After a week experimenting with the Instant Pot, I finally discovered the perks and ease of this seemingly complicated kitchen tool. Read what happened below!
When a friend of mine read an email I sent out to the Cook Smarts community about our new Instant Pot article, she offered to let me borrow hers. (In the email, I had shared that although so many of our meal plan members love their Instant Pots, I didn’t actually own one.)
Originally, I wanted to say no. I’m old school and I like pots and pans — things that don’t involve lots of buttons and instruction manuals. However, I felt like it was my responsibility to give the Instant Pot a try, and since I wouldn’t have to buy one, it seemed like a good opportunity.
Because it was borrowed (BTW, I was testing the DUO80 Instant Pot model), I didn’t have an instruction manual. However, since I had just edited our Instant Pot article, I understood the basics enough to get started.
My Instant Pot Fears and Questions
The fears and the questions I had before getting started were:
- There are so many buttons! How will I figure out which ones to use?
- It seems like Instant Pot recipes have so many steps! Is it going to take forever to program everything?
- What the heck is the difference between natural release and quick release?
The Instant Pot Functions I Used and How I Used Them
In my week of experimentation, I cooked carnitas, bone broth, and black beans. Instead of worrying about all of the buttons, I just focused on three — Sauté, Manual, and Cancel — and the pressure release valve.
The Sauté function is basically using the Instant Pot like you would a pan on the stovetop, except that it’s built into the appliance. To sauté, you hit the Sauté button with the inner pot inside and use it to brown veggies or get your aromatics going. In that way, it’s no different than what you would normally do in a recipe that calls for sautéing, searing, or browning of ingredients.
The Instant Pot has a lot of presets, including:
- Soup / Broth
- Meat / Stew
- Bean / Chili
But I just focused on the Manual function (a tip that was shared by one of our community members in the original Instant Pot article). Basically, it means that instead of using a preset, you set your own time and pressure settings — low or high. I didn’t bother with the pressure settings and just left it at high (the default setting).
For all of the recipes I tested, I hit the Manual button and set the time I wanted. After a few seconds, the display would switch to ON and the pot would start to pressurize. Then, when the cooking was finished, I’d hit the Cancel button to turn it off. Once it was off, I’d either do a natural release or a quick release to depressurize the pot. I did have to look up the difference between the two.
It turns out a natural release means to not do anything after the cooking time is done to allow the pressure to naturally release on its own. If you don’t like appliance jargon like me, natural release simply means to “let the thing you just cooked hang out.” It usually takes about 10 minutes for most of the pressure to release and it seems like this option is always the way to go unless you’ve got vegetables that could get soggy.
A quick release, on the other hand, is when you manually switch the valve from sealing to venting right after cooking. I accidentally did a quick release for one of the recipes I was supposed to do a natural release for (the carnitas), and I was a bit surprised by how much steam shot out of it. Luckily, I remembered to not position the Instant Pot under the kitchen cabinets!
The Results: Carnitas, Bone Broth, and Black Beans
Using the Manual function, I got super tender carnitas in an hour. Usually, I slow cook overnight so this really saved me a lot of time.
As for the bone broth, it was so good! It was super rich and flavorful in such a short amount of time.
The black beans also turned out well. I did overnight-soaked dried black beans on the Manual setting for 25 minutes and then did a natural release for 15 minutes. They turned out a little softer than I normally like them (we used them more like refried beans as a result), so I’ll need to tinker with the cooking time.
Is the Instant Pot Worth It? The Final Verdict
The verdict? The Instant Pot is pretty simple. Will I buy one for myself? Yes!
I’m waiting for a sale for the 8 quart Instant Pot (we frequently cook for huge crowds so the 6 quart is just going to be too small for us). I already have two slow cookers so it will replace one of them. I’m excited to test other foods in it like rice and whole grains.
Instant Pot Carnitas Recipe
I made the carnitas recipe below twice during my Instant Pot experiment because it was such a hit and so easy. If you’re a meat eater, it’s a simple and forgiving recipe to start with, and it’ll help you see the amazingness of this little machine. I mean, tender carnitas in an hour? What’s not amazing ‘bout that? Plus, you can easily freeze extra carnitas if you’re not feeding 10 or wanting to eat it at every meal for an entire week.
Man, I guess I’m now on the Instant Pot bandwagon! To see more of my Instant Pot adventures, follow me on Instagram!
If you’re unsure of how to get started using your Instant Pot or want more information about how it works, check out our article, How to Use an Instant Pot (and 10 Instant Pot recipes to get you started!).
Did you ever fear the Instant Pot? How’d you get over it? Let us know in the comments!
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