Instant Pot, the latest prized kitchen gadget, has staying power

I’m a sucker for the latest kitchen technology. Vegetable spiralizers, smoke guns, you name it, especially if it has an LED light. And sometimes there are truly useful ones. I asked Lesley Stockton, staff writer for The Wirecutter and Sweethome, The New York Times’s product testing sites, for advice on a latest craze: the Instant Pot, a combination slow cooker/pressure cooker.

The Instant Pot has attracted some fierce fanatics. Is it the best combination device since the clock radio?

The thing about the Instant Pot, or electric multicookers in general, is that it is incredibly convenient. You can come home and throw a bunch of stuff in it, and you’ll have dinner in 30-ish minutes. Another cool thing about Instant Pot (and multicookers in general) is that it is practically foolproof. You won’t end up with pea soup on your ceiling, because it regulates itself and has a system of safety catches that will shut off the machine if too much pressure builds.

Is there a “but” coming?

But ...

Here we go.

You lose some function with an electric cooker. You can’t get a hard sear on meat in an electric cooker; the heating element isn’t as strong as your cooktop. For most home cooks who are just trying to get dinner on the table, this isn’t an issue. If you want to do that, you need a cast-iron skillet on the stove.

I thought your “but” might be that it is one more appliance taking up counter space.

Well, that too. The Instant Pot’s housing makes it pretty bulky. A six-quart model is big, and an eight-quart is even bigger. I have the Instant Pot Ultra 60 in my Brooklyn kitchen, but I have it tucked away on a shelf. It’s light enough that pulling it down isn’t a feat of strength. Not like a KitchenAid stand mixer.

Some devices a home cook can’t live without, or at least I can’t. An immersion blender, for instance. Or that stand mixer.

I think the Instant Pot is one of the most convenient pieces of equipment/cookware for home cooks. Especially if you’re a fan of slow cookers because it does that, too.

The newest version of the Instant Pot (the Ultra 60, our upgrade pick) can sear, steam, pressure cook, slow cook, make yogurt, keep warm for up to 99 hours and sous vide (or sous vide adjacent, as I call it). And don’t discount that 99-hour keep-warm setting. It’s important for those who strictly observe Shabbat.

I read in the Wirecutter/Sweethome reviews of the cookers that the staff went through 15 pounds of brisket, 13 pounds of black beans and 12 pounds of brown rice to find the best one. You are an accomplished cook. How do you adjust to the mindset of a home cook when you make your picks?

I was a food editor working in the test kitchen at Martha Stewart Living and Everyday Food for six years. I developed recipes for home cooks. I know that busy people want accessible recipes made from accessible ingredients. And they want as short an ingredient list as possible. Like, any more than 10 ingredients and they turn the page. And don’t send a busy working parent in the middle of the country on a wild goose chase for garam masala.

Those same habits extend to appliances. You want to be able to confidently cook weeknight dinner in a familiar way, eliminating guesswork. I think having a multifunctional appliance that you can set and walk away for half an hour is a big deal for busy families.

Is there a Stockton’s Unified Theory of Kitchen Appliances?

Yes! Buy what you’ll use most often. If it lives on your countertop, you should be using it at least twice a week. If not, stick it in a cabinet. On my countertops, I have my coffee maker (every day), kettle (four to five times a week), blender (two to four times) and toaster oven (every day). Everything else is tucked away.

How do you draw the line on adding another high-tech device to your kitchen?

If you’re looking to add a new appliance to your kitchen, take an honest look at how you cook. Look at its functions and how that folds into your personal habits. It’s always a good idea to get multitasking appliances, so you don’t collect clutter.

So, if you want an Instant Pot but are worried about clutter, then donate your slow cooker, because you probably don’t need it anymore.

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