I received an Instant Pot IP-DUO60 7-in-1 programmable pressure cooker for Christmas this year (Thanks Mom and Dad!). To be honest, it wasn’t something I thought I needed as I already had a slow cooker, a rice cooker, a yogurt maker and even a very fancy stove-top pressure cooker, which I had actually just sold because I never used it and it made me feel kind of guilty whenever I saw it. I hadn’t jumped on the Instant Pot bandwagon because I was worried I’d end up with another space hogging but underused kitchen appliance. Receiving one as a gift was a nice surprise that eliminated the new gadget agonizing I sometimes go through, and my mom even offered to take it off my hands if I didn’t feel it was useful to me. So I’ve been drinking the Instant Pot koolaid ever since and here’s how I feel about it.
What’s the Instant Pot good for?
- Cooking beans. Unless you frequently need to whip up a batch of hummus in less than 90 minutes, you need never buy canned beans again. And if you think ahead even a little bit, it’s easy to make extra beans that you can keep in the fridge or freezer for hummus emergencies. Don’t for a second believe that you can cook beans from scratch in 10 minutes, though.
- Making beautiful vegetable stock. It’s a very simple thing to toss a few onions, garlic, carrots, celery and mushrooms into the Pot with some water and herbs and pour out flavourful, clear stock an hour later. No more spending $4 on a litre of the good stuff from the grocery store.
- Having hot steel cut oatmeal ready and waiting when you get up. By programming the Pot to start half an hour before you get up, you can have your oatmeal with no more effort than a bowl of cold cereal any morning of the week. I still eat my Boring Breakfast, but I put everything including the apple into the Pot the night before and program it to cook on high pressure for 3 minutes in the morning. Once it’s cooked and the pressure has come down, the Pot will keep warm until you’re ready to eat.
- Cooking sauces, soups and stews. Those foods that benefit from simmering on the stove for a while work well in the Pot. You can cook them at pressure for a few minutes, then leave them without worry until you’re ready for them. They won’t burn on the bottom of the pan and you don’t need to worry about splattering. You can leave the Pot completely unattended while the tomato sauce cooks.
- Reheating all kinds of foods. The Instant Pot solves some of the problems you may find with reheating things using other methods. I find that a container of food placed in the pot with a small amount of water will reheat quickly and evenly, unlike the microwave which is terribly uneven. Containers can even be stacked to heat multiple things at once. Foods like chili or stew can be reheated quickly without worry about burning the bottom. I was able to heat up a vegan “meat”loaf perfectly in the Pot without the overbaking or drying that happens in the oven.
- Sauteing vegetables before pressure cooking a dish. Unlike a slow cooker, the Instant Pot has a saute function that allows you to brown onions and garlic before adding the rest of the ingredients. I find it heats quickly and to just the right temperature for dry sauteing ingredients. This reduces the number of pans to wash which makes it a plus for me.
- Bringing food to potlucks. The Pot is perfect for reheating food and keeping it warm, but it also has a lid that seals, so you can transport it with food inside and not worry about it spilling in the car on the way over.
Anything that’s not so great?
- Don’t be fooled by the name: nothing is “instant” in the Instant Pot. You need to know that when you see cooking times like 3 minutes for steel cut oats, or 8 minutes for dried beans, they are referring only to the time the food is cooking at pressure. And in the case of the beans, they are referring to presoaked beans. The time required for the Pot to come up to pressure and the cooking time to start varies greatly with the amount of liquid and its temperature. A cup of water takes only a few minutes, but 6 cups takes half an hour. After the pressure cooking time has completed, most foods require a natural release of pressure which will take approximately as long as it took for the pressure to build. This means that cooking a pound of unsoaked chickpeas can take an hour and a half or more. Even if the beans are presoaked, the total time will still be over an hour. My rice cooker is just as fast at cooking brown rice and does a better job.
- You can’t test things for done easily. If you are used to deciding when something has cooked enough by sampling a bit, you’ll have to adjust your style with the Instant Pot. If after the cooking time and pressure release you find that something is not quite done, you have to program the Pot for your best guess of how much time is required, and wait for it to go through the coming up to pressure, cooking, and coming down stages before you can test it again. This is where an excellent recipe and practice helps.
- The sealing ring. Oh, it seals perfectly. But when you cook something with onions, garlic or curry in it, it will hold onto that smell and never let go. Everytime the Pot is used the smell, which becomes an unappealing concoction of everything you’ve ever cooked, fills the kitchen. When you remove the ring and wash it, it continues to emit that odour while it dries. I brought my Pot to a family holiday function in the first week or so of owning it, and my sister-in-law asked if I had added curry to the baked beans. I had not, and who knows, maybe there’s a recipe idea there, but either the flavour had transferred or even the smell was enough to alter the flavour perception.
- It’s big. It takes up quite a bit of space on the counter on in the cupboard.
Three things you need to do when you get your new Instant Pot
Unless you’re experienced with another type of pressure cooker, there’s going to be a learning curve and some things you may not expect. To save you some time and irritation, do these things right away when you get your new pot (or even before).
- Join the Instant Pot Beginners Veg Support group on Facebook. They can answer any question you have and there are files with cooking time tables and other useful information. It is hosted by Jill Nussinow, who describes herself as a pressure cooking, vegetable, vegetarian- and vegan-eating expert RD. She’s written several books on pressure cooking vegan foods, which brings me to the second point –
- Get a copy of Vegan Under Pressure by Jill Nussinow. There is lots of useful information about using pressure cookers in general and specific recipes to get you started.
- Buy a couple of spare sealing rings. These are a few bucks each and well worth it. Reserve one for sweet and neutral things, and one for savoury foods. I notice that Amazon is selling colour coded rings, but I assure you that as long as your sense of smell is at least partially working, you will have no difficulty identifying which is which. I would also consider keeping one as a spare to use at functions so you can reheat and keep food warm without imposing all the flavours of everything you’ve ever cooked on guests. Store that savoury ring in a plastic bag (once perfectly dry) so the smell doesn’t permeate the kitchen.
Is it hard to learn how to use?
Some people are incredibly intimidated by their Instant Pot. It really is quite user friendly and I would encourage you to seek out videos like Jill Nussinow’s. One thing that may surprise you is that though there are many functions, you will really only use the manual pressure and saute functions. You may also use the yogurt setting, but I haven’t done that yet, and can’t speak to it, and is quite a different thing.
The manual that accompanies the Pot is not that great. Have a look at the safety section, then go online or read Vegan Under Pressure for detailed how-to information.
The Facebook Instant Pot Beginners Veg Support group is a wonderful resource as the moderators are very experienced Instant Pot users and their advice is excellent. Their focus is on techniques for vegan foods only, so it’s definitely a worthwhile resource for whole food plant-based eaters.
The bottom line
Sorry Mom. You’ll have to get your own Instant Pot, I’m keeping mine. I find I use it at least once a day, and often more. Even though it is not as instant as the name (and hyperbolic marketing) might suggest, it still cooks beans faster than any other way, and it allows for hands-free cooking of many other things. I’m a bit disappointed that I can’t replace any other appliance completely with it – I still use my rice cooker for rice and grains, and I feel like my slow cooker still has a place too.
I love how I can make something in the afternoon and leave it in the Pot without worrying about it until supper, and I also love how my breakfast is waiting for me in the morning.
They are on sale periodically throughout the year at a pretty big discount and I would recommend you buy one if you have the space for it. I wouldn’t say it’s a life changing tool, but for cooking whole plant foods, it’s certainly a big help in the kitchen.