or How I Broke Down and Jumped On the Bandwagon
I haven’t always been quick to adopt new technology.
I don’t use Snapchat,
I still enjoy playing games on the Wii that I got for my 30th birthday (I’m about to celebrate 39),
And I recently upgraded my smartphone… to an iPhone 5s!
What can I say? Maybe I’m just easy to please, or things aren’t really that empty or unfulfilling in my life that I need to run out get the next big thing. Whatever the case may be, there are many of tech trends that end up passing me by.
That’s the way I felt about the Instant Pot pressure cooker.
Like a true hipster, I thought to myself, “Anything that gets this popular this quickly can’t really be all that great. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to clean up the yogurt milk that boiled-over onto the stovetop.” When I read it aloud, it sounds like really pathetic logic: if a kitchen gadget is taking the world by storm, maybe I should pay attention and find out what’s so great about it.
People started asking me for my expert opinion (look at me, Mom! I’m an influencer!), to which I had to admit, “I’m too cool for one of those new-fangled contraptions! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to put a pork roast into the slow-cooker for the next 5 hours.”
My wife was the one to give in and order one (because she, after all, knows a good thing when she sees it. Obviously), and I’m glad she did because, since the truck delivered it to our front door, we have hardly stopped using it. We’ve had that puppy running at least once every other day. I’m absolutely hooked (much like the time a buddy of mine told me about Mike Rowe’s podcast, the Way I Heard It. I’ve listened to every episode, and now I’m going back and listening to them all again).
So what makes the Instant Pot so wonderful, so trendy, so revolutionary? Well, I’m glad you asked!
What is an Instant Pot pressure cooker?
At first look, the Instant Pot appears to be a cross between a slow cooker and a pressure cooker - and that’s actually a pretty accurate description. The device combines the electronic programmability of a modern slow cooker with the speed and efficiency of a pressure cooker; throw in the bonus features of sauteing and the manual pressure quick-release and you have yourself a kitchen powerhouse.
Comparison: Instant Pot vs Slow Cooker
In this hectic modern life of ours, multi-tasking is a necessity to get things done, and that’s just what a slow cooker allows you to do: cook a tender pot roast or stew while you’re out working or shopping or mowing the lawn or other adulting-style activities. It’s the very definition of “set it and forget it.”
The new models provide users with an amazing array of features, including the ability to monitor and adjust settings by way of an app on your smartphone. There you go, hackers - not only can you access my bank account; now you can totally ruin supper!
Full disclosure: I’m still rockin’ out with the old-school variety - the one with High, Medium, Low and Off settings, or about the same amount of control as an oscillating fan.
Generally speaking, slow cookers have several key disadvantages. First of all, they are, by name and nature, slow. Getting the dish to finish on time requires proper planning and preparation - thawing things out, getting it into the device by a certain time, and setting it just the right way. What if you don’t have the time? What if you’re in a pinch to get it done? Your options are limited.
Second, long cooking processes like that of a slow cooker tend to break down foods in such a way that not only tenderizes them but kills valuable nutrients as well. Home cooking is generally better than pre-made or processed foods, but “low-and-slow” sacrifices some of the healthy benefits of the fresh ingredients.
Last is the matter of browning (or what us fancy people call the Maillard Reaction in our worst French accent). Roasts, stews, and soups all benefit from the color-forming and flavor-developing step of browning meats and vegetables. Unfortunately, many slow cookers don’t get hot enough to produce this reaction, or, if they do, it takes a while for them to muster up the energy. In most cases, you’re stuck putting everything on the stove top first and then transferring them to the cooker to finish up the process. That’s not much of a one-pot meal, is it?
That’s where the Instant Pot shines:
The ability to pressurize the containment device can give you the result of what would be a 4-hour process in a slow cooker in about an hour. Want to set it and forget it? Use the delay function to suspend the start of the process until later, or go ahead and cook now and let the Instant Pot automatically switch to Keep Warm when the process is done.
The expedited cooking time delivers the same tenderness of slow-cooking while retaining more of the nutrient content. It’s the best of both worlds!
What about browning? The Instant Pot has a Saute function with three heat settings to allow everything from a light color to a deep char on meats and veggies after which you deglaze, add the rest of the ingredients, lock down the top and switch to the next cooking function - all in one pot.
Comparison: Instant Pot vs Pressure Cooker
The pressure cooker is a pretty ingenious contraption. It creates a pressurized environment under which foods get tender faster while staying moist and juicy. All it takes is a special pot with a lid that clamps down, along with these funny-looking pressure knobs that rest on top of the air outtake valve that makes a consistently inconsistent whistling sound that drives you out of your freaking mind.
I know, every home cook’s dream. I’m sure glad those Canadians thought up a different way!
What does the Instant Pot do for pressure cooking?
It provides an internal heat source, thereby reducing wasted energy and increasing control.
It has built-in sensors for heat and pressure, thereby eliminating the weird pressure knobs, and the hissing, and the constantly monitoring and adjusting the heat in order to keep the pressure in balance.
It provides options on how to bring the pressure back down, either by letting it reduce gradually on its own or by performing a quick release to get things out and onto the table faster.
What can you do with an Instant Pot?
It’s amazing the amount of versatility built into this kitchen device. Here are some of the Instant Pot preparations I have used already and some I have yet to try (note that not all functions are found in every model):
Instant Pot for Soup, Stew, and Beans
There is a wide range of functions for different types of soup-style dishes. For example, there are three settings for beans, allowing you to prepare anything from tiny lentils and split peas up to thicker kidney beans and garbanzos.
Instant Pot for Roasts
I love me some pulled pork, so I was anxious to see how the Instant Pot would perform at getting a roast tender and juicy. I used the Saute function to brown the meat in batches, removing them to another container. After that, I threw in some chopped onions and sweated them down in the delicious drippings. Deglazing with a little white wine, I put the pork back inside with a bit of chicken broth and locked down the lid.
To finish the pork, I switched from Saute to Pressure Cook on High for 30 minutes. It took about 15-20 to pressurize, cooked the 30 minutes, then another 10-15 minutes to release the pressure. Opening the lid, I found the pork tender, juicy, and easy to shred.
Instant Pot for Yogurt
We have been making our own yogurt at home for a few years now. The process usually involves heating the milk, cooling the milk, pouring the milk into jars containing starter, mixing everything up in the jars, placing lids on the jars, and placing the jars into an insulated container with hot pads and soaked towels to allow the cultures to grow and develop over the next day. This means constantly tripping over a big cooler sitting on the floor of the kitchen for 24 hours.
With the Instant Pot, I can heat, cool, mix, and ferment the yogurt inside the pot (with a built-in timer to let me know when it’s done), after which I simply pour or scoop it into containers and refrigerate it. It’s so much easier, and I think the finished product turns out better, too.
Instant Pot for Rice
It looks like a rice cooker, and it works like a rice cooker. In fact, it even has built-in settings for making cakes, which may seem a bit funny to us in the States but is often how the Japanese and others use their rice cookers. I haven’t tried it yet, but I plan to give it a whirl very soon.
Models of Instant Pot
As with many modern tools of the trade, there is an array of models from which to choose, varying in their size and available settings. There are also many knock-off varieties, but you don’t end of saving all that much, so I didn’t see it being worth the risk (not for something I plan on using 3-4 times a week for the foreseeable future). No, my family purchased the Instant Pot 8 Quart Duo Plus. We have a lot of mouths to feed, so we thought the larger model was worth the extra investment.
Of course, you can find many models of Instant Pot on Amazon, and if you follow my affiliate links here in this article, a small percentage of your purchase price goes to support my efforts to provide you with entertaining and informative content, so it’s a great way to get a great product and show your love for Cookin’ with Kibby.
I hope you find this helpful in your quest for better home cooking. I sure was surprised by how much of an impact the Instant Pot has had in my home, so when you decide to purchase one, let me know what you think of it. If you already own one, tell me what it is you like about it and maybe your favorite dish to make in it.