Instapot Reviews: Best Instant Pots and Multi Cookers Buying Guide
You rush home to cook dinner. So much to do. What to make? Everything good will take too long…
But wait, you have an instapot multi cooker. You plug it in, grab a roast from the fridge and pop it in the pot. Add some baby carrots and potatoes, then hit start and lock the lid. You feed the dog, change, and get homework started. 60 minutes later you’re pulling out a steamy, tender pot roast dinner and sitting down with your family. You’re relaxed because you didn’t scurry around to make a delicious dinner tonight. Oh, and clean-up will be a breeze.
So how did you get here, to this miracle kitchen where cooking a good meal is quick and practically effortless? How did you choose the best instapot to buy and learn how to use it?
In this instapot review and buying guide, we answer these questions and more. We rescue you from the prison of hurried and multitasked cooking routines and escort you to cooking-in-a-pinch paradise. You have more flexibility and freedom in your kitchen. Welcome to the island of instant pot bliss.
Our Top 3 Picks
- Instant Pot Ultra
- Has 100% manual control
- Most safety features
- Easiest quick release
- Mealthy MultiPot
- Best user manual of all
- Lots of accessories
- Recipe/Video app
- Crock Pot Express
- Trusted brand
- Low priced
- Quick heating pot
- 1 What is an Instant Pot?
- 2 Our Top 10 with Reviews
- 3 How an Instapot Makes Your Life Easier
- 4 How Safe Are Instapots?
- 5 Instant Pot vs Other Brands
- 6 Top Instapots’ Features Comparison
- 7 Latest Model Updates: Instant Pot Ultra
- 8 What Size Should I Get?
- 9 Set Your Expectations and Love Your Instapot
- 10 Tips Everyone Could Use Before Buying
- 11 Instapot Infographic: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
What is an Instant Pot?
You probably have a pretty good idea of what an “instant pot” is by now, right? If you were to tell your mom or friend, you’d probably describe it like this: It’s an electric pressure cooker that can cook almost anything, in record time and with less work. You can (safely!) make healthy, tasty, and fulfilling meals way more conveniently than the usual cooking methods.
It’s not just a trend. It’s an idea. An idea that so many families have latched onto and embraced that it’s here to stay.
Is this new-age cooking?
The truth is these devices cook food the way pressure cookers always have: Building and trapping steam, speedily raising the pressure and temperature around your food. The enclosed and intensely heated, moist conditions is how your food cooks so fast. Now imagine adding smart programming, where you don’t have to worry about time and temperature or have to monitor the actual cooking process.
And there’s a whole lot more…
So many ways to cook
This machine is basically an advanced hybrid pressure cooker that comes with some added modes to make it more versatile. This allows for steaming, baking and slow cooking results in a lot less time. For that, you really can fix a wide variety of foods in it.
Healthier, better tasting food
As the unique process of this type of cooking seals the steam during cooking, food cooks more evenly. It also seals in nutrients and preserves natural flavors. Healthier and tastier? Not a bad combination when it comes to your food.
Lowers your electricity bill
An instapot uses far less energy to do its job. A cooking pot encased within a fully insulated vessel makes for minimal heat loss during usage; so power efficiency is an obvious benefit. This also means your kitchen stays cooler too when whipping up your favorite hearty recipes.
Tender and juicy results
It can slow cook at rapid speeds, producing the same soft, melt-in-your-mouth satisfaction as your old Crock Pot slow cooker. Except that instead of waiting 5 to 8 hours, you’ll have your food ready to eat in a third or less of that time.
It makes no difference whether you’re a Paleo eater or Vegan, or just trying to eat better, cooking this way is how you can finally eat healthy fast food at home.
If cooking isn’t your favorite way to spend time or you have limited time to cook, the convenience of an instapot can change your life. If you love to cook and are fortunate enough to have the time, this device will open up a whole new door for you (don’t worry, you will always have your trusty cooking methods; this just expands your horizons even further). Millions of Instant Pot devotees of all backgrounds will attest to this ten times out of ten.
More to this story?
There are many opinions on instapots. Most takes are genuinely positive, while some are not as enthusiastic. The latter often stem from feelings of fear or intimidation of not knowing how to use it.
Further negative conclusions are rooted in beliefs that these magical pots aren’t actually capable of producing the same mouth-watering quality as the tried-and-true cooking methods. There’s no way you can do better than an oven or range, right? Negative feelings aside, nearly every experienced multi cooker chef agrees that instapot boiled eggs, pot or pork roasts and potatoes, to name a few cannot be outdone in both speed, taste and net nutritional value.
What exactly does an instapot DO?
As an appliance replacement device, these multi-purpose cookers act like a Swiss army knife. Just like the Dr. Suess book “Mr. Brown Can Moo” (and all the other sounds he can make), an instapot can be a:
- Pressure Cooker
- Slow Cooker
- Rice Cooker
- Egg Cooker
- Food Warmer
- Cake Maker
- Yogurt Maker
- Sterilizer for bottles and utensils
All of these in a single appliance…
To make these functions easy for you to use, instapots come with pre-programmed settings. Think of those one-touch buttons on your microwave for say, soup or popcorn or reheating a pizza slice. These cookers have on-board computers that let you select what you’d like to cook. It will take care of the rest and automatically make it to perfection for most basic dishes. You just put in the food, then “turn on and move on.”
Like a stick-shift versus an automatic transmission on a car, your instapot comes with manual control abilities too. You can take the reins and choose your own temperature, “PSI” and cooking times to get things just how you like.
Is it a jack of all trades, master of none machine?
Some might say yes…But they’re usually the ones that haven’t gotten to know their multi cooker and truly learned all the ways to use it.
It’s customizable, flexible and has all the necessary components to do anything and everything the appliances it’s replacing can do. And sure, not perfectly in every case so say the purists. But pretty darn good and often even better depending on what you’re cooking.
Later, we’ll look at the advantages that go beyond what an instapot can cook. It’s what an instapot can do for you when you think about not having to babysit pots and pans on the stove.
What do we call these things, really?
In this guide, we like to change up the name a little and call it an “Instapot” because, frankly it’s just easier to say and read. Of course, that’s not an official brand name, but it can be used to cover all multi-function pressure cookers in the way that Kleenex refers to tissues.
Other useful terms you’ll see for these devices are: All-in-one cooker, multi cooker, or multi-functional pressure cooker. Those encapsulate the many cooking functions this appliance can do.
But to pin-point their main, go-to role of pressurized cooking, you’ll find plain ol’ electric pressure cooker suites it just fine. The word “electric” seems to differentiate it from the stove-top types of yesteryear. Those days of needing to monitor rattling lids and volatile hot pots parked on our stoves are becoming far and few between.
Our Top 10 with Reviews
Instant Pot Ultra
For more details on the Ultra see our detailed list of features.
- Comes with the most safety features of any other model
- Complete manual control if desired
- Easier to use quick release button
- Sleeker look
- Altitude adjustment
- May be overkill for the casual user
- As the “full-loaded” model, it lacks Bluetooth functionality
What really sets this brand apart is its outstanding instructions. The manual and included quick reference guide are far more intuitive than any other brand. Owners of multiple pots give high praise for Mealthy’s helpful guides on cooking settings, meals, and detailed recipes. And when you do get in a technical pinch, Mealthy’s customer support is highly rated, with responsive and helpful service.
- Best included literature of any instapot
- Has an app with recipes and video follow-alongs
- Lots of extra accessories included
- Useful time-tracker to monitor cooking stages
- Stainless steel pot has aluminum on bottom for faster heating
- Excellent and responsive customer service
- Outer metal skin may be soft and prone to scratches and dents
- 6-Quart size only for now
- Not much cheaper than Instant Pot (but includes many accessories)
Crock Pot Express
The Crock Pot Express is a new product as of last year, so time-tested longevity is hard to judge. It’s a safer bet though, again given the credible and honored brand. Despite the newness, this model has sold quite well since mid-2017.
- Long-standing, good kitchen brand
- Aluminum pot heats up quickly
- One of the lowest price-points
- Nice, blue display that’s easy to read
- Non-stick pot option only
- 6-Quart size only for now
- Lacks some custom control with limited manual programming
Instant Pot DUO Plus
The new, blue LCD display is just cool. Instead of red digits providing you information, you have what amounts to a mini-monitor making the user interface quite a bit easier to view and work with. Much more information can be indicated on the display, allowing you to pilot your cooker masterfully. Overall, if you’re a little more techy and serious about your pressure cooking, this is a nice choice over the Duo.
- More custom settings vs DUO
- Pleasant, blue LCD display panel
- Custom temperature settings within cooking modes
- Nice cooking status indicators
- Lifespan on Duo Plus has had some issues
COSORI Multi Cooker
The COSORI provides some good safety features, such as an ‘unlock’ indicator that alerts you if your lid isn’t securely on. As with any kind of instapot or the like, be extra careful on this model to check that the steam valve is locked down before cooking, or your food may not cook correctly. Overall, this is a safe and straightforward choice that will get you in the one-pot cooking game.
- Includes an extra sealing ring
- Has better steamer rack/basket than Instant Pot
- Manual control of temperature
- Size options include small 2-Quart companion size
- Many time and pressure choices
- Manual says you can’t cook frozen meat
- Seal can be hard to install and seat properly
Instant Pot DUO
- Best-selling multi cooker of all time
- Perfect entry-level cooker
- Some manual control available if desired
- Mobile app available with recipes and videos (IP Standard)
- No egg program (but can still cook them)
- May be prone to defects given its high mass production
Elite Platinum Electric Pressure Cooker
What’s great about the Maxi-Matic is that you actually get some color options. Most instapots come in brushed steel tones and that’s what you get. The Elite can be purchased in Red, Blue, Purple, Orange and White, in addition to customary Black and Silver. Nice functions are included, but there is no yogurt preset (but can still make yogurt using other settings).
- Non-stick or stainless steel pot available
- Comes in several different colors
- Has many safety features
- Possible over-sensitive fuse issues
- Lid can be difficult to get on just right
- Replacement parts are hard to find
Instant Pot LUX
- Lower price to get instant pot quality and performance
- Long-time track record of success and popularity
- Comes in blue and red (trim colors)
- High-pressure capability only (but you’ll rarely need Low)
Instant Pot Smart
While there is truly no limit to what you can program your Smart cooker to do for recipes it’s less than perfect. For instance, you can’t save notes like you would in a regular recipe book. In this way, the app is purely for storing the cooking parameters for the device to perform only. If you want photos and ingredient lists, you’ll have to keep those stored somewhere else. There are also limitations to how you can organize your saved scripts beyond just alphabetical order. Look for a future release of a smart instant pot as this one is being phased out in 2018.
- Control and monitor cooking from your phone/tablet
- Recipe scripts available for download
- Informative, graphical interface on front panel
- App sometimes won’t work after phone OS updates
- May not need smart technology, so not worth the extra price
GoWISE USA Multi Cooker
The GoWise has the added convenience of informative digital gauges that tell you both current internal pressure amounts and countdown times simultaneously. This lets you keep tabs on your food if you like to know more details of the cooking progress. Some users report this unit can overheat, so allow to cool a little after sautéing and use medium PSI settings for best performing results.
- Indicator shows actual PSI during cooking
- High grade, heavy duty inner pot (PTFE and PFOA-free)
- Simple, easy-to-read interface on front panel
- Offers sizes up to large 14-Quart
- Prone to overheating on high pressure
- Lifespan may be questionable
Honorable mentions include: Gourmia SmartPot and the Power Pressure Cooker XL. Both of these models will do well overall. From a features standpoint, the instapots above are still the best place to start your evaluation.
The next Instant Pot model?
Coming in mid-2018, the brand new Instant Pot Max will be released. Rumor has it the Max will have a higher operating pressure (for even faster cooking times) along with some improved usability both on the front panel interface and in ways that make keeping your instapot cleaner. Leave no doubt about it though, these extra features may not be worth the additional $50-125 price tag over other instapots. You can check this out in June 2018 and decide if you would actually use what it offers over the others.
How an Instapot Makes Your Life Easier
We know an instapot can cook food well, and do it fast. What does this really mean for you? Let’s take a look at 10 of the major benefits you get from using one in your home:
1. Reduces time of thinking what to make
When you have very limited time to put together a meal at night, figuring out what to make can be excruciating. You find yourself digging through the fridge hoping for a creative spark, or sorting through the freezer for possibilities. And you think: Anything good and hearty will take too much time.
Finding buried treasures in your freezer or combing through cupboards full of cans and boxes uses up precious time. With the easiness and rapid cooking of the instapot, your meal options open up significantly.
You can quickly decide what to make because you don’t have to consider cooking time and having to hang around the kitchen as much. Meats, grains, veggies and any other comfort food all cook up in short order. It’s much easier to have a meal plan in the first place since you have more options within your constrained time-frames. If only it could do the grocery shopping too…
2. Increases recipes you can have on the table in less than an hour
Expanding on the previous benefit, this style of cooking adds an enormous amount of meal options to your arsenal. You can choose from a 1,000 different dishes at any given meal (provided you’ve done your shopping of course).
Bring up any popular recipe site and click around. You’ll find you probably can’t make a majority of the meals that use ovens, burners, and slow cookers in under an hour. With an instapot you can.
All your meat is frozen?
No need to defrost it first. Just throw it in the pot and you’re on your way (add a few more minutes cooking time when frozen). If you cherish regular home cooked meals and don’t have much time, this is the way to go.
3. Let’s you make meals without multitasking
The kind of food making we’re talking about here crosses into the land of hands-off cooking.
You cut and chop your food in the preparation phase. You drop it in a large stock pot. Push a few buttons, and then walk away until it’s ready to eat. Yes, ready to eat without your intervention along the way.
Typical cooking methods force you to man (or woman) your position so to speak. Checking and adjusting temperatures, listening out for timers, stirring, folding, mixing or flipping. This is great if you don’t have much else going on. Add in some distractions like kids, pets and other household duties it can cause for a bit of stress…and some burnt food.
Being able to walk away for 30-60 minutes while your food cooks lets you focus on other things. Not being tied to the kitchen and leaving things unattended can be refreshing on those busy weekday nights. You want to sit down and enjoy your fixin’s without the tiring course of juggling beforehand.
4. Allows you to eat good meals more often
People who swear by these appliances claim they use them several times per week. Clearly they understand the convenience factors and benefits we’re looking at here.
And with this frequency of use comes another underlying benefit…You’re eating meals that are better for you more often.
5. Gives you flexibility for when you want to eat
Sometimes our chaotic lives put our families out of sync. Not everyone can actually sit down to eat at the same time. It leads to delayed eating. It leads to cold food that needs reheating.
Can we make dinners better when eating at different times?
Multi cookers help you be flexible by offering a “keep warm” mode for up to several hours after cooking is complete. For example, set a timer, and your rice, roasts, soups and chilies will be appetizingly hot and ready to eat when each person is.
Want a dish ready to go at a certain time, but not right away?
Delay timers give you additional flexibility by starting any time you want before you eat. This is great for mornings if you want your oatmeal ready when you wake up for breakfast, or if you set up your pot at lunchtime and need to eat right when you get home later that night.
6. Requires less clean-up in your kitchen
Say goodbye to stove messes and splatters. The mess stays in the pot. (Yes, you have to clean the pot but I think we can all handle one at the end of the night.)
With single-pot cooking where you can sauté, sear and steam all in the same pot, you use fewer pots and pans. You can even cook a couple dishes consecutively in your pot. Throw in a trivet like your steam rack and cook your meat and potatoes together.
Your kitchen and home also stay a little cleaner too because an instapot emits minimal vapor and exhaust. Your house won’t fill with the odor of whatever you’re cooking. Of course these odors might be welcomed on occasion, especially on a cold and rainy day, but it’s good to have options.
7. Provides consistent and reliable results
A computer runs your instapot. It allows you to program parameters such as time and temperature. These programs, or “presets” will run like clockwork with the press of a button. This gives you exactly the same outcome every single time.
A little more to the story…
Programs will be automatic, yes. But you still need to get a hold on how much liquid or timing is really needed based on your preferences. For example, different water levels can give different results for rice. Or too little liquid may result in under cooked meats in shorter times.
Once you nail these nuances down, you always know exactly what you’ll get when making a multi cooker recipe. You can even create and save favorite settings. These become your own custom presets with smarter models like the Instant Pot Ultra… How lovely for those times you’re in a hurry and don’t want to have to think.
8. Gets your spouse more involved in the cooking
If you’re a married woman, you jumped right to reading this. (If you’re single, you can freely skip ahead). This is completely worth mentioning. Guys tend to like technical, automated ways of doing things. They love to say “look at what I did” and feel proud of contributing to the family. And if they can do so without spending hours or breaking a sweat, then they’ll take the opportunity. An instant pot offers such opportunity.
Check out how this works:
Simply buy the ingredients, suggest a few recipes and see what happens. If your husband finds out he can eat some of his favorite dishes more often, and he can do it in 30 or 60 minutes, he’ll be more apt give it a try. The same can be true if the roles are reversed.
Even if it’s just one meal in a month, the main cook of the house probably won’t complain. Give it a chance, and you may just have a new cooking partner (a good one), in your kitchen.
9. Makes it easier to have left-overs or freeze batches
Cooking fast means you can make more food over time if you need to. If you spring for a slightly larger pot such as an 8-Quart you can cook more quantities of food at once. This makes it easier to prepare more than you need for a given meal and store the rest.
In fact, making a batch of freezer meals with an instant pot is one of the smartest ways you can use it. A freezer stocked with prepared entrees for lunches and dinners gives you even more options when your crew is hungry. What family wouldn’t benefit from this?
10. Saves you energy
An instapot is a fully insulated cooking appliance. The heating mechanism and pot are both contained within a heavily shielded chamber (much like your home’s hot water heater). The firmly locked and tightly sealed top blocks upward heat loss during pressurization.
This is a huge energy savings versus a crock pot where its heat transferable glass lid simply can’t compete.
It also uses less water because there is next to no evaporation during cooking. Only small amounts of water are necessary when compared to a crock pot or stove-top pot.
Further, this little cooking factory won’t heat up your house when you don’t want it to. In the warmer months, your A/C won’t have to work as hard as opposed to when you use conventional cooking methods. Hey, we like warm meals in the summer too, right?
How Safe Are Instapots?
As we chew on the idea of buying any kind of electric pressure cooker the question of safety enters all of our minds. Home cooks have handled range-top versions with extra care over the decades. As kids, we were told to stand clear whenever they were fired up and steaming away in a kitchen.
Why, what’s the danger?
Any time you enclose and hermetically seal boiling liquids, intense natural pressure is created. And of course this is what you’re after with this type of cooking. It’s that feeling of instability and extreme potential energy that can cause us some angst.
Two things can help quell this uneasiness:
- Accepting that these devices wouldn’t be sold and shipped to millions of people if they weren’t heavily tested and approved by top regulatory entities.
- The sheer experience you gain from using it many times. In other words, you’ll feel better as you go and the more you use it.
So it should help to know that your instapot has been tested and manufactured to the highest safety standards available. This ensures that any extreme dangers are all but impossible, nothing will blow up, and you can just be in awe of how cool these machines are as they do what they do.
Today’s modern, plug-in cooking appliances have many, many safeguards in place. They’ve passed stringent inspections and trials, and have earned ironclad credentials such as UL & ULC (for Canada) certifications.
Warnings and labels are also placed as precautions in all appropriate places so you can operate it confidently without causing harm.
With all that, we still need to be careful and arm ourselves with some basic knowledge and good habits. The following covers the most important safety aspects of multi cookers and then the key ways you can keep yourself completely safeguarded.
Together, these should quiet your mind when you go to use your instapot for the first time.
Safety mechanisms that keep us completely safe
Some of the key safeguards your instapot may include:
- Pressure Regulator acts like a governor making sure the operating pressure of your unit stays below the set safety limit.
- Pressure Controller is an additional device to maintain safe pressure levels at all times.
- Pressure Release Protector automatically expels excess pressure internally in any dangerous situation (a way to let off steam so to speak)
- Lid Sensor will detect whether the lid is on in the correct, locked position. Your instapot will not operate if the lid isn’t securely on as intended.
- Lid Lock prevents the lid from ever being twisted off and opened when the pot is pressurized.
- Anti-Blockage Vent will not allow sticky food particles to block the vent.
- Temperature Monitor watches heat levels to avoid burning food.
- Temperature Controller safely manages internal temperatures depending on your selected program (food preset buttons on front)
- Safety Fuse will automatically cut power to the unit if electrical currents or inside temperatures go above safety limits.
- Leak Detector identifies any time a leak occurs at the lid such as a broken or missing seal, or if the steam release valve in open
- Quick Release Button resets your unit into a sealed mode after you open or if you close down the lid and the venting button is in its venting position.
Things to keep in mind for safer “instapotting”
- Don’t try to open your lid until the cooker has cooled and the internal pressure is completely released. A sign that it’s not ready to open is if 1) the float valve is in the up position, or 2) the lid is difficult to turn.
- For pressurizing: Don’t fill your pot past the “2/3” line usually indicated inside your pot. Since food expands during cooking you don’t want to go beyond two-thirds the capacity of the pot. For rice, beans, veggies you’ll want to stay within the “1/2” line. Overfilling could clog the steam release valve.
- Never place your hand, arm or face over the steam release valve. Mind your exposed skin.
- Always carry your instapot by grabbing hold of both side handles. It’s best not to move it while it’s in use.
- This should go without saying, but never add oil to attempt “pressure frying” in your pot. This is liquid cooking only, and oil should never be considered a liquid in your recipes
- Always plug a detachable cord into the cooker first, then the wall outlet.
Instant Pot vs Other Brands
Instant Pots are seen as superior over the many other brands of multi cookers. This is primarily due to their popularity on Amazon and the huge community that congregates on Facebook and recipe site discussion boards. Word-of-mouth travels well with this little ol’ company from Canada.
As one of the most expensive brands, there may also be an acceptance level towards it as being higher quality simply because it’s higher priced. The fact is there is probably some truth to this (you get what you pay for), when you look at return rates and malfunction occurrences. Instant Pot has a good track record. Customer service is also relatively better than many of the other brands. That support is certainly worth a few extra dollars
The biggest issue with non-instant pot brands, as referenced above, is a higher incidence of lemons.
Isn’t there a warranty?
The standard warranty across the board is one-year. It’s enough to get you through any catastrophic failures in the first months of use, but do you really want the hassle of dealing with a unit that’s bit the dust for whatever reason?
In most cases, you’re forced to pay shipping costs to and from the manufacturer. Before you know it, you’ve paid more money for your less expensive instant pot. Customer service is also a crapshoot on other brands, as covered in the expectations section below.
That said, the multi cookers highlighted and listed on this page factor in not just quality and performance, but ease-of-use, customer support, and the risks of running into faulty units.
One tip is to go ahead and purchase extra protection with an extended warranty. You’re already saving a ton of money if you choose a less expensive brand well under $100, so a few additional dollars won’t hurt.
All of these together create the experience you’ll have with any deluxe kitchen gadget. The models here were definitely chosen based on your lowest risk of being dissatisfied. After all, we want to be happy that our new purchase works right out of the box and be pleased all the way around.
Top Instapots’ Features Comparison
Here’s a basic comparison of what some of the top “instapots” offer you when it comes to primary features.
What Size Should I Get?
There are a lot of questions around what size instapot to get. Unless you’re just cooking single meals for yourself and maybe one other person, you’ll want to consider a size of 6-Quarts or more.
In fact, these appliances come in 6-8-10-12-and even 14-Quart sizes. They get pretty big.
The instant pot 8-Quart size is nice for the amount of food it can hold; and while it’s a good sized small appliance sitting on your counter top, it isn’t over-sized for the average kitchen. It will fit in comfortably.
A few tips on choosing instant pot sizes…
- If you judge that you would fill your pot up with about 6-Quarts of food, then get the 8-Quart size. This is because you can never fill your pot all the way up to the brim. It needs space for expansion required for it to work.
- Anything less than 6 quarts is too small when you do more whole foods cooking. Example, whole chickens. Do yourself a favor, and go with the larger 8-Quart.
- Yes, cleaning the inner pot will be required. Consider how easy it will be to manage washing one by hand in your sink. They are usually dishwasher safe, so anything larger than 8 quarts will not fit in a typical dishwasher.
- As a rule of thumb, the larger the pot the longer it will take to heat up and come to pressure, i.e. add a couple minutes for an 8-Quart vs the 6-Quart size.
Set Your Expectations and Love Your Instapot
It’s good to know what to expect as you distill all the information you read here or in consumer reviews, and even from friends and family.
Here are some helpful expectations you should have before buying an instapot. You can decide what they mean to you and whether they’re good, bad or just plain don’t matter.
How to avoid frustration with your new instapot
We can be honest here. Instapots aren’t for everyone. This is true with any kitchen gadget in fact.
It’s a techie cooking device, let’s face it. This means, without fail, it will not be intuitive to some people. It just has so many more buttons and settings compared to conventional cooking equipment. (The buttons are there for a reason though, and provide some pretty good, measurable value.)
And when it comes to seasoned culinary artists shall we say, there are established preferences about the way food should be prepared. Commercial chefs don’t really even relate to it (and that may be more to do with it being strictly a household given available sizes).
Believe it or not some people don’t use microwaves and others will swear the best toast is made in a frying pan. And that’s fine because we live on a planet of personal preferences, especially when it comes to our food.
I’m like this, should I run?
Part of this guide is about giving an instapot a fair chance and learning whether it’s truly for you in the broad sense.
Emotionally, you may long for the benefits you’ve heard it can give you. On another part of the emotional spectrum however, it’s not so uncommon to become frustrated when learning how to use a new and complex tool.
Sometimes this is borne from skepticism or intimidation. And sometimes it has all to do with expecting too much. This is easy when you consider the hype brought about by a wildly popular and trendy type of cookware.
Take comfort in knowing that your instant pot problems can usually be figured out the more you get to know it.
Not for all foods?
While you can use an instapot for practically anything, the reality is it’s awesome for some things, “okay” for others, and may be below average for a few others.
For example, while it does steam veggies using pressure, traditional steaming is universally accepted as the best way to cook vegetables.
Avid users will tell you that it’s not for everything, but it’s very good for a lot of menu items. You may love the way it cooks beans, eggs and beef stew, but may only try roasting a whole chicken once.
And certainly, using liquid smoke or smoked paprika can never replace your outdoor smoker.
It will depend not only on the results, but also in how you like to fix certain foods. Chef idealists will not even entertain using it for certain dishes. For example, you might not want to forgo your dependable rice cooker or long-time method of cooking pasta.
Don’t rely on the user manual
If you pore through the thousands of instant pot reviews and forum posts like we have, one overwhelming point sticks out: Instruction manuals aren’t good. In fact, you can count on them being next to unhelpful beyond getting them plugged in.
Why do manuals fall short?
All models will have some kind of instructions with them. Unfortunately, they aren’t thorough or generally clear. They offer vague information on everything from starting your cooker up for the first time and doing a water test to programming and basic troubleshooting when something goes wrong.
Unclear instructions don’t necessarily mean short and abbreviated either. Instant Pot themselves are known to include long, cumbersome notes that leave users confused and ready to return their item.
What’s more is that surprisingly, many of these units get packaged and shipped with the user manual left out. Chalk it up to poor QC? PDF versions of the manuals may be provided on Amazon or the manufacture’s website, but you can’t count on it.
There is one decent owner’s manual…
Out of all the brands, Mealthy is the only one that seems to have it together in providing comprehensive enough and easy-to-use instructions about their product. They are simple and clear, written and designed by native speakers of the language they’re printed in.
Customer support is hit and miss
With crummy manuals, your next logical place for help will be customer support. Technical support and customer service for that matter are unfortunately, not consistently dependable across the brands.
Response rates can be slow or none at all. And if you have a defective unit, nearly all require you to send it to them to repair with you being stuck paying shipping. Ouch.
Of the units reviewed here, only Mealthy, Crock Pot and Instant Pot have reputable customer service. They have good records of being responsive and helpful. They are also usually quick to solve your problems, including things like shipping you a new unit if the one you bought fails for some reason.
Where else can I get help?
What do you do if you don’t go with Mealthy and want good instructions? Or you need a better source of support than just your sister? Some tips follow in the next section.
Facebook and recipe sites are your friends
The good news is that answers to most support questions are available from other users. The Instant Pot Facebook community is a gold mind. Amazon Questions can also be valuable in getting your basic questions addressed. With many things, someone else has probably faced the same problem as you and has an answer.
This goes for recipes and cooking tips too.
Remember, you are not the only one who is trying to cook salmon in an instant pot, or get a crispy outside on a meatloaf. So whether you have a question about an error code on your display or how to make chicken without it getting stringy, hop into the community or recipe site where posts have ongoing comments and discussions. You’ll be in the comfort of some good company.
Use it or don’t buy it
Plan on using your instapot for many dishes and for a variety of cooking methods: Steaming, making soup, roasting ham and so on. If you don’t, you’re paying too much say, if you just use it as a slow-cooker only.
Not for crispy foods
An instapot by design uses steam and pressure to cook food. It breaks down collagen and unfolds proteins just right to give you juicy, tender foods. It does that awesomely.
Here’s the deal though.
It can’t “fry” your food or create crispy textures using steam. The rule of thumb here is to use your instapot when you want softness and succulence in much shorter times than other cooking methods.
If you want your cake and eat it too, then use the instapot to cook your cut of meat, then simply transfer and finish it off in the oven’s broiler for outsides that crackle in your mouth.
The realities of cooking times
It’s true that one-pot pressure cooking will undoubtedly speed up your meal making time by 2-to-6 times. That’s significant.
For every dish, there must be 75 recipes online for how to use an instant pot to prepare it. In the recipe summaries, you’ll often see impressive cooking times of 5, 10, 20 or 45 minutes compared to much longer times you may be used to.
In the following chart you can see some common dishes and how long they take to cook in an instapot as compared to your stove, oven or slow cooker. While it illustrates the clear time-savings advantage, we must consider that 10 minutes minimum should be added for pre-heating and pressure rise and fall times combined:
The claims of these expeditious cooking times is no myth, but again it’s important to recognize the differences between literal cooking times and total meal preparation times from start to finish.
Here’s the rest of the story:
There will always be time needed for building up the internal PSI and/or heating up to begin the cooking or steaming process. It’s no different than the time it takes ovens to pre-heat, crock pots to reach their “cruising” temperature or a steamer on your range to be good and ready to begin lightening up the texture of your asparagus or broccoli.
Truth be told, these cookers need anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes to come up to pressure to start doing their thing…And when they come in for landing, their “depressurizing” phase tacks on a few more minutes.
Make room for your new appliance
Regardless of what size you decide on, an instapot is not a tiny appliance. Yes, it’s “bigger than a bread box”. You need to know you’ll have space to store it or not mind it on the counter most of the time.
Heck, if you use it as often as most fans do then leaving it out will make you happy. Just make sure your current counter real estate vacancy can handle it.
Let’s sum this all up.
Remember to bring patience to the table (along with your well-cooked chow) before you buy an instapot. Like any kind of cooking, getting things just right takes practice. Issues can be worked out. If you cook a lot, this is a great tool. If you’re an open minded cook, then the opportunity is there to increase your menu immensely.
You just have to decide if the short-term learning curve is worth the immeasurable rewards.
Some folks form strong opinions of these cookers very quickly. Our goal here is to share some of the common truths along with some misconceptions people have (honest ones mind you!) about instapots. Draw your own conclusions but do so through both knowledge gathering and experience. Like others, you’ll find the way of the one-pot-shop will grow and grow on you.
If you’ve never seen how a cooking in one of these pots works from browning to setting programs and releasing pressure this video really shows the process well.
Tips Everyone Could Use Before Buying
If you have a friend or close relative talking you into buying an instapot you’re sure to receive a few gems of advice. Just in case they don’t cover everything, here are a few more tips to help ensure you “got this” when you join the club.
Wait for it to come to pressure
Whenever you press start for a preset or manual program, the word “On” will display on the front panel. This means the cooker is underway and building up pressure before cooking starts.
Once it does, the timer for the program will begin counting down. Coming up to pressure can take from 5 to 20 minutes depending on both the size of your liner pot and the amount of food you’re cooking. Also dense or cooler food coming from the fridge or freezer will add time to the pressuring phase.
Keep vent in steam position when starting
When starting a program, check that the venting knob is set to steam and not vent, otherwise steam generated in the beginning will escape and your pot won’t pressurize to begin cooking your food.
Add enough liquid
‘How much water to add to my instant pot’ is a common question for new users.
Well, it’s always based on what you’re cooking and ranges from 1-cup to 3-cups. As a general rule, don’t go below the minimum of 1-cup, especially if the food you’re cooking is likely to absorb a lot of this moisture. You may recall, but never count oils as liquid.
Also, keep in mind that any pre-heating you do in your instapot will cause some of your water to evaporate. Just make sure to replenish before sealing and pressurizing.
For example, pre-heating water for a cake will speed up the entire baking process but will require some extra water added after pre-heating.
Come up to pressure faster
When pressure cooking, your pot needs some time to come up to pressure. What that means is the ingredients inside need to reach higher, targeted temperatures. So, when you can, start sautéing ingredients as you prep other things. This gives you a head start for getting your pot warm and ready to start thrusting away.
If you don’t have anything to sauté, you can still do a manual start by hitting the sauté program and setting it for a few minutes. You can do this with the lid off. Just make sure you have a little bit of water in there that will count as liquid for your multi cooker recipe. Then, when you’re ready to add in your ingredients the pot will be already warm, and the cooking cycle with start faster. Just a little instant pot hack.
Be careful not to damage the seal ring
The sealing gasket is your best friend with these pots. An errant fork poke can wound it, which compromises its ability to seal. Just be cautious when working around it and when cleaning it.
Be sure to replace it snugly and evenly around the rim of the lid. If you ever see steam coming from under the lid during operation, check the seal ring.
Always use the inner pot
It may seem obvious, but never put food or liquid in your instapot without the main cooking pot. This “liner pot” is how you cook your food. Otherwise, you could damage your unit, not to mention ruin whatever you’re cooking.
Instapot Infographic: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words