Exploring the Instant Pot
The Instant Pot has been around since 2010 and it took me 8 years to join the party.
I assumed that it really would not add any value to my cooking. Especially since I already have a stovetop pressure cooker.
The fact that it touted as “jack of all trades” also had me sceptical.
Finding one with a huge discount, ultimately convinced me to dive in.
If I were to give my Cliff’s Notes highlighting my overall observations, they would include:
- The best job the Instant Pot does is pressure cook
- It looks way more complicated than it is in practice
- Unlike my stovetop pressure cooker, electric pressure cookers require much less babysitting
- Unlike my stovetop pressure cooker, electric pressure cookers take longer from start to finish
Note: I have the Instant Pot Viva 9 in 1, so my buttons may vary from other versions.
What is the Instant Pot?
The Instant Pot is a brand of kitchen appliances. The brand’s original and primary products are electronically controlled, combined pressure cookers and slow cookers. The original cookers are marketed as 7-in-1 appliances designed to consolidate the cooking and preparing of food to one device.Wikipedia
Even though it is marketed as a 7-in-1, 9-in-1 etc. cooker, I think that is stretching it a bit. I have found that it is good a pressure cooking, but that is about it. Why do I say this?
- It is very awkward to saute in it because of the high walls. Touching the sides, and adding more burns scars, is a real risk.
- Slow cooking (even on Low, is too high for multi-hours slow cooking tasks.
- Steaming can be done, but can just as easily be done on the stove top.
- I do use the Yogurt button to incubate my yogurt overnight, but this can just as easily be done in a cooler of warm water.
- Most of the other buttons are basically just preset times of pressure cooking.
Electric (Instant Pot) vs Stovetop Pressure Cooker
Before going any further, let’s get this out of the way.
The fundamental difference is the pressure level that is achieved and the amount of automation within the cooker.
- LOW: 5.8-7.2 psi HIGH: 10.2-11.6 psi
- These take about 20% longer to cook than stovetop cookers on the same high or low setting
- This cooker does incorporate automation while under pressure. It will adjust its temperature to maintain pressure and will automatically come down from pressure.
- LOW: 8 psi HIGH: 15 psi
- These cookers do not normally have any automatic features. Once the cooker comes to pressure it requires the user to adjust the stove temperature to maintain pressure. To come down from pressure, it requires the user to manually remove it from the heat.
Wow, So Many Buttons
With the previous understanding that this is primarily a pressure cooker, it is now time to look at the front panel of the Instant Pot. Wow, that panel looks complicated. Why oh why are there so many buttons? My stove top cooker has two switches. That’s it.
My inclination was to try to figure out what is happening behind each one of those buttons. Why would I push them. When I do push them, what do they do?
So, yeah I started researching…. starting with the manual.
As it turns out, the majority of the buttons are actually just presets for timings. For example, if you push “Soup/Broth”, the display will light up showing 20 minutes.
The only thing the button does is give you a suggested time to cook your soup at high pressure. It DOES NOT determine whether the food is fully cooked. This is extremely important when it comes to meat. A thermometer must always be used to confirm.
This time can easily be changed with the [+] and [-] button.
Really? That is all it is?
Yup. This goes for the Meat/Stew, Bean/Chili, Cake, Egg, and Porridge buttons as well. They are all set to HIGH Pressure, and suggest a certain number of minutes.
So, if you want to harness your inner rebel, while cooking your beef stew …. Put all your ingredients in the inner pot, press the BEANS, CAKE, or EGGS preset. Adjust the time, and let that baby begin cooking. The results will be exactly the same.
Some buttons do have other things happening behind the electric curtain, and we will look at them
The Most Important Buttons
When pressure cooking, the most important buttons include:
Pressure Cook/Manual: This is the button you push to declare that you want to pressure cook some food. Most recipes will use this button instead of the other presets to avoid confusion. The default setting is HIGH.
If your cooker allows, you can then change the setting to HIGH or LOW. For my cooker, I would press PRESSURE LEVEL to choose. Then I use the [+] and [-] buttons to change the cook time. In about 10 seconds the cooker will begin the process of coming up to pressure.
[-] and [+] : Adjust the cook time up [+] or down [-].
Other buttons you will probably use a lot:
Less / Normal / More: On my machine, there isn’t an actual button to adjust this setting. Pressing the same cooking function button repeatedly will allow you to cycle through these settings.
Slow Cook: If you want to make sure you are cooking low and slow and NOT at pressure, this is the button to choose. Use the LESS, NORMAL, and MORE buttons to adjust the temperature. Then I use the [+] and [-] buttons to change the cook time.
When using this setting, any pot lid that fits will work just fine. The provided Instant Pot lid also works, just make sure you adjust the steam release valve to VENTING.
Saute: This button basically allows for using the Instant Pot as a stove element. It can simmer (LESS), saute veggies (NORMAL), or browning meat (MORE).
In the beginning, these are the most important settings and buttons. Do not try to learn everything in one sitting. It can become very overwhelming.
What is Fast?
The Instant Pot is an awesome little appliance. What is even better is their marketing. They declare that beans can be cooked in six minutes instead of an hour. Wow, that sounds awesome – sign me up!
Hang on. Let’s have a closer look at pressure cooker timings as a general rule. When electric pressure cooker marketing declares the “time to cook”, they are not including the time to get up to pressure and the time to come down from pressure.
Depending on what is being cooked, a pressure cooker is hands down faster than conventional cooking. I am interested in whether electric is actually faster than stovetop pressure cookers,
|Electric Pressure Cooker||Stovetop Pressure Cooker|
|Time to come up to pressure: ~14 min||Time to come to pressure: ~11 min|
|Time to cook: ~20% longer than stovetop||Way quicker than not using a pressure cooker|
|Time to come down from pressure: ~25 min||Time to come down from pressure: ~10 min|
Why the differences:
- The time to come up to pressure is very similar. Electric PCs just use a slightly lower temperature.
- The time to cook is usually longer for electric PCs because most max out at ~11 psi. But, most stovetop PCs max is 15 psi.
- Time to come down from pressure is a huge one. Stovetop PCs are taken off the hot element once the cooking is done. This lets it cool faster. Electric PCs are essentially left on the hot element. The element is turned off but still takes a long time to cool.
Ok, so the electric is not indeed faster than the stovetop pressure cooker. But, it also does not need constant supervision. The stovetop pressure cooker needs me to stand by and be ready to adjust the heat if needed.
If time is an issue, or I am spending the time needed in the kitchen doing other tasks, I will use my stovetop pressure cooker.
If time is not an issue, or I am using up all of the elements on the stove, the electric pressure cooker is my go to device.
I am a huge fan of pressure cooker, whether electric or stovetop. It is a cooking skill that I think everyone should learn. It is not nearly as scary as you think. If the Instant Pot – or any other electric pressure cooker is on super sale – I say go for it. Don’t be scared.
Contact me if you need any words of encouragement.