In looking at electric pressure cookers last year, I was dismayed to see that virtually all the models on the market have a non-stick lined inner pot. I dislike Teflon and other non-stick coatings on pots, pans and appliances because I mistrust their safety. Moreover, I have a parrot companion, and the fumes from overheated non-stick coatings can kill birds in just moments. (See Teflon Dangers: Deadly to Chickens — and Us.) In an electric appliance, I can’t control how hot that coating gets.
Then I found The Instant Pot. This stainless-steel pressure cooker has a durable, easy-to-clean, heavy-duty stainless steel inner pot, and I knew I’d found what I sought. Wow! It’s not only an electric pressure cooker, it’s also a rice cooker, slow cooker and steamer. Its stainless steel insert allows me to sauté or brown some foods before fully cooking them, and it has a keep-warm function which automatically kicks in when the food finishes cooking. There’s also a delay cooking timer, so I can set it up in the morning and have hot, cooked dinner ready when I arrive home from work. Although the Instant Pot arrives with ten pre-set cooking modes, it’s fully programmable, so I can easily adapt my favorite pressure-cooking recipes to its use.
At about $120, the price was right for me. I knew I’d give it a good workout, and that I could depreciate its cost in a short time.
One virtue of electric pressure cookers is economy. Like all pressure cookers, they permit quick cooking of inexpensive ingredients. Unsoaked dried beans cook from scratch in 30 minutes. A pot roast can go from fridge to table in about the same time. Budget-priced cuts of meat that typically require long hours in the oven, such as pork shoulder, speed to the table, even if you don’t start cooking until you get home after work.
Additionally, pressure cookers in general use less energy than conventional cooking simply because of their shorter cooking time. Electric pressure cookers, drawing from an outlet rather than using the range’s power, require less still. The Instant Pot’s 1000 watts pulls significantly less electricity than the average electric range’s 12,0000 watts.
So I put my new Instant Pot to the test. In the weeks after it arrived, I cooked in it almost every night. Suddenly, I was eating better — and cheaper — than I had for some time. I loved its portability, and took it into the office so my colleagues and I could have soup for lunch on a couple of occasions. It seems perfect for potlucks as well as family dinners. Even now, after months of several-times-weekly use, I’m still in love with the Instant Pot.
I caught up by phone with Instant Pot’s inventor, Dr. Robert Wang, who’s in Canada. Wang says his interest in artificial intelligence prompted his decision to focus on “smart” kitchen appliances. “Designing our first product took 18 months, from design to market,” he says. “The first design wasn’t that great, but we got a lot of market feedback. We’re a small company with 30 percent of our people in support. That’s such an important part of our company: We’re getting the feedback that helps us refine and improve our product — our only product.” The currently available version of Instant Pot is its third generation.
Wang says several concerns prompted his drive to create a good product. “We want to create value for our Canadian and American customers,” he says. “They are health-conscious, and they don’t want to eat manufactured food. With our fast-paced lives, we have too many things to care for, and too many ways to enjoy ourselves as well, so many have little time to cook.” And “because we as a company are green-conscious, we are concerned with the environment, so we want energy efficiency.”
So Wang and his company have engineered for those concerns, as well as some related directly to the product. “User ease is number one,” Wang says. “Safety is our absolute top priority.”
The next-generation Instant Pot will feature Bluetooth connectivity, Wang says. Though it sounds gimmicky, there is real utility in the feature: Users will be able to program their favorite recipes’ cooking times into the pot, as well as writing simple programs to make yogurt, pasteurize milk and cook different volumes of foods using a simple app on their smart phone. This next-generation Instant Pot begins manufacture in June and is expected to ship in September, Wang says.
If you can’t decide whether to buy now or wait until the newest version comes to market, maybe this will help you decide: Current Instant Pot owners get “significant discounts” on newer models, Wang says.
Robin Mather is a senior associate editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS and the author of The Feast Nearby, a collection of essays and recipes from her year of eating locally on $40 a week. In her spare time, she is a hand-spinner, knitter, weaver, homebrewer, cheese maker and avid cook who cures her own bacon. Find her on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.