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).
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 $70multicooker 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.