It’s that season… the season of great deals and really, the best time of year to buy an Instant Pot if you are in the market. Well, we went for it last year, and it’s definitely earned its keep over the past year. (We even used it for processing maple syrup!) If you’re considering the Instant Pot, here are just a few things I think you should know:
1. It should be called the “Relatively Instant Pot.” 🤔
You need to understand the difference between posted recipe times and actual time-in-pot. You will see recipes that say cook your carrots in the instant pot for 2 minutes, or hard-boil eggs in 2 minutes, or a chicken for 20 minutes, which sounds truly instant. What you need to know is that the pot needs to heat up and pressurize before the timer starts, and that will add roughly 10 minutes on the front end. Also, on the back end, once the veggies have pressure-cooked for 2 minutes you need to give the pot some time to depressurize before you can open the lid. Depending on how aggressive you are with pushing the pressure valve down to let air out, this will add roughly 10-20 minutes on the back end. So really, your “2-minute carrots” will be in the pot for 22 minutes anyways.
2. It makes incredibly tender, juicy meat. 👍
Logistics aside, this is how the Instant Pot won a place in our hearts. Especially if you buy tougher cuts of meat, or healthier grass-fed meat that tends to be tougher than grain-fed, the pressure-cooking process works wonders on tenderizing that toughness. Also, the Instant Pot creates a completely sealed environment that keeps all the juices in. This is unlike your oven or Crock-Pot where you will lose some of the meat juices to evaporation. We were always disappointed with meat from the Crock-Pot for one of two reasons. If you didn’t completely submerge the meat in broth, it would come out dry. If you completely submerged the meat in liquid, it would pull some of the flavor out of the meat. The sealed Instant Pot environment keeps all the liquid AND flavor in the meat, even without submerging the meat.
3. Intense cooking makes it hard to combine meat and vegetables. 👎
The wonderful thing about one-pot meals is you can throw all the ingredients in at one time — your roast, your veggies, and forget about it until everything is nice and soft and the flavors have blended — those delicious carrots and onions tinged with meat flavor. Unfortunately with the Instant Pot, the pressure cooking is so intense that if you cook the carrots and onions as long as the meat, they will be complete mush. Many recipes will suggest cooking the meat for a predetermined amount of time, depressurizing at some point, adding your vegetables, and then re-pressurizing to finish the meal off all together. Well, if you recall the discussion about time-in-pot, you will realize this de-pressurizing and re-pressurizing process is going to add about 20 minutes of attention in the middle of your cooking time. This is hardly set-it-and-forget-it. I have never actually done this myself. Instead I will either let the vegetables go to mush and then puree them so the mushiness is an asset (and we all love some mashed roots in this house) or cook them some other way.
4. Many things are healthier cooked in the Instant Pot. 👍
More vegetable nutrients are preserved when pressure cooked. Proteins are made more digestible when pressure cooked. A number of bad actors, like phytic acid and lectins (which are anti-nutrients) are reduced when pressure cooked. This is particularly important for high-lectin foods, such as beans and nightshades (tomatoes, eggplants, etc.) I would recommend using an Instant Pot for beans particularly, if you eat them a lot. One questionable use may be for making bone broth. Apparently pressure cooking can greatly increase the glutamine levels in bone broth, which in some individuals may result in similar effects to MSG.
5. Poultry presentation requires more work. 👎
If food presentation matters to you, or you like a crispy skin, you should know you’ll want to take additional steps beyond the Instant Pot cooking. Chickens will be juicy and tender, but they will come out looking pale and sickly. There is no drying or browning action of the skin in an Instant Pot, so many recipes for preparing a chicken will recommend shifting the chicken into the oven for the final minutes. This extra step kind of defeats the convenience benefits of the Instant Pot, and we like our chicken skins crispy, so we have continued making our chickens in the stove over the Instant Pot. Turkey meat is a little tougher, so we much prefer the tender results of the Instant Pot and ignore the presentation issues. (Or chop it up into a turkey pot pie so it doesn’t matter.)
6. The Instant Pot is much more energy efficient than the Crock-Pot. 👍
In my experimentation I found the Instant Pot to use about 1/3 of the electricity required to make the same meal in the Crock-Pot. Based on some earlier experimentation measuring energy use of making maple syrup in the Instant Pot vs. the Crock-Pot, I decided to test the efficiency of making a roast in the Instant Pot vs. the Crock-Pot. I bought two similar-sized beef roasts and prepared one in the Instant Pot and one in the Crock-Pot, using my Kill-A-Watt meter to measure the electrical output. Cooking the roast in my Crock-Pot on high for 6 hours used roughly 1.5 kw of electricity. Sautéing and then cooking it in the Instant Pot for 75 minutes used about .5 kw of electricity. Depending on the cost of your electricity, the monetary savings is not huge here, but if you cook a lot and this sort of thing matters to you, the energy savings can add up over time. More notable to my family was how much more tender and juicy the Instant Pot roast was compared to the Crock-Pot roast. (See point #2.)
Have you purchased the Instant Pot? What do you most like about it? Or not like about it? Add your thoughts in the comment section to help others make a more informed decision!