Whenever someone asks me if are the instant pots worth it, my mind goes into overdrive. Options, time, and money swirl around themselves and melt into one as veggies, pita, and thin slices of meat in a kebab.
The instant pots are worth it. They might not replace all your home cooking tech you have, but they will do their best. There is sauteing, steaming, searing, yogurt making, even baking, and many other techniques and options that can instant pots provide.
You can use instant pots as substitutes for a considerable amount of different cooking styles. They will not fully replace your slow cooker, pans, rice cookers, and many others, but if you don’t have any of them, the instant pots will do a stable job.
Of course, they will never be as good as specialized cooking tech – you will always make better rice in a rice cooker. Searing meat will always be more precise on the stovetop in a cast-iron pan over flames. The slow cooker will also be more exact at low temperatures over long periods.
Nonetheless, the instant pots are still worth it. Now let me tell you why. Before we go into details, let’s have a quick look at the cooking techniques that you can do in instant pots in the table below.
Instant pot common features
So now you know the possible techniques available, let’s take a detailed look at the most useful and common ones.
Pressure cooking in an instant pot
It is an instant pot, so pressure cooking is the main and most important feature. I am not going to dive into details about it here, as you might find all the important information in my other article here. I think it is enough to say that cooking under pressure saves you a lot of time. In most cases cuts the cooking time by at least 40%, which is a considerable amount of time saved.
Again, there is a way more about it in the article and you also might already know all about it. But what are the other benefits that make instant pot worth it?
Searing/sauteing in an instant pot
You won’t be needing a pan today. Instant pot can fill that role quite responsibly. Power up your beast of choice, set the program – in most cases, it is called: saute or sear – and sear away like there is no tomorrow.
Timing depends on your recipe of choice. Usually, it should take from 5 to 9 minutes, but check the recipe to be sure.
Since we are talking about searing/sauteing, it won’t work without a bit of oil. So drop a spoon or two in, wait for the light smoke to start to come out of your instant pot. Your instant pot should also inform you about the best temperature by showing hot on its display and then place in the meat, veggies, or any food of your choice.
Don’t close the lid – you need to turn the pieces to get even sear/saute it from all sides.
Sear those bad boys all around. Once done, take it out and place it on a plate to rest a bit.
Now a vital part comes into play! You have two options on how to deal with residual oil.
Option 1: Storing oil for later use
Pour out all the oil that you have just used. Either throw it away or filter it out and store it for later.
This part is similar to reusing the deep fryer oil, about which I have written quite a bit here.
With the oil gone, wipe the rest with a clean towel, ideally a paper one. Make sure that the inner pot is clean and dry.
Put the seared meat back in, add other ingredients, pour in enough liquids, and pressure cook away.
Option 2: Keep oil and seared/sauteed food in
And mix in the rest of the ingredients and water or broth.
Now both these approaches are viable in terms of cooking.
One important thing that you have to remember is that you will always need a large amount of liquid.
The instant pot cannot create pressure if there is no liquid to build it from. As the instant pot temperature rises above usual cooking temperatures, you would most likely burn the food before anything else. It would take a much higher temp for oil to vaporize.
If you hope that you can sear the meat in the instant pot, add in veggies, broth, and spices, and have a crispy layer on your meat by the end of cooking, you will be disappointed.
This is, unfortunately, not the case. But having a nicely ‘closed’ meat that will retain all its juices can be more than expected.
So one point of worthiness is down. Let’s steam our way to the next one.
Steaming in an instant pot
It is one thing you most likely don’t want to have a specialized cooking tech at home.
And what is it even good for, right? I can always boil the veggies. It is not precisely correct. In boiling, you are losing a lot of vitamins, and nutritional value drops significantly. At that point, you are making vegetable soup, as the veggie flavor is released into the water.
But in this cooking technique, you can lean on your instant pot too. Surprised? Well, let me explain.
Steaming is done by pushing steam – vaporized water (as soon as the water reaches boiling point, it changes to steam) – against the ingredient you want to steam.
Almost all instant pots these days have a steam option. Or you can pressure cook for up to 5 minutes. The result is pretty much the same.
You do this by opening your instant pot, putting the ingredients in, adding some water, and setting up the program.
The result is nicely steam ingredients in a bit of mushy state, as they are most likely steamed all together.
The second option you have in this is to use some separator. Silicon or metal-based cages are perfect. Two to four will do the trick. Not only will they help you to separate the ingredients from one and another, but their tastes won’t combine. The steam will yield a better result as the element will be slightly higher, allowing the vapor to pass through and around them.
So the steaming can be counted as another worthy part of the instant pot.
Cooking rice in an instant pot
Now, this might sound a bit odd at first, but the instant pots are capable of cooking the rice for you too.
I bet you can imagine how this is done. Water, rice, set the program, and wait a bit. When it is done, you have a bowl of cooked rice.
It sounds simple because it is.
Now the small problem with this is that instant pots are not made with the intention of making great rice. It is passable, you might be happy with the result, but I would still say that the better choice is the dedicated rice cooker.
Rice cooked in the instant pot is not bad, and if you are making it once per month, it will be okay.
If you plan to make rice in an instant pot, I would recommend you to make it the last part of your dish. As it will add extra time to your overall cooking, not mentioning that you will have to prep the pot for it and clean it afterward. In my eyes, it is just not worth the hassle, and I would still use a rice cooker with a lot of options to cook the rice of choice to perfection.
If you have no other means or are making rice once in a while, you can consider this option a nice benefit.
Yogurt making in an instant pot
You might have heard that the instant pots can also make yogurt for you. Yep, this is true, and to be honest, it is a charming function to have in the repertoire. Especially if you have children or you want to be sure about what goes into your food.
Now making the yogurt itself is quite simple. You will need milk, some plain yogurt with live cultures or live active cultures (this should be mentioned on the package), and of course, your instant pot.
Add yogurt and milk together, mix in thoroughly, as you don’t want to have clumps in the mixture.
Don’t forget not to overfill your instant pot, set the yogurt option, and wait.
Now, why do you need yogurt with the cultures, you might be asking. The original yogurt has to spread its cultures throughout the milk and transform it into the yogurt. You don’t have to worry; you are just using beneficial bacteria to change milk into a big batch of yogurt.
Here I should warn you. Until now, you were used to the fact that instant pot can do everything in a short amount of time. In the case of yogurt, this is not true. It will take quite a long time – by default, it will be about 8 hours – to make your yogurt.
The result may also vary based upon the time you set, as some recipes will call for 6 hours and others for 10 hours. The time influences mainly the smoothness of your yogurt. To get it to the perfect texture for you, you will have to experiment a bit.
Even if it is yogurt a bit different, it is still homemade yogurt. Mix in some fresh fruit, chocolate chips, or anything that you like in your yogurt, and there you go.
An excellent and healthy option as far as snacks go.
Baking in an instant pot?
Some of us might not have a full-fledged oven at home but do want to make some of that sexy looking cinnamon rolls they saw on Tasty’s YT channel:
With this small show, I am trying to say that the instant pots can even bake!
Of course, they will not allow you to do everything, but then again, you most likely are looking for something quick, fun, sexy, and super tasty. For this purpose, the instant pot fits the bill in an ideal way.
From my experience, the best things you can bake in it are either puff pastry-based ones, bread pudding, or bunt cake. The reason for this is the fact that you are steaming, not baking by definition. So either something light or something that can withstand intensive pressure is the right choice.
I am baking in my instant pot only if I need to produce some super quick dessert for a family diner. For serious baking, I do still use my oven. Then again, if you are in a tight spot, it is a great option to have in your arsenal.
So we have at least five major cooking techniques that you can do with your instant pot.
So what’s next?
I think it is time to look into one small thing.
Are instant pots worth your money?
Are instant pots worth your money, is that ‘small’ question.
So in my ‘worth it’ articles, I often look into how much money does it cost to run the home cooking tech and for how big of a cost you can produce the result.
This will be a bit more complicated, as it is hard to put a price tag on time. It will be different for you and me, but let’s say that the average wage per hour in the US, as I am writing this article, is 12$ – at least according to the TradingEconomics.
The reason why this will be a bit more complex is not only the fact of different cost of Your hour but also ingredients used in recipe and time that it would cost you to cook it.
I will do my best now to give you a price estimate with the real costs and percentages. Of course, please bear in mind that my numbers may be different from Yours.
For this example, I am choosing a recipe that takes a long time to prepare. The formula of my choice is the Instant pot Beef Stew recipe from Delish. Yes, I do write it with the capital, because the dish deserves it.
Now, as I do not know what ingredients and spices you have at home, I will think there is nothing, apart from instant pot, of course, that you can use to make a beef stew.
So the cost of ingredients – meat, spices, vegetables would be around 25$. I believe that is a reasonable price for everything, including a nice big chunk of meat.
To the electricity we go, where do we stop, nobody knows.
The average price of electricity in the US today is 13.31 cents per 1 kWh (kilowatt-hour).
Middle ground instant pot usually has about 1300 W (watts) per hour electricity usage, which translates to 1,3 kWh.
With these numbers, we can say that 1 hour of usage of the instant pot costs, on average, 17 cents (I am rounding down the number here as it is easier to think about).
Here I will presume that you are doing the prep work, which recipe estimates for 30 minutes, which would cost us about 6$. But on the other hand, we most likely are not going to watch the whole cooking process from beginning to end. Maybe from time to time, we will pop in the kitchen, check if everything is fine. So add another 6$. You know, minute here, a minute there, inhaling the smells. It adds up 😀
Now let’s run all these numbers through a table.
1 kWh (kilowatt-hour)
Middle ground instant pot
1,3 kWh per hour
1 hour of instan pot usage
30 minutes of prep work
30 minutes of occasional check
37$ and 17 cents
We know that cost of cooking is in this case for us 37$ and 17 cents. That’s counting in everything from ingredients, prepping, and cooking. Yes, I know that I do not include the time it takes us to buy ingredients, but this article would be too long and full of dull numbers and theories if I did.
Now let’s look at the original recipe.
There is a vast amount of them everywhere, but let’s look at this one from Allrecipes for our example. Their estimate for pres and cook time is 12 hours and 20 minutes! That’s a crazy number!
I realize that they are using a slow cooker, and as the name suggests, it takes a much longer time to cook in that. And yes, I know that the taste will be slightly different and so on, but still. That is some time to consider! Especially if you have children at home.
I am even counting in the fact that, if handled carefully, the slow cookers are safe, as you may already know from my other article.
But still. The need to have it running for extra 11 hours would raise the cost by 1.5$ minimum. And that is reliant on us being 100% sure that nothing happens during cooking, like our loved one messing with the slow cooker.
Ensuring that everything is fine, would add by my estimate, at least another 3 hours of my time to the whole cooking costs. This would raise the price of making the beef stew to whooping 73$ and 17 cents. And this kind of money I might think twice about spending.
The convenience of an instant pot
The fact that instant pot is convenient is a massive part of its beauty. I like to prep, fine-tune, and enjoy cooking as much as you do. Sometimes, there is not enough time or willpower to spend 3 hours cooking the next MasterChef-grade meal.
When I want to be lazy, semi chop ingredients, throw them into the pot, and start it. In the meantime, I can watch another episode of the Big Bang theory while my dinner is being cooked.
Also, we might not have enough time to cook.
Coming late from work or finishing up on some projects can eat a considerable amount of time from our daily lives.
Instant pots do provide this time luxury. The result might not be perfect, and the little finishing touches might be intricate. But in the end, they deliver in the shortest amount of time while still making great, tasty, and healthy food.
The only shorter dinner that you can make are pot noodles. And if you are not in college, you most likely do not want to eat them all the time.
Is the instant pot a good choice for you?
We now know that instant pots are convenient; they are great time savers and deliver fantastic food in minutes. But I would also like to consider that they might not be useful for every single one of us.
Let me break down who I think will benefit from using the instant pot the most and who will most likely not.
Instant pots are an excellent choice for you if:
- You don’t have much time to cook most days of the week.
- You don’t have a sizeable home.
- You don’t care about cooking that much.
- You are looking for a way how to save money on your cooking.
- The meal doesn’t have to be perfect every day.
- You are a beginner interested in cooking but would like to start with something simple.
You won’t benefit from using an instant pot if:
- You have a lot of time to spare every day.
- You enjoy the cooking prep.
- You perfect every part of your cooking, from precisely cut vegetables to ideally spiced sauce.
- You love cooking with all its benefits and issues.
- You enjoy the process of cooking anything from the first design to the final result.
- Your recipes and honor require experienced hands and complicated techniques.
Few right questions sprung up from the list above. Let’s take a look at them.
Are instant pots the right choice for beginners?
The answer to this question has two sides.
On the one side, yes, they are the right choice for beginners. Instant pots provide a comfortable and straightforward introduction for anyone who wants to learn how to cook. Using any home cooking tech out of the blue is like buying a pack of onion strings. You can use them as an added flavor in your favorite dish, but you have no idea how to homemade more of them.
Learning how to cook from the ground up can be tricky and confusing at the beginning if we take the onion strings as an example. How many onions, how thick cut should I make? You will cut yourself, burn yourself, and might even give up before you are finished.
On the other hand, learning how to cook with a knife and pan gives you more long-term cooking experiences.
If you are serious about cooking, there is nothing better than if you get to know your knife up close and personal. You feel it. You live it. You learn all ins and outs of using your knife to cut, transfer, and chop anything and everything.
Then again, there is nothing wrong with starting by using some home cooking appliances. Walk your way with them step by step. Instant pot, slow cooker, rice cooker, sous vide, and so on, there are so many.
Amongst added benefits, you can add the fact that the instant pots are easy to use. Not only that, they come with extensive manuals, but you can find almost all recipes of your favorite dishes on the internet. Type in Google search your favorite recipe + instant pot, and you will find a vast selection of the recipes.
Also, I suppose that you might be worried about the dangers of the instant pot. In that case, you can be assured that they are safe if handled correctly, as you might know from my article here.
But bear in mind that at least in prep, you might be missing the basics of cooking. How to chop ingredients, how to clean them, learning to cook with one hand and clean with the other (meaning that you should learn to clean the mess you make as soon as possible), and many others.
By learning from the beginning, you will know how the onion smells and looks when it goes through different caramelization stages, the differences between golden and brown states, and much more.
To sum this up somehow.
Yes, the instant pot is the right choice for a beginner cook. Still, I believe that you should have some basic cooking skills to acknowledge an instant pot’s helpfulness and catch/avoid issues if possible.
I do believe that I have been able to answer quite extensively the question:
Are instant pots worth it?
Did I forget anything? What are you using your instant pot for? And are there any other questions that you might want the answer for? If so, please let me know in the comments below.
Until next time I wish you a happy and instant cooking.