My colleague, Art Director Michelle Knapp, had been singing the praises of her Instant Pot for months. Michelle is the type of person who doesn’t have much patience for mediocrity and tends to be brutally honest in her assessments of music, restaurants, and products. In her worldview, you are either nailing it or failing it.
We are both huge fans of eating but not so much of cooking. When Michelle seemed smitten by her electric multicooker, marveling over how much time it saved her as well as how perfectly her dishes turned out, I was intrigued.
By the time I bought my own Instant Pot, Michelle and I had talked about her “instapot” so often I thought of it as a cute little thing that sat on her countertop and magically produced meals at the touch of a button. In my head, it was about as intimidating as a teakettle.
In reality, the stainless-steel appliance is a bit more daunting. It’s a significant size and has lots of buttons. It can be used as a rice cooker, a pressure cooker, a steamer, a sauté pan, a yogurt maker, a warming pot, and a slow cooker.
There are a couple of ways to let the steam dissipate at the end of a cook cycle. One of those techniques—the “quick-release method”—involves turning a lever that disperses the steam into the air like a geyser with a long, dramatic hiss. This can be alarming at first, so much so that The “I Love My Instant Pot” Recipe Book (the unofficial recipe guide) warns “if you own dogs, apparently this release is the most frightening part of the day so take caution.”
My Instant Pot sat for days, its hulking presence mocking me from the counter as I actively avoided it. Finally, I sat down to read the instruction manual—a tedious ordeal but a step that can’t be skipped, for safety’s sake. Even still, I did a few things wrong, managing to burn my first meal—a steel-cut oatmeal dish—because I accidently used “quick-cooking” oats instead of the old-fashioned kind. (Have I mentioned I’m not a good cook?)
Then there was the time a drop of hot mist landed on the back of my hand. Apparently, I missed the recipe guide’s directive: “To quickly release the pressure on the Instant Pot, make sure you are wearing oven mitts.”
Michelle kindly sent me videos of herself and other people using their machines, and I caught on quickly. These how-to videos, made by home cooks and professionals, have been the most useful of any I’ve encountered online. The more kitchen hacks you learn, the more fun using the Instant Pot becomes.
Once you learn how to maximize its uses (soup in 10 minutes; risotto you don’t need to stir; unsoaked, dried lentils cooked in less than 20 minutes), you start to realize what a wonderful tool it is. It has the convenience of a slow cooker (throw a bunch of ingredients in a pot and walk away) and the speed we associate with microwaves. Cooking items like rice and beans in bulk becomes convenient, so it’s easy to freeze the extra food into meal-building blocks for later. Over time, a bond develops between human and machine, probably because the machine actually does make life easier.
This feeling of fondness is what’s allowed the Instant Pot, first available for purchase in 2010, to go viral. My model has close to 22,000 reviews on Amazon, 83 percent of which rate the appliance with five stars. The official Facebook Instant Pot Community has approximately 680,000 members. The machine’s buttons hint at its international appeal, with presets for rice, beans, yogurt, and porridge. The company built its success, not through traditional TV or print advertising, but via social media word of mouth.
If you succumb to the buzz and buy yourself a multicooker, remember that it may not be love at first sight, but it may be love at first bite!