I gave it a go with a popular online recipe, 2 pounds of thinly sliced top round beef and a tasty marinade. Set at 155 for 3 hours, I filled two trays with the marinated meat. Halfway through, I swapped the trays' positions. Once the 3 hours were up, I set the Vortex Plus to bake at 275 and cooked the jerky for 10 minutes to ensure food safety.
While the jerky's flavor varies depending on the marinade you use, my top round jerky came out as good as what you can buy in stores and in under 4 hours. This is one of the redeeming qualities of the Vortex Plus. Dehydrating is easy to do, even for a first-timer following an online recipe.
Cookies were up next, and this is another great example of the trial and error required to get things right when converting from product directions. We first tried a batch at the time and temperature recommended on the package, but those were overdone. A second round baked at 25 degrees cooler yielded better results.
This was an interesting experience, given that our french-fry test required more time than the package directions at the recommended temperature.
Roast and rotate
The Rotate mode turns a motor on the right side of the oven that can be used to turn the rotisserie spit or the air fry basket. However, the weight limit is just 4 pounds, and that's smaller than most grocery store chickens. Anything heavier than that and you risk overloading the capacity of the motor.
I was able to find just one chicken under 5 pounds at my local grocery, and it was labeled 4.2 pounds (still technically too large for the weight limit). I removed the packaging, giblets and some extra fat, and the chicken's final weight was 3.8 pounds. Small enough for the Vortex Plus, but not large enough to leave any leftovers for a family of four.
Even trimmed down and trussed up, my small chicken still dragged the bottom of the foil-lined tray on each rotation. I cooked it at 380 for 1 hour, and it came out done, but pretty average with less than crispy skin. I'd recommend lower and slower if you're going to cook a full chicken in the Vortex Plus, or try experimenting with a smaller bird like a guinea hen if you can find one at your local butcher.
I took this rotisserie chicken conundrum to the folks at Instant. Here's their point of view:
The Vortex can accommodate a chicken larger than 4 pounds, if it is placed on the baking tray. We know consumers want appliances to be compact for counters, so it was more about keeping the overall footprint smaller.
The reheat function serves as a basic replacement for your microwave. It warmed up my macaroni and cheese lunch with ease, but there is one restriction. You won't be able to adjust the temperature for your reheat cycle, only the time. The air fryer sets to 280 degrees. That's low enough to reheat your food without overcooking.
Broiling in the Instant Vortex Plus is simple enough. Set the time and temperature, then add the food when instructed. I used it to broil top-round beef at 400 degrees and the meat cooked evenly. You don't get the reminder to turn your food in the broil, reheat and dehydrate modes, so if that's required for your meal you'll need to set your own timer.
Time and temperature
Like with the Instant Pot, there will be a learning curve with the Instant Vortex Plus. It isn't as straightforward as following the oven or air-fry directions on your packaged foods. You'll probably need to lower the temperature while you're baking and the air fry mode may need to run longer than expected.
Of course, that will depend on what you're cooking, and therein lies my biggest issue with this machine. The Vortex Plus leaves most of this guessing game up to you. The manual provided in the box includes a small table of recommended times for a few foods, but for most, you'll have to go through some trial and error to get a good result. I'm not a fan of wasting time or food, and I wish the directions were clearer on this front.
Instant also recommends starting with conventional oven directions on food packages as a guide for temperature and time, not directions for deep frying.
Should you buy it?
We've come to expect the best from the maker of the Instant Pot, and the Instant Vortex Plus doesn't feel quite like it. While I loved the dehydrate feature and enjoyed watching a small chicken rotate on a spit, there are still some rough edges here. With a handful of design issues, a less than helpful product manual and cooking times that won't always match up with your food's directions, I'm hoping Instant will revisit the air fryer and improve it.
But maybe you really want it. Maybe you'reforever and you've just got to have it. That's fine, just pack your patience. You'll need some practice assembling the accessories and a few tries before you figure out just how to cook your favorite meals. For the rest of us, I'd recommend holding on to your current air fryer or toaster oven for now.