Instant Pot

The principals of Double Insight developed the Instant Pot in 2008-9 and were on the market by 2012. The Instant Pot pressure multi-cooker took off in 2015-6 with social media and presence in Amazon Market Place. “Instant Pot” is not a trade mark like Vacuum Cleaner or Bandaid – it is a brand name. Instant Pot launched a sous-vide heater in 2018, and a blender early in 2019, It merged with Corelle Brand LLC in March 2019, and launched new rice cooker and air fryer appliances in time for Black Friday.

Instant Pot markets its pressure multi-cooker as a replacement for other appliances by providing “Smart Programs” that control the cooker to work in a way equivalent to other appliances.

Almost all other pressure multi-cookers, and many devices with a bottom element have a program or setting to brown or sauté. The electric skillet was a common appliance in last few decades of the 20th century. I recall devices with a dial contol marked with temperatures – like a dimmer switch. Some electric skillets had thermostat controls.

Instant Pots, like almost all pressure multi-cookers, control the sauté function with programmed settings and use feedback from a “digital temperature sensor”. The Lux, Duo and Ultra models have three temperature settings for the sauté program. There are different ways of selecting the sauté settings. The manuals identify the effect of using the settings in a range of temperatures. The Ultra models have three defaults, and allow a user to select or specify a custom temperature:

DuoUltraRange F(C)Setting F(C)
LessLow275-302 (135- 150) 221 (105)
NormalMedium320-349 (160-176) 336
MoreHigh347-410 (175-210) 345
Custom ≥ 104 – ≤ 338 (40-170)

The sensor is on the outside. The device preheats to a temperature above the set temperature and signals that the pot is “hot”, in the LCD display. The cooking surface is hotter than the set temperature when the hot signal shows. The display turns to “on” when food is added to the pot and heated. The transfer of heat to the food lowers the temperature of the cooking surface.

The hot signal is one of Instant Pot’s overheat/burn protection systems. When the display goes from “On” to “Hot” during cooking, the food is dry because all the moisture has evaporated, and there is a risk of overheating.

Instant Pot limits the cooking time on a sauté program to 30 minutes, and automates the time function. For instance setting a period of less than 5 minutes does not mean that the device will cook at the set level for the programmed time. I have had it reach go from preheat to on to off in a few seconds. It subtract a few minutes apparently to adjust for the period of cooking that occurred while the device was reaching operating temperature. I couldn’t find an explanation in the vast web literature about the device or in Instant Pot’s official web literature. The time can be set at 20-30 minutes, and the device treated like a skillet – watch, stir, deglaze – and shut off by stopping the program. (Or keep oven mitts handy and lift the vessel and use it as stovetop pot to simmer or boil or reduce the liquid – whatever).

Using an Instant Pot to sauté is like cooking in a narrow, tall Dutch Oven on a moderately hot to hot stove. The steel pot is preferable – it withstands stirring with various implements, and is easier to clean. The optional tempered glass lid is useful in cooking in sauté program.

The Instant Pot’s key program is Pressure Cook, an electric pressure cooker function with high and low pressure/temperature settings, and cooking time programable in one minute increments. Preheating is automated. The device will cook for the programmed time at the operating pressure programmed. It may show a hot or burn setting – some foods are a greater risk for such misadventure.

Cooks Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen’s Multicooker Perfection (2018) reported that the Instant Pot Duo (8 quart) runs a little differently than other electric pressure cookers. It heats to 247 F. but takes several minutes longer to reach operating pressure than other pressure multi-cookers and electric pressure cookers. Instant Pot models introduced before 2018 peak at over 13 psi but operate with operating high pressure of 10.2-11.6 psi, in the same operating pressure range as other electric pressure cookers. Electric pressure cooker recipes work in Instant Pots, with few adjustments. I may add 10% cooking (i.e. at operating pressure) time on some recipes.

A pressure multi-cooker can cook many foods using pressure cooker programs. Laura Pazzaglia and other pressure cooker writers concentrate on the pressure cooker functions of pressure multi-cookers. Laura Pazzaglia suggests recipes should be adapted for pressure unless a recipe uses ingredients that fail under pressure or create functional complications. Her books and web site provide tables for cooking specific items in most pressure cookers at different operating pressures.

Laura Pazzaglia, Barbara Schieving and other writers have several recipes for rice and suggestions for cooking rice on pressure settings. These writers have little to say about the Instant Pot Rice program. The Rice program uses low pressure with automated functions to cook long grain white rice and some short grain white rice. It provides a basic steamed rice function, and may support a few other preparations. It has been a work in progress in the manuals, recipe booklets, independently sourced recipes and support documentation.

Instant Pot identifies three temperature settings for the slow cooker function across the pressure multi-cooker product lines in the 6 and 8 quart models.The Instant Pot manuals for the Duo and Ultra models (5, 6, and 8 quart) indicate the slow cooker functions cook in a range of 180-210 F. The ranges for each setting:

DuoUltraRange F (C) Set F (C)
LessLow 180 – 190 (82 – 87.8)185 (85)
NormalMedium 190 – 200 (87.8 – 93)194 (90)
MoreHigh 200 – 210 (93 – 99) 208 (97.7)
Custom ≥ 104 (40) – ≤ 208 (97.7)

Cooks Illustrated/ATK’s Multicooker Perfection (2018) reported that the Instant Pot Duo (8 quart) did not perform well as a slow cooker. It reports that the Instant Pot slow cooker high setting will heat water to to 206 F. – i.e. the Instant Pot is set to not boil water. Laura Pazzaglia explains the weaknesses of the Instant Pot slow cooker program:

Medium and high are simmer settings, and supposed to make an Instant Pot “replace” a traditional slow cooker.

Readers have reported under-cooked food and less evaporation when slow cooking with all Instant Pot models, …  The under-cooking is … a side-effect of all new generation thermostat-regulated slow cookers versus the traditional wattage-regulated cookers and the uneven heat distribution between a stainless steel insert compared to ceramic inserts.

A pressure multi-cooker is different from the traditional slow cookers, and will not perform some recipes. Instant Pots can perform many slow cooker recipes in the slow cooker program. One approach to using the Instant Pot as a slow cooker is to find tested multi-cooker slow cooker recipes. Some books provides recipes that can be done using slow cooker program in a pressure multi-cooker.

  • Melissa Clark’s Dinner in an Instant (2017) has Instant Pot slow cooker versions of every recipe;
  • Cooks Illustrated/ATK Multicooker Perfection (2018) has slow cooker versions of every recipe with a suggetion for the Instant Pot of using Instant Pot slow cooker high setting where the Multicooker Perfection recipe says slow cooker low;
  • Madhur Jaffrey has recipes for lamb (and goat) including a lamb pilaf using the slow cooker program of an Instant Pot (her Instantly Indian Cookbook refers to a 6 quart Duo v. 3). She advises using the sealing lid ands leaving the pressure release valve open.

Contrary to the Instant Pot Manual, the optional tempered glass lid is not helpful in slow cooker setting cooking; it may be counterproductive.

A cook can use the pressure cooker for some ingredients that work in a pressure cooker e.g. dried beans, and other tools and methods to make the rest of the dish e.g. sauté or brown other ingredients in a vessel of choice, add in the pre-cooked ingredient, heat on a sauté or steam setting and then let it all simmer for a while onslow cooker setting. Or add the ingredients, simmer on the Instant Pot slow cooker setting and raise the temperature to a boil for as long as it takes to make sure everything is cooked.

Even low sauté can heat the dish to a boil. Steam setting does it too – even the no pressure steam setting can bring liquid to a rolling boil. This means a short time. (The Ultra settings are not useful for getting a higher slow cooker temperature). This may involve watching and stirring to distribute heat. The glass lid can be usefully used let some heat out while simmering on one of these higher heat settings.

A short time on a pressure setting can speed up a dish that fails to cook on a slow cooker setting. The pressure settings require the sealing lid, locked in place. The pressure setting will boil the food. The release valve can be closed for pressure, or left open. If the valve is left open, it will vent; and some cooking fluid will evaporate.

Recipe sources:

Title/NameType Who  
Cooking Under Pressure Book1989Lorna J. SassGoodreadsStovetop "standard" recipes, have to be adjusted for lower pressure devices
hip Pressure CookingBook2014Laura PazzagliaGoodreadsPressure recipes: standard and electric cooking times
hippressurecooking.comWebLaura PazzagliaPressure recipes: standard and electric cooking times
MaoMaoMom KitchenWeb[eponymous]Instant Pot recipes
Vegan under PressureBook2016Jill NussinowStovetop standard recipes
Dinner in an InstantBook2017Melissa ClarkInstant Pot recipes
The Electric Pressure Cooker CookbookBook2017Barbara SchievingGoodreadsElectric device recipes
Pressure Cooking TodayWebBarbara and Jennifer SchievingElectric device recipes
Instant Pot Recipe BookletBooklet2018Instant Pot corporate; various contributorsInstant Pot recipes
Multicooker PerfectionBook2018Cook's Illustrated (America's Test Kitchen)Electric device recipes
Madhur Jaffrey's Instantly Indian CookbookBook2019Madhur Jaffreyrecipes from Indian cooking books for Instant Pot

The Instant Pot product sheet for the Ultra model says the Ultra program “provides complete custom programming for pressure and non-pressure cooking”. Laura Pazzaglia explains the program this way:

…the ability to pre-program the cooker with any cooking time, any temperature or one of two pressures.

…the Ultra feature will let you set the right temperature to, for example, scald milk (180°F/82°C) and melt chocolate (104°F/40°C).

The Ultra function temperature range is ≥ 104 – ≤ 208 F (40-97.7 C) . People experiment using the Ultra function for Sous-vide. It would be wise to use a thermometer to verify the temperature of the water.

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