I have a confession to make: The slow cooker and I ... we’re not friends. I know, I’m probably alone on an island screaming “f**k you, Crock-Pot!” while the rest of the world stares at me in disbelief. After all, the slow cooker places in the top 10 best-selling small kitchen appliances every year, and Google Trends consistently finds some version of “slow cooker [insert whatever you want to cook]” in its ranks. Obviously, other people love their slow cookers.
So, why do I hate them? Well, yes, how nice that you can just dump your ingredients in and it will dutifully make your dinner while you’re at work. I can’t argue with how awesome that is ... until I take the first bite. If this was the world that the Jetson’s promised me, this robot meal would be phenomenal but it’s simply not. Instead, it’s just OK, a watered-down version of something I actually wanted to eat and I can’t help but be filled with a great sense of longing and despair.
You see, there’s no nuance in the slow cooker meal. There’s no searing, no build, no layers of flavor. Just a flat, one-dimensional meal that’s as satisfying as a tall glass of lukewarm water on a hot day. Anything the slow cooker can do, something else can do it better, and if the slow cooker’s biggest draw is convenience-bred mediocrity, then I’m not sure I’m into it.
“But Lindsay,” you protest, “the headline of this article is ‘Why the Instant Pot should be the only thing on your Christmas list.’ Why are you degrading the very appliance you’re trying to sell us?”
Aha, but not so! You see, the Instant Pot may look and act like a slow cooker, but it’s so much more than that. It’s an electric pressure cooker, which creates convenience in a whole different way – it cooks your food more quickly. Risotto becomes a seven-minute affair and long-simmering chicken stock is a thing of the past. Braised meats are shreddable and dried beans become creamy and textured in a fraction of the time (without soaking!).
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about the low-and-slow methods. I’ve been known to wake up at 3 a.m. to start a brisket so it’s done by dinner time, and I spend most weekends standing in my kitchen all day long working on some project or another. But I don’t have three hours on a weeknight to braise short ribs, and sometimes I want to be able to cook up a pot of Dove Creek/Adobe Milling Co.’s amazing heirloom beans on the fly.
Enter the Instant Pot. Add your ingredients and some water and, unlike our sad slow cooker experience, the Instant Pot creates a magical meal. You see, when you close the lid, the airtight seal traps all the steam inside. That steam heats up and creates atmospheric pressure which, in turn, increases the boiling point of water. I could continue to geek out on food science and explain how that molecularly affects the food, but I don’t want to bore you. In short: it gets really hot in there, and your meal is ready about 30 percent faster.
But that’s not the best part. That it’s quick is not the reason I find myself obsessively babbling about it to strangers on a plane (all the while, assuring them that I’m a chef and I totally know what I’m talking about). The most incredible feature of the Instant Pot is the sauté function. “Who cares,” you may say, and you kind of have a point because this thing has all kinds of functions. Like, how it’s also a rice cooker, a steamer, a slow cooker (groan), and it doubles as a yogurt maker. All cool things, no doubt, but this sauté function is a game-changer.
Remember how I complained that you can’t build layers of flavor in a slow cooker? How you couldn’t sear and deglaze? Well, that handy sauté function fixes all my gripes. No more washing a separate skillet so you can brown beef before making chili. Hit that sauté button and caramelize onions before you seamlessly transition to pressure cooking to make French onion soup. You can even boil noodles in this thing, so go ahead and make a ramen broth and simmer your noodles in the same pot. The sauté function makes the Instant Pot a perfect one-stop shop for building layers of flavor in soups, stews, braises, and beyond.
The Instant Pot is a one-pot-wonder, and no one can complain about a gift that creates less dirty dishes. So, this holiday season, forget about gifting the slow cooker and opt for the other variety of set-it-and-forget-it appliances. And maybe pick one up for yourself, too (although, spoiler alert, wait until after Christmas to buy one if you’re in my family!).
Lindsay D. Mattison is a professional chef and food writer living in Durango. She enjoys long walks in the woods, the simplicity of New York style cheese pizza, and she’s completely addicted to chapstick. Contact her at email@example.com.