I am a long-time user and lover of the Instant Pot. Purchasing one on a whim a few years ago, right around the holiday season, I, like many others, left it sitting in a box for days. I was intimidated. It’s supposed to be so easy to use, and fantastic for making so many different things. But I was overwhelmed: where do I start? I began with a basic recipe for Korean short ribs that garnered plenty of praise from the family. Soon, I was using it weekly, sometimes daily, for quick dinners, desserts, and even homemade yogurt. It also came in super handy for large gatherings, including Christmas and other festive celebrations. And there are lots of ways the Instant Pot can save your Christmas.
What is the Instant Pot?
First, what is the Instant Pot? Developed in Canada, the small appliance is a multicooker that can be used to cook, steam, and bake a variety of different dishes, from savoury to sweet. There are many different iterations – I have the Ultra 10-in-1, but they all offer the same basic design.
There are several buttons for different cooking modes, like pressure cook, saute, and slow cook, as well as one-button operations for cooking specific things at the perfect temperature and time, like oatmeal, rice, boxed cake, and chili. Some models add other features, like Bluetooth for remote operation, and a mode for making homemade yogurt. I’ve tried it, by the way, and it results in delicious homemade yogurt you can flavour with your own choice of fruits, oats, nuts, and other toppings. The latest model is the Duo Evo Plus that has a new cookware-grade inner pot that is stovetop-friendly, easy grip handles, and new features like ferment and pasteurize.
Most people simply use the pressure cook button, which has the advantage of cooking things you would normally slow cook, or cook on the stove or in the oven, in a fraction of the time. Boneless, skinless chicken thigh, for example, can cook in about 7 minutes (plus about 5 minutes to come up to pressure and 5 to release naturally.) Fresh hard vegetables, like broccoli florets, can steam in a minute. And you can even stack and bake different-flavoured homemade cheesecakes that taste like they came out of a bakery.
An Instant Pot is an easy gift for just about anyone
Beyond buying one for yourself, the Instant Pot is a great gift idea for just about anyone, including those people who are hard to buy for. Because it’s easy to use, novice cooks, or even those who shy away from cooking altogether, will love it. Because it’s small, it’s great for those with limited space, like someone living in an apartment or a student in a dorm. The one-touch buttons make cooking simple – I’d suggest throwing in a recipe book or links to a few of your favourite easy recipes to get them started.
But it’s also great for adventurous cooks who want to experiment with things like homemade yogurt or trying versions of their favourite recipes that can save time and clean-up, since everything is done in one pot. I have made risotto many times, for example, which requires that you stand by the pan and continuously stir as you add broth. Knowing how painstaking the process is, I was reluctant to try an Instant Pot version. But I did and it came out great!
There are three sizes, 3-, 6-, and 8-quart, so there’s an option for everyone. I use a 6-quart for my family of three which is more than big enough to make dinner and extras for the following night or lunch the next day. There’s also extra room for making more when entertaining. Last Christmas, for example, I made homemade scalloped potatoes in the Pot, finishing them off with a quick broil in the oven. Larger families or those who entertain a lot will get use out of the 8-quart, but keep in mind that it’s really big! Singles or couples might be okay with the 3-quart, but the 6-quart, in my opinion, is the best size for just about anyone.
How the Instant Pot Can Save Your Christmas
If you’re thinking of getting an Instant Pot for yourself instead of as a gift (or maybe even in addition to!) here are some ways it can save your Christmas.
It generates less heat, electricity
Using the Instant Pot to cook dishes instead of your oven will generate less heat in the kitchen. During the frigid winter months, you might welcome that extra oven heat. But if you’re entertaining a lot of people at home, the extra body heat plus your furnace heating might be enough to keep things warm.
It also uses less electricity, which you will appreciate during the holiday season when you’re also running extra lights outside, along with a Christmas tree and other holiday decorations.
Use an Instant Pot to make additional dishes
If you only have one oven at home, you might have trouble cooking all of the dishes you want. If you are making a big turkey or ham, for example, it will take hours to cook and will monopolize most, if not all, of the oven’s interior and time. How can you cook all of those sides?
Rather than pre-cook and re-heat items, or rush to cook sides once the turkey is done and resting, you can use the Instant Pot to make everything from mashed potatoes to soup, steamed vegetables, even cake. A few minutes in the Instant Pot can also cook fingerling potatoes, for example, reducing the time they need in the oven if you want to stick to your original recipe.
I have a dual fuel oven, which is fantastic for cooking two dishes at once. But during the holiday season, chances are that between a main dish, sides, and dessert, you need to cook more than just two things. So an Instant Pot can handle at least one, even more, of your sides.
It can keep food warm
The Instant Pot has a Keep Warm button that will keep your food warm for as long as you need, making it a great spot to store side dishes like rice, or keep macaroni and cheese for the kids warm while the rest of the meal is cooking.
If you are busy running holiday errands, you can also leave something slow cooking in the Pot while you run out and know that even when the cook cycle is done, the Keep Warm function will kick in. I use this function often for slow cooked flank steak, which I throw in the Pot with taco seasoning, a jar of salsa, and sliced peppers for our weekly taco nights. Tip: the slow cook function is far less powerful on an Instant Pot than a traditional slow cooker, so if you use it, always slow cook on High, which is comparable to Low on a standard slow cooker, and cook for longer than you might with a slow cooker.
Easily transport dishes in an Instant Pot
If you’re not the one hosting, you might still be responsible for bringing a dish to a pot lock-style holiday event. You can cook something right in the Pot, unplug it, and bring it with you. Plug it back in when you arrive and the host can serve your dish right from the Pot or transfer it to a serving dish.
Some great ideas for making ahead in the Pot and bringing to a holiday party include meatballs, rice, apple crumble, or mashed sweet potatoes.
It can save you time
As noted, the Instant Pot can be a lifesaver when you’re pressed for time. If you forgot to throw baked potatoes or corn on the cob into the oven, no worries. Just pop them into the Instant Pot on the included trivet with at least a cup of water underneath (anything made in the Pot requires at least a cup of liquid), and pressure cook on high for about two minutes for corn (about 15 minutes for baked potatoes, depending on the size) and it’s done.
Even if you are having a backyard barbecue, cook the potatoes and corn in the Pot then finish them on the barbecue so the surface cooking area can be used for the main proteins, getting more done in less time.
You can also, as noted, cook things ahead of time then leave them keeping warm in the pot so you can use your oven to cook instead of to keep already cooked dishes warm.
An Instant Pot is a useful tool to have in any kitchen, whether you’re an expert or novice cook, and cooking for the family or entertaining for the holidays. It’s a great gift for the home that any person on your list will appreciate. And it’s worth getting for your own kitchen, too, especially if you’re planning to cook up a storm this Christmas.