Pressure cookers and slow cookers may be undergoing a cultural revival as the “it appliances” du jour, but what are the Instant Pot’s most hated and most loved qualities, according to one avid home cook?
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I was right there with the pressure cooker skeptics when it came to whether or not to buy one. I like to see my food, taste the seasoning, have the whole apartment smell good while it’s cooking. But I was spending hours cooking dinner, so the idea of saving time was—much as a mini-food processor is for chopping onions and garlic—tempting. In the end, saving time was the thing that swayed me (along with a recommendation from a friend who had studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris).

Well, I’m still on the fence in some ways. Some folks say you can soft-cook eggs in an IP and the shell will slip right off. Not so with my model; I’ve never seen eggshells so tenaciously adhere to the belly of the egg itself. Other folks say the food pretty much cooks itself, and I will agree that I’ve marveled at how quickly pressure works to cook meat through. At this point, I’ve made about half a dozen things in this sucker, and have identified my favorite and least-favorite qualities.

Best: You Can Do Almost Everything Right in One Pot

If people have a recurring gripe about slow cookers, it’s that you can’t get them to sizzle. Hugh Acheson, Georgia chef and author of a new book called The Chef and the Slow Cooker, which he has dotted with adorable doodles of vintage slow cookers, has a recipe for coq au vin that looks like a knockout: It’s got slab bacon, mushrooms, dry red wine, chicken, and really everything you could want. I’d planned to test out the slow-cook function on my Instant Pot to make it…until I saw that I’d have to do all my searing and rendering in a separate large skillet, then pour everything into the Instant Pot.

I am a klutz, and I want to minimize dishes. I don’t want to pour a hot mixture into a separate pot, and I give props to those of you who don’t mind this extra step. Every Acheson recipe I’ve tried over the years has been killer, so I was disappointed to let this one go—until I saw that my Instant Pot cookbook from Melissa Clark also had a coq au vin recipe, and noticed that I could sear chicken right in the IP itself. My model gets pretty hot, so although it’s not as satisfying as searing in my trusty cast-iron skillet, it’s one less pan, and there’s way less splatter thanks to the IP’s high sides. I got good browning on my chicken thighs, and when I deglazed using mushrooms and stock, all the black bits came right off.

Worst: That Pre-Heat Time

The worst part of Instant Pot cookery? The lie in its name. Sure, you can sear in it pretty much instantly, but that’s also true of a skillet on a gas range. But the pre-heat time of an IP varies wildly depending on what you’re pressure cooking, and can take up to 40 minutes—just to preheat for pressure cooking! This can be frustrating if, say, you wanted to serve coq au vin to guests and knew when they were coming to dinner—but not when dinner would be ready. So the timing cookbooks give you is completely dependent on your pressure cooker model. Happily, the “Keep Warm” function will keep a dish like chicken thighs tender the whole time, and you don’t have to worry about them—but a more sensitive dish might not handle the warming so well.

TLDR? I’d still recommend buying an Instant Pot, because I like the efficiency and the easier cleanup, but I’d look for one on sale.

Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, Gourmet, and Epicurious. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @alexvanburen.