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You hear everyone raving about them all the time, but what exactly is an Instant Pot? Well, the popular brand of multi-cookers is great for two solid reasons: saving time and space in the kitchen. They take the place of multiple other kitchen appliances (so you don't need separate egg cookers or rice cookers), and some can even work as a yogurt maker or sterilize baby bottles (yes, really!).
After discovering the magic of Instant Pots, I can honestly say that it made my Sunday morning meal prep a thousand times easier. With an Instant Pot, I can cook a week's worth of lunches (and sometimes dinners!) in about an hour, while avoiding a sink full of dirty pots and pans.
What is an Instant Pot?
An Instant Pot is a multicooker that has tons of functions, including pressure cooking, slow cooking, rice cooking, steaming, warming and sautéing — all in one appliance that helps expedite the cooking process. The first-ever Instant Pot was introduced back in 2010. Fast forward to 2021, and Instant Pots come in plenty of different models with sizes ranging from 3-quart to 8-quart. They're all great for slightly different reasons, but our experts say the Instant Pot Duo is best for most people especially since it has low and high pressure modes.
What's the difference between an Instant Pot, a pressure cooker and a slow cooker?
Even though an Instant Pot can function as a pressure cooker, they're different. To help clear the confusion, our Kitchen Appliance Lab experts at the Good Housekeeping Institute broke down the differences between these terms:
Pressure cookers offer an easy way to get food on the table fast. Whether it's an electric pressure cookers or stovetop pressure cooker, a pressure cooker drastically reduces cook time by raising the boiling point of water and trapping the steam. Once your food is done cooking, you can either release the pressure manually with the knob or wait for the steam to naturally release.
Slow cookers are great for people who want to come home from work to a hot dinner waiting for them. They're called "set it and forget it" appliances for a reason: Just throw ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning, and it'll cook on low heat throughout the day. You can often set them to cook for a certain number of hours and then have it switch to a keep warm setting.
Crock-Pot is a popular slow cooker brand. People often use its name interchangeably with "slow-cooker," but the brand also makes multi-cookers.
Instant Pot is the most popular multi-cooker brand, and basically all of the above!
Are Instant Pots dangerous?
While pressure cookers of the past might have been dicey safety-wise, an Instant Pot is comprised of an outer pot (or base), a stainless steel inner pot, and a lid, all of which have plenty of safety mechanisms built-in so that you don't need to worry about them being dangerous. "They have a silicone gasket that prevents steam from escaping, which helps regulate pressure," says Nicole Papantoniou, Good Housekeeping Institute's Kitchen Appliance Lab Director. That said, "If your gasket is damaged or ruined, you should definitely replace it."
As an added safety feature, the Instant Pot also features a floating valve, an indicator that pops up when it's unsafe to open the lid while cooking foods. When the floating valve is raised, the lid will automatically lock when it's at a pressure level that could be dangerous.
To release the pressure post-cooking, you can either use the quick release feature, which ejects steam from the pot quickly (typically over 1-2 minutes), or a natural release, which lets out steam over time. Your recipe will often indicate whether you should use quick or natural release, but as a rule of thumb, Papantoniou says natural release is best for stews and other foods that won't overcook, while quick release is recommended for dishes like pasta that are at risk of overcooking. If you do use quick release, you should use tongs (instead of your bare hands) to move the nozzle and release steam.
When it comes to food safety, the Instant Pot's automatic keep warm setting can also help keep your food out of the "danger zone" (the temperature range in which bacteria rapidly multiply in food, which spans between 40°F and 140°F according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration).
What are the best things to cook in an Instant Pot?
The options are endless! You can use an Instant Pot to make rice, cook hard-boiled eggs, and more. Plus, they're great for large families or anyone who meal preps. I'm not even a good cook, but I love making a huge batch of rice in it, then using the same pot to sauté veggies and simmer with my favorite tikka masala sauce. Whenever I make that meal, my coworkers often say that my lunch smells great — and I always tell them how easy it was to make in my Instant Pot!
Pro tip: Your Instant Pot takes time to come to pressure first before the actual cooking process begins. Expect meals with less liquid to come to pressure and start cooking much quicker than recipes that are mostly liquid (like a big soup), which can take a while to come to pressure first.
You may have thought making pasta was already easy, but wait until you realize how simple it is to make in an Instant Pot. There's no need to wait around for the water to boil, and you don't even have to drain it after cooking — the little bit of starchy water that's left over helps the sauce stick to the pasta. (I add sauce, spinach, and other veggies in after pressure cooking is done so they don't get mushy.)
Our Kitchen Appliance experts love cooking soup, stock, and chili in their Instant Pots. If you're a fan of steel-cut oats, then you know how long they take to make on the stove — but in an Instant Pot, they only take eight minutes! If you're cooking meat, be sure to cut large chunks into smaller pieces so it cooks faster.
If you need a little more inspiration, the Good Housekeeping Test Kitchen has got you covered with plenty of Instant Pot recipes to try at home. We love these appliances so much, we dedicated an entire cookbook to the Instant Pot! Good Housekeeping's Instant Pot Cookbook features 60 super satisfying recipes designed to be made in the Instant Pot. Here's a sneak peek of a few of our favorites:
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