Imagine a machine capable of producing yogurt, concocting butternut squash soup and cooking rump roast— all in a single day. Now picture one such wonder on your dorm desk or kitchen counter: an appliance developed to heat foods like an oven and sauté like a stovetop. Enter the Instant Pot: a culinary dream for the convenience-driven cook.
Instant Pots, invented by now-CEO of Instant Pot Robert Wang, debuted almost a decade ago in North America as multifunction pressure cookers. The new countertop device promised to prep food faster and with more precision than an oven or slow cooker. These wonders have stormed the kitchen appliance market and are now among the best-selling cookers on Amazon, and even broke Prime Day records in 2018 (CNBC, “How Instant Pot became a kitchen appliance with a cult following and a best-seller on Amazon,” 11.26.2018).
Unlike their close cousin, the stovetop pressure cooker, Instant Pots are electric and shut off on their own. Their superior safety benefits anyone who wants to run to Central Receiving but still come home to something hot and healthy. The Instant Pot takes 90 minutes to cook four pounds of beef; a slow cooker might take five to six hours. The Instant Pot is the electric tea kettle of cookers.
But the Instant Pot isn’t just for your gadget-frenzied parent or even your trendy foodie friend. They hold universal appeal for health-conscious, fast-and-casual dining enthusiasts.
I was gifted an Instant Pot for Christmas and have been dabbling in sweet and savory dishes since. The most daunting part of the process was getting up the courage to read the whole instruction manual which outlined safety features and cleaning directions. My Instant Pot sat on the counter unused for two weeks—an intimidating and dangerous apparatus. Warnings along the lines of “don’t put your finger near the valve or it might burn off” and by the sheer sight of 18 buttons stifled me.
Eventually, I pressed one. From then on, earthy grains, brothy beef or boiled beet aromas wafted through the kitchen. I’m no pro—I’ve only had it for a month—so there were failures sprinkled throughout. I put way too much water with sweet potatoes once and they turned to watery mush. I forgot to add active cultures to yogurt, so it was milk, not yogurt, eight hours later. Nevertheless, I’m impressed that a whole gamut of my recipes from creamy yogurt to al dente quinoa have turned out delectable. Thanks to the advice of a few quality blogs, my aunt’s tips and tricks and my mom’s close reading of the pot’s various safety warnings, my Instant Pot research has been (mostly) fruitful. Here are some of my soon-to-be staples.
As an avid yogurt eater, my Instant Pot version has easily replaced the sugary, store-bought yogurt and saved money. Using the cold-start method—a yogurt-making style my aunt recommended—with only two tablespoons of plain yogurt and a half gallon of ultra-pasteurized whole milk, simply combine them and incubate for eight hours on the “yogurt” button function (yes, yogurt has its own setting!). I left the ingredients in my pot overnight, a monochrome glow in the corner of my kitchen, and found it delicious the next morning: organic, homemade yogurt for the price of a half gallon of milk.
Next, the elusive perfect hard-boiled egg. Forget dealing with sticky peels. Making eight Instant Pot eggs at a time turned out better than stove-top ones you have to hover over. Grains like quinoa, rice and wheat berries cooked evenly and completely. They cooked slower than my online recipe promised, though. The lid pressurizes to the pot, so I tried to avoid removing it during the process.
After a few cooking ventures, I found myself wondering: Is this the perfect pot? Certainly not. The Instant Pot doesn’t quite have the tender hand of a stovetop when it comes to more delicate foods. Vegetables tend to lack the crispness you can achieve by placing them in the oven. Sweet potatoes turn to mush and brussels sprouts and broccoli turned out similarly soft. Also, there is one oft-omitted caveat: The pressure takes five or more minutes to build before the timer starts to cook your food. It also takes a few minutes for the pressure to release from the valve at the end. That “
The Instant Pot has been a confidence builder as much as a beet boiler: It’s gingerly weaning me off the college dining experience and challenging me to move beyond pasta and instant oatmeal. Having it as a constant presence in the kitchen has been an excellent education in the culinary arts. It also reassures me that I can be a (semi) sufficient adult.
I’ve ventured to the next level in cooking I will take with me post-grad: spicy stews and time-sensitive meats I always avoided making on the stove. As I approach graduation in May, I hope to settle into some repeatable recipes to replicate in my own apartment someday, but for now I’ll just focus on feeding some hungry college kids. Tonight I’m having a few friends over, and we’re making chicken and cabbage. We only have frozen meat, but do not fear: it takes only 15 minutes to cook—plenty of time later for board games and a few Netflix episodes.