Instant Pots have been out for awhile now and lots of people have them, but they recently released the much smaller 3-quart version, which makes a lot more sense for folks like us who were thinking about using this 7-in-1 device on the road.
We own several CrockPots and Jessi loves being able to cook a lot of different things in them. She couldn’t really see how the Instant Pot was that different from these trustworthy devices or why we would want another appliance. However, after some research and discussion about how we might use it both at home and while traveling, we finally broke down to try it out. It helped that Ari found a good deal through Amazon, which sealed the deal.
Our Instant Pot (IP) is the 3-quart Duo Mini. The major difference (besides size) between the Mini and the regular IP Duo seems to be fewer automatic settings – namely it is missing the poultry and multigrain options. It’s not that you can’t cook those things, you’ll just need to enter the times manually. (It also draws only 700 watts compared to the 1,000 watts the larger units require to operate.)
Since it holds less than the regular 6-quart IP, and the model is still so new, all the recipes Jessi looked up online were for the larger size, so we knew right away she would need to do some conversions to not overfill the pot. It has markings for 2/3 and 1/2 full, and you can’t fill above those lines depending on what you’re making, or you’ll risk damaging the pot. You need air space to let the steam (and potentially foam) build up inside as it pressurizes.
Our first meal
For the first meal, we decided to make Beef Stew, something Jessi has made in the Crockpot many times, so we knew it would be easy to compare the end results. However, instead of the recipe she traditionally uses, we looked up an IP-specific recipe. The main process of prepping was the same as for a Crockpot: cutting up the veggies, getting the liquids and seasoning ready, flouring the meat, etc.
The first difference was that when the recipe called for browning the meat, you could do it right in the IP Mini, instead of having to get out a frying pan. To do so, you press the Saute button, the pot heats up and, once the butter melts, you brown the meat right in the pot. From there, you just pour in the liquid, add the veggies, potatoes and spices, close the lid and set the timer. Only one pot needed!
The recipe called for 35 minutes of pressurized cook time. This is the second main difference from a Crockpot. For those not familiar with IP cooking, something we learned is that the 35 minutes is only the main cook time – it does not include the time the pot needs to get up to pressure before it starts cooking. That time will depend on what you’re cooking and how full the pot is. In our case, it took 15 minutes before it reached full pressure. (The instructions say the heating phase can last anywhere from just a couple to 40 minutes – we’re not sure exactly how to know that part, yet.)
Releasing the pressure
When the 35 minutes were up, we let the IP Mini naturally release pressure for 10 minutes, before manually opening the steam release valve to let the remaining pressure out. By this point, there was very little pressure left, so what came out was a small stream, no different than if you’d boiled water on the stove.
When we did our test run of just steaming water and manually opened the valve without letting it naturally release, the stream of steam coming out was tremendous! It reached our kitchen ceiling with quite a force and could’ve severely injured someone. At that moment Jessi said she was concerned about being able to use it in the Roadtrek as it’s such a small space. But seeing the small amount that came out after a natural release means it isn’t such a big deal. Many recipes call for a manual release right away though, so there is still some concern. Ari suggested that if the vent was positioned correctly so that steam went straight up toward our Fantastic Fan vent, and the fan was on, the steam should be quickly sent up and out of the van.
The manufacturer isn’t kidding when they say to use an oven mitt when opening the valve. We also discovered you will want to open the valve from the left side, so you’re not placing your hand and arm over the vent as you turn the valve.
Our first test meal was a success and our beef stew looked and tasted amazing. Since then, we’ve also made chicken tacos, which started by tossing in about 2 pounds of frozen chicken breasts and salsa into the InstantPot. Having a meal prepared in a fraction of the time when starting with frozen chicken was inspiring for what we could do at home and on the road.
From pulling all the ingredients out of the fridge to plating was a total of an hour and 40 minutes. This included reading the instructions super carefully at each step so everything took longer than it will going forth. Broken down:
- Prep: 30 min
- Browning: 10 min
- Heating up: 15 min
- Cooking: 35 min
- Pressure release: About 12 min (both natural and manual)
It has a keep warm setting that it automatically switches to once the cooking is done, and it counts up so you know how long it’s been in case you weren’t present when the timer went off.
At first, Jessi was thinking it wasn’t a whole lot different than the Crockpot – basically, prep everything, then set it and forget it. What she realized, however, was that she only uses our Crockpot on the weekends when we have 6 hours to let it sit. With the IP Mini we could make the same meals on a weeknight in far less time, especially if we could do some of the veggie prep in advance.
Hit or Miss?
So far, and granted that’s with limited use under our belts, we would call this a hit for your gear list. You can find it on Amazon.com here: