Okay, so after all the crazy hype, I caved and bought an Instant Pot (one brand of electric pressure cooker). I figured it must be one amazing machine with how much everyone seems to love it. And I have to say, I might be the minority here, but I don’t like the Instant Pot! Anyone want to buy a slightly used Instant Pot? (kidding! sort of, haha). I honestly went into this with an open mind and have used it several times for all different types of recipes to really get a good feel for what it can do.
Recipes I Tried in the Instant Pot
First I made “baked” potatoes. I quickly learned that the way the potatoes turn out is fine if you’re using them in another recipe (similar to if you boiled them), but not exactly fine for eating as a side item. Which is what I was planning to do, LOL. Baking them in the oven would have been MUCH better for this application – lesson learned.
Next, I thought I’d try a more complex recipe, and what better place to start than the Instant Pot recipe booklet that came with my machine, right? Um, I quickly learned there must have been a language barrier or something when developing those recipes because steps and important info seemed to be missing at times. But I winged it anyway and made an okay butternut squash soup. I chose that recipe because normally I would roast the squash in the oven first, so I thought it would be a good test run that would allow me to skip a step. I suppose it was a decent time saver if you really want butternut squash soup when you happen to be short on time (I would normally plan that dish when I do have the time).
Next, I decided to make something I’ve made in my slow cooker dozens of times so I could really get a good idea of how the outcome compares – Pork Carnitas Tacos (with the addition of a cup of broth because you can never use the Instant Pot without liquid!). Normally I would start the pork shoulder in the slow cooker early in the morning. I even thought about starting it (since I’ve gotten into the habit of checking our menu board to see if I need to defrost or start anything for whatever dinner is planned), but then I remembered I was going to wait to do the pork later in the Instant Pot.
Well, as it turns out, it takes about 50+ minutes to make a pork shoulder in the Instant Pot, and I have to say that was not the best timing for me to start dinner on a weeknight. I usually do a quick 30 minute or so meal OR start it early in the morning and be done with it (kind of like I wanted to do!) on busy weeknights. But, I wanted to see how the meat would turn out this way, and while I personally thought the flavor was pretty good, it was apparent right away the meat was not as tender as it usually is from the slow cooker. And the rest of my family honestly didn’t like it as much as usual. They said thumbs up slow cooker, thumbs down Instant Pot on this one.
This also sealed the deal for me that I do not like NOT being able to open the lid at all to check on the food (or even take a little food out early). Maybe I could have cooked it a little longer for more tender meat, but I’d have to start the whole process of building up the pressure again to do that. And my poor daughter was already late to her evening gymnastics class because I was like, “Sorry, I can’t open the Instant Pot for 12 more minutes!” (#momfail – I know.) Normally I would have quickly given her a taco even if I planned to cook it a little longer (in the slow cooker) before the rest of the family ate. But no, not this time.
Lastly, I made the Curried Lentil & Sweet Potato Stew below, which was a very tasty recipe, but I have to say it ended up being slightly overcooked. (I adjusted the timing in the recipe below so that doesn’t happen to you!) You see, if I would have made this stew in the slow cooker or even on the stove top, I could have opened the lid and checked on it to prevent this from happening.
I will also add that I was a little impressed when I realized I could cook this soup in the Instant Pot in only 5 minutes. Wow, 5 minutes is fast for soup, right?! But, NO. I forgot it takes several minutes for the pressure to build before the 5 minutes even starts and then since you can’t use the “quick release” option for soup (because it would possibly splatter), you have to wait for the “natural release” method, which can take 10 – 15 minutes!!! I could have honestly made the soup faster than that in a darn pot on the stove. Not to mention the 10 minutes I wasted wondering if the regular pressure release had automatically started or if I was supposed to push a button to make it start (see reason #3 below!).
So yes, I have not at all been impressed with the Instant Pot so far and putting all my thoughts together in one place like this is really driving home this conclusion for me!
Reasons I Do Not Like My Instant Pot (so far)
I might try a couple more things in my Instant Pot just to be sure I don’t change my mind (it was not a cheap appliance!), but after my experience so far, these are the things I do not like:
- It’s one of the more complicated kitchen appliances I’ve used.
Maybe because it can do SO much, all the different settings can seem a little confusing. Even after using it four times so far, I would by no means say I “get it.” Maybe I would feel differently if I took one of those online courses to help (see below!).
- The recipes I’ve considered – both in the booklet and online – don’t seem to be very clear.
This is probably because of all those settings and buttons I mentioned. The recipes will say things like “start the meat on high pressure” leaving me wondering if I hit the “meat” button or the “pressure” button. (The answer, I’ve learned, is the meat button!). I had a hard time finding recipes that tell me exactly what buttons to push and when, especially in the recipe booklet that comes with the machine.
- No confirmation the appliance is starting.
Once you figure out the right button to use and push it, there is no start button, which each and every time left me wondering if it was good to go. I realize stovetop pressure cookers and even slow cookers don’t have a start button, but for whatever reason, it felt like something was missing with this machine. It does start a countdown timer after the pressure builds up, but nothing special happens before then. One time I guess my pressure valve wasn’t totally secure so the pressure never started counting down at all, and I was thinking, “This is taking forever to see the countdown timer, and I have no idea why.” As it turns out, it won’t ever start if any air is seeping out of the valve (more time wasted!). Long story short, I did not find the keypad to be very intuitive.
- Cannot (easily) open the lid.
I really should have put this reason right at the top because it is a BIG downfall for me. As I mentioned above, I ended up with overcooked food, undercooked food, and food I couldn’t take out a little early all because I could not easily open the lid. Also, as I was cleaning up from making the soup, I realized there was still a little broth left in the jar. My instinct was to open the lid and add it in, but NO! Not with the instant pot. I guess I just have a hard time making mystery food I can’t check on or taste test as much as my heart desires along the way. And while I could do a “quick release” in the middle of a recipe if I really wanted to check or add something, I’d have to start with building up the pressure again (which adds more time) to start it over. Right or wrong, that’s a little bit of a deterrent for me and simply not as quick and easy as opening the lid of a pot on the stove (or slow cooker).
- Takes longer than you think.
As I mentioned, I got a little excited about being able to cook soup in only 4 or 5 minutes, but that duration is very misleading. Each and every time you use the Instant Pot, it takes a couple minutes for the pressure to build (this is during the time I’m wondering if it’s even working because it doesn’t really indicate it’s started – see item #3 above!) before the countdown timer starts. Then at the end, you have to release the pressure one of two ways – “manual release” doesn’t take all that long, but “natural release” for soups can take 10 to 15 minutes. In the end, I did not find it saved me a whole lot of time once you add all this up together.
- I don’t like sautéing food in it.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally convenient to sauté and then slow cook (or pressure cook) right in the same bowl. BUT, from a cooking tool standpoint, I don’t really like cooking in the Instant Pot insert all that much. The insert moves all around when you’re trying to stir the food, and you can’t really hold it to keep it in place because it’s hot! This is a minor downfall in the grand scheme of things, but worth being mentioned.
I am sorry if I am the bearer of bad news here, but I’m just wanting to share my honest opinion about the latest craze – especially before you decide to invest in this pricey appliance! But, as with anything, there are two sides to every story …
Why Others Like the Instant Pot
Now, I had a little chat with Kiran on my team to find out her opinion of the Instant Pot (she’s had one longer than I have), and as it turns out, she was never a huge slow cooker fan and LOVES her Instant Pot so much more. She said since she’s a vegetarian, she feels like most of the really good slow cooker recipes are meat based (which she’ll still make for her family), but since she personally relies more on foods like beans and lentils and homemade vegetarian soups, the Instant Pot has been really great for her.
Based on that feedback, I’m thinking of trying my refried bean recipe in the Instant Pot to see if it makes me like it any better. Dried beans do normally take a long time to cook, so I can see how that would be helpful. But at the same time, I kind of like to start the slow cooker in the morning because it’s such a nice feeling to have it all done for you at the end of the day! (I realize you can slow cook in the Instant Pot too – I know, it does SO much! LOL)
But I suppose if you aren’t good at remembering to start your slow cooker, you might just be the biggest Instant Pot fan yet. I’ve also heard the Instant Pot is great if you forget to defrost your meat and want to start a dish with frozen meat. So, I guess this could be a really helpful appliance if planning ahead is not your strong point or you just prefer to be more spontaneous!
If you do own an Instant Pot (or want to get one, despite my opinion!), my friend Erin Chase – the $5 Dinner Mom – has put together some fabulous resources for people at all different stages of Instant Pot use. Check out her programs to help you get started or help you feel less confused! Oh, and I should mention Erin swears by boiled eggs in the Instant Pot. It takes 7 minutes (after the pressure builds, of course) and apparently the outcome is superior to stovetop with shells that are super easy to peel. I’ll think about trying that too – if I can figure out what button to push, LOL.
Here are the other foods Erin prefers in the Instant Pot:
- Steel cut oatmeal
- Steamed salmon
- Steamed veggies
- Brown rice
- Roasts for slicing
- Whole chicken
- Dried beans
Maybe I should’ve taken her course before I started using the Instant Pot myself – plenty more options for me to try here!
Curried Lentil & Sweet Potato Stew – Instant Pot or Stove Top
Whether you have an Instant Pot or not, I’ve got a yummy new recipe to share with you today! My 9-year-old was especially excited about this one for some reason and was sure to tell me, “I really like lentils,” multiple times after we ate this stew. I did not know this about her and was glad to be informed because lentils are easy to make, good for you, and inexpensive – yay! She even asked if she could take the leftovers to school the next day – of course! So I hope your family enjoys this quick and easy recipe as much as we did – no matter how you make it!
Curred Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 onion diced
- 5 cloves garlic minced
- 1 pound sweet potatoes cut into 1-inch dice (with peel still on)
- 1 cup green lentils rinsed and picked over
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 5 cups vegetable broth or chicken broth
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt
- 1/4 cup cilantro fresh
- In either a pot on the stove over medium heat or in an Instant Pot on the sauté setting, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook while stirring until it softens, 3 - 4 minutes.
- Add the garlic, sweet potatoes, lentils, and spices and cook while stirring for another minute or two.
- Pour in the diced tomatoes and broth. Stovetop: Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer until the potatoes and lentils are tender, about 15 minutes. Instant Pot: Secure the lid, make sure the valve is switched to "sealing," push the "soup" button, and reduce the time to 3 minutes using the "-" button. Once the Instant Pot is finished counting down, push the "cancel" button and wait for the steam to release naturally until the float valve goes all the way back down before opening the lid.
- Ladle into bowls, top with a dollop of plain yogurt and some fresh cilantro leaves, and serve warm.