I never wanted to admit this publicly, to open myself up for criticism (or worse), but let me start by saying, maybe it's not the Instant Pot; maybe it's me.
It took me a while to jump on the pressure cooker bandwagon. I'm not a good cook; in fact, I don't eat all that much. I rely on my Crock-Pot. I can throw in a few things in the morning and magically, dinner will be ready after work. Things mostly end up tender (or mushy) but they rarely burn and they never undercook.
Then it was Instant Pot everywhere. My Facebook feed was filled with people raving about all the wonderful things you could do with this magical appliance from pot roasts (from frozen!) and beans to perfect rice and amazing soups.
But I'm not an early adopter. Unlike my dad who bought the first microwave and VCR in our neighborhood and gets credit for inventing rotisserie chicken in his tiny hometown in Italy, I like to wait and suss things out long after the bandwagon has headed out of town.
But then there was yet another Prime Day and my husband visited his brother, who raved about the family Instant Pot, and so we caved. The gleaming, intimidating thing showed up on our doorstep.
Tackling the learning curve
I had read enough to know that this device wouldn't be like a slow cooker. There would be a bit of a learning curve — figuring out a quick release versus a natural release and how long to cook everything. But still, the thing sat in the box. Then it sat on the counter before we decided to tackle something.
Up first were some simple chicken breasts. Sprinkle on a little seasoning. Pour in some chicken broth. Press a button and wait for pressure to build.
And wait. And wait some more.
The first thing I learned about the Instant Pot is that there's truly nothing instant about it. When recipes boast that things only take a few minutes, that's after the pot builds up pressure. It took probably 20 minutes for the contraption to pressurize and start cooking, which admittedly didn't take long. Then there was the instant release which, despite the warning, is still shocking — that's one loud, angry column of steam bursting out of confinement!
The chicken was fine. It wasn't falling apart like it would've been in the slow cooker. And I guess I could've put it back in there to cook some more, but that would've required the whole pressure buildup process all over again.
Really? You made this in there? (Photo: Laurel West/Instant Pot Community)
No one expects the first time to be a charm, so I tried again. I made more chicken breasts, this time using the saute function first before cooking. Again, they were just fine.
I tried rice, twice. It was OK. Well, one time, it was worse. My husband made it and forgot to check to make sure the pressure valve was sealed. Rookie mistake. The other time, it didn't taste any better or worse than stovetop rice, and it sure wasn't any quicker. When you choose the natural release function, you let the pressure release on its own before removing the lid. Again, nothing instant about that.
I made soup, which was decent, but no better than anything I've made in the Crock-Pot. I made mac-and-cheese, and that one was just bad. It tasted like it came out of a box.
I tried a whole chicken. We don't buy them often, but rotisserie chickens are a convenient shortcut sometimes. The chicken was just meh. But I did take all the leftovers and make broth, which is packaged nicely and sitting in the freezer. It made me feel like I accomplished something, but for a non-cook, it sure was a lot of work and a lot of cleanup.
Speaking of cleanup, this thing is a pain to clean. There's the inner pot, a float valve, a drip cup and, no matter how hard you clean it, the silicone ring just smells like chicken. Yes, there are things you can do with vinegar to fix all that, but at this point, I'm not that committed.
People love their Instant Pots so much that they personalize them. (Photo: JacksonsShoppe/Etsy)
But please, before you type your withering critique ... I know it's me. I think I've figured out that I'm not the ideal audience for this machine of culinary genius.
I think the Instant Pot is for people who like to tinker and like to share recipes. The Instant Pot Facebook community has more than 1.2 million members with more than 10,000 posts a day. Not only do people share their ideas and successes, but they rave about decals they bought for their adored appliance and other unusual uses like steaming baby bottles.
Yes, sometimes people share the occasional fail. And sometimes people admit that releasing the pressure scares them. (It really freaked out my dog.) But from them, I get an overall feeling of giddiness and excitement; for me, it's just foreboding.
Or maybe it's for people who have a busy day and rush home and throw stuff together for a quick meal — "quick" being relative. I like to take care of it in the morning and not worry about it when I'm done with my workday.
In any case, I've failed. I'm sure it's a combination of user error and very little motivation.
I'd like to just hide this massive machine in the pantry so it's not always taunting me, but it just won't fit. So it sits on the counter, reminding me that I'm a rotten cook and that I would almost always rather be making cereal for dinner.
So if you know anyone who wants to buy a slightly used Instant Pot, I might know of one. Just know that is smells a little like chicken ...