Instant Pot

The principals of Double Insight developed the Instant Pot pressure multi-cooker in 2008-9. It was on the market by 2012, and 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. 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 have a programmed sauté which uses feedback from a “digital temperature sensor”.

The Lux, Duo and Ultra models have three temperature settings for the sauté program, set at target points. The manuals correlate the settings to ranges of temperatures. The Ultra models also 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 outside the cooking vessel at the bottom, below the cooking surface. The device signals “Hot” in the LCD display when the cooking surface is hotter than the set temperature. The Hot signal is an overheat/burn protection system. The transfer of heat to the food lowers the temperature of the cooking surface; the display turns to “On” when food is heated. When the display goes from “On” to “Hot” during cooking, all the moisture has evaporated, and there is a risk of overheating the dried out food.

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. I couldn’t find an explanation in the web literature about the device or in Instant Pot’s official web literature. It seems to subtract a few minutes, apparently to adjust for the period of cooking that occurred while the device was reaching operating temperature. 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 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. I find it better to use a skillet when a recipe suggests using the sauté setting to brown an ingredient that has to be removed and set aside.

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. The Duo and Ultra models have two settings for the pressure cooker program. The cooking temperature, when the device has reached that pressure is related to pressure:

Pressure SettingPressure (kPa)Pressure (bars)Pressure (psi)Temperature F. (C)
Boiling point0212 (100)
Low40-505.8-7.2229-233 (110-11)
High70-8010.2-11.6240-242 (116-117)
Normal stovetop cooker15250 (121)

Cooks Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen’s Multicooker Perfection (2018) reported that the Instant Pot Duo (8 quart) 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.

Many “Instant Pot” recipe sources concentrate heavily on the pressure cooker function. Laura Pazzaglia, Barbara Schieving and other pressure cooker writers concentrate on the pressure cooker functions of electric 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, called by different names for the Duo and Ultra models (5, 6, and 8 quart). Normal (Medium) and More (High) are simmer settings, and supposed to “replace” low and high, the cooking functions in a traditional slow cooker. Less (Low) is supposed to replace the warming setting in a traditional slow cooker. It is not a cooking setting!

Cooks Illustrated/ATK’s Multicooker Perfection (2018) reported that the Instant Pot Duo (8 quart) did not perform well as a slow cooker on that publisher’s repertoire of slow cooker recipes. Some sources provides recipes that can be done using either in pressure cooker program or slow cooker program in an Instant Pot, or another pressure multi-cooker. Cooks Illustrated/ATK doesn’t like Instant Pot for large recipes. Christopher Kimball has tips on how to use an Instant Pot:

  • Melissa Clark, Dinner in an Instant, (2017);
  • Cooks Illustrated/ATK, Multicooker Perfection, (2018);
  • Christopher Kimball, Milk Street Fast and Slow, (2020) [update]

A few other Instant Pot or pressure multi-cooker sources provide recipes for slow cooker programs. For instance, Madhur Jaffrey has recipes for lamb (and goat), including a lamb pilaf, using the Instant Pot slow cooker program (her Instantly Indian Cookbook refers to a 6 quart Duo v. 3).

The slow cooker program provides a capability for timed and partially automated slow cooking, but recipes that work in traditional slow cookers will not necessarily work in an Instant Pot or other pressure multi-cooker. The slow cooker program is worth learning.

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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