What is an Instant Pot: The Ultimate Guide

What is an Instant Pot?

You’d have probably seen or heard of this electric multi-purpose pressure cooker at some point in your life. This small kitchen gadget is a highly versatile appliance that can work as a pressure cooker, rice cooker, slow cooker, steamer, warmer, and more. It also helps you save your money as well as kitchen counter space. It comes with pre-set programs that are designed to cook your favourite dishes to perfection, whether it be a stew, a cake, or porridge. Still not sure? Let’s start by looking at exactly what is an instant pot

What does an Instant Pot do, exactly?

If this electric counter top multi-purpose cooker earns a spot in your kitchen, it’s quite likely that you will start relying on it more than any other kitchen appliance. Although the specific functions of instant pot vary across its different types, the following basic programs are present in most of the models:

  • Pressure Cooker (almost all the instant pot models let you cook on low or high pressure, or select a specific pressure setting like meat/stew or poultry)
  •  Slow Cooker
  • Rice Cooker
  • Sauté/Browning  
  • Steamer
  •  Warmer
  • Yogurt Maker

Many Instant Pot models also come with extra programs such as cake maker, egg maker, and sterilizer. Depending on what type and size of instant pot you have, you can put specific types of dishes directly into the pot, such as spring-form pans or cupcake molds. 

You can also separate certain ingredients in the pot by using aluminium foil. In this way you can cook meat and veggies at the same time for dishes like fajitas. This appliance also features a timer and temperature settings, allowing you to decide whether you want to cook your meals at low, medium or high temperature. Moreover, it comes with a Keep Warm feature that lets you keep your food warm until it’s time to serve it.

How does an Instant Pot Work?

Instant Pot basically has 3 main components: the inner pot, the outer pot, and the lid. All these components work together to form an environment that facilitates rapid cooking times, high pressures, and high temperatures. 

The motherboard, the control panel, the heat source, and the temperature and pressure sensors all are housed in the outer pot. The inner pot, which is present inside the outer pot, is where the food is placed. And it is the cover, equipped with quick pressure release valves, gaskets and locking mechanisms, which locks the ingredients as well as the inner pot placed inside the outer pot. The cover creates an airtight seal at the top of the pot.

When you press any button on the control panel, a signal is sent to the motherboard. In turn, the motherboard turns on the heat source present at the bottom of the inner pot. As the seal at Instant Pot’s top is air-tight, the air rapidly heats up. The hot air expands, turning the liquid added in the pot into steam. This results in increased pressure built between the outer and inner pots. Under the heat source, there is a flexible plate. When the max tolerable air pressure level and temperature is attained, the flat plate bends to the point that the pressure sensor placed beneath the plate gets triggered.

This is a feedback mechanism for the instant pot’s motherboard – when the pressure sensor is triggered, the heat source switches off. This is also a safety feature as it helps avoid dangerously high levels of pressure which can lead to explosions.  

Ultimately, the air cools down, the pressure level drops, and the deformed plate comes back to its original shape. The pressure sensor gets deactivated, which in turn signals the instant pot to switch on the hearing source again. This constant heat cycle is also used in ovens – it is basically a way to maintain a moderately constant temperature in a closed space. Moreover, the duration and number of heat cycles depend on the cooking option that you choose on the control panel.

How to Use an Instant Pot?

How you use an instant pot depends mainly on what you’re cooking in it. But most recipes, especially those that involve meat, can be cooked in the pot by following these simple steps:

  • Select the sauté program in your instant pot. Add oil (or any other fat) in the pot and brown your meat, like chicken or beef in it. Aromatics, like onion and garlic, are also browned in this step.
  • Press the cancel button. Now click Manual, and then select the Pressure Cook program. Click it again to set the pot to High Pressure mode (which is required by most recipes). Set the cook time by using the plus and minus buttons.  
  • Place the lid over the instant pot and lock it properly. You’d hear a little sound when the pot is locked.
  • Make sure the venting valve located on the lid of the pot is in the sealing position.
  • When enough pressure is built inside the pot, the red button will pop up. This is when the cook time will actually begin.

Although most of the basic dishes follow this sequence, you may have to alter these steps a bit according to the specific recipe you’re cooking.

Natural Pressure Release vs. Quick Pressure Release

Even when the cook time is over on your instant pot, there is still one more step left i.e. releasing the pressure. There are two ways in which the pressure can be released from an instant pot. 

The first method is natural pressure release. Here, the venting valve stays in sealing position and pressure naturally dissipates over time. This process can take anywhere from 25 minutes to more than an hour, depending on the recipe you’re cooking. For example, low-liquid recipes, such as chicken drumsticks, take lesser time as compared to high-liquid recipes, such as soup or chili.

The other way is manual pressure release (or Quick Pressure Release). In this method, you have to carefully turn the valve into venting position. Once you turn the valve, the steam will shoot out of it and the pressure will be released. This option is much faster than the natural pressure release. However, very high-liquid recipes like soup may still take up to 15 minutes to manually release the pressure.

Models of Instant Pot

Instant pots come in several different models having sizes ranging from 3-quart to 8-quart. They are all amazing in their own way but have slightly different features. The most popular one amongst all the instant pots is the Instant Pot Duo, mainly because of its low and high pressure modes. Some instant pots, such as the Instant Pot Smart Wi-Fi, allow you to easily monitor and control your cooker with your smartphone or tablet.

Here are the different Instant Pot models available today:

Instant Pot Sizes

Instant Pots come in various sizes ranging from 3-quart to 8-quart. The most popular Instant Pot size is the 6-quart, as it is big enough for most families. Although there are several different versions of instant pots, but 6-quart is the standard size for all models including the Duo, Duo Plus, Lux, Ultra, Max, and Smart Wi-Fi versions. The 3-quart (the smallest size) as well as 8-quart (the largest size) is available for the LUX, DUO, DUO Plus, and Ultra Series. 

The 3-quart works best for cooking small meals for 2-3 people whereas 6-quart is ideal for 4-6 family members. And you have a large family with 6 or more members than 8-quart instant pot is the best choice. If you’re confused about what size you should go for, the 6-quart is the safest option for average people, and it can feed up to 6 people easily. 

What can you cook in an Instant Pot?

The recipes you can cook in an instant pot are endless! You can use this multi-purpose cooker to make rice, soup, hard-boiled eggs, meat, and more. Also, they’re great for big families and everybody who meal preps. You can easily make a huge batch of rice in it and then use the same pot to sauté your favourite veggies to have with them.  

You may have thought that pasta is already an easy-to-cook dish, but wait until you realize how easy it is to cook it in an Instant Pot. With an Instant Pot, you don’t need to wait for the water to boil. You won’t even have to drain the water after cooking – the slightly starchy water that is left helps the sauce to stick to the boiled pasta.

Moreover, you can cook stock, soup, and chili in your instant pots. If you love steel-cut coats then you’d probably know what they take to cook on the stove, but in an instant pot they hardly take around 8 minutes. You can also cook meat in instant pots, however, be sure to cut the large pieces into smaller chunks so it cooks faster. 

Should You Buy an Instant Pot?

The first thing you should keep in mind is that Instant Pot isn’t just a pressure cooker, it’s a true multi-cooker – it sears, sautés and browns food like a stovetop skillet. It streams food items like eggs, fish, and vegetables like a steamer. It also works as a standalone electric rice cooker. You can use this cooker to make cakes, bread, flan, custards, and even cheesecakes. May instant pot models also come with yogurt making modes, and yes, these pots function as slow cookers as well. 

The Instant Pot cooks your food with a combo of one-two punch combination of high pressure and heat. As a result, the food items that usually take a whole day to cook are ready in a few hours. And here we’re talking about tough cut meat, such as beef brisket. The same goes for stews and soups, and beans and grains. They take time that feels like an eternity to simmer. But with an instant pot it’s different. It prepares your soups and grains 3 times faster.

Instant pot isn’t any cantankerous old-school pressure cooker. It is equipped with plenty of safety features that help you cook your meals safely without any worries. For example, it has a host of sensors that help it self-regulate its internal temperature and pressure. They are designed to make sure that Instant Pot functions within its pre-set safety limits.  These sensors also detect whether the pot’s lid is properly locked or not. And if the lid isn’t firmly closed, the pot won’t build pressure. Likewise, when the cooker’s inner pot becomes pressurized, the cover locks in place automatically. 

By now you’d know that there is no other cooking appliance that offers as many functions and advantages as an instant pot. You can prepare all your favorite dishes in this one appliance so you’ll have less to clean up. It works as multiple kitchen devices so owning an instant pot means you can get rid of all those devices and free up your kitchen space. So if you want to alleviate your cooking experience with the help of a single cooking appliance, then instant pot is it is! Once you get used to cooking in an instant pot, there’s no other kitchen device you’ll find better than it. 

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