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What Is an Instant Pot and Should You Get One?

BY: Sarah Gorr | May 29, 2018

bowl of chili on a dinner table

The world of kitchen gadgetry is, in a word, robust. But for every device that's a quirky one-trick pony (banana bunker, anyone?) there are a dozen more that'll have you reaching for your wallet from immersion blenders and Vitamixes to the crown jewel of the home cook's arsenal: the KitchenAid Stand Mixer. But in recent years, another appliance has exploded across the market: the Instant Pot.

What is an Instant Pot? Simply put, it's a programmable pressure cooker. It's been on the market since 2009, but in the last few years it's been popping up everywhere from food blogs to the New York Times while garnering tens of thousands of glowing reviews from happy customers. But with a hefty retail price tag (though our customers can save up to 60%), purchasing one is an investment. Here's what you need to know before you buy:

What is an Instant Pot?

Yes, it's a programmable pressure cooker, but that's not all it is. Its myriad features make it more multicooker than simple pressure cooker, allowing it to take on the tasks of seven different appliances: slow cooker, electric pressure cooker (of course), rice cooker, steamer, yogurt maker, sauté or browning pan, and warming pot.

It consists of three key parts: the lid, inner pot, and base or housing unit. The lid locks shut tightly, and as the pot heats, this allows pressure to build. Meanwhile, a microprocessor controls the timing of the valve, allowing extremely precise cooking conditions to be reached before the pressure is released.

Just like a slow cooker, Instant Pot sizes range from tiny to whole-roast size (3 qt., 6 qt., and 8 qt.), so make sure you take into account what you want to cook when considering your purchase. Speaking of which . . .

What can it cook?

Basically, anything a slow cooker can cook, the Instant Pot can cook faster. This means it's great for soups, stews, and chilis as well as braising meats, cooking up oatmeal, and simmering meats and veggies in sauces and curries.

Devotees also love the Instant Pot for cooking eggs. While it won't really cook them any faster, if you find peeling hard-boiled eggs a pain or get frustrated by the lack of consistency in your soft-boiled eggs, then the Instant Pot is your new best friend. The appliance's preciseness means you can get the yolk exactly how you like it and peel it without accidentally taking out chunks of the white leaving you with a perfect egg instead of sloppy, pockmarked mess.

In general, if tenderness and juiciness if your goal, the Instant Pot is great. But also, if something takes 20 minutes or less to cook on the stove, use the stove—a point which brings us to our next question . . .

What are the downsides?

The Instant Pot is handy, yes, but it's not literally "instant." Those that merely breeze through the manual will be in for a rude awakening when they realize that while yes, it only takes 15 or 20 minutes for some dishes to cook, that's not counting the additional 15–30 minutes required for the device to essentially warm up. It's also going to take about as long for the pressure to slowly release. So it's still a culinary marvel to trim the cooking time for succulent short ribs from eight hours to just one, if you were trying to get dinner on the table in 20 minutes flat, you're going to be frustrated. Our advice? Read the manual thoroughly before you start meal planning!

Though less surprising than the timing issue, it's also important to note that while the Instant Pot does have a sauté function, it's still not great for anything you'd like to have a crispy edge.

So . . . should you get one?

While it will certainly depend a lot on your cooking style, I think it's a solid yes. If you already have a number of kitchen appliances, you can save space by replacing them with an Instant Pot. If you want the ease of a slow cooker without the long wait, the Instant Pot is your friend. Its versatility is its number one feature. Convinced? Start shopping Instant Pot deals below.