Instant Pot 101

Here's everything you need to know about this trendy and time-saving kitchen appliance.

Cooks across the country are buzzing about the Instant Pot — a mashup kitchen gadget that combines an electric pressure cooker with a slow cooker, rice steamer and more. With so many promises, it's hard to separate fact from the fiction. We asked Food Network Kitchen chef Melissa Gaman to break it down.

What is an Instant Pot?

It's a single electric cooker that does multiple things. It can work as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, steamer, yogurt maker, saute pan or warming pot. You plug it in and press a preset button for what you are making — like rice or soup — or you can use the manual setting button, which allows you to adjust the time and pressure level. And you can buy add-ons like a silicon strainer and a custom cheesecake pan.

How is it different from a pressure cooker or slow cooker?

It's not different; it's both. However, it is an electric pressure cooker so you don't need to heat it on the stove to control the pressure; it's all done automatically. And unlike most slow cookers, the Instant Pot has a saute function so you can brown meat and vegetables in it before you slow cook. You don't have to dirty more dishes — or lose the flavorful browned bits in the bottom of the pan.

Why is it so popular?

I think there are a number of reasons: It's versatile and it has made pressure cookers more accessible. People feel like they can cook for their family on a regular basis without having to plan far in advance or spend too much time in the kitchen. For example, you can get a chicken from your freezer to the dinner table in under an hour. And you can set the machine and walk away.

How does it save time?

The pressure cooker function really speeds things up: Steam gets trapped in the pot, raising the pressure, which in turn raises the boiling point. And with a higher boiling point, food cooks faster. Pulled pork takes about 6 hours in the oven and 2 hours in an Instant Pot. However, for foods with shorter cooking times, like baby potatoes, it may not be worth the wait. Yes, it takes 7 minutes for them to cook, but you have to add 10 minutes for the pot to come up to pressure and another 10 minutes for the pressure to release. Plus, you have to pierce each potato before cooking so the skins don't split.v

What foods do well in an Instant Pot?

It's great for beans since you don't have to soak them in advance. Long-cooking roasts and stews are done in a fraction of the time and some people think the flavors become even more intense. And grains like quinoa turn out nice and fluffy. It's more challenging to use with things like roast chicken or skin-on fish, where the moisture prevents you from achieving a nice crispy skin.

What about the exploding pressure cookers of my grandmother's day? 

There are more safety checks on electric pressure cookers than there were on old-fashioned stovetop ones. For example, the lid locks place while the machine is under pressure so you can't accidentally break the seal and have food go flying.

Advice for first-time users?

Be patient. It can take longer than you expect for the appliance to come to pressure. And if your meat comes out a little tough or the beans or grains are a little crunchy, remember: You can put the lid back on and cook them little longer. If you're looking for recipes, there are many on blogs and Facebook community pages with subgroups for paleo, vegetarian, vegan, Indian and other cuisines. There are also a number of cookbooks on the market and I'm sure plenty more are on the way. 

Recipes to Try

Instant Pot Chicken Adobo

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