If you like to cook, you are probably aware of a product known as the Instant Pot, the first in what is now a growing list To Buy or Not to Buy: Pros and Cons of the Instant Pot of multifunctional electric pressure cookers from various manufacturers. These cookers are basically a one-stop super cooking machine, combining six or more functions into one: that is, an electric pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, steamer, warmer, that can also sauté, and make yogurt.
Ever since the Instant Pot appeared on the scene in 2009, millions of these super pressure cookers have been sold, and based on reviews online and elsewhere, many people love them. But that love affair wasn’t always instant. In fact, many women report that after getting an Instant Pot (or a similar cooker), it was months or even a year before they actually used it. But why?
It seems that this 4-, 6-, or 8-quart device can be intimidating. After all, it purports to do so many things! Could it be true? How difficult is it to use? Where should one begin?
As way of full disclosure: At the time I wrote this piece, I did not own one of these devices, nor did I have any experience using one. Therefore, I bring no personal bias to the table. Instead, I scoured hundreds of reviews and comments and talked with people who do or don’t own one.
Positives about Multifunctional Electric Pressure Cookers
These cookers score a lot of positives, with some users speaking about them as if they were their best friend. Naturally, not each brand of these cookers gets the same rating from consumers, and much of what has been written concerns the Instant Pot. Here is a synopsis of what people love about the multifunctional electric pressure cookers.
- Tough meat ends up tender and moist. This means you can purchase less expensive cuts of meat and end up with a great result.
- It’s a great time saver (but not in all cases; see below). Fill the pot, set the timer, press the activity, and let the pot do what it does best. One pot, one stop meals. Slow cookers also do the same thing, but they typically take much longer (thus the “slow” part of the name). Multifunctional cookers also offer the slow cooker feature, however, so you still have that option.
- They use less power overall and are better insulated than are slow cookers. We all like to save energy!
- They keep food warm after it is done cooking.
- It makes broth (including vegetable and bone broth) in just a few hours rather than 24. Obviously a great time saver if you make a lot of broth.
- They don’t heat up the kitchen. This is a good feature especially for those of us who live in warmer climates.
- The devices have a warming function you can turn off when the food is done cooking so it doesn’t continue to receive heat. Yet the food stays warm because the pot is well sealed.
- If you have a small kitchen, the all-in-one feature can’t be beat (unless, of course, you want to make two or more things at the same time, such as stew, yogurt, and broth
Downsides of a multifunctional electric pressure cooker
Even some of the people who love their multifunctional electric pressure cookers point out a few of the downsides. Let’s face it: nothing is perfect nor will fit everyone’s needs. Instant Pot and its cousins are appliances, and they have a way of malfunctioning or breaking. With that in mind, here’s what some users have to say about the downsides.
- Beware of the “instant” promise. Some recipes may take longer than making them a more conventional way because you need to allow time for the pressure to build up as well as come down. These additional minutes are usually not stated when you look at recipes. For example, it takes 7 minutes to cook spaghetti squash in the electric cooker, but it really takes 21 (10 minutes for pressure to build, 7 minutes to cook, and 4 (or more) for pressure to come down).
- If you like more hands-on cooking, using this appliance takes away that pleasure for you. That’s because you are supposed to theoretically just put everything into the pot and forget about it until it’s done.
- If you like to check on cooking progress along the way, this cooker is not for you. In order to check on your food, you will need to allow the pressure to subside, check the food, and then wait while the pressure rebuilds. You can’t just lift the lid, poke at the food, and make an assessment.
- A similar problem is that if you want to add an ingredient once you have begun to build up pressure, you will need to depressurize and start all over again.
- Devices that can do “everything” may have a tendency to break more readily. If one function fails, then you may be unable to use one or more of the other functions.
- If you have a large family, the Instant Pot may be too small for your needs. The pots are available in 4-, 6-, and 8-quarts, and for some families, it may mean needing two cookers. Size matters, because for safety and correct operation, you should fill the cooker no more than two-thirds full. That means you can safely put only 3.5 quarts of food in a 6-quart cooker.
- Cooking vegetables can be a challenge. A common remark was to skip doing veggies in the cooker because you don’t save any time and you often end up with overcooked food. Combining vegetables that don’t need the same amount of cooking also is a problem, unlike preparing veggies on the stove.
- Soup is another food that some people say is not worth making in the cooker, unless it contains raw meat. Otherwise, the thought was that soup is usually easy to make on a stovetop, so why bother with the cooker.
We’ll leave it up to you to decide if this method of cooking is for you. Do you own an Instant Pot? Let us know in the comments what you discover, your tips, and links to some of your favorite recipes for your Instant Pot.
Clark M. Why do cooks love the Instant Pot? I bought one to find out. New York Times 2017 Jan 31
20 things to know before you buy an Instant Pot. Don’t Waste the Crumbs.com 2017 Nov 20
Harris K. Are Instant Pots all they are hyped up to be? 2017 Jul 27