What is an Instant Pot, how does it work, and why you will LOVE it (if you don't already!). Here are all the details!
This guest post is written by my good friend/AKA Instant Pot master Megan. You can see more of her work on Instagram @instantlymeg.
The Instant Pot is definitely a buzz word in the kitchen these days, but what exactly does it do and why should you want one yourself? Maybe you already have one that’s been sitting in the box for a year now and you’re just not sure where to start. I am going to walk you through exactly what the Instant Pot does, why you’re going to want to bust out the one you’ve had for two Christmases now, or if you don’t have one yet, what one will work the best for you!
What does the Instant Pot do?
So what does this appliance do and why is there so much hype?
The Instant Pot is actually the name brand of one kind of electric pressure cooker that has taken over the market place. Essentially, it combines several appliances into just one. Yes, it is a pressure cooker, but it is also a rice cooker, steamer, slow cooker, and yogurt maker, with varying options among the different models.
With the now popular electrical pressure cookers, that advantage extends to the ability to “set it and forget it” much like a slow cooker, and you can busy yourself with other things while dinner is cooking itself. But unlike a slow cooker, you don’t need to remember to start it in the morning since it cooks much faster.
So how does it cook faster? Let me get a little scientific.
The pressure cooker traps the hot air and moisture and increases the atmospheric pressure so that the steam can be heated above the normal maximum temperature of 212º. Because of this allowed increase in temperature of the trapped steam surrounding the food, it can cook faster. Additionally, since the moisture is trapped inside, the food doesn’t dry out.
How is the Instant Pot different than a stovetop pressure cooker?
Essentially they cook food the same way, but there are significant differences.
Besides the obvious, one is plugged in and one requires heat from a stovetop, the stovetop pressure cooker cooks at a higher psi (pounds per square inch), about 15 psi as opposed to the Instant Pot at 9-12 psi. Therefore a stovetop pressure cooker will cook faster, so if you are converting a stovetop recipe you will need to add about 25% more time for an electric pressure cooker.
A stovetop pressure cooker also releases a small continuous stream of steam (thus the ticking time bomb image you may have in your head when you think of a pressure cooker), while the Instant Pot keeps the steam completely contained inside the pot. So a stovetop pressure cooker will require just a tiny bit more water, about ¼ cup. It also requires a little more babysitting than the Instant Pot because once it comes to pressure you need to adjust the heat level to maintain just the right pressure. All of that is automatic in the Instant Pot.
Another advantage to the Instant Pot is how customizable it is. It comes with several different cooking options and buttons that change the temperature and pressure level based on what you are cooking. The stovetop pressure cooker only has a couple of knobs on the lid to monitor and release pressure.
But what if you already have a beloved crock pot? Why would you use a pressure cooker instead? Let’s look at what exactly is a crock pot.
A crock pot is a specific brand of a type of slow cooker that came on the market in 1970. Although there are many brands of this type of slow cooker, crock pot has become the term used generally in describing the slow cookers we are familiar with today, much like Instant Pot has for electric pressure cookers. It has a ceramic or porcelain pot that sits inside a heating element, and uses moist heat to cook food over a long period of time. However, not all slow cookers are crock pots; A slow cooker can also have a metal pot that sits on top of a heating element and requires frequent stirring to prevent scorching on the bottom. Because of the release of heat each time the lid is opened to stir, it usually takes a little more time than a crock pot to cook food.
So the main difference between the crock pot and the Instant Pot is the amount of time it takes to cook food. Many will argue, as well, that the Instant Pot produces better quality food just because of the science behind how it cooks. But the Instant Pot also has so many other functions that allow for a wider variety of food to be cooked. Not to mention it has a slow cook function, too, but with mixed reviews. If you really need the slow cook function, you might still be better off with your crock pot. But I have yet to find a food that I wouldn’t rather cook in the Instant Pot.
Is the Instant Pot dangerous?
Maybe you haven’t taken your Instant Pot out of the box yet because you’re scared to use it. You wouldn’t be alone in that sentiment, and in the history of pressure cookers there have been some scary situations, but let’s look at the facts.
Electric pressure cookers today are much safer than their stovetop counterparts, and they have several built-in advanced safety features to prevent explosions and other hazards. But they are not immune to user error, and there are still some safety precautions to take.
- Watch the max fill line and don’t overfill the pot. As a rule of thumb only fill 2/3 full; if you are cooking food that will expand like rice, only fill half full.
- Keep your hands and face away from the steam valve when releasing pressure.
- Do not cover the steam valve when releasing pressure.
- Do not try to open the lid until the pin has dropped, and don’t try to manipulate the pin (by pushing on it or jiggling the lid) to make it drop faster.
- If the integrity of the sealing ring is compromised, then your instant pot may not seal properly as it builds pressure. Clean and air out the sealing ring between uses to prevent mold, and replace every year or so as needed.
Okay, so now you feel a little safer using an electric pressure cooker, but there are so many options! What one should you buy?
Choosing the right pressure cooker for you
While there are several different brands of electric pressure cookers, we are going to focus specifically on the Instant Pot brand. Still, Instant Pot carries several different models. Let’s take a look at a few of the most popular models and the different features of each one.
Instant Pot LUX 6-in-1: This is the baseline Instant Pot model, and the only one I do not recommend buying. Like the name suggests, it has 6 different functions. Three things to note about this model:
- This is the only Instant Pot that has only one high pressure setting; all other models have low and high pressure options.
- There is no yogurt function; you may be thinking I’m never going to make yogurt, but this function is also useful for proofing bread; and you may decide that you actually do want to make yogurt after you try it!
- There is no place to put the lid like there is on other models.
The LUX is the cheapest option, and it does have a cake and egg button (which I never use), but it’s worth the extra $10-20 to buy the DUO.
Instant Pot DUO 7-in-1: The DUO has 7 different functions, including the yogurt function, and has the option for high or low pressure, but it does not have a cake and egg button. This is the original Instant Pot and has all the programs you’ll want in a pressure cooker. It also has the handy lid feature where you can secure it on the side of the pot so it’s out of the way. This is the one I recommend for a first time pressure cooker.
Instant Pot DUO EVO Plus: One of the newest Instant Pots on the scene (and quite possibly my favorite ever) is the Duo Evo Plus. This model comes up to pressure quicker, has a smart button + dial control panel, and best of all, IT HAS HANDLES! The handles stay cool making it easy to transfer the pot when needed.
Instant Pot DUO NOVA 7-in-1: The DUO NOVA has all the same functions as the DUO, but the lid has been improved to include a smart steam release valve. This means that the valve will automatically close when you secure the lid so that you don’t have to remember to make sure the valve is on ‘sealing’.
Instant Pot DUO Plus 9-in-1: The DUO Plus is similar to the DUO, with a few added features. It has a cake and egg button, as well as a sterilize button, and has been upgraded with a blue LCD screen which can help you keep track of where it is in the cooking process.
Instant Pot Ultra 10-in-1: The Ultra has a completely redesigned display screen with a dial that allows you to scroll through the different cooking functions. It still has all the same cooking programs as the DUO, with the added Egg and Sterilize buttons, as well as an Ultra button that allows you to cook sous vide. Even more, if you want precise cooking parameters, you can adjust the altitude, temperature, and cooking time for more exact cooking using the Ultra button.
The model you choose really depends on the kind of cook you are and what type of things you make the most. I always recommend the DUO as a good first Instant Pot, and then you can upgrade later. There’s a good chance you will want more than one Instant Pot as you start using it more and more! I’ve been known to use 3 Instant Pots at once for one meal.
The next question is size. All of the models I highlighted come in 3qt, 6qt, and 8qt sizes. I always recommend the 6qt size to start. Most recipes you will find use a 6qt, and it fits a decent amount of food for a family of 6-8. But you can also easily cook a smaller amount of food if you’re only cooking for 1 or 2 people.
That being said, I know a lot of people who absolutely love having the 3qt for a second Instant Pot to make side dishes or yogurt; and the 8qt is a nice size to have for corn on the cob or big batches of soup or bone broth. Like I said, you will quickly find you need more than one Instant Pot!
Getting started with your Instant Pot
So you are finally convinced that you need the Instant Pot in your life, but what is the best way to start? There are a few things to keep in mind as you decide what to cook and how to time it.
- Find recipes that only require a couple of ingredients to get you familiar with how it works. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Keep in mind the amount of time it will take to come to pressure. The biggest misconception with the Instant Pot is that it is “instant”. It does take time to come to pressure, and the fuller it is and colder the ingredients, the longer it will take.
- Become familiar with the terms quick release (QR) and natural pressure release (NPR). Some foods do better with NPR such as meat or soups, so after it’s done cooking you would let it sit and naturally release pressure until the pin drops. Other foods require QR so they don’t get mushy like pasta and vegetables. In that case you would turn the steam release valve to venting once it is done cooking.
- Don’t get frustrated and give up too easily! I always tell people if it doesn’t work the first time, keep trying! If you get a BURN notice, open the lid and figure out why it burned so next time you know how to avoid it. If your food didn’t completely cook through when the time is done, put it back in for another minute or so, depending on what you’re cooking, and make note of it for next time. Remember that every Instant Pot can function a little differently, so the time that works for you might be a little different than what the recipe says. IT’S OK!! The more you use it, the more confident you will become.
Once you are on your way to becoming an Instant Pot pro (but by no means do you need to be a pro), expand your recipe profile and try for breakfast Instant Pot Breakfast Casserole or Instant Pot Cinnamon Oatmeal.
Even if you are trying to eat healthily, you must make the most amazing cheesecake you will ever have — Instant Pot White Chocolate Lemon Cheesecake. Or try the Instant Pot Molten Chocolate Lava Cake.
There are several accessories for the Instant Pot, as well, that can help you expand your recipe options even more. If you have silicone egg bite trays, then you will be able to make the perfect poached egg every single time. And if you haven’t tried these cute little Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins, you’re missing out! There are also different baskets to fit in the Instant Pot that make cooking vegetables and bone broth a lot easier.
Options for cooking in the Instant Pot are endless, and pretty soon you’re going to wonder how you ever lived without it!
I hope this Instant Pot guide helped you! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions!
Blog post written by Megan AKA Instantly Meg. Follow her on Instagram to see all of her unique creations!