Instant Pot Smart WiFi review: Wi-Fi comes to the popular multicooker, but adds little extra

The results was a pleasing 2 cups of fluffy cooked rice, with just the right amount of stickiness and chew. Of course, there was rice stuck to the bottom, since Instant Pot uses a stainless steel insert. If you're looking for a nonstick option, the Crock-Pot Express Crock Multi-Cooker includes a nonstick pot. Still, I was happy with the rice the Instant Pot Smart WiFi cooked up, just know you'll need to soak the pan a bit to remove those stuck-on grains.

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We tested Instant Pot's chili recipe. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Chili 

When it came to making a complete dish, I deviated from our standard test chili and tried one of the recipes from the Instant Pot app. Here's how that works. In the Instant Pot app, the recipes section includes categories as well as a search bar, so you can type in the ingredients you'd like to use or the recipe you want to cook. I went with Instant Pot's beef and black bean chili recipe, since I had nearly all the ingredients on hand. We used red beans instead of black and left out the green chilis. 

The app lists the directions and ingredients clearly, and after cooking a pound of ground beef, 2 cups of onions with chili powder using the saute program, I added the remaining ingredients, secured the lid, set the pot to sealing and tapped "cook now" on my iPhone. The Instant Pot went in to preheating mode, followed by 5 minutes of high pressure cooking. After 10 minutes of natural release, I let off the remaining pressure and dug in. 

The texture of the meat and beans was just right, and although I would have added a few more spices to contrast the strong flavor of the 28 ounces of crushed tomatoes, it was a crowdpleaser among my colleagues. The key to a recipe like this one is doing your part in the beginning. I had to saute the beef until it was evenly cooked before letting the Instant Pot take over. 

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Chris Monroe/CNET

Steak

I seared a salt-and-pepper-rubbed New York strip and a ribeye using the Instant Pot Smart WiFi's saute setting and a tablespoon of olive oil. While neither steak achieved a perfect, solid sear, they came surprisingly close to it and had a good crust perfect for finishing off in your oven or even in your Instant Pot, like I chose to do. After adding one cup of water and cooking the ribeye for 5 minutes on high pressure, I had a medium steak that was flavorful and juicy. 

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Chris Monroe/CNET

Brisket

Of all the cooking I did with the Instant Pot Smart WiFi, the brisket was the most disappointing. It was passable, and safely cooked. Instant Pot's recommendation for a single pound of brisket is 20-25 minutes, and running two 35-minute meat programs still wasn't enough to yield that tender, mouth-watering cut of meat I wanted for my 2-pound cut. 

Brisket is best cooked for hours low and slow, and while the Instant Pot will never perfectly replicate this, I had higher hopes. Was it edible? Definitely. The slightly tough texture was nothing a good sauce couldn't overcome, but it's safe to say getting brisket right in an Instant Pot will take most people a few tries. It's not as simple as rice or beans. 

Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi everywhere

Adding Wi-Fi to kitchen appliances is happening more and more, but does it add any tangible functionality? Does it make your life easier? In the case of Instant Pot, I've got to say "no. "

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Screenshot by Molly Price/CNET

Wi-Fi hasn't brought revolutionary change to kitchen appliances yet, and it's the same story for the Instant Pot Smart WiFi. Yes, it adds app connectivity that allows you to see how much cooking time is left and receive notifications when your cooker is finished. Those are nice extras, but that's just it. They're extras. 

I'll play my own devil's advocate here in one circumstance. On that rare occasion when you forget to hit start or set a delayed start on your Instant Pot, being able to start cooking remotely is a perfect solution. Of course, you would need to remember that you forgot in the first place, and you would also need to remember soon enough that the contents of the pot were still food-safe. That's a lot of variables. 

Maybe the most useful of all the apps features is mobile notifications. If you're away from your kitchen in another part of the house, getting a ping on your phone when the Instant Pot is finished could be helpful. The appeal of cookers like these is that you can walk away and do other tasks, but that also means you might lose track of time. You're likely to forget that the cooker finished 30 minutes ago while you were folding laundry and notifications aim to keep you in the know. 

I can see, too, how being able to view the status of your multicooker might help you rest easier about leaving it unattended, but even that small satisfaction doesn't seem worth the high price.

Do I need this new-fangled multicooker? 

The Instant Pot Smart WiFi almost convinces me that smarter is better. Notifications were a welcome luxury, and being able to check the time on your cooker from another room or location is another nice novelty. 

However, those are just extras. Remote starting and canceling aren't enough to justify shelling out the additional cash for Wi-Fi connectivity. At $149, the Instant Pot Smart WiFi is a pricey model, and I wouldn't pay more for those nifty, but mostly unnecessary features if you can otherwise live with an equally well-cooking, but less expensive model like the Duo Plus.


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