I only cooked with an Instant Pot for a week—here’s what happened
One week, six meals, so many leftovers.
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Before starting my job at Reviewed, I only had a passing understanding of Instant Pots. I knew they were a fast-cooking, one-pot cooking option, but was that really enough of a reason to justify buying yet another appliance that I’d use once and abandon? (Still sorry, juicer.) I already had a slow-cooker—wasn’t that close enough?
But when I started this gig, I was suddenly editing a seemingly endless stream of multicooker articles, from a roundup of the best on the market to a guide for beginners to a showdown with a slow cooker. It didn’t take long for my family to take note of my not-so-subtle hints that they had shot to the top of my wish list, and soon I was the owner of an 8-quart Instant Pot Duo Plus.
Then it sat in my cabinet, unopened, for three months. It’s not that I didn’t want to use it, but I was intimidated by the idea of pressure cooking, by the safety warnings, by the fact that I couldn’t lift up the lid to peak on how things were going.
But with the guidance of our cooking dream team of Cassidy Olsen and Valerie Li, I not only committed to using my Instant Pot, I decided to use nothing but my Instant Pot to eat for the week. (Talk about pressure.) Here’s how it went.
Planning my Instant Pot meals
First, I decided that to fully commit to a week of Instant Pot meals, I’d need variety. After sifting through the truly endless number of recipes available online, and consulting with a friend who swears by her Instant Pot, I settled on six, allowing leftovers to count:
- Breakfast for the week: Peanut butter banana steel-cut oats
- Lunch for the week: Creamy sausage tortellini
- Three dinners: Chicken and saffron risotto, boneless pork chops with that same saffron risotto (spoiler alert: the recipe makes a lot), and a takeout-style cashew chicken over rice
- Dessert: Peach crisp
At this point, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. These recipes seemed more involved than I was expecting—wasn’t this supposed to be instant? How had this just eaten up two hours of my Sunday? But soon, the grocery list was made, and then made again to be even more organized so I wouldn’t forget a thing.
So you’ll understand why I almost screamed when I felt the list fall out of my pocket on a particularly windy walk to the store. After chasing it down the sidewalk, I thankfully caught hold of it and avoided what would’ve been a very public meltdown. Groceries secured, I headed home.
Setting up the Instant Pot
After unboxing my Instant Pot, I read the safety instructions cover to cover and loaded my dishwasher with all of the parts that might come in contact with food. Once they were clean, I did the recommended practice run, using the Pressure Cook setting to heat 3 cups of water for three minutes. (I was surprised by how long it seemed to take to reach pressure—about 10 minutes—but I soon realized this wasn’t a big deal when put in practice.)
Then, armed with both an oven mitt and a long wooden spoon so I could stand far back, I released the pressure valve and stood in awe of the powerful steam. Fears assuaged, it was time to start cooking.
Cooking the meals
Sunday: Creamy sausage tortellini
For my first recipe, I wanted to start with something fairly straightforward, and something that I would be able to recognize as either a success or a failure when it was complete. At just about 20 minutes start to finish, I can’t say that it was any faster than cooking tortellini and sausage separately on a stovetop, but the fact that I was able to fold my laundry while it cooked makes it a huge time-saver. Not to mention, I only dirtied one pot.
The finished product looked exactly as I hoped it would—and tasted even better. While in retrospect this was a heavy meal to pack for lunch every day, I liked it so much that I’ve since made it again for dinner.
Sunday: Peanut butter banana steel-cut oats
After a quick wash of the pot, I readied myself for round two of meal-prepping for the week. Feeling confident, I thought I’d ace this recipe, which I picked to flex the muscle of my Porridge setting. As it was reaching pressure, it smelled amazing.
But before it could get there, it started beeping and displaying “Burn” on its screen. This, I read as I frantically flipped through the manual, can happen when there’s not enough liquid in the pot. I had included 2 cups of almond milk, but added a few splashes more for good measure and stirred the entire mixture to loosen any stuck bits from the bottom.
A few minutes later, more beeping. So I added more milk. This continued for two hours, my patience waning, my almond milk supply running low, until I gave up, figuring that all the warming had made it at least edible. The next morning (and each morning that week), it tasted fine, especially when adding fresh strawberries, blueberries, and bananas, but the texture wasn’t super appetizing. I’m not eager to try this one again.
Monday: Saffron risotto
For the main part of this entree, I had planned to grill up a couple chicken breasts in my favorite Lodge cast iron skillet since my previous attempt at two Instant Pot meals in one night had proved exhausting. But when I came home, I realized I had forgotten to take the breasts out of the freezer. After a quick Google, I found that once the Instant Pot reaches pressure, it only takes 1 minute with the Pressure Cook setting on high to thaw. (Just be sure to add water and use the included steamer rack.) It worked perfectly, practically proving its worth on that alone.
A quick wash of the pot and it was onto the risotto while the chicken cooked. This recipe is one we use to test multicookers, so I knew I had to try it. It also gave me a chance to try out the Sauté setting. I’ve never attempted risotto before, so opening the lid to find the dish looking just as it does in a restaurant made me proud. I had done that—well, sort of—and in a reasonable amount of time to boot. In less than an hour on a weeknight, I went from a package of frozen chicken to a hot dinner. Plus, it made enough to give me leftovers.
Tuesday: Peach crisp
I have a sweet tooth, so I was most looking forward to making this peach crisp recipe. (I had originally wanted to try out the Cake setting, but needed a special cake pan. Next time I’ll order one in advance.) Since I had enough chicken and risotto from the night before to make leftovers, this was the only meal on my agenda tonight.
While the sliced peaches cooked (smelling better by the moment), I whipped up the buttery pecan topping that I had to resist devouring prematurely. Once the syrupy peaches were complete, I topped them with the nut mix and some store-bought vanilla ice cream (I’m not that good). It was a perfect end-of-summer treat. It made a ton, so I’d likely hold off on replicating again until I’m entertaining, but the leftovers heated up in the microwave just fine.
Wednesday: Boneless pork chops
Wednesday was the first day I really started to regret committing to a week of meals at a time. My tiny apartment-sized fridge was quickly filling up with more food than my boyfriend and I could eat. But we soldiered on.
The pork chops couldn’t have been easier. After applying a simple rub, I used Sauté mode for each side before switching to the Pressure Cook setting, which got them nice and juicy. Pork chops were another staple I had never attempted on my own, and while using a whole Instant Pot to make them seemed excessive, I couldn’t argue with how good they tasted. I paired the chops with more of the never-ending supply of saffron risotto for a solid meal.
Thursday: Cashew chicken over rice
This meal really tested the Instant Pot’s simplicity factor, primarily because I opted to enjoy a couple post-work cocktails with a friend before coming home to operate this (light) machinery. Perhaps unironically, this takeout-inspired cashew chicken dish I served over rice was exactly what I was craving.
While I did cut one corner and microwave Minute Rice, I made the rest of the chicken recipe to the letter, and was pleasantly surprised that it came out as delicious as I hoped. It was a bit salty, but nothing that I wouldn’t be able to adjust the next time around. It also looked the most impressive to me, and it was the one that most people seemed excited to hear about. So I’m glad it worked out so well.
Friday: All the leftovers
Listen, would I normally suggest pairing a cashew chicken dish with saffron risotto, tortellini and sausage, and peach crisp? No way. But when you’re averse to food waste, and desperate to regain space in the fridge, you may do things you’re not proud of. My boyfriend and I divvied up the last bits of each meal (yes, there was still risotto left), making a mini smorgasbord that weirdly seemed to honor the versatility of my new favorite kitchen tool.
So, was it worth it?
Absolutely, though I don’t know that I’d recommend making six meals in one week—that was ambitious. But, at the very least, using the Instant Pot for a week straight was trial by fire, forcing me to get used to the technology and troubleshoot along the way. (I can proudly say I no longer use the spoon to release the pressure from several feet away… but I still wear the oven mitt.)
I loved that it could defrost frozen chicken breasts in a snap (that’s worth it right there), and the fact that I could perfect a beautiful risotto with the push of a button. Plus, since I enjoy meal-prepping to take some stress away from planning weeknight meals, it opens up a whole world of possibilities for large-batch dinners that I can make quickly and store.
That being said, I enjoy hands-on experimentation with a new recipe in the kitchen. I’m no pro, but there’s something about touching the food, watching it sizzle in a pan, and understanding ingredients enough to add my own twist that I miss with the Instant Pot. It was a little too hands-off for me at times. But that’s precisely the reason it’s become such a hit in kitchens across America.
The reality is that most nights, I just need food—an easy meal at the end of a long day. That’s where the Instant Pot shines. Working it into my routine can free up so much time and energy that on the nights I want to be a little more hands-on, I’ll be ready to give it my all.