The adaptable Instant Pot Smart pressure cooker laughs in the face of your standalone small kitchen appliances.
Editors' note: Instant Pot has issued a recall for select Smart pressure cookers. Please follow this link to find more information about the specific models affected.
The $299 Instant Pot Smart is expensive compared with other pressure cookers. Most models, including the rest of Instant Pot's product lineup, cost less than $200. In this case, you're paying extra for the Smart's Bluetooth guts and related app, which give you free rein over your food from up to about 30 feet away.
While somewhat useful, the connected features don't add enough value to this inherently hands-off device to make it worth spending an extra hundred or so bucks. Still, its performance is stellar and it goes above the standard pressure cooker purview to saute things, make yogurt and a whole lot more. You can find the Instant Pot Smart on Amazon for $250, which puts it at a slightly more reasonable price point, but this fantastic cooker is still a splurge for most (although one I heartily recommend, if you can swing it).
Read next: How to use your Instant Pot
This 6-quart stainless-steel pressure cooker comes with Soup, Rice, Meat/Stew, Multigrain, Bean/Chili, Porridge (huh?), Poultry, Slow Cook, Yogurt, Steam, Saute and Keep Warm presets. Its Pressure, Adjust, Timer and accompanying plus and minus buttons let you set specific times and tweak heat and pressure settings. The Manual button lets you stray from the presets. Press Cancel to stop a cooking cycle in its tracks.
All of these features are also available on the related Instant Pot iOS app (an Android version is due out in March), including starting and stopping cycles -- provided you're within the Bluetooth range. The app also has a recipe database; select the one you want and it will automatically send the preferred settings to your cooker.
This is somewhat helpful, but most of the time you're standing in front of the machine when you're ready to start a cooking cycle. You even have the option to set a delay start of up to 24 hours. So, if you want a rice dish to be ready when you get home from work, but it only takes 30 minutes to make, you can program it to start cooking 7.5 hours in the future so that it's ready when you get home.
If you're not exactly sure when you'll be getting home, it would be nice to use the app to start the cooking cycle from far away. But, this system operates via Bluetooth, so you can't access the app or check on the status of your food from more than 30 feet away. I did use it to initiate some recipes and start and stop a few cycles, though.
It worked well and the Bluetooth had an impressively stable connection even at close to 30 feet away, but it doesn't add a lot to the experience. If I'm 30 feet away and want to know how my food is doing, I'll probably get up and look, although it didn't hurt to be able to check my phone from a comfortably reclined position instead.
Considering all of the things this appliance can do, I expected Instant Pot to thoroughly explain exactly how to cook something that falls under each preset. I'm new to pressure cooking and was a bit intimidated by the myriad features at first...especially because I didn't know how to translate a traditional recipe for this machine.
While the manual and recipe booklet, the Instant Pot website and the app all have some degree of helpful information, none of them have the same information. Even the recipes offered in the recipe booklet differ slightly from what's available on the app and on the website.
For those times when you plan to deviate from one of Instant Pot's recipes (the database isn't extensive, so you'll probably end up using a lot of your own recipes), Instant Pot does provide basic guidelines in chart format. Quinoa, for example, should be cooked in a 1:2 ratio for 8 minutes and Basmati rice should be cooked in a 1:1.5 ratio for 4-8 minutes. That's sort of useful, but it doesn't account for quantity as a variable at all.
I consider this an oversight, but the Instant Pot recipe booklet specifically states, "As with conventional cooking, cooking with Instant Pot is full of personal choices, creativity, a lot of science and experimentation. [...] The user is encouraged to experiment and find your own time setting for the best result to the user's own liking."
I understand that people have unique preferences, but this is a complex device and the $70 Tim3 Machin3 multicooker that Ry Crist just reviewed did a very good job of automatically sensing when your rice or grain is done based on weight. It accounted for quantity and made adjustments to the cooking time as a result. The Instant Pot doesn't do that and that could significantly bump up your trial-and-error time with each new recipe.
"I'm putting this clean knife back because I don't need it." That was Andrew Gebhart's reaction to the pulled pork made in the Instant Pot Smart. And, that was pretty much how every single recipe turned out. I made creme brulee, slow-cooked eggs, yogurt, rice, quinoa and pot roast (and pulled pork, of course), and there wasn't a single thing that didn't turn out as expected or better (or much, much better, as with the pulled pork.
I wanted to challenge this machine a bit, so some of the recipes came straight from Instant Pot and others from external sources. The excellent results did debunk some of my skepticism about the usability of this product, although I do hold that it could be easier for pressure-cooking novices to use.
I love dessert and was very excited to find that Instant Pot had a creme brulee recipe. It only required a few ingredients -- cream, eggs, sugar, vanilla -- but I had never made it before, let alone in a pressure cooker.
I followed the recipe exactly and found it surprisingly simple. It spent 9 minutes in the pressure cooker and the rest was inactive time chilling in the fridge, then adding a thin layer of raw sugar and sticking it under a oven broiler (alas, we don't have a culinary torch). It was very tasty.
This Japanese-style egg recipe also came from Instant Pot. These puppies, called onsen tamago, were traditionally cooked slowly in hot springs. They have a unique texture, where the white part remains a little runny but the yolk is solid, although a much different consistency and taste than a hard-boiled egg. They cooked for 30 minutes at 158 degrees Fahrenheit and were delicious.
Another Instant Pot recipe, this "Kalua Pork" required very little effort (just pork shoulder, water, hickory liquid smoke and salt) and turned out incredibly well. I found a massive 8-pound pork shoulder and used half in the pressure cook setting (90 minutes to done) and then cooked the other half using the slow cook setting (4 hours to done) to compare. Both were excellent, although the pressure-cooked pork was a touch more tender (and faster!).
This was an interesting endeavor. I have tried, unsuccessfully, to make yogurt in an oven before and know that it can be tough to get the temperatures right at each stage.
Ry Crist made yogurt in the Tim3 Machin3 since it has a dedicated preset, too. The Tim3 Machin3 was very helpful along the way, auto-detecting the correct temperatures to make sure you were on the right track, whereas the Instant Pot Smart asks you to use a thermometer and judge for yourself. Yogurt-making is a long process, one that takes about 8 hours to complete, but in the end the Instant Pot yogurt turned out exactly as expected, whereas the Tim3 Machin3 version was still pretty liquidy.
I also made recipes with long-grain rice and quinoa. Everything went as expected here. One cup of long grain rice was ready in 12 minutes, as per the rice default setting and the quinoa in 8 minutes. Ry and I made the same quinoa recipe and they tasted about the same.
Since that was the case and since the $70 Tim3 Machin3 is easier to use, I'd suggest it over the Instant Pot Smart if you plan to make more rice and grains than anything else.
Ry and I also cooked the same pot roast recipe on high for four hours. I used the slow cook setting for this, and the results were very nice; it didn't exceed basic pot roast expectations, but it also didn't fall short. The Tim3 Machin3's pot roast was serviceable, but didn't flake apart quite as easily, although the Instant Pot Smart's was a little on the dry side. I'd still call this an Instant Pot Smart win.
The Instant Pot Smart is an unassuming kitchen gadget that takes its job very seriously. It isn't the easiest appliance to use if you aren't already familiar with pressure-cooking and how to adjust a recipe accordingly; I wasn't and the manual and recipe booklets only go so far to help.
Also, the integrated app smarts aren't useful enough to justify dropping $299, especially when other brands and even similar "un-smart" Instant Pot cookers cost a hundred bucks less. But this model makes such a wide range of foods so well (Yogurt! Pulled pork!! Creme brulee!!!), that it's impossible to rule it out entirely. You can grab an Instant Pot Smart on Amazon for $250, putting it closer to a pressure cooker/slow-cooker/rice cooker/mean green sauteing machine that's actually worth a portion of your paycheck.