The Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker that has taken the USA by storm. We put this cult gadget through its paces to bring you the ultimate user guide, which includes Instant Pot recipes.
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What is an Instant Pot?
How does an Instant Pot work?
Why buy an Instant Pot?
How to use an Instant Pot
The best parts of an Instant Pot
What we didn’t like about the Instant Pot
Where to buy an Instant Pot
Instant Pot recipes
Step-by-step guide to using an Instant Pot
Safety advice for using an Instant Pot
Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 in a nutshell:
Pros: The Instant Pot is a single piece of kit that can perform several cooking functions, all of which will make your life easier. The main function is pressure cooking, which speeds up the cooking time of cheaper ingredients while adding more flavour than a slow cooker ever can. It does also slow cook, steam and sauté.
Pressure cooking can seem terrifying, but this electric version makes the whole experience easy to use and looks and feels very safe. There are several safety features that you can’t override so you can rest easy as you use it – but you must always follow the instructions, pressure is pressure after all. As a counter-top cooker it’s relatively compact, smart to look at and reasonably priced.
Cons: The slow cook function isn't an efficient as a slow cooker and as the heat source is at the base, it cooks from the bottom up. The silicone seal picks up aromas from the food that don’t wash out so it needs airing and cleaning regularly. The manual isn’t particularly good so you’ll need to look up more information online.
An Instant Pot Duo is an electric pressure cooker that can slow cook, too. It also has a sauté function so you can brown your ingredients in it before starting the cooking process or bubble off liquid at the end.
Other functions include making yogurt and cooking rice. Truly one-pot cooking. This is a more upright pot (like a saucepan) than bigger slow cookers which get longer the bigger they are, but it takes up more space than a small slow cooker.
Instant Pot sell multiple models in different sizes. We reviewed the Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1, which comes in three sizes.
In pressure cooking mode, the Instant Pot locks the lid on and heats the liquid within it to make steam and it’s this steam that increases the pressure within it. This in turn speeds up the cooking time considerably, because under pressure water boils at a higher temperature, and the pressure forces the liquid into the ingredients faster.
This is particularly obvious when you cook cheaper cuts of meat that are tougher at the start. Pressure cooking also does one other thing that slow cooking doesn't – it will brown and caramelise the surface of ingredients because of the high temperature, which adds lots more flavour.
The pressure inside the cooker is kept under control by a valve that pops up to seal the lid as the pressure increases and a valve that lets out pressure as steam if it needs to bring the pressure down.
When the cooking time has finished you can open the valve to decrease the pressure quickly, which produces a stream of noisy steam. Alternatively, you can leave the pressure to drop over time.
An Instant Pot is for you if you like to use cheap cuts of meat that need a long cooking time to tenderise. Similarly, if you eat lots of beans and pulses and like to cook them from dried, or steam your fish and veg, or eat lots of rice. It also allows you to simply walk away from what you are cooking and do something else.
Though you’ll have to make an initial investment, over time you will be able to spend less on cheaper ingredients. Because the Instant Pot slow cooks and steams, you could clear some counter space if you have several appliances.
As a pressure cooker
Choose a recipe to suit pressure cooking. If cooking meat or chicken, choose cuts that have plenty of fat and connective tissue – lean meat and chicken breasts to do not cook well under pressure and will come out stringy. Anything with bones in it will cook well, from whole chickens, wings and thighs, to beef and pork ribs.
Grains and pulses do well but do check the fill line rules if you are starting with dried ingredients. Vegetables cook very quickly in a pressure cooker but will become very tender. We tried it with red cabbage and while the flavour was excellent after five minutes cooking, once we’d bubbled off the excess liquid the texture was very soft.
As a slow cooker
You can use the Instant Pot as a slow cooker by cooking with the steam vent open and not using pressure. If you do a lot of slow cooking you might want to buy a glass lid for this function. The Duo has a good base heating element and strong lid seal but you do need to make sure it has got hot enough to cook things through.
As a rice cooker
This function works efficiently for basmati rice but you do need to be careful not to overcook it. We took 2 minutes off the recommended time and soaked the rice for 15 minutes first.
When you take the lid off, the rice will all be at the base and needs fluffing up straight away. If you are a fan of fried rice then you’ll find this the perfect way to cook it as the rice dries very fast and won’t stick at all when fried.
The sauté function works well for onion, chopped veg and starting off dishes with small amounts of ingredients. It isn’t as efficient if you add too much meat as the steam given off runs back down the high sides and makes it difficult to brown well.
This button can also be used at the end of cooking to thicken a sauce. We added a mixture of flour and butter (beurre manié) to our beef stew at the end to thicken it.
You can raise or lower the ‘sauté’ temperature by pressing the sauté button twice to make it hotter and three times to lower it. One press gives you medium.
It cooks chickpeas and other pulses from dried very quickly. These have a firmer texture than canned varieties which give more bite to whatever you add them too. Chickpeas cooked in this way also make a very silky-smooth hummus.
You can cook tough cuts of meat to tenderness in 30 minutes.
It does the job of several appliances so frees up space in your kitchen.
Has a max fill and ½ fill lines marked on the interior of the liner unlike some pressure cookers. This is important for safety.
It's able to fry using the sauté button. This saves you having to fry onions and brown ingredients in a pan first.
It's mostly silent when cooking apart from the odd release of steam, a boon if you live in your kitchen and have several other activities taking place at the same time.
Uses power efficiently and has a delayed cooking function in slow cooking if you want to set it to cook for a particular time.
You can add to your repertoire and buy extra features for it. These include steamer baskets, yogurt pots, ceramic inner pots, cake tins and different shaped steam vents.
The manual isn’t wonderful and there are some contradictions within it about the minimum amount of liquid that should be in the pot.
Luckily there are plenty of online forums and communities to find all the information that is missing. The Hip Pressure Cooking website is fairly exhaustive and Instant Pot suggest you look at it for more information
The steam vent feels wrong when you turn from vent to seal or vice versa as it sits loose in its socket. As you turn it the valve slides up a slope to let out more steam and until you get used to it, this feels as if it is loose.
The silicone seal picks up aromas from the food that don’t wash out so it needs airing and cleaning regularly. If you regularly cook strong flavours you might want to buy another to use for dishes that are more delicate. They are about £6 on amazon.co.uk.
Laying your hands on an Instant Pot is more difficult than you might think. It is often sold out in the UK, although it can be bought from various places when in stock.
It also can be found on eBay – sometimes at highly inflated prices – but if you really can’t get hold of one, we’ve also reviewed traditional pressure cookers which can operate as stand-ins.
Instant Pot chicken casserole recipe
Use the quantities in this chicken & mushroom casserole recipe. Brown the chicken, pancetta, mushrooms and shallots in the Instant Pot on sauté, or in a pan. Add the stock and vinegar and cook on High pressure for 10 mins. Add the peas and parsley once you have decreased the pressure and opened the lid. Use the sauté function to bubble off any excess liquid.
Instant Pot boiled eggs
It may seem mad to cook boiled eggs in a pressure cooker, but if you need to make a large batch, it’s worth doing. They won’t crack as they cook. They’ll cook through evenly and the pressure makes fresher eggs easy to peel at the end. You do need to cook them on Low, time them precisely and vent the steam quickly at the end to get the most accurate results.
Instant Pot boiled eggs recipe in full:
6 eggs, fridge cold
1. Pour 250ml water into the Instant Pot. Arrange the eggs on the trivet or in a steamer basket. Lock the lid and set the cooker to Low pressure for 5 mins for a medium yolk, 6 mins for hard boiled.
2. When the time is up, carefully vent the steam straight away following the instructions. If you leave the pressure to drop first then the eggs will keep cooking.
3. Cool the eggs immediately in iced water or under running cold water.
Instant Pot rice recipe
Measure your rice in a container, either a cup, mug or glass, and use the same container for the water.
1-2 cups rice
1. Rinse the rice and put it into the Instant pot. Add 1½ cups of water for each cup of rice. Cook for 3 mins on high, then press cancel and time 10 mins before releasing any pressure.
Instant Pot beef stew recipe
This beef & vegetable stew recipe works very well in a pressure cooker. Don’t add the flour at the start of cooking as it may collect on the base of the cooker and cook to a thick sludge. Only add 300ml water and cook for 30 mins on High.
Once you have decreased the pressure and opened the lid, turn on the sauté function. Mix 1 tbsp flour with 1 tbsp soft butter and stir blobs of it into the stew while the sauce is bubbling. This will thicken it.
Instant Pot Bolognese recipe
This slow cooker spaghetti Bolognese recipe can be sped up by cooking it on High for 30 minutes. Use the sauté function at the end to bubble off any excess liquid. Leave the red wine out if you prefer and make sure the whole batch doesn’t exceed the two-thirds fill line.
Instant Pot chickpeas recipe
Chickpeas can be cooked from dry or pre-soaked. If you soak them for 12 hours then they will cook very quickly. Dried chickpeas can be cooked in 40 mins plus the time it takes for the pressure to rise and fall. Chickpeas will double in volume so it’s important not to cook too many at once, don’t exceed the ½ fill line.
How to cook chickpeas in an Instant Pot:
1 cup dried chickpeas (it’s easier to measure in a cup rather than weigh)
Rinse the chickpeas and put them in the Instant Pot with four cups of water. Cook on High pressure for 40 mins and then let the pressure decrease naturally. Drain (the liquid is aquafaba, the longer you leave the chickpeas in it the thicker it will get). Use this hummus recipe to finish.
1. Check the seal is in place and that the inside of the lid is clean.
2. Use the sauté function if your ingredients need browning first, but don't overcrowd the pan. You can of course use the stove and tip the ingredients into the pot, but if you fry in the pot you will cut down the time that pressurising the ingredients takes as they will all be hot.
3. Add the other ingredients.
4. Check you have enough liquid and check the fill line.
5. Lock on the lid.
6. Position the valve to sealing.
7. Select the function and set the timer.
8. Wait for pressure to be reached.
9. Wait for the beep to start the timer – now you are cooking.
10. When you hear the timer end beep, either press cancel and let the pot depressurise on its own over time (but bear in mind that the recipe will keep cooking), or follow the 10-minute natural, or quick release instructions.
11. Use the sauté function to thicken a sauce if you need to.
Don’t ever put any alcohol stronger than wine in a pressure cooker. This is a safety issue. Under pressure alcohol may be turned to a vapour and escape through the steam valve, which makes it extremely flammable.
If you are not following a specific recipe, for each type of food you cook always follow the guide to which fill line to use on the cooker.You need to do this because some foods like dried beans expand as they cook and create lots of bubbles and froth which has potential to block the valve. Never go over the ½ way line for these.
Don’t peer over the top of the cooker when you vent steam as it can shoot out quite fast. Also bear in mind that if the pressure rises too much the pot will vent on its own which can make you jump.
Kitchen gadgets on-test
This review was last updated in January 2020. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have you tried out an Instant Pot? We'd love to hear your experiences, and any recipe ideas, in the comments below. Please let us know if you'd like more Instant Pot recipes, too.