What is an Instant Pot? Here’s everything you need to know

Thinking of buying an Instant Pot? Here's what you need to know

Instant Pot asparagus
Jenny McGrath/Digital Trends
Jenny McGrath/Digital Trends

At some point in your life, you have probably seen or heard of an Instant Pot. The small kitchen appliance is a versatile multi-cooker that can do the job of a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, steamer, and more. It also saves you counter space and money. If you’re only just now hearing about the Instant Pot, you may be a little skeptical. How can one appliance be a rice cooker and cake maker at the same time, you ask? That’s the magic of the appliance, which comes with preset programs that are specifically designed to cook your food to perfection, whether it be a cake, a stew, or porridge. Still not convinced? Here’s everything you need to know about the Instant Pot Pressure Cooker.

What does the Instant Pot do, exactly?

If this programmable countertop multi-cooker earns a spot in your kitchen, you’ll probably start relying on it more than any other cooking appliance. The specific functions of your Instant Pot will vary based on which model you purchase, but these are the basic programs that will be present in most models:

  • Slow Cooker
  • Pressure Cooker (you can cook on high or low pressure, or choose specific pressure setting like poultry or meat/stew)
  • Rice Cooker
  • Steamer
  • Sauté/Browning
  • Yogurt Maker
  • Warmer

Many models also come with additional programs, including egg maker, cake maker, and sterilizer. Depending on the size and type of your model, you can insert certain types of dishes directly into the appliance, including cupcake molds or springform pans. You can also use aluminum foil to separate certain ingredients in your instant pot. You can find lots of different Instant Pot recipes online.

The device also features a timer and various settings for whether you want to set to cook on low, medium, high, or keep warm.

Types of Instant Pots

You can choose from about 20 different Instant Pot models and sizes ranging from 3-quarts to 8-quarts. The 3-quart size is ideal for a small family of two to three people, the 5-quart and 6-quart sizes are ideal for four to six, and the 8-quart is large enough for families with six or more. Some Instant Pots models, like the smart Bluetooth version, allow you to monitor and control your Instant Pot with your smart phone or tablet. Here are the different models you can choose from.

  • Instant Pot Max
  • Instant Pot Ultra
  • Instant Pot Duo
  • Instant Pot Duo Plus
  • Instant Pot Lux (comes in red and blue also)
  • Instant Pot Nova
  • Instant Pot Nova Plus
  • Instant Pot Viva
  • Instant Pot Smart Bluetooth

Meat still frozen? No problem.

The Instant Pot is definitely as capable as you might have heard from enthusiastic owners of the powerful kitchen appliance. Not only can it handle all the methods of cooking listed above, but it also makes your life easier when it comes to preparing that special meal. You can even prepare an entire Thanksgiving meal in an Instant Pot.

Don’t worry about thawing vegetables or even meat — the Instant Pot is high-powered enough to defrost and then cook. Baked potatoes are soft within minutes, and your bone broth is ready to consume in just a couple hours as opposed to a couple days, if you’re using a traditional cooking method. You’ll get fluffy rice that isn’t burned, gummy, or boiled over. Eggs get hard-boiled to perfection, without the need to constantly monitor a stove. Meat stews come out tender and flavorful with just the right consistency. You can cook an entire meal in one pot and save yourself valuable time and effort during clean-up.

Instant Pot asparagus
Jenny McGrath/Digital Trends
Jenny McGrath/Digital Trends

Will Food Lose Nutrients During Cooking?

While some people equate the high temperatures of pressure cooking with loss of nutrients, this is actually opposite of the truth. Pressure cooking allows heat to be distributed evenly and quickly, so you don’t need to immerse foods like frozen vegetables into water, only enough to generate sufficient steam will be adequate. Because food isn’t getting immersed in water, vitamins will not be dissolved away and will instead be retained for consumption. Furthermore, the steam that surrounds the food will prevent it from being oxidized by exposure to air. You’ll notice that your green vegetables will emerge from the Instant Pot looking just as green as they were when they went in, and retaining their natural flavors as well.

Instant Pot asparagus
Jenny McGrath/Digital Trends
Jenny McGrath/Digital Trends

Is it Safe?

Stories about pressure cookers exploding, coating the walls with mashed potatoes, or hurting someone have certainly made their way into the news cycle before. But the Instant Pot is not the pressure cooker your grandmother cooked with back in the 1980s, and the pressure cooker versions of the device have had no such issues with melting or overheating. The Instant Pot has several safety features designed specifically to ensure that nothing except your taste buds will explode by using the appliance. Thanks to the automatic lid lock and lid detection features, it’s impossible for users to open the lid of the cooker until pressure has been released. An anti-blockage vent also ensures that food particles don’t block steam from being released during the cooking process. The Instant Pot comes with automatic temperature control, which keeps the inside temperature of the pot within a safe range at all times.

Instant Pot asparagus
Jenny McGrath/Digital Trends
Jenny McGrath/Digital Trends

Once cooking is complete, users can release the pressure either naturally or manually. Both options are safe, but one is usually advisable over the other depending on the kind of food you’re cooking. For example, opt for the natural-release method when cooking liquids like soups and porridges, or choose the manual method for delicate foods like fresh vegetables and seafood.

Pressure cookers heat food to a temperature higher than the boiling point of water, which helps kill almost all harmful micro-organisms. For example, raw kidney beans contain phytohaemagglutinin, which is a harmful toxin that gets destroyed after being boiled at a high temperature for several minutes. This sterilizing function is why some people even use the Instant Pot to clean things like jam jars and baby bottles.

TaoTronics 10-in-1 Pressure Cooker review
Erika Rawes/Digital Trends

Instant Pot vs. the Others

Instant Pot is probably the most well-known name in pressure multi-cooking devices. However, it’s not the only player in the game. Other brands have come out with similar cookers with similar features. Devices like the TaoTronics 10-in-1 pressure cooker (pictured above) and the Mealthy MultiPot offer many of the same buttons and programs as the Instant Pot models. Some appliances, like the Ninja Foodi, combine pressure cooking and a completely unique cooking function, like air frying.

If you’re thinking of buying an Instant Pot, it’s wise to check out all of your options. With an alternative, you can sometimes get additional features or a lower price tag. With an Instant Pot, you get a pressure multi-cooker with a trusted name. Oftentimes, you can find deals on certain Instant Pot models, and this can make the decision a bit easier.

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