food for a week (or even a month) at one time, then portioning it into containers to stick in the fridge. With my six quart Instant Pot Ultra, I can make enough Chicken Biryani for about 10 servings.
So, in a weekend, you could make enough food for a week or a month in no more than a couple-few hours. You’re only real limitation is how much freezer and refrigerator space you have.
Meal prepping is not only convenient, it can also save you boatloads of money. If I bought lunch at work every day, it would probably cost me about $10 to $12, including a drink (I take flavored water from our SodaStream). So, that’s $200 or so a month, easy.
By contrast, I could make a big pot of Instant Pot Chili, which yields somewhere around 12 servings for about $21.40:
- 2 pounds of ground beef at about $7/lb (the current price at our local Safeway here on Oahu for 80/20): $14
- 1 onion at $2.15/lb: $0.50 (I figure one onion is around 1/4 pound)
- 2 cans of red kidney beans at $1.70 each: $3.40
- 2 cans of diced tomatoes at $1.50 each: $3.00
- A variety of spices, from chili powder to salt: maybe $0.50?
Toss in a box of cornbread mix (I only use gluten free cornbread for my wife’s sake) for, let’s say, $5 or so, and we’re at a grand total of $27, rounded up. Dividing that by 10 (I usually get 12), you have $2.70 per serving. That’s roughly a third of what you’d pay for your cafeteria food, and I pretty much guarantee it will taste better!
Control What Goes In Your Food
And that brings us to the next topic: Controlling what goes into your food. Sure, you can do this with any cooking-at-home method. But if the Instant Pot inspires you to cook — or just makes it easier — then you’re more likely to eat healthier food.
Moreover, if you or a member of your family has a special dietary need, cooking your own food often becomes a necessity. For us, Jan is gluten intolerant. She doesn’t have Celiac Disease, but eating gluten triggers Hidradenitis Suppurativa, a very painful skin condition. And, of course, there are many other dietary issues folks have, some of them life threatening.
ALL the meals I cook are gluten free. Almost all regular recipes can be easily adapted, and in most cases you couldn’t tell the difference.
Or, maybe you want to eat vegetarian or vegan, for example. There are LOTS of vegetarian and vegan recipes for the Instant Pot.
Again, you could handle your special dietary needs with conventional cooking, but the Instant Pot makes cooking easier. Let it give you a hand!
Clean Up ONE Pot, Not Many
Who likes cleaning up a bunch of pots and pans after making a meal? Okay, I’m sure there are a few masochists out there, but it’s not a thing for most folks.
With tons of Instant Pot recipes, you have just one pot to clean: the Instant Pot’s stainless steel inner liner. Many recipes that would normally require two, three, or sometimes even more pans can be made in the Instant Pot. Many, like meatloaf and mashed potatoes, can even be made at the same time!
This isn’t one of the more typical reasons you might find for buying an Instant Pot, but it’s a non-trivial one. We live on Oahu now, where electricity is about three times as expensive as it was where we used to live in Maryland. The Instant Pot saves me quite a bit of energy cost over what I’d have to spend by using the cooktop and oven more.
On top of that, it really cuts down on heat in the kitchen. THAT can be a big deal, especially in the summer, or when we’re out in the RV.
Instant Pot On The Road
The final thing I’ll regale you with about the Instant Pot is that it travels quite well. We use one in our RV, and we also used it (although not as much as we should have, probably) while staying in a hotel for a month while waiting for permanent housing here on Oahu. Many people use them in hotels, sometimes taking them along on airliners.
You’ll also see people using them when natural disaster strikes, hooking them up to small generators to cook a family meal (people also do that while camping).
Should You Buy An Instant Pot?
While it’s true to say that the Instant Pot isn’t for everyone, the vast majority of folks who have bought one love it. It’s consistently the best, or one of the best, selling products on Amazon.
Do I recommend it? Heck yeah! I mean, after all, I’ve got three as I write this. I clearly need an intervention…