Technically you can; the question is, should you?
Sure, Instant Pots are cool, but have you paused to consider just how much you appreciate your dishwasher lately? I’d invite you to take a moment and do so now.
Speaking as a home cook who’s lived the past three years in an apartment without this miraculous appliance, I truly believe the dishwasher could be the single most helpful, time-saving appliance one can have in the kitchen (not counting essentials like your fridge or oven here). If you’re hesitant to agree, please, take a month—even a week—and try washing every dirty dish that hits your sink by hand. Your reverence for the almighty dishwasher will be renewed, I can almost guarantee it.
Given the substantial task dishwashers accomplish day in and out, I can’t imagine what more one could expect of it… however, you may have heard tell or seen videos floating around the web suggesting that your dishwasher can in fact double as a cooking appliance. As in, rather than use the oven, stove, microwave, slow cooker, grill, Instant Pot, or toaster oven, people are apparently opting to use the appliance that cleans their crusty dinner dishes to first cook their meal.
If you are anything like myself, your immediate reaction to this concept is something along the lines of… BUT WHY?
Great question. And like many of the great questions that are presented to us by the vast and confusing landscape of bizarre food trends on the Internet, we put it to the co-hosts of Homemade vs. the Internet to thoroughly explore. In witnessing them take on the challenge of preparing a full dinner complete with dessert, using only a dishwasher to cook their food, we our team walked away with a few key takeaways regarding this bizarre approach to putting dinner on the table.
1. No, it’s not like cooking sous vide.
In principle, cooking in the dishwasher is similar to popular sous vide cooking techniques in that you have to put your food in watertight containers (like mason jars) and you’re heating the ingredients at a steady temperature for a prolonged period of time. However, unlike thermal circulated sous vide, cooking dinner in the dishwasher is an incredibly imprecise approach.
I generally avoid making sweeping generalizations, but I feel fairly confident in saying that no average person knows the internal temperature of their home dishwasher. Plus, if another member of the household decides to take a hot shower while you’re making dinner, you’re kind of SOL.
2. You’re limited in terms of what proteins you can safely cook in a dishwasher.
The average dishwasher temperature reaches between 140 and 160 degrees internally… meaning, you probably don’t want to plan chicken on dishwasher dinner night.
3. You’ll have better luck if you put liquid in your container with the food.
The internal temperature of the dishwasher will heat the liquid in your jar and the food will cook gently in the warmed liquid. You are basically slow poaching your ingredients using the ambient temperature of the dishwasher.
4. That said, you don’t want too much liquid in the container.
If the jar contains too much liquid, it will not be able to heat through within the time it takes to run one cycle. You’ll see in the video above, this is why Ivy is able to more successfully cook her shrimp using a small amount of white wine in the jar vs. Robin, who attempted to cook his shrimp in a jar filled with a curry sauce. If you’re using a quart-size jar, you’ll want to aim to fill it about 1/3 of the way with liquid—no more.
5. Regardless of how much liquid you add, you’re not about to cook rice in the dishwasher.
Rice requires boiling, which you cannot accomplish in your dishwasher. As a general guiding principle, anything super dense and starchy (that requires boiling temps to soften) isn’t going to work out with this cooking method.
6. However, small pasta will work.
Dainty pasta like couscous can cook in the dishwasher because it can soften simply by soaking (even in cold water).
7. There is literally no food that will come out of your dishwasher tasting better than if you’d prepared it by any other cooking method.
Honestly if you’re just looking for a novel way to cook smallish green vegetables and seafood, the dishwasher is a viable option. However, if it’s not something you’d want to delicately poach, it’s not something you want to cook in your dishwasher. For example, if you’re not the kind of person who would gently boil a New York strip steak under normal circumstances, for the love of all that is good, please do not attempt to prepare one in your dishwasher. Also, don’t expect your dishwasher to break down sugars or reduce/thicken liquids. In virtually every case, you will end up with more liquid in the jar than you started with.
If you review the desserts Robin and Ivy attempted, Ivy landed herself a jar of warm berries because the internal temperature of the appliance isn’t hot enough to break the berries down into any sort of saucy compote situation. Robin approached dessert by simply attempting to heat butter and sugar together so that he could shake the mixture a sauce with his warmed bananas—the dishwasher is able to handle melting butter.
8. There’s only one viable benefit to cooking dinner in your dishwasher.
As far as we can tell, the only real perk one could argue for this cooking method is that it makes for easy clean-up. Because you’re not cooking with high heat, you’re never going to deal with scrubbing pans crusted with food.
9. Conclusively, you really shouldn’t cook dinner in the dishwasher.
Truthfully, this is the most important learning from the entire endeavor. Many times on Homemade vs. the Internet, we are able to extract highly practical culinary learnings from the Internet food trend-based exercise at hand… but this is not one of those times. Dishwasher dinner ultimately proved nothing more than an exercise in “well, this is possible.”