The slow cooker plays an important role in the kitchen for busy families, but there are times when you need a meal in a hurry. The "Instant Pot" can produce a tender pot roast, a hearty beef stew, tender beans, and shredded pulled pork in a fraction of the time, and the pot can even handle many dishes a slow cooker can't. There are even settings for rice and yogurt.
Another bonus, there's no need to dirty another pan if you have to steam or sauté food before pressure cooking—the Instant Pot has settings for steaming and sautéing foods.
For dishes like scalloped potatoes, many casseroles, and desserts, you can use silicone muffin cups and pans, metal pans, ceramic baking dishes, and oven-safe glass containers. There are also many pans made for the Instant Pot, including cake pans, steamers, and nonstick pans. When using a pan in the Instant Pot pan, remember to add at least 1 cup of water to the Instant pot pan, place a trivet or steam rack in the pot, and place the pan on the trivet or rack.
If you have a favorite slow cooker recipe, but don't have all day, make it in your Instant Pot! Here are some basic guidelines for converting slow cooker and crockpot recipes for the Instant Pot.
Pressure cookers must have liquid. Unlike the slow cooker, which produces extra liquid due to condensation, the Instant Pot requires at least 1 cup. The liquid is necessary to make the steam in the cooker, which creates the pressure. Water, stock, beer, wine, fruit juice, and thin sauces are fine to use as the liquid element but don't count thick sauces or condensed "cream-of" soups as a liquid in a dish. If you're worried about certain food items soaking up too much water, use the included trivet to keep roasts, heatproof dishes, and other foods from sitting in the liquids.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to timing a slow cooker recipe in the Instant Pot, but when you are planning your meal, remember to include the time necessary to build pressure and the required pressure release time. Depending on how full the pot is, it can take up to 20 minutes to build pressure, and if you aren't doing a quick release, it can take about 15 minutes for natural release of pressure.
Meat, Poultry, and Stews
Generally, if your slow cooker meat, soup, or stew recipe calls for 8 hours on the low setting or about 4 hours on the high setting, it should be fully cooked in about 25 to 30 minutes in the Instant Pot. For chicken or turkey, use the 15-minute poultry button.
While volume doesn't matter, density does. Roasts and large, thick pieces of meat will take longer, and a baking dish filled to a 3-inch depth will take longer to cook than a baking dish filled to a 2-inch depth. Cut large roasts into smaller pieces for faster cooking.
Frozen meat can be cooked in the pressure cooker as well, but you will need to add about 10 minutes to the total cooking time. If the meat doesn't look done after the pressure is released, put the lid back on and cook it at high pressure for another 5 to 10 minutes.
Beans and Grains
Beans and grains expand as they cook, so never fill the pot more than half full. Also, the cooking times for dry beans—unsoaked—will be longer than for beans which have been soaked overnight. Beans come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, so cooking times vary. This Instant-Pot cooking chart gives the recommended times for different types of beans and grains, both soaked and not soaked.
What You Can't Cook
Like the slow cooker, the Instant Pot has its limitations. Food won't be crispy, crusty, or crunchy, and the pot will not deep-fry or bake cookies. Here are some things that won't work well in the Instant Pot.
- Dairy: Milk products and cheese are best added at the end of the cooking time because they can separate and curdle. They also foam which can clog the pressure valve.
- Quick-cooking foods and dishes: Many fresh and frozen vegetables cook much more quickly on the stovetop or in the microwave oven. The time guide might say only 3 minutes for fresh or frozen green beans, but once you add in the time it takes to build pressure and quick release, you could be looking at 20 minutes. The Instant Pot will not save you time if the food can be cooked by conventional methods in less than 20 to 30 minutes.
- Thickeners: A pressure cooker might not reach full pressure if liquids are thickened before cooking. Always add thickening mixtures (i.e. cornstarch, flour, arrowroot, etc.) after the food has cooked, and use the sauté function to cook the food until it has thickened.
- Yeast breads: You might find a recipe for making yeast bread in the Instant Pot, but it won't produce a crusty loaf.
- Canning: The Instant Pot is not a pressure canner. A pressure cooker might reach pressure, but that doesn't mean it reaches the necessary temperature. The Instant Pot is regulated by a pressure sensor, not a thermometer. Always use a pressure canner for safe canning. The Instant Pot can be used, however, for boiling water bath canning for jams, jellies, and pickled items.