Unpopular Opinion: I Don’t Think You Need an Instant Pot

Let me open with a cautionary statement. This is not a very pro-Instant Pot review. If you’re looking for another review to tell you how great an Instant Pot is, you’re not going to find that here. However, if you want an honest opinion on why I don’t think an electronic pressure cooker is something you NEED in your kitchen, keep reading.

*sigh*

The Instant Pot. I bought into the hype last year and used some birthday money to pick one up. After all, how could you NOT want one with claims that it will reduce your time in the kitchen and make magical meals in one pot? It can replace your slow cooker and rice cooker! Seriously. How could you not want one?

If you don’t have one, you might be asking yourself, “What the heck is an Instant Pot?”

The term “Instant Pot” is actually a name brand and generically used to refer to an electric pressure cooker. There are many brands out there, but the most notable brand you will see is Instant Pot.

What is an electric pressure cooker? Well, a traditional pressure cooker uses your stove’s heat source to create pressure to quickly cook whatever is in the pot. They’re finicky pots where you have to manually adjust the pressure. An electric pressure cooker plugs into an outlet and the pressure is self-regulated.

If you read/watch the Instant Pot propaganda, and yes, it will always be propaganda to me, they claim that it will drastically reduce cooking times by up to 70% and will free up your valuable time. For the Instant Pot, specifically, it is referred to as a “multi-cooker” that can be used as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, steamer, and warmer all-in-one! Not to mention, you can cook your meals all in one pot! Seriously, how could you not want one??

So, I caved. I bought one. I like having more time. I like only having to dirty one pot.

My opinion is based on using this appliance for over a year now. It was used in a three-person household. My husband and I work full time, and my son was in high school. I gave the Instant Pot try after try, and I am not impressed at all. It is a novel idea to replace all of your small appliances with the “one-appliance-to-rule-them-all”, but just like Lord of the Rings, the past year has been my Fellowship voyage and I am now at the Gates of Mordor ready to toss this thing into Mount Doom. That is how I feel about the Instant Pot. You may be asking yourself, “That is a high level of dislike…Why?”

Selling Point #1 – The Instant Pot is a Time Saver!

I believe, with my whole heart, that most people are not actually taking a look at their clock and measuring how much “time” they’re actually saving. It is similar to tracking calories. You THINK you are eating under a certain amount, but when the doctor has you actually keep a food diary, the truth is set free. What we think vs. what is real often aren’t the same thing. Unfortunately, I think the “Instant Pot Time Saving Cult” falls in this category, because no matter what I did with it, it did NOT save me time. While the Instant Pot can reduce cooking times on large cuts of meal like pot roast, or whole chickens, there are very limited things you actually save time cooking.

Prep work: You will save absolutely no time in prep work. You are still having to chop the same vegetables, still having to sear the meat, still having to deglaze the pot, etc. I would argue that on some dishes, the one-pot method actually slows you down. This applies to dishes that requires you to sear meat in batches. The surface area of the pot is so small, I find wasting more time trying to sear in the pot than just breaking out a cast iron and doing it properly.

Recipes often do not account for pressurizing: Pressurizing the food inside the pot with steam is the  basic mechanics of how a pressure cooker works. What recipes often leave out is the estimated time for the pressure cooker to actually come up to pressure before cooking time actually commences. On an average recipe with roughly 1-2 cups of liquid, it would take my Instant Pot 10-15 minutes to actually pressurize before the cooking countdown begins. Recipes with a large volume of liquid can take up to 30 minutes, or more, to pressurize! Let’s take this recipe as an example (https://www.brit.co/instant-pot-salmon-veggie-dinner/).

This recipe estimates a 25-minute cooking time. Read through the recipe and watch the video. Take note of the accessories, and I will expound on that a little further down. The actual time the fish and vegetables cook in the Instant Pot is 3 minutes. So that is where you get your “faster cooking” claim to fame. It, indeed, physically cooks faster. That fact cannot be disputed. So, the majority of the cooking time for this recipe is accounting for the cooker to pressurize.

Whether you’re a novice cook, or an experienced one, you can cook this same recipe in the oven, substituting a faster cooking veggie, on one sheet pan in about the same time, with the same set-and-forget attitude.

Quick Release or Natural Release: Another thing to consider is quick release or natural release. Depending on the recipe, it might not calculate the pressure release. Many recipes assume you know that you’re going to account for time to either pressurize or depressurize. So, be on the lookout for that. Most recipes use the quick release which immediately releases pressure in a constant stream of steam. However, it is recommended to use natural release on meats and recipes with larges volumes of liquid. The reason is, if you quick release, liquid will literally shoot out of the valve. Natural release can take up to 30 additional minutes after cooking is complete. Recipes don’t always account for this in the “cooking time”.

Selling Point #2 – Everything in Just One Pot!

You will most likely use more than just the one pot: One of the selling points to the Instant Pot is you can cook everything in one pot and reduce the amount of dishes you use. Using the example above, a single-sheet oven roasting recipe truly only uses the one sheet pan and any prep dishes. If we go back and reference the above linked Instant Pot Salmon Veggie dinner recipe, you will notice in the video that not only are you using the main pot, but the recipe uses a pot-in-pot method. In fact, many recipes will require you to use a secondary Instant Pot safe container to keep food within the pot separate.

Accessories: Personally, I think once you start needing additional accessories to use your appliance, it is no longer convenient. The Instant Pot, depending on which model you get, typically comes with one rack, and maybe a measuring cup or spatula. Once you dive into the Instant Pot world, all of a sudden, recipes start needing special accessories like silicone molds, bowls, or even specialized steamer baskets with dividers. You can get by with the bare minimum, but to get the most out of your Pot, you’ll end up buying recipe-specific accessories like steamer baskets, and springform pans, and egg racks.

So, lets review. You purchase an Instant Pot to reduce your kitchen footprint, but then end up buying accessories to add to your smaller footprint. Does that sound right to you?

Selling Point #3 – It’s a “Multi-Cooker”

Here is where I am sure my opinion will get really unpopular.

No. It’s not a multi-cooker. It’s a poser pretending to be a multi-cooker.

Slow Cooker. No. Not one bit. Do a little research and you’ll find tons of people complaining that the slow cooker function is sub par. Will it replace your Crock Pot? No. It won’t. In my attempts to use the slow cooker, I was left with a watery mess. After more research, I found an article explaining why this happens. The Instant Pot’s design interferes with the amount of liquid that evaporates. Now, some have found that the slow cooker function improves if you purchase a glass lid. What? I have to buy something else to make the product work as advertised? Yes. You do.

Rice Cooker. As an Asian, I forbid you to use this contraption to cook rice. Please do not disrespect rice this way! I beg of you. I was never able to reproduce good rice in this thing, and I am convinced that people who say it makes good rice has never actually had good rice. If your family eats a lot of rice, invest in a nice rice cooker. I recommend the Zojirushi Micom Rice Cooker (AFFILIATED LINK). This is the one I use at home. It makes 3 cups of rice and sings a cute little tune when it is done cooking. Or, you can just learn to cook it properly on the stove. It’s not hard. I believe in you.

Searing. It’s important: Many recipes will call for you to sear the meat. It’s an important step, and if you skip it, you’re wrong. Searing meats creates a crust that not only ensures tenderness, but also promotes flavor. The Instant Pot is just too small to effectively sear. Can you do it? Yes. Can you do it effectively? Not always. The surface area is just too small. I always end up breaking out my cast iron to do things right. Then, I deglaze the cast iron and pour that liquid into the Instant Pot.

Argument #1 – But, it is much easier than standing over a stove!

Since when did standing over the stove become a burden? I guess if you don’t like cooking, or aren’t very adept at it, you may not like the stove. Maybe, we are so wrapped up in convenience as a society that we have associated the love and care of preparing our own food to a negative thing.

I am not a trained cook/chef. I learned from Food Network like the rest of you. I enjoy cooking. I enjoy fresh ingredients. I enjoy my food having flavor. I enjoy the accomplishment of pulling this out of the oven. 

20180915_194349

Photo Credit: LaShell Bartholow

You are NOT going to get that out of an Instant Pot. Not even close. Since we’re so concerned about time, this particular recipe only takes 30 minutes. While this is roasting in the oven, you could easily have a pot of rice going at the same time and be ready right when the chicken is. This is one of my go-to 30-minute meals. I have faith you can do the same thing for your family and it be flavorful, crispy, and delicious.

Let’s take a roast. You’re going to do the same amount of prep work whether you use the traditional method, or Instant Pot. You’re still going to put the roast in an oven where you aren’t disturbing it, or standing at a stove, so I fail to see this argument. I really do.

Argument #2 – It doesn’t heat up the house!

Ok. I can’t really argue with this. I have a really good oven/stove that doesn’t put off a lot of heat. That being said, I’ve lived in places with the budget oven/stove that isn’t as energy efficient. I can totally understand this argument.

Argument #3 – But you can cook X in it!

To quote the great Dr. Ian Malcolm, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Not everything needs to, or should, be cooked in a pressure cooker.

Quality of the Food

So, the Instant Pot isn’t exactly what they advertised. It doesn’t really replace all of your other appliances and you will eventually feel like you have to purchase more accessories to get the full impact of what the Instant Pot has to offer. But, how does the food taste?

And, again. I am going to once again have to go with the unpopular opinion.

Texture. Everything I cook in this pot is meh. Just meh. Maybe I am a food snob, but texture is all wrong. Let’s talk pot roast. Does it get tender? Yes. Does it taste like it’s been slow roasted with love all day. Absolutely not. Something is lost. Each time I have cooked a pot roast in the Instant Pot, my family immediately could tell the difference. The texture was gummy and despite how much I seasoned, the meat itself was bland.

Soggy. Everything that comes out of that pot is just soggy. You will find recipes that are aware of this, so it instructs you to place what just came out of the Instant Pot under a broiler for a few minutes to crisp up.What’s the point of that? I don’t see the point of that. A good example is roasted chicken. You can Instant Pot the hell out of a chicken, but it will come out looking like you boiled the damn thing. Some people will say, “I pop it under a broiler to crisp up the skin!” Again, why? I’ve done one chicken in the Instant Pot, and while the convenience factor is a plus, the end product is not.

Steaming vegetables was also not a plus for me. They were always overly soft. If you like your steamed vegetables boiled, then the Instant Pot is for you. I would much rather do it on the stove where I can monitor for the right doneness, because vegetables are not all created equal.

Lack of Flavor. The one thing I really dislike about the Instant Pot is its heavy reliance that you seasoned well enough before you put it in the pot. That’s a huge problem. As we all know, fresh vegetables will have varying degrees of flavor. Same with herbs. Also, the high heat will tend to “kill” a lot of the seasoning. A true cook wants to season at every step. That is how you get great food. You can’t do that with an Instant Pot.

Final Judgment

So, I am going to be frank. You don’t NEED an Instant Pot in your life. I wouldn’t even recommend one. I think for the majority of us, it doesn’t save time on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong. There are definitely things it can do that will save you time, like on roasts or whole chickens, but you don’t cook roasts or chicken every day.

I feel like the Instant Pot is a very niche thing. You either need a very large family or a specific quality of life that requires it, but for us regular folk, you can most definitely just use your stove, oven, and other small appliances you already have to produce a better product.

Do I see ANY positive to this contraption? Again. I think it does a few things well in large batches that will save you time. If you make a lot of things with shredded chicken, this could be the gadget for you. I have a friend that uses his primarily to cook whole chickens for the shredded meat.  If you make your own chicken-based dog food, I can see this making your life easier. You can actually hard boil a lot of eggs in an Instant Pot, but unless you eat a large volume of hard-boiled eggs, doing it the traditional way is just as easy. You can also do “baked” potatoes in the Instant Pot. It will cut your time in about half, but again, they will come out soggy. If you want that classic, baked skin, you’ll have to broil it for a few minutes once they’re out. The Instant Pot can also make pinto beans in a snap, too. It can also cook meat straight from the freezer. If you’re the kind of family/person that forgets to thaw, the Instant Pot can most certainly save you. I hear it also makes good cheesecakes, but I am too cheap to purchase a springform pan that fits just to try making one.

Final Verdict: Over-hyped and Underwhelming

I think if you’re a foodie, or someone passionate about cooking, you are not going to like the end results. You’ll have issues with end texture, the inability to season as you go, and the fact that sure, it claims to do a lot of things, but none of them very well.

If you’re someone that truly needs a set-and-forget method of cooking, you might like it, but I think you’ll end up shelving it and dragging back out your trusty Crock Pot.

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