Is the Instant Pot Worth It?
Few kitchen appliances have caused more of a stir than the Instant Pot. It topped lists of most-purchased Amazon products on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Prime Day 2017 — and broke those records on Prime Day 2018, with over 300,000 sold. I got my hands on the popular Instant Pot DUO60 to find out if it’s worth the hype.
What I Learned
There are many ways to use an Instant Pot
From staples like dry beans to Pinterest-worthy Mason-jar cheesecakes, folks have dreamed up all sorts of inventive uses for the Instant Pot. I explored the official Instant Pot Facebook group, r/InstantPot, and lots of pressure cooking blogs to learn about the most common uses.
…but some functions work better than others
The Instant Pot DUO60 is a “7-in-1 multi-cooker” that’s trying to be an end-all appliance. But does it have what it takes to bump those other kitchen gadgets off your counter? To find out, I put the IP through its paces with 10 recipes that span all seven functions: Programmable Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, Rice Cooker, Steamer, Sauté, Yogurt Maker and Warmer.
The Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker at heart, and it does this very well with minimal supervision required. Just make sure to read the many rules and warnings before you start. (Be especially careful when you move the valve to Venting; the steam can scald, and some granular foods can spatter through the valve.) I pressure-cooked soup, eggs, rice, and fresh broccoli successfully. The from-frozen chicken breasts required a little trial and error — my first attempt was still pink after 10 minutes and slightly dry at 12 — but it would pass muster mixed into soup, salad, or another dish.Recipes:
- Instant Pot Chicken Enchilada Soup (365 Days of Slow Cooking)
- From-Frozen Chicken Breasts (The Recipe Rebel)
- Black Beans in the Instant Pot (Detoxinista)
- Perfect Soft and Hard Boiled Eggs (Skinnytaste)
- Instant Pot Spaghetti (Cooking Classy)
- Pressure Cooker Rice Pudding (The Kitchn)
I’d read using the Instant Pot as a slow cooker could be iffy, so I tested it with my go-to slow cooker roast. Cooking Light recommends bumping the Instant Pot’s heat setting up from “Less” to “Normal” to approximate a slow cooker set to Low, so I did. The roast took 9 hours to cook (rather than 7ish in my slow cooker), cooked unevenly, and came out tough and dry, rather than its usual fall-apart tender. Given this experiment, I’m not ready to part with my Hamilton Beach Slow Cooker in favor of the Instant Pot. However, most slow cooker recipes can be converted for pressure cooking with a few tweaks, so there may be hope for my roast yet!Recipe:
- To Die For Crock Pot Roast (Genius Kitchen)
Given the time needed to come to pressure and natural release, the Instant Pot isn’t much quicker than preparing rice on the stovetop. However, it requires no babysitting and virtually eliminates the possibility of overcooking, much like a standalone rice cooker. (I had good luck with the “Rice” preset, but some seasoned Instant Pot users prefer to set cook time with the “Manual” button.)Recipe:
- Perfect Rice (InstantPot.com)
So here’s the deal with the steamer: It works fine, but it isn’t drastically faster than steaming veggies on the stovetop. However, Instant Pot veggies are to cats as stovetop veggies are to dogs — both are great, but the former is a lot more self-sufficient. I enjoyed being able to pop them in, hit a button, and prep the entree without worrying I would accidentally cook them to death.Recipe:
- Amazing Steamed Broccoli (Piping Pot Curry)
The Sauté function is the real MVP. Use it to brown, sear, or soften ingredients before pressure cooking or slow cooking to improve flavor — and eliminate the need to dirty an additional pan. It’s also useful for reducing sauces once cooking is completed, or making a roux to start soup. Exercise caution if you’re cooking something delicate, though; it’s pretty powerful. I overcooked my first attempt at rice pudding during the “sauté to thicken” step, resulting in curdled milk and sad, grainy pudding. Bumping the heat setting down from “Normal” to “Less” and stirring constantly saved my second batch.Recipes:
- Instant Pot Chicken Enchilada Soup (365 Days of Slow Cooking)
- Instant Pot Spaghetti (Cooking Classy)
- Pressure Cooker Rice Pudding (The Kitchn)
The yogurt maker function worked as advertised, but I’m not sold on its usefulness. Making yogurt doesn’t actually require any special equipment; you can do it just as easily on the stovetop. Since making yogurt in the Instant Pot doesn’t save much time or effort, I can’t help wondering if it was included mainly to differentiate the Duo from the Lux (the slightly cheaper model, which doesn’t have a dedicated yogurt setting).Recipe:
- Instant Pot No-Boil Yogurt (This Old Gal)
Like a dedicated slow cooker or rice cooker, the Instant Pot automatically switches to “Warm” after the timer reaches zero. This would be useful if you’re cooking for a crowd and one of the other dishes takes longer to finish. You might want to check the temp before serving, though. In my tests, food was scalding hot even after 30 minutes on warm.
So: Is the Instant Pot Worth It?
Yes — for quick, hands-off cooking
With the Instant Pot, you can “set and forget” staples like meat, grains, and veggies — even from frozen. A slow cooker offers the same appeal, but the Instant Pot will drastically shorten cook time of soups, sauces, and other dishes that would traditionally require a long simmer. It may even deliver better texture and flavor for certain types of foods. The Instant Pot’s knack for whipping up healthy staples quickly could be especially useful if you’re on a low-sodium, keto, or paleo diet (or any diet that emphasizes lean protein and minimally-processed foods), or if you need to get one course cooking while you prep another.
Yes — especially if you get it on sale
The Instant Pot DUO60 retails for $100. That price might seem high among countertop appliances, since you can get a quality slow cooker or rice cooker for $20. But as a multi-cooker, the Instant Pot could feasibly replace several small appliances, which could be cheaper overall — and save counter space, too. We’ve seen deep discounts on Prime Day, Cyber Monday, and Black Friday, which could be good incentive to wait until the holidays if you’re on the fence about the Instant Pot’s value.
Yes — for convenient, one-pot dishes
The fewer dishes I have to wash, the better! Unlike a dedicated slow cooker, the Instant Pot has a Sauté function that allows you to brown/sear meat or soften vegetables in the same pot you’ll cook them in. This is especially magical in the context of entrees like Cooking Classy’s Instant Pot Spaghetti that don’t require a side. A few minutes of prep for a one-and-done meal? Count me in.
No — if you’re hoping to ditch your slow cooker
Using the Instant Pot’s slow cooker functionality feels a bit like using a screwdriver to hammer in a nail. It works, but it’s not the best tool for the job. The Instant Pot’s slow cooking settings don’t run as hot as corresponding settings on a slow cooker — which can impact cook time as well as texture. (My go-to slow cooker roast was tough in the Instant Pot, even after 9 hours of cooking.) While the idea of an all-in-one appliance is very appealing, the Instant Pot isn’t quite ready to kick your slow cooker to the curb.
No — if you expect literally instant cooking
It’s pretty common in the Instant Pot blogosphere for recipes to boast “10 Minute X” or “5 Minute Y.” Here’s the thing: That number refers to the active pressure cooking time — which doesn’t include the amount of time it takes for the Instant Pot to build pressure, typically 15 minutes or so. Some recipes also require Natural Release, which can add extra time to the back end as you wait for the pressure to dissipate. The alternative is flicking the “quick release” valve from the “sealing” to “venting” position, which only takes a few minutes.
When you account for pressure buildup, active cook time, and release, some Instant Pot recipes aren’t drastically quicker to prepare than their stovetop or in-oven counterparts — like steamed veggies. But some are, like long-simmering soups and from-frozen meat. The amount of time saved depends on what you’re cooking, but whatever it is, you’ll likely have to factor in a few more minutes than those snappy recipe names suggest.
No — if you’re short on counter space
The Instant Pot has many strong points, but its size isn’t one of them. It’s both tall and bulky, which can make it difficult to store. That fact, combined with placement restrictions (you don’t want it under or too close to your cabinets, because the steam it releases can damage them) could make it challenging to use in a small or crowded kitchen. On the other hand, if you’re using the Instant Pot in place of a dedicated rice cooker and/or slow cooker and/or yogurt maker, its large footprint might be a good tradeoff for the total space savings.
No — if you’re put off by the learning curve
The Instant Pot can be intimidating at first. There are warning labels all over when you unbox it, plus lots of rules for safe operation: Don’t move the Instant Pot while it’s cooking, or it may spatter. Keep hands clear of the vent. Mind the minimum amount of water specified in your user manual. Additionally, even some Instant Pot-specific recipes will require tweaking. (For example, when adapting slow cooker recipes to the Instant Pot, some say it’s best to increase the heat setting one notch.) The Instant Pot has a definite learning curve, so if you’d rather not bother, it might not be a good fit.
What Amazon Customers Say About the Instant Pot
The Instant Pot DUO60 is a big deal on Amazon, with over 28,000 reviews to date (a staggering 82% of which are 5-star.) I read through hundreds of them to find out what people like — and don’t like — about this all-star appliance.
Smart, simple automation
Unlike a stovetop pressure cooker, the Instant Pot monitors internal temperature and pressure for you, so you don’t have to adjust it as it cooks. Wildflower101 writes, “Although I have been using a stovetop pressure cooker [for] more than a decade, [the Instant Pot] is entirely a new experience in convenience and precision. […] The programmability of this device is a big help when you are preparing several dishes at the same time, because you don’t have to constantly check the kitchen timer to monitor how your [pressure cooker] is doing.” Many users, like Aundrea, cite good results using the Instant Pot’s presets: “There are so many people who say [they] can’t cook, but I swear I’m on a whole new level […] I love how easy it is and how everything I throw in it comes out done.”
The Instant Pot’s inner pot is made of stainless steel, and you can remove it from the base for easy cleaning. Cskala writes it “cleans up like nonstick” (the Instant Pot doesn’t have a nonstick coating, though some competitor cookers do.) It’s also dishwasher safe, unlike the ceramic crocks common in slow cookers. (For a thorough cleaning, don’t forget to wash the silicon ring and float valve, both of which detach from the lid.)
If news stories about exploding pressure cookers make you squeamish about the Instant Pot, you’re not alone. But it’s a fairly sophisticated piece of technology, with 10 safety mechanisms to reduce the risk of an accident. Autonomous J.E.N. makes a reassuring point: “You will know when it is safe to open the lid when the silver float valve drops, and actually, you will be literally unable to open it before it drops. When it comes to safety, and basically everything else, this pressure cooker is not the pressure cooker your grandma used.” Judi W. agrees: “Don’t be scared of this thing – it has lots of safety features. As long as you follow the directions you will be fine.”
Disappointment with “other” functions
The Instant Pot’s pressure cooking capabilities widely garner rave reviews, but folks’ experiences with other functions are more varied. ReadingFool says, “If using as an actual pressure cooker, it’s a dream. […] Not so useful in using it as a slow cooker or with stews, etc. that cook on top of the stove. The time saved isn’t worth it and, depending on the recipe, requires too much fussing.” Your mileage may vary. I’d argue the Instant Pot is useful for steaming, rice making, etc. even if it isn’t faster, because you don’t have to watch a timer — though some “fussing” may be required to adapt recipes for pressure cooking.
The learning curve
Enthusiasts say the Instant Pot is relatively easy to use once you understand its rules and quirks — but many admit mastering it may take some time. Anne P. Mitchell writes, “I LOVE my Instant Pot! But I will be the first to admit that it can be a little intimidating at first, and it can feel like it has a steep learning curve (and I’m a tech reviewer and tech lawyer, and one of those people who generally jumps in and figures things out without reading the manuals.)” Autonomous J.E.N. agrees: “This is a complex cooker, and in order to take full advantage of the many things this baby can do, you should read the manual.”
Reliability and customer service concerns
Only 10% of the Instant Pot’s 28,000+ reviews are 3-stars or fewer. Some cite part failures, like a valve that won’t seal; others complain of pots that suddenly won’t turn on or don’t come to pressure. Customer service also seems to be a little hit or miss. B. Williams writes: “After having you jump through hoops [and send] electronic photos and receipts, [Instant Pot customer service] assign[s] a “ticket number” via an email that also says someone will be getting back to you. Except they never do.” Others, like Wfd823, cite prompt, effective support: “I submitted the ticket online, and […] within 30 minutes of submitting a ticket, they emailed me the tracking number for the new base. Talk about responsive!”
The Instant Pot does come with a one-year limited warranty — but for extra peace of mind, you can buy a third-party extended warranty from SquareTrade at checkout. (A 3-year warranty costs about $4 on Amazon if you purchase it with your Instant Pot.)
Alternatives to the Instant Pot DUO60
|Instant Pot DUO60||Cuisinart CPC-600||T-fal Pressure Cooker||Instant Pot Smart Bluetooth|
|# of functions|
|Steam basket included|
Although (and perhaps because) it doesn’t command the same level of hype, the Cuisinart CPC-600 costs about $20 less than the Instant Pot DUO60. It lacks several presets that the Instant Pot has, both for food type (poultry, stew, multigrain, etc.) and function (slow cooker and yogurt maker). Like the Instant Pot, its cooking pot is dishwasher safe; but unlike the Instant Pot, it’s nonstick.
Prefer a stovetop pressure cooker to an electric one? The T-fal Pressure Cooker is a popular option. If you’re willing to forego presets, a built-in timer, and automatic temperature adjustment, you can save about 50% versus the Instant Pot DUO60’s MSRP. The lack of bells and whistles makes a stovetop pressure cooker less hands-off, but some users argue it also reduces the learning curve. Stovetop pressure cookers tend to take less time to release and build pressure, which can mean shorter cooking times — and it takes up much less space.
Other Instant Pot models
The official Instant Pot comparison chart is massive and overwhelming, but it boils down to this: there are five different model series with the same core pressure cooking functionality, ranging from the base model Lux ($20 less than the Duo) to the Smart Bluetooth model (about $200 more). All tiers have a 6-quart model that’s “ideal for 3-4 people”; some also come in smaller and larger versions. While the DUO60 is 7-in-1, some models offer additional functions, like Cake and Sterilize. If you’re primarily looking for a reliable electric pressure cooker, there’s no need to get bogged down in model numbers; any Instant Pot will serve that purpose. (The DUO60 is our top pick for most people.)
The Bottom Line
Is the Instant Pot worth the fuss? I’d say yes, with a few caveats. It’s not a magical unicorn appliance that can replace everything else in your kitchen; it isn’t literally instant; and it comes with a definite learning curve. But the Instant Pot is a crowd-pleaser for a reason. It makes cooking certain types of food quicker and simpler, reduces the number of dishes in the sink, and automates much of the cooking process — all of which amounts to less time in the kitchen and more time living your life.