Learn the science behind:
We never (or barely ever) made chili from dried beans, or made a meat stew during the week or made our own yogurt. All of that changed when we got our InstantPot, a pressure cooker and yogurt maker (that’s the functions we use most) in one!
But it took us a while to decide which InstantPot to buy and up to the point we ordered it we definitely doubted whether we would actually be using it regularly. By now, we’re very happy we decided to buy and we’ll give you a run down of why and how it’s a great (and quite unique!) tool!
Please note, this page contains Amazon affiliate links. This means that, at no extra cost to you, we will earn a small commission if you buy through these links. Always feel free to buy somewhere else.
Another note: we own the InstantPot Duo Plus 9-in-1 (affiliate link) and describe that in the post below. Some models might differ, which we will cover to some extent at the end of the post.
What’s an InstantPot?
First of all, InstantPot is a brand name. InstantPot is most well known for its pressure cooker (and InstantPot tends to refer to the pressure cooker), but they also make sous vide cookers, blenders and slow cookers (without the pressure cooking function).
Within the pressure cooking realm they again sell a lot of different models, constantly improving and upgrading their devices (though not all upgrades are as useful). Most models can do more than just pressure cooking, ut we’ll come back to that later. For now we’ll just focus on the pressure cooking aspect (since that was the main reason we bought it).
What is pressure cooking?
We have a more extensive explanation of pressure cooking, but here’s a quick run down. A pressure cooker is designed to withstand higher pressures than the regular pressure around you which allows your to cook at increased pressure. The reason you might want to do this is that the boiling point of water increases at a higher pressure. As a result, you can cook at higher temperatures, resulting in faster cooking times. Stewing meat (or cooking a tough piece like oxtail) for instance goes a lot faster that way, as does cooking beans from dried beans.
Pressure cooking isn’t just used by consumers at home, it is also used in various industrial applications.
How do pressure cookers work?
So how do you create that high pressure? You use water and heat. A pressure cooker creates pressure by heating up water. Normally, when that water has reached 100C it will start to evaporate. However, in a pressure cooker that water vapor cannot escape the pressure cooker, it stays inside. Because of that, all the water vapor will start pressing against the walls of the pressure cooker and the pressure goes up. As a result, the temperature goes up as well (the ideal gas law explains this phenomenon).
Pressure cookers can only handle a certain amount of pressure. If the water becomes even hotter and therefore the pressure even higher, some of the vapor will escape through the vent valve that’s part of every pressure cooker. This will bring the pressure back down a little and ensures that the pressure inside the pressure cooker never becomes so high that the pot can explode.
Types of pressure cookers
For pressure cooking you need a pot that can withstand those increased pressures, can vent excess pressure and that can be heated. There are roughly two types of pressure cookers for consumers:
- Electric pressure cookers: these are fully automated pressure cookers, the pot itself regulates the amount of heat that is brought into the pot and it often has as timer allowing you turn stop heating after a certain duration (once you stop heating the pressure will come down slowly by itself). The InstantPot is an example of this.
- Stove cookers: these are pots that you use on your stove. You will need to regulate the heat that it brought into the pot yourselves and need to control the process yourselves. Stove cookers are used all over the world (I would expect the far majority of households in India has one for instance). Stove cookers tend to go up to a pressure +1 bar (=15Psi) which results in a boiling temperature of water of 121C (=250F). This tends to be higher than most electric pressure cookers.
Why buy an InstantPot for pressure cooking?
The InstantPot’s main advantages are that it controls itself, once it’s on you can walk away and there’s not really a need to keep an eye on it until it’s ready. Also, it is very affordable. Even stove top pressure cooker can get very pricey, the InstantPot is often just a fraction of the costs. It is also very accessible, you really don’t need any prior knowledge on pressure cooking to get started with it.
Why else would you buy an InstantPot?
We bought the InstantPot for its pressure cooker functions. InstantPot advertises though that it can do so much more. And even though it definitely can, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need all those functions. In 99% of the cases we use only 3 settings of the InstantPot, apart from the pressure cooking function those are: saute & yogurt.
The InstantPot has an incredibly powerful saute function. We really only use this just before we want to pressure cook our food. This way you only need one pot to brown of your vegetables, etc. before pressure cooking them. we never use the saute without then using the pressure function.
Yogurt making setting
We make our own yogurt in the InstantPot. Arguably, you can make yogurt using other tools as well, but we find the InstantPot is just super simple and easy to use. All the InstantPot does is keep your milk + yogurt at a constant comfortable temperature for the yogurt bacteria to do its work, but it does so fantastically well.
Slow cooker & Sterilization
There are several other functions that we never really use, but that could be a reason for you to buy. For instance, you can use it as a slow cooker, to keep food warm or for certain types of sterilization. We don’t use them so won’t dive into them in too great a detail
What type to buy?
This really depends on what you want to use it for. We bought it for pressure cooking, but were wanting to make our own yogurt, so we chose the Duo Plus 9-in-1 (affiliate link). One of their newest versions even has a sous vide option built in if that’s something you’re looking for. There’s also one with Wifi or Bluetooth so you can control it from your phone (personally, I don’t see a need for it, but I guess that’s me). If you really just want to the pressure cooking & slow cooking funtions the older, but also cheaper models are going to serve you just fine!
What size to buy?
We are a household of two people but tend to cook for family & friends coming over and like cooking for lunches and dinner in one go, so definitely make larger than 2-person portions quite regularly.
We therefore chose to go with the 6 quart (a little over 5,5l) version of the InstantPot and are very happy with this size. It is big enough for making spare ribs, pulled pork and even cheesecake. In the smaller InstantPot you are really a lot more limited to stews and soups and have less flexibility. We though never make soup for just two people, we always make extra, so if you’re like that as well, the smaller (3-quart) version might not be for you.
Our InstantPot (affiliate link) has been a real game changer in our kitchen. It’s a great way to experiemtn with new dishes that would normally take hours to cook. Admittedly, it’s also a little sciency, allowing for some proper experimentation which that food scientist in me greatly appreciates.