My Favourite Smart Thing

Instant Pot lives up (deliciously) to the hype

Orange chicken
Orange chicken is a slam dunk in the Instant Pot. Look for the recipe for this dish in the sidebar to this story.

Popular small appliance wins praise for saving time on food prep

Chelsea Watt
bchydro.com

If you've been anywhere near recipe or lifestyle blogs the past few years, chances are you've heard of the Instant Pot. The Amazon bestseller boasts pages and pages of positive reviews – 4.5 stars with almost 3,500 customers weighing in, which stacks up to pretty universal praise.

It was the hot ticket item on Amazon Prime Day, selling thousands of units in one day. Black Friday a few weeks ago was about the same.

You don't have to go far to find glowing reviews, like this one from popular blog The Kitchn. But is it worth all the hype, or is this just another fad we'll all forget by next year – a kitchen appliance version of Pokemon Go?

Short answer: yes, it's worth it.

Long answer: If you've ever considered a pressure cooker but were put off by the cautionary tales of sauce explosions, or can't stand the thought of another kitchen appliance cluttering up the counter, the Instant Pot is for you.

It's also a great choice for anyone looking to get further ahead on their meal prep, save time, or save energy.  

Instant Pot primer: all about the basics

For anyone who's managed to escape the countless recipes, blogs, reviews and cookbooks devoted to the Instant Pot, a quick primer: it's a 7-in-1 multicooker appliance that promises to replace the traditional slow cooker, an electric pressure cooker, a steamer, a rice cooker, and even a yogurt maker, sauté pan, and a warming pot (which is a function of most slow cookers these days).

It comes in a variety of sizes, and newer models include a smart Bluetooth version that lets you download recipe scripts that you can share with friends.

It sounds like a lot, and I'm the first to admit that my Instant Pot hasn't replaced all of those appliances for me – because I never owned them to begin with.

I have a traditional slow cooker and a pile of regular old pots and pans. Until I bought my IP, I'd never used a pressure cooker, and I have to admit I still haven't attempted to make my own yogurt. I've always cooked rice and other grains in a pot (with varying degrees of success).

Those days are done; I've embraced the pressure cooker life.

What makes it so great?

So what makes the Instant Pot such a winner? It comes down to convenience and results.

Slow cookers have long been championed for their set-it-and-forget-it options, perfect for anyone who wants to come home to simmering pots of stew or a hearty chili.

I'm talking about rich stews and soups in under 90 minutes (including chopping and browning). Whole chicken breasts that cook without drying out in less than 20 minutes.

But while newer slow cooker models often have multiple temperature settings, fancy timers and stainless steel pots that allow for sautéing, those who grew up with the slow cookers of the 80s and 90s may remember a simpler time with "hot" and "warm" functions, and not much else.

And even the best slow cooker lives up to its name: they're slow – typically a few hours even for the fastest recipes.

That's where the Instant Pot wins over most people, me included – with its electric pressure cooker function. I'm talking about rich stews and soups in under 90 minutes (including chopping and browning). Whole chicken breasts that cook without drying out in less than 20 minutes.

Some of my favourite features of the Instant Pot, compared to other kitchen appliances:

  • Making dishes that call for browning meat or vegetables first is easy, because you can do it right in the pot. If your slow cooker is already stainless steel, this might not be a big deal for you, but my slow cooker features a ceramic pot that you can't heat to high temperatures.
  • The pot design is deeper than a standard saucepan or pot; my 8-quart Duo is sized somewhere between a stockpot and a Dutch oven. That means grease isn't flying everywhere when I'm browning beef for chili, and batch-cooking large quantities or doubling recipes isn't a problem like it would be in many other appliances.
  • If you cook a lot of rice and other grains in a rice cooker, you may be won over by the chance to cut your kitchen appliances down by one. I love the foolproof rice cooker option without the need to go buy a separate appliance.
  • I'm still a fan of steaming vegetables over a pot of water using a steamer basket, but for large quantities, like if I need to boil potatoes to turn into mashed potatoes, the size of the Instant Pot makes it perfect for steaming – and you retain more nutritional value when you steam veggies vs boiling them. Not to mention using a small appliance like the IP uses far less energy than a boiling pot of water on the stove.
  • Because it's so popular, and everyone has the same brand, you're never at a loss for recipes that you can replicate with great results. There's no wondering whether a temperature or time setting on a pressure cooker recipe will be the same on yours. We're all working from the same playbook.

And no review from BC Hydro would be complete without mentioning one key fact: cooking in an Instant Pot uses way less energy compared to your stove or oven. The folks at Instant Pot put it at around 70% less energy, cooking food two to six times faster, but that will depend on your specific appliance and recipe.

My top tips for an Instant Pot beginner

The number one tip for anyone new to Instant Pot is to read the instructions that come in the box – and then to read them again.

They're long and seem complicated, but after you run the recommended test and cook one or two things, it's actually super simple to use. I was more than a little afraid the first time I used the pressure cook function, but the convenience and speed have swept away any residual anxiety.

Another key tip – if you're doing quick release of pressure on a recipe, wrap a towel around your hand or wear a large and sturdy oven mitt to flip the valve. The Instant Pot is very safe, but the steam that comes pouring out is no joke.

And finally, any research about the Instant Pot will probably tell you that the silicone sealing ring retains food odors – mine features a perpetual smell of rosemary no matter how many times I wash it.

But that doesn't seem to translate into the food; I don't notice any odd flavours showing up in recipes where they don't belong. If you use your pot for a lot of baking or cook a lot of recipes with intense spices, you can buy additional sealing rings to keep things separate, but I've never really noticed the need.

2 great Instant Pot recipes: hard "boiled" eggs, orange chicken

Chelsea Watt is an editor with bchydro.com.