~ Even after I bought my first Instant Pot, I was honestly still kind of wondering, “What can you do with an Instant Pot? What can you cook with it?” Maybe you’re in the same boat. Or, maybe you’re just trying to figure out “Should I buy an Instant Pot? Will I actually use it?” Here’s an overview of the types of recipes you can make with an Instant Pot … and also some of the things you just really can’t. ~
In last week’s post (the first to kick off Instant Pot Month!) we delved into the ins and outs of the very first question most people ask in any Instant Pot journey: “Just exactly what is an Instant Pot?”
I promised we’d talk next about which Instant Pot you should buy, but then I realized that there’s probably a more important question we oughta address first.
Before you worry over which model is right for you, let’s talk more specifically about what kinds of foods you might cook in an Instant Pot and what sorts of expectations you should have – so you can figure out whether or not this is even something that will fit into your lifestyle and typical cooking strategies (spoiler alert: I bet it will!).
THEN we can proceed to the question of exactly which size and which model you might be happiest buying, ok?
So, What Can You Cook with an Instant Pot?
LOTS of things!
You know me … I’ve been scouring the Internet to learn everything I can about Instant Pot cooking, and also reading lots of books.
Just yesterday, I made oatmeal, BBQ chicken sandwiches, and then coconut rice pudding … all in my Instant Pot (this is the one I picked out after tons of research). This morning – another oatmeal recipe. There are just so many possibilities, and it’s actually really fun!
The basic functions are straight-forward, and clearly delineated for each Instant Pot model.
Remember (from last week’s post) that most Instant Pot models can:
- pressure cook
- slow cook
- cook rice
- keep food warm after cooking
- make yogurt
- and some models can sterilize and make cakes, and even have specific settings for cooking eggs
Some of these are probably pretty self-explanatory, but let’s take a closer look at a few …
Sautéing with Your Instant Pot
The sauté setting lets you brown meat and veggies and get an initial sear on ingredients, much like you would on the stovetop.
On one hand, this is an absolutely awesome function that saves you from dirtying an extra pan for lots of slow cooker recipes that direct you to brown ground beef or sear meat in a skillet, before proceeding to your slow cooker (or pressure cooker). With the Instant Pot, you can use the sauté function to do the sautéing, and then move right on to the next step of the recipe, in the very same pot! We use this feature in our delicious Instant Pot Black Bean Soup recipe … sauté and then flip straight to pressure cooking, all with just one pot to clean up at the end. Yay!
But let’s be honest about the sauté function. Are you actually going to use it just to sauté, for recipes that won’t proceed from sautéing, into the slow cooker or pressure cooker functions? Nope – probably not. You’ll most likely still do that sort of sautéing on the stovetop.
So while the sauté function is absolutely brilliant in many situations, it’s not going to replace your favorite skillet in other situations.
But it might replace …
Your Rice Cooker!
Because cooking under pressure can drastically slash cooking times for long-cooking foods, lots of people love using their Instant Pot for cooking rice. Instant Pots even come with a specific “Rice” button.
It might also replace …
Your Crock-Pot (Slow Cooker)!
Because Instant Pots have the same functionality as a slow cooker, you can cook pretty much any slow cooker recipe in your Instant Pot.
Now again though, we should be a little honest here, too. It might not replace every single slow cooker. I mean, if you’re like me: I’ve got … ahem … 5 slow cookers in various sizes. Or like my buddy Gretchen, who has more like 7. (Or is it 9?? I can’t remember, but it’s a lot!) Well, then you may still keep at least one or two of those guys around – like the teeny-tiny sizes that are just perfect for keeping appetizer dips warm, you know?
The point is, though, that one thing Instant Pots do well is slow cooking. So if you adore your slow cooker and you have lots of recipes you use with that, you should happily find that most all of them transfer seamlessly to the slow cooking function of an Instant Pot. Awesome, right!?!? (Plus that whole deal we just discussed above, about how an Instant Pot can also sauté foods prior to slow cooking … double-awesome!)
And it might also replace …
Your Yogurt Maker!
Ummmmmm … do you own one? Because if you do, I’m super-impressed. With so many yogurts clogging up the dairy aisles these days, I’ve never quite seen the need to make my own yogurt.
But, I have to tell you, if I now own a magical machine that just happens to be able to make yogurt, on top of all the other things I actually want to use it for day-in and day-out … well, I’m intrigued! That’s pretty darn cool, and definitely a little cooking adventure I’d like to have.
So yeah, you can make yogurt. (Note, however, that the Luxe models don’t have this dedicated yogurt feature, although there are workarounds.)
And perhaps most obviously, the Instant Pot is great as a …
But why is that terrific? Because pressure cooking can cook lots of foods, like rice (as we mentioned above), dried beans, and tough cuts of meat in a fraction of the time that you could with other methods.
It can be a major timesaver and open up the opportunity to cook things that you might otherwise not even bother to try, because they simply take too long.
It’s also fantastic for busy people because it’s such a hands-off cooking method. Once you’ve got your ingredients dumped in and your Instant Pot is doing its thing, magic happens in there, without you having to hang around in the kitchen, babysitting and watching and stirring. You’re free to walk away and do more exciting stuff (like, you know … laundry).
When it comes to the advantages of hands-off cooking, one common example people often mention is risotto, which typically requires that you stand at the stovetop, slowly stirring away and gradually adding liquid for 20 minutes or more. I don’t know about you, but that’s why risotto just doesn’t happen much at my house! And I can tell ya, one of the things I’m very most excited about is trying to adapt my favorite risotto recipe (which I haven’t made for years), to be hands-free-easy in my Instant Pot! Fingers crossed, I’ll be sharing that with all of you! 😉
Electric pressure cookers like the Instant Pot are also less hands-on than their stovetop pressure cooker predecessors. There’s no need to fuss over heat adjustments to keep the pressure right, or worry about explosive steam. Electric models come with worry-free safety mechanisms and inherent programming to regulate the cooking times and temps, worry-free.
Bottom Line: What Instant Pots Do Well
So, I think I’ve answered the question: What Can You Do with an Instant Pot? (answer: lots of things!).
But maybe I still haven’t exactly answered the question: What Can I Cook with an Instant Pot? I mean, you’ve figured out rice, and of course yogurt.
But, specifically, what else? Welllllll …
• Moist Cooking – Instant pots are great for moist cooking applications, like stewing and braising – so soups and stews and chilis are pretty much all a slam dunk. (Hint: Don’t miss our Family Favorite Instant Pot Sweet Potato Soup!) They’re also great for taking tough (and usually inexpensive – yay, budget!) cuts of meat and making them meltingly tender (think pork butt and beef chuck). Terrific for comforting roasts, for pulled pork sandwiches, even for Mexican-night tacos.
• Chicken – You also have loads of options for America’s most popular meat – chicken! Healthy Instant Pot chicken recipes are everywhere, for everything from shredded chicken tacos and BBQ Chicken Sandwiches, to chicken chili and (of course!) Instant Pot chicken soup.
You can even cook a whole chicken in your Instant Pot (if you purchase a big enough model), and (as discussed above) you can sauté chicken breasts or thighs prior to beginning the pressure cooking or slow cooking process. But remember that this won’t be the same as, say, oven-roasting a chicken to get that crispy-crackly skin. (We’ll talk more in the next section about things that Instant Pots aren’t great at doing.)
• Veggies, Beans and Grains – Instant Pots can steam veggies in a flash and pressure cook dried beans and grains beautifully. (Hello, healthy side dish options!) All sorts of fun you can have with nutritious beans, plus grains like quinoa, farro and barley.
• Oats – Instant Pots also reduce the cooking time for steel cut oats – a breakfast favorite that (with a 30-minute-plus cook time) was just not very busy-morning-friendly before!
• Desserts – The moist cooking environment is also brilliant for turning out things like custards and puddings. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, just last night I tried a recipe from Jessica Taylor’s Instant Pot Pressure Cooker Cookbook for Pina Colada Rice Pudding – so wonderfully easy!
And ooooooh … cheesecakes! As Janet Zimmerman explains in Instant Pot Obsession, “The steamy environment of a pressure cooker results in amazingly smooth and creamy cheesecake.”
You can even adapt many types of cakes (and quick breads) to take advantage of the pressure cooker’s steamy cooking method, yielding moist and tender results.
• Hard-Cooked Eggs – People also rave about the Instant Pot’s ability to make soft-boiled and hard-cooked eggs. I keep reading about how pressure cooking is the magic bullet the Easter Bunny’s been waiting for. In her book The Essential Instant Pot Cookbook, Coco Morante sums it up perfectly and convincingly, saying, “Hard-boiled eggs turn out perfectly every time when they’re steamed under pressure in the Instant Pot. They’re always evenly cooked, plus they are easier to peel than traditional boiled eggs.”
After we wrote the post on How to Hard-Cook Eggs (using the traditional stovetop method), I know a thing or two about getting hard-cooked eggs to turn out perfectly, but if the Instant Pot can make them consistently easier to peel, too … well then, I’m sold!
But Heads-Up: What Instant Pots DON’T Do Very Well
Are you head-over-heels in love yet? Ready to become a card-carrying member of the I Love Instant Pots Fan Club? I hear ya!
But there truly are some things that Instant Pots just aren’t meant to tackle, things they’re not really designed to do.
• Roasting – Sadly, they’re not good for roasting. You know how I get all teary-eyed about the transformation that happens when you roast veggies (like in our Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower Pasta or our Balsamic-Browned Butter Roasted Green Beans)? We’ve been down that road together many a time, haven’t we?
Well, Instant Pots just don’t do that. Remember, they’re all about moist heat – not dry heat cooking methods like roasting.
• Some Baking – They’re also not going to replace your oven for all your baking. We talked above about how well things like cheesecakes and even some cakes and quick breads can work, but all in all, there are a lot of baked goods that you’ll still be making in your oven. Yeast breads, sour doughs, and breads that need to leverage the Maillard reaction for perfect browning will all still be happening in your regular-old oven. Plus, of course, you’d be hard-pressed to fit any of your 9×13 casserole dishes into an Instant Pot!
• Frying – Instant Pots also don’t fry things (or “air fry” like a convection oven or Air Fryer would). They don’t turn fries into crunchy-outside, fluffy-inside friends for your burgers, and they aren’t going to crisp up breaded chicken fingers or broil a crispy, golden topping for your casserole. Again … that’s just not the type of cooking they’re designed to do.
• Delicate Foods – And, while there are definitely recipes out there for fish and seafood in your Instant Pot, really delicate things like fish fillets aren’t considered an Instant Pot forte.
• Pressure Canning – Wait … what?!? Isn’t an Instant Pot, first and foremost, a pressure cooker? Well, yeah, it is. Then shouldn’t it be able to handle canning? Yes … and no. As we mentioned last week, it is able to do boiling water (aka hot water bath) canning. But at only about 11.6 pounds of pressure, the Instant Pot line doesn’t have as much pressure as most stovetop models (the kind you might remember your Grandma using for canning projects), so it isn’t recommended as safe for pressure canning.
• High-Heat Stir Frying – Lastly, in her Essential Instant Pot Cookbook, Morante notes that something else you won’t get from an Instant Pot is a terrific high-heat stir-fry. The sauté function isn’t really powerful enough to deliver a great stir-fry. (Although you sure could use your Instant Pot to make the rice to go alongside!)
So … Should You Buy an Instant Pot?
It’s pretty clear that there’s a whole lot you can do really, really well with an Instant Pot (just look at the amazing reviews and Amazon ratings, right?!?) And cookbook authors, bloggers and recipe developers are hard at work coming up with more new recipes all the time. (Me, me, me! 🙂 )
And no doubt, if you enjoy making slow-cooked roasts, or shredded chicken and pulled pork, and if you love whipping up big, comforting pots of soups and chilis – I think an Instant Pot is definitely something to consider.
It’s also probably a good bet if you’re even a little bit excited to branch out into types of cooking that maybe used to seem too time consuming to ever fit into your busy schedule – things like the risottos we mentioned, and those dried beans and whole grains (gotta love more healthy options!).
But I want you to be totally clear about some of the types of cooking that aren’t going to happen inside that magical vessel.
If you live on stir-fries, or grill pretty much every meal, or just adore the toasty results you get from oven-roasting, then you might want to consider whether an Instant Pot is going to add the kind of cooking options you’ll enjoy.
In the end, I think it’s probably worth a try for most busy home cooks. Even though I definitely consider myself a fairly novice Instant Pot user, I can already see so much potential, so many new strategies that an Instant Pot will open up for me.
And, I think that it’ll do the same for most other busy home cooks, too. It’s just a matter of making the decision about which one to buy (again, here’s what I chose), and then diving into all the possibilities and getting started!
So definitely stick with me! Next week we’re pushing onward with a buyer’s guide, and we’ll move on to lots of recipe ideas, too … so many exciting possibilities!
4 thoughts on “What Can You Do with an Instant Pot?”
I couldn’t resist commenting. Perfectly written!
Thank you so much, Kelli! I’m delighted you enjoyed this post and found it helpful. Happy cooking! 😀 ~Shelley
With a CrockPot, you have to make a big enough volume of food to use it, so my question is Can you cook smaller portions of food in a Instant Pot? Is it practical for cooking for two to four people?
It’s definitely practical for two to four. I would recommend possibly choosing a smaller size Instant Pot, rather than one of the big ones. We go through various models (and sizes) in really specific detail in our post on Which Instant Pot to Buy. Sounds like you’ll want to end up choosing one of the smaller sizes (like the 3-quart I describe selecting for my mom), rather than one of the bigger ones. I think that post will help you sort through how you’ll use your Instant Pot and which features are important to you – but let me know if you have more questions! Good luck! 🙂 ~Shelley