Instant Pot: First Impressions

I’m a bit of a food nerd. I read about food history, watch cooking shows, pour over recipe blogs and books, and I love trying new restaurants. Over the past couple of years, I have heard a lot about the Instant Pot (if you live under a rock, it is an electric programmable pressure cooker/ multifunction cooker).  The claims range from time-saving to life-changing– entire lifestyles seem based on this one kitchen appliance.

Many years ago, when I was extremely young and married, my then-husband (from India) used a stove-top pressure cooker all the time to make dhal. It terrified me with its unpredictable screams and that one time it legitimately exploded. Imagine a kitchen ceiling shorn to the drywall, embedded with partially cooked lentils.

The horror.

The Instant Pot promises the speed of a pressure cooker with none of the terror. I had a lot of questions that could only be answered with personal experience. So I bought one.  Here are my initial impressions:

This is the guy. 

First off, the exact make and model I purchased: I bought an Instant Pot Duo, 6-quarts. It came with a rice paddy, a ladle, and a trivet/caddy; plus a recipe book, instruction manual, and quick guides.

As soon as I had it out, I skipped right over the recommended water test and set to cooking (after washing the lid and cooking pot, calm down). I decided to make one of my favorite soups, a smokey white-bean, sweet potato, kale soup which normally takes 40-50 minutes to cook.

I made sure to prep all of my ingredients and the first step was to cook the aromatics. I set the instant pot on saute and bumped it to high as so many unfavorable video reviews complained that the saute function wasn’t hot enough. I learned two things: 1. it takes a moment to get to full heat at which time the Instant Pot will say “Hot” and you can start adding oil or whatever. 2. The sautee feature is not fucking around. I don’t recommend using high heat unless you’re prepared for carbonized onions. In fact, even on medium saute, I had to be careful about stray bits getting left in the center of the pot. The pot is a bit concave and the heating element makes contact in the raised center of the pot so all of your cooking oil or liquid runs to the perimeter while the stuff in the center burns. You have to keep it moving.

There is a round bump out in the back for pizza you guys.

There was a very slight new-appliance smell but it wasn’t nearly as potent as my countertop convection oven (which was fantastic once after a couple uses). Right after cooking the soup I started in on a roasted potato recipe and by that time the smell had already dissipated.

But back to the recipe: so I got everything sauteed and put the lid on (well, I fumbled with it while it mocked me with it’s little “lid on, lid off” song over and over again) and set it to manual (pressure cook) and guessed at half the cooking time of the soup on the stove top, 20 mins. Then I waited for it to come to pressure. And I waited. I checked the valve. It was on sealing. And I waited. It took approximately 15 minutes to come to pressure and then the 20 minute cooking time started.

Meanwhile, my actual stove was free so I made a grilled cheese sandwich and heated some homemade tomato soup for lunch. After eating I completely forgot I was cooking the soup until the timer went off. I decided to try the “quick release” because I wanted to see how it compared to that old pressure cooker in terms of decibels. There are a lot of warnings about avoiding steam burns and there is always the option to just let the pressure naturally release by letting it sit for 10-15 minutes. But I’m impatient and curious.

In my research I learned there were a few ways of going about the quick release:

  1. Coward’s Way: Get a stick, perhaps the end of a long utensil, and push the valve to release from a distance. Preferably whilst cowering behind the fridge.
  2. Neatfreak’s Way: Nudge the valve with a utensil then drape a dish towel over the Instant Pot to catch the water vapor and any potential starchy foam.
  3. Commitment Phobe’s Way: nudge the valve to the venting setting and back to sealing in quick bursts, only letting small amounts of steam to release at a time. Done with or without wrapping one’s hand in a kitchen towel.
  4. The Zero Fucks Given Way: barehanded, reach over and flip the valve to venting and let it rip. (The method I used.)

What I didn’t learn because no one (and I mean NO ONE, not even the critical reviewers) mentioned it was how long the “quick release” took. I stood there staring, slack-jawed for two minutes before I decided to just sit down and wait. But then I got tired of sitting and waiting and got out my phone to record the relentless venting for another few minutes, telling my friend, “this is my life now”. In total it took over 5 minutes (~7) to stop venting. I did make a lot of soup though. I must say the Neatfreak’s way has a certain charm when you have a small kitchen with low cupboards. After three minutes, they were dripping wet from the steam so I chucked a towel over it until it was done.

My normally 40-50 minute soup took…

Sautee 10 mins

Pressurizing 15 minutes

Cooking 20 minutes

Venting 7 minutes

52 minutes in the Instant Pot. 

… not exactly time-saving. HOWEVER, I did not have to babysit the Instant Pot after the 10 minutes of sautee time like I would have had to do if I was cooking it on the stove top. In fact, I forgot I was cooking. I believe that is where the convenience factor comes in. The thing is, I rather like the process of cooking; of stirring and tasting, adjusting, and so on. Don’t get me wrong though, I love the idea of being able to do it in less time IF the Instant Pot actually saves time.

I am curious if using the instant pot as my regular hot plate rather than my electric stove from 1981 (I’m not even kidding, it belongs in a museum) is more energy efficient, in which case another point for the Instant Pot.

I will follow-up after I try more recipes and functions (and figure out how to test the energy efficiency compared to my stove). I plan to make a variety of beans, steel cut oats, burrito bowl base (rice, beans, sofritos, etc), potatoes, pasta dishes, curry dishes, pasta sauce, stock, and more. Do you have any recipes to recommend? Have you tried the Instant Pot or similar multi-cooker? What do you think about it?



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