What You Need to Know Before Buying an Instant Pot

I managed to make it through last Christmas season without buying myself an Instant Pot.
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That’s when I first heard of the Instant Pot and everyone was raving about it. It’s a pressure cooker! It makes yogurt! It’s a rice cooker! It’s a slow cooker! And then a dozen other exciting features all in one. I resisted though. And I pushed it back to the bottom of my needs list. After all, I can easily cook rice on the stove top and I have two slow cookers already.

But then my large, 6 qt. slow cooker pooped out on me. I was left with my small slow cooker. Me, with my first world problems, thought the timing was ideal. The Instant Potshall come forth to replace the lost small appliance. With Prime Day deals, I gave in and did it. I bought the damn thing. Not at half price but as good as it was going to get until next Black Friday. When the thing showed up, it was a thing of beauty. And it was just like Christmas in July.

The thing was huge. It’s a 6 quart so I knew it was going to be a good substitute for my broken slow cooker but it was substantial. It was then that I just wanted to jump right in. After all, I’d seen a billion recipes using your Instant Pot. You know, dinner cooked in 5 minutes and all. And this leads me to my point. There are a few things I’d like to share with you before you buy an Instant Pot.

In case you weren’t aware, it’s a pressure cooker. A PRESSURE COOKER. You know the thing we heard about when we were young – scary stories of blowing up kitchens. Yeah, that kind of pressure cooker. Of course, I knew this but I didn’t KNOW it. Let me elaborate a bit. So, there I am scrambling to put together my 5 minute dinner. Because that’s what the recipe promised. 5 minutes people. Of course I’m going to fall for it. Just like I fell for that article about cleaning your entire fridge in 10 minutes. Back to the pressure issue. This is when I discover my husband is legit afraid of the Instant Pot. Like, he’s going to have to leave the room. First of all, I botched the recipe because I didn’t realize that the five minutes that the recipe promised does not account for the actual time it takes your Instant Pot to heat up.

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Lesson 1: If cooking using the pressure cooker function, your Instant Pot needs time to warm up and reach the desired pressure/temperature. This may sound really elementary and is quite clear in the owner’s manual but for the love…all of those tempting, quick Instant Pot recipes on Instagram and Pinterest are proclaiming the cook time, not the entire process. Just know it takes a few minutes. Don’t be confused by all those recipes telling you that you can have a meal ready in 5 minutes. It’s not READY in 5 minutes. It may take 5 minutes to cook (once your Instant Pot is ready) but dinner is not ready in 5. Read that manual, friends. And this leads me to…

Lesson 2: Not only do you have to give yourself an allowance of time to let the Instant Pot heat up if you are pressure cooking, you’re gonna have to do one of two things to bring release that pressure so you can safely open the lid (remember the exploding kitchen thing). One option is the “quick release” method. Here’s an example of what it looks and sounds like:

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Okay so that’s the quick release method. And if you have small children, pets or a husband who has fears of pressure cookers, you’re going to want to announce before hand that you are doing it so that they may cover their ears or leave the room. It’s a safe appliance, don’t be scared off. And, there’s also the natural release method. And that can take an additional 10 minutes or so. So again, more time people. I’m not saying the Instant Pot isn’t magical because it is. Just know there’s a little before and after that you need to account for.

Pro tip – don’t set your Instant Pot on a counter where your lid vent can shoot straight up into cupboards above. When I went to attempt the quick release, I realized all the shooting steam would go straight up into my cupboards so I had to do the natural release which takes much longer. Sure, I could have unplugged it and moved it but I was too scared what with all those childhood stories of shooting lids.

Lesson 3: I learned quickly that some of these Instant Pot recipes have not been properly vetted. Maybe stick with the recipe bloggers that you know and trust. For instance, I just tried to find a quick paella recipe. I just searched and found one that I could make in…you guessed it…5 minutes. Now let me sing the virtues of the saute function on the Instant Pot. It’s amazing. Truly. That is one huge advantage over a slow cooker. I always hated using the stove top to brown or saute something and dump it into the Instant Pot. But back to the paella recipe. Basically, it instructed me to saute onions and spices before putting the water, broth and rice in. And then I could throw in frozen shrimp on top. Done. Like over done. If I had taken a moment to think, I would have realized that the Instant Pot was cooking rice and although it took only 5 minutes in pressure cook mode, that there shrimp was also going to be in there that long. Shrimp basically takes 3-5 minutes to cook in boiling water or in a pan on the stove top. And Instant pot recommends 3 minutes to cook frozen shrimp. So, the recipe wasn’t accurate with the cook time for the shrimp. The result – pretty perfect rice and super over cooked shrimp. Now, going back, I’d just saute the shrimp first, remove and then pressure cook the rest of the ingredients separately. Just know that not all the Instant Pot recipes are going to be spot on.

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Lesson 4: One of the great advantages of the Instant Pot is how quickly you can cook using the pressure cooker function. So, it’s super awesome that you can cook spaghetti squash in 7 minutes versus 60 minutes in the oven. I thought it would be fun to try hard-boiled eggs too. It only takes…say it with me…5 minutes! Here’s the thing, by the time it warmed up and pressure had built up, cooked the eggs and then waited for it to release, it wasn’t 5 minutes. And boiling those eggs would have taken about the same time. The exception on that would be if I needed to cook a dozen or so eggs. If that were the case, I’d probably opt for the Instant Pot. Sometimes, we (meaning me) get so excited about a shiny, new appliance and all the cool things it can do, I don’t realize it was easier and quicker doing it the old way.

Sooo…now you’re wondering if you should buy one. Truth be told, I’ve had more failures than triumphs at this point. But I shall persevere. If you choose to jump on the Instant Pot bandwagon just know there’s a bit of a learning curve. Maybe don’t invite the neighbors over for dinner to test out a brand new Instant Pot recipe. Give yourself a little room to learn and it’ll all be good. You’ll like it a lot.

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