Instant Pot Review and Shopping Tips:
Unless you never cook, hate gadgets or live under a very large social media-free rock, chances are good that for the past few years you’ve been hearing about the Instant Pot, a cooking tool said to have nearly magical properties by legions of fans. Before you add an Instant Pot to your holiday gift wish list, here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. What It Is: I’m not sure how to break this to those of you hoping for a Harry Potter-approved device, but the Instant Pot is simply an electric pressure cooker with lots of interesting settings. If you’re feeling particularly creative, you can make yogurt or rice, though many hard-core fans go into ecstasies discussing its ability to make the perfect hard boiled egg. The reason many people love the electric version though, is because you can set it and go back to whatever you were doing. Unlike a stove-top pressure cooker, you don’t have to worry about it exploding all over your ceiling. (though to be on the safe side, you should always keep an eye on whatever you’re cooking).
2. Why You Need an Instant Pot: If you’re short on time but want to create delicious, homemade meals, you totally need an Instant Pot. If you have a busy schedule and can’t always find the time to slave over the proverbial hot stove—you should probably get one as well. If you love kitchen gadgets (guilty as charged), love trying to find new ways to prepare vegetables or main dishes so that they’re incredibly flavorful but not full of preservatives or oil, you totally need an Instant Pot. It’s faster than a stove, will help you save money on things you haven’t necessarily been paying attention to, like chickpeas. I always felt vaguely guilty about all the canned chickpeas we consume, but never had the time or patience to soak and cook ’em. With the Instant Pot, you create an expedited process so that after soaking the beans for as long as you prefer, you go from dried beans to hummus or roasted chickpeas in under an hour.
3. Why You Don’t: Remember the part where I told you that it isn’t magic? Well, it really isn’t. If you have too many gadgets that are barely used once a year, you probably can do without another one. While the Instant Pot has a whole bunch of settings, it can’t infuse celery with enough taste to make it a James Beard-worthy dish.
4. Before You Buy: While I’m usually a well-educated impulse buyer, for some reason I put a whole lot of thought into my purchase of an Instant Pot. I was curious what people I knew thought about the Instant Pot, so I asked my social media buddies their thoughts. Some raved. Some barely mustered a meh. Some shared horror stories; others, their great and tasty successes. Some wondered what it was and why we needed it; a few shared their belief that it was simply a well-marketed gadget. I researched some more. I scoured Google. An article in the New York Times helped me understand that the Instant Pot was no longer an oddity, but a bona fide cooking tool in serious kitchens. In the end, I think I ordered one more out of curiosity than the belief that it was the holy grail cooking tool.
5. Size Matters: Earlier this year, the folks at Instant Pot introduced a smaller version of the original—a 3-quart vs the original 6-quart size. Since I tend to overcook at the best of times, I thought this would be a good option for me, since I mostly cook for two. I researched further though, and discovered that the smaller size also had lower wattage (700 watts as opposed to 1,000) which means that it can take longer to create the steam necessary to cook. Since the entire time difference was barely a minute, I wasn’t too troubled about it though.
6. Manage Your Expectations: Yes! Your Instant Pot really will be able to cook steel cut oats in about 3 minutes *BUT* that’s just the actual pressure cooking part. The unit requires time to build up a steam strong enough to cook and then it needs time to actually cook and cool down again to make it safe to the touch. It isn’t magic, it’s just clever technology that makes pressure cooking easier to manage.
7. Educate Yourself: I watched a lot of YouTube videos about random people cooking with their Instant Pots. Some were adorable, some were slick and overproduced, some were downright atrocious and more than a little bit freaky. What I learned more than anything were the unspoken cues—the fact that you never ever reach over the steam valve to release it, but are better off reaching behind using a long-handled kitchen tool. I learned that when the unit is finally cooled and you can open the pot, you should lift the lid so that it faces away from you, so that you’re not assailed by a cloud of potentially burning hot steam. I watched and listened, so that by the time I actually used my Instant Pot for the first time, I felt comfortable and not freaked out.
8. Prepare for a Learning Curve: It’s inevitable. Your stewed pears might taste vile, and your stew might be more like mush. Follow the instructions and test the unit out with plain water as your first go-round to be sure you’re doing it right. And for your first recipe, don’t be ambitious. Chickpeas are your friends.
9. Descriptions Are Only Descriptions: Many people adore the saute function, but I found that to be a somewhat misleading descriptor since for instance, I can’t quite achieve the same level of browning that I might in a sauce pan. I also miss the ability to use a handle and shake the ingredients around; I used a silicon-tipped spatula to gently push/stir instead. That said, The Instant Pot is ideal for sauteing meat (or so I’m told, I’m generally a vegetarian). And don’t limit yourself to only one setting, since you can nicely brown some tofu along the edges without quite considering it a full saute.
10. Get Social: People take their Instant Pots very very seriously. A search on Facebook will uncover Instant Pot recipe groups with hundreds of thousands of members and a strict policy on how to join and rules on how to remain a member. While it’s a good tool for learning as you go, some may find themselves intimidated by the zealotry expressed by many. You’ll also learn a lot of Instant Pot slang like PIP (pot in pot, if you cook layered dishes).
In the end, I bought the 3-quart mini size and like it so far. I’ll keep you posted in the coming months!
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