The Instant Pot die-hards will swear on their last batch of beef barbacoa that this all-in-one kitchen gadget has been the savior of their weekly meal plan. But is this much-hyped kitchen device really worth the money, can it save you the time it promises, and produce a meal bursting with bold, full flavors? Here are a few reasons why you may want to think twice before adding this not-small appliance to your already limited counter space.
The Instant Pot is not instant. Between allowing for the stainless steel inner pot to heat up, the food to come to pressure, the time needed for natural release, having to hand-clean the outer pot, and the actual cooking time, you might not end up saving as much time as you anticipated. “We’ve found that the ‘instant’ part of the name is very misleading. Preparing foods in the Instant Pot consistently took 45 minutes (or more) longer to prepare than the recipe called for. The time it takes for the device to come up to pressure and the time added for a natural release of pressure meant that recipes only needing 10 minutes of cook time took well over an hour,” says David Gafford of The Barbecue Lab.
Depending on the size of your Instant Pot and how many racks you include, you can get between two and 78 (you read this right) hard-boiled eggs cooked at one go. Unless you run a salad bar or have a family of bodybuilders to feed, it is unlikely you will be boiling more than two to four eggs at once. Cooking time wise, it takes five minutes of cooking time in the Instant Pot and another three minutes for the pressure to naturally release. This means it actually takes longer than cooking the eggs in the old tried and true pot on stove method. The only caveat is if you’re boiling a lot of eggs, this is a winner, but according to The Cooking Family, “Some eggs will have compromised shells and will crack. Also, you may have some variance in your yolks. All of mine were cooked well, but a couple of them were overdone with a slight grey ring around the yolk.”
Do you live off pot roast, brisket and shredded pork/chicken for dinner? Buy an Instant Pot and suddenly you’ll be eating a lot of it. These tried-and-true recipes are what Instant Pot die-hards swear by — there are over 9 million pulled pork recipes alone online, but the quality is questionable depending on whom you ask. “I know people cook brisket, pork shoulder, and baby back ribs in the Instant Pot and love the convenience. It just can’t compare to the product that one gets using a pellet grill, offset smoker, or charcoal grill with the same recipe. In my opinion, the Instant Pot is all about convenience at the detriment of flavor and texture, and even then, it’s not very convenient,” says Gafford of The Barbecue Lab.
Insider Tip: If you’ve got a smoker and fancy some Texas-style pulled pork, check out David’s recipe.
Part of the Instant Pot’s allure is its ability to combine a slow cooker with a pressure cooker, meaning one less clunky kitchen appliance. Too bad the Instant Pot doesn’t quite deliver on the slow-cooker front. “We are big meat eaters in our house, so we love any chance to slow cook a big piece of meat, like brisket or a rack of ribs. While the Instant Pot does have a slow-cooker feature, you have to buy the lid separately, and the lid does not seal like it would if you were to use an actual slow cooker, so the meat doesn’t turn out as tender or moist. I find its only useful feature to be the pressure-cooking functionality, which means I would have been better off just buying a pressure cooker. Rather than doing a few things really well, it does a whole bunch of things badly,” says Matt Gaedke of Keto Connect.
For more great kitchen tips, please sign up for our free newsletters.
A regular slow cooker can cost as little as $30 while the cheapest Instant Pot is just under $60, depending on if there’s a sale going on. While that’s not a big difference, the most expensive Instant Pot, the Instant Pot Pro Crisp & Air Fryer 8-quart Multi-Use Pressure Cooker and Air Fryer is $200 on Amazon. If you’ve got limited counter space and you don’t mind the sub-par performance of its various functions, it might be worth considering, but you’ll also likely get better value and mileage out of separate appliances.
Everyone loves to cook, no one enjoys cleaning up. And because the Instant Pot’s main unit can’t be chucked into the dishwasher, some of the time you “save” cooking will now be spent cleaning its cracks and crevices, which is suboptimal. There are also a few fiddly bits that make the chore even less enjoyable and even the most thorough clean won’t get rid of certain smells. “There’s the anti-block shield, which is just difficult enough to remove that I’m afraid I’ll bend it. Then there’s the back’s small plastic drip catcher. Finally, there’s the dreaded silicone ring, which, even after a trip through the dishwasher, still stinks,” says Laura Ritterman of Recipe Fairy.
Insider Tip: If you are going to cook with the Instant Pot, do yourself a favor and get some extra sealing rings.
For home chefs who prefer to cook with feel and hate following recipes to a “T,” the Instant Pot may prove challenging. Despite its multiple pre-set functions, getting the most out of the Instant Pot requires some trial and error (hence all the Instant Pot recipes online) and adapting along the way. “It is not very intuitive to use. There is the precision required in how much water you use, the particular setting you use, the way you release pressure, etc. Since you can’t interrupt the Instant Pot while it’s cooking, this can lead to some exasperating circumstances like waiting the full time only to find out your rice didn’t cook. Nor is the Instant Pot very easy to troubleshoot with, when things go wrong,” says Angelo Larocca of Orblue Kitchen Products.
The Instant Pot all-in-one functionalities (sous vide, air fryer, steamer, roaster, saute, etc) would be great, except that it does these multiple functions, at best, averagely. That gorgeous brown sear you’re hoping to achieve? Don’t throw your cast iron pan out just yet because the saute function is unreliable. Either it never gets hot enough to do a proper sear, or it gets too hot and burns commonly sauteed ingredients like garlic and onions. Plus, once you add meat to the pot, you have to wait (again) for it to come to temperature, which adds on additional time to a meal you’d hope to dump and cook in 10 minutes.
You don’t buy an Instant Pot expecting it to produce perfectly crisp buttermilk fried chicken (maybe if you buy the air-fryer version), but it’s got to be great for stews right? “The Instant Pot isn’t good for cooking stews or sauces either since those need to simmer on the stove for a few hours or all day,” says Michail Korovin, chef and owner of Pearls of Caviar. While it produces a stew, the cooking time proposed is between 20-45 minutes (not including the time needed to come to temperature or resting time) and gives a serviceable result, it won’t be the same full-flavored results derived from a stew cooked for hours over a stove. “When you cook something with a high liquid content like soup or other stews, it can allow the liquid to evaporate and concentrate the flavors of whatever else is in the pot. It might also bring out some of the natural sugars or release proteins from the food. The secret behind a velvety soup or stew is to cook it long enough so that the proteins and fats in the meat can break down and dissolve into the soup. This makes it thick and creamy, and gives it tons of flavor!”
Anyone with limited counter space should just forget about the Instant Pot. It’s big and heavy, so once you set it down, that’s where it’ll live. “The InstantPot is a large and clunky appliance. It takes up a lot of my workspace, it’s a pain to drag out and set up. I find it’s more inconvenient than helpful,” says Kali Schmidt of Kali Eats Keto. In practical terms, it takes roughly the same space as an espresso machine (sometimes more depending on your appliance) except that it is a device you won’t be using daily.
There’s a reason there’s no shortage of Instant Pot recipes online, every IP owner is looking to find the recipe for [insert dish] that suits their taste buds perfectly. “The cons of an Instant Pot is, it doesn’t magically make things seasoned perfectly. So be sure to taste and re-season before serving, as pressure-cooker recipes can be hard on herbs and spices and may need a boost,” says Kathy Hester of Healthy Slow Cooking and Plant Based Instant Pot.
The genius of the Instant Pot — achieving that seal of pressure — is also the cause of many headaches. “The Instant Pot doesn’t always seal properly, so you can’t really ‘set it and forget it.’ I always find myself double-checking to make sure I’m not wasting time by somehow falling victim to an improper seal,” says Schmidt of Kali Eats Keto. Sealing issues could be anything from the lid not being locked properly, insufficient liquid, overfilling the pot to the float valve being stuck. When you’ve got your heart set on some chili to watch the game with and the pot isn’t coming to pressure because steam is leaking out, cycling through this laundry list of troubleshoots may take longer than just cooking it from scratch on the stove.
Insider Tip: If you want to delve into the technicals of the sealing function, this blog entry elaborates on why pushing down the Instant Pot lid is one of the top reasons your food comes out undercooked. Or it could also be the rubber gasket has a crack in it, so make sure you check this regularly.
The Instant Pot is great for some recipes, and some others, the results are inconsistent. While it should work like a charm for big cuts of meat, it takes quite a bit of trial and error to make sure the meat doesn’t overcook or come out dry and tough. “Most recipes I have tried to make with an Instant Pot fail during recipe testing, so it doesn’t make it to my blog,” says Schmidt of Kali Eats Keto. “One recipe I did make in an IP that I ended up using another method for before posting on my blog is my Keto Unstuffed Cabbage Roll Casserole. The Instant Pot took significantly longer to pressurize than I needed it to take for a ‘quick meal.’ By the time it pressured up, my beef was already browned in my posted stovetop method.”
Insider Tip: It’s easy to overcook an Instant Pot meal so refer to the pressure-cooking time chart and adapt the recipe if you need, but not the cooking time.
We hate to kill your dreams of elaborate Instant Pot buttercream cakes and fancy brownies, it just doesn’t get the job done right. Bread puddings, dump cakes, and cheesecakes are more its forte. While there’s plenty of Instant Pot recipes online, take it from Gaedke of Keto Connect on its limitations. “We’ve tried at least a dozen different keto dessert recipes, and just about all of them have been failures. The only dessert that we’ve managed to make a decent version of is a cheesecake. Cookies, cakes, and brownies have all been huge failures since you mostly rely on steam to do the cooking, which results in an unpleasant texture. We mostly stick to the oven when we’re craving something sweet these days.”
Who doesn’t want a meal ready in zero minutes? That’s what some Instant Pot models promise to do with your broccoli and salmon. On paper, this sounds life-changing, but achieving it takes paying attention to the details. According to this Reddit thread, you’ll have to stand and wait for the pot to achieve pressure and turn it off right away and allow for another 10 minutes of natural release. Hesitate and add 30 seconds or a full minute to this whole process and you may have to throw the whole meal out before taking a bite.
Between the beeping noises and that loud hiss when you do a quick pressure release (don’t forget to wear an oven mitt when you do this), some members of your household will go into hiding whenever it’s pot roast night. While this video shows you how to turn off the sound on a 3-quart Instant Pot Ultra, there’s nothing you can do about the quick pressure release except to wait for it to naturally depressurize, which can be anywhere from five to 30 minutes depending on what’s cooking.
If short ribs have been a special-occasion meal, suddenly you’ll be tempted to make them fairly regularly and add on oxtail or brisket, all in the name of experimentation. The best cuts of meat for the Instant Pot are fattier meats with marbling, so that’s another point to consider if your household has been eating leaner cuts previously, or making do with bulk-buy ground meat.
While the Instant Pot comes with detailed instructions (and 10 safety mechanisms) on how to use it safely, there’s always the outlier case where safety is an issue. Follow the basics: Don’t overfill it, don’t use it as a deep fryer, and replace sealing rings regularly. The most important safety tip though is when removing the lid after releasing pressure, stay away from the steam and tilt the lid to act as a shield between you and the steam rising from the pot. And if you’re worried about your cabinets warping from the steam, Elizabeth Barbone, a cookbook author and the creator of the pressure-cooker blog Cook Fast, Eat Well in this NBC interview says, “Pressure cookers are safe, but we need to be following good practices. Some of the things you might see on the internet, like covering the steam release valve to protect cabinets or walls from steam, aren’t safe. Instead, position your pot accordingly if that’s a concern.”
There, we said it. The Instant Pot is great if you need to prepare meals in bulk, tackle a bag of beans, get your pet’s food sorted for a while, and it will save time when it comes to certain dump-and-go recipes. But is it cooking in the traditional sense? No. You can’t taste as you go along and alter the recipe with more seasonings or that extra knob of butter; you’ve got to watch the timing like a hawk, and you’re relying on software to get you the flavors and tantalizing textures that are most often achievable only by human touch and feel. While there’s a place for time-saving devices in every kitchen, just don’t rely on it for every single meal because you’ll be missing out on the joy of cooking.