What do I want for Festivus?
November 29, 2019 7:15 AM   Subscribe

I hate cooking, food prep, meal planning, basically everything that must happen before food goes in my mouth. So do I want one of those newfangled electronic pressure cookers (Instapot, Ninja Foodi, etc)?

I find cooking to be such a chore and hate it, but I do the bare minimum to get somewhat cheap and healthy food into the gullets of my cohabitation creatures. Instapots seemed like they were all the rage a few years ago with people saying how quick and easy it made meals. Would this be something worth it for my use?
I don't do fancy cooking or really recipes at all, just standard meat, veg, starch type things. I usually try to do stuff in the oven so i dont have to stand over a stove and watch it. I have a crock pot which gets used rarely cause I don't plan my food out hours ahead, usually just take stock of whats in the house and throw something together, and whats in the house is typically what looked good at the store the last time i went. I am looking to spend even less time cooking / food prepping and I'm fine with the way I shop and stock my foodstuffs. Will one of these electronic pressure cookers let me shave some time off this chore I hate? Anyone out there like me who has one and found it really worth it?
posted by WeekendJen to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The food will cook faster but the prep will take the exact same amount of time. You could save some time if you batch cook but that requires more planning ahead and anyway you can do that without a pressure cooker. I do not think an instant pot will do much for you.
posted by mskyle at 7:28 AM on November 29, 2019 [6 favorites]

It kind of depends on which part of the food prep or cooking you hate. I'd say that an Instapot doesn't necessarily make things easier, just faster (compared to a slow cooker), and effectively combines a number of other appliances into one. If one of things you don't like is having to watch things on the stove, and you're OK with slow cooker type food and just don't want to wait so long, it'd probably be great. It does have a saute setting, so if a recipe calls for something to be seared before slow cooking, it can do that all in one pot. It's obviously not going to chop vegetables for you.
posted by LionIndex at 7:30 AM on November 29, 2019

For the IP specifically, it is not always less time but it is a set-and-forget situation. So, it may take the same amount of time to cook spaghetti and meat sauce, but you can put it all in and hit a button and walk away for 20 minutes instead of standing by the stove for those 20 minutes. You still have to chop, portion and stir things.
posted by soelo at 7:31 AM on November 29, 2019 [6 favorites]

If you could eat beef stew once a week, would you eat beef stew once a week? An Instant Pot makes this exact type of food easy and quick (as a minimal example, you could dump in some cubed meat, a can of tomatoes, some water, and some salt, set a time, and walk away).
posted by yarntheory at 7:40 AM on November 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you have a crock pot that you don't really use, well, the Instapot can keep it company on the shelf. It doesn't cut down on the most tiresome parts of cooking (imo), the prep and clean up. I think the easiest healthy cooking is probably on a sheet pan. If you put down paper on the sheet pan, clean up is minimal.
posted by betweenthebars at 7:51 AM on November 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

what instant pot does is make the cooking process less timing- and attention- intensive and scheduling-intensive. (Not exactly less TIME intensive: it takes a long while to heat up and to release after cooking, even if the cooking itself is brief.) But it's totally unsupervised and you can leave it going while it's working, unlike the stove. So for the types of food it does well with, it's a great boon to the busy, lazy, or uninterested. What it does well is soups and stews.

For example: you put the stew stuff in when you think of it. You hit the button. It will cook it correctly and keep it at eating temp until you are ready to deal with it, whenever that is (usually in about an hour if you don't want to be bothered doing the manual steam release.) That could be in an hour, when you get back from the gym; or in 10 hours when you get home from work.

It only helps you if you like soups and stews.

NB: one thing it DOES do better than a crock pot is deal with frozen meat. You can put pieces of frozen meat in there as long as they're not too big or iced all together, and they'll be ready on the same timetable as anything else. This is helpful if you, like me, are never going to remember to defrost stuff in advance. BUT it will not handle a large frozen lump.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:57 AM on November 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

A bit off-topic, but have you checked your fresh produce section in your supermarket lately? There's been a sea change in the availability of pre-chopped onions, garlic, stir-fry veggies, cabbage, mushrooms, broccoli/cauliflower florets, in addition to decent frozen microwaveable brown rice, potatoes, peppers, leeks, onions, and way, way more. Get acquainted with mirepoix, invaluable for homemade soups that take no time. Most supermarket meat sections carry pre-sliced, pre-cut meats and poultry. Trader Joe's is the champion of these already prepped fresh foods, but the chain supermarkets have caught on. You'll pay more for food that is already prepped for cooking, but home cooking still beats eating out or heating up frozen meals from a dollar and health point of view.

I can't speak to your Instant Pot question since I use a pressure cooker and slow cooker. I would say getting a Teflon coated version for sauteeing will save on clean-up, another onerous part of home cooking. So start off with already prepped vegetables and meats and use whatever hands-off cookware you already have or plan to get.
posted by Elsie at 8:17 AM on November 29, 2019

When I got the instant pot, I was at a cooking skills level where I could buy whatever looked good at the store, and rely on basic techniques to turn it into dinner. It would just take longer than I wanted.

The instant pot didn't really change that because there was such a learning curve for me, because I had never used a pressure cooker before. I definitely love it for pot roast, pulled pork, other recipes that were beyond the time and effort that I was ever willing to make at home. They are still special occasion meals for me, but I am willing to make them at home now.

Tons of things make a much bigger difference in overall cooking time/effort than an instant pot. Convenience foods, buying pre-chopped veggies, microwave-based recipes, ... these don't exactly lend themselves to festivus giving, though.

If you're thinking of what to ask for as a gift that would truly cut down on cooking as a chore, maybe a subscription to a meal planning service like eMeals, or prepayment to a meal prep location like Dream Dinners.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 8:44 AM on November 29, 2019

Granted this might be too expensive but an Italian friend of mine was regaling me with tales of the miraculous Thermomix (on phone so sorry for not linking). I have never tried it but oh! the things she said it can do!
posted by fiery.hogue at 8:47 AM on November 29, 2019

I'm developing gadget-specific meal-plan/prep-specific recipes for a food blog right now (like I am re-re-testing recipes today) and kind of putting this question to the test. I think my conclusion is that an air fryer - a large one - is the more versatile tool. As much as I like my instant pot, and I should note that I do use it a fair amount just as a cooking pot because it's better than my stovetop for sustained things like boiling stuff or making soup, the one thing left that I routinely make in it is dark meat boneless skinless chicken to finish off with a sauce for frozen lunches.

I'm making everything else in the air fryer, and it really shines in last-minute applications. We now just keep giant bags of broccoli florets, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, zucchini, and the occasional butternut squash chunks on hand because you can bang it in the air fryer and have it done in 7-20 minutes depending on the vegetable. I keep marinated evenly-pounded-out chicken breasts on hand, those are also about 22 minutes so I start them first and then put the veg in to finish roughly the same time. I emphasize that I am using a very, very large air fryer for this, 8qt or larger with multiple shelves, because the 6qt bullet-shaped ones just don't let you stack very well for versatility (though I would say one of those fine for one person not doing a ton of bulk-cooking, or as a starter appliance to see if you want to go bigger).

In part, the IP became less useful to us when we got really strict with carbs. I have a little egg cooker which I love more than all the other methods I've tried for boiling, we don't make rice, I don't like vegetables made under pressure because they're wet and unbrowned, I don't really like boiled meat either so there's very few things I love cooked in there. I do still use it every week to make our main proteins for frozen lunches, and it stays on the counter full time for that reason, but it's not getting the use it used to anymore.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:58 AM on November 29, 2019 [6 favorites]

I have a Ninja Foodi, don’t love cooking, have a ten month old baby, and find it helpful. Here’s why:

- Baby wants to be held constantly: Food doesn’t need to be stirred, so I have hands free for baby-holding and mind free for baby-playing.

- Baby-Led Weaning: I’m making salmon (from
frozen) and white rice for dinner (3 mins under pressure). What takes 3 mins under pressure that Baby can easily eat? Carrots, broccoli, green beans, eggplant... throw it in (top rack, along with the salmon) and have well-steamed, soft-enough-for-a-baby food along with your own nosh. I also put bok choy on the top rack after pressure cooking and broil for five-ish minutes to round out the meal. No cutting involved—I just rip the bok choy off the stem.

- If you eat a lot of meat + grain + veg dinners, the Foodi makes this pretty easy and hands free. Here’s an example of the type of recipe where the Foodi shines. If this looks like too much work, you’re not going to love this device. (If I were using this recipe, btw, I’d throw in some veggies for baby to eat on the top rack, as above. The veggies will get soft enough under 2 mins pressure cooking.) I think searching “360 Ninja Foodi recipes” should turn up recipes that follow the same formula.

- Frozen french fries. I’m not proud, but I do love me some frozen french fries. They come out sooo good in the air fryer (air crisper in Ninja lingo).

- Crockpot functionality. On days where I know I’ll be out for 3 hours+ and will be tired and hungry when I get back (hello baby swim lessons), I make balsamic chicken in like five minutes and thank myself later.

- Timed broiling. I use this on vegetables and bread (because I don’t have a toaster and don’t need one because this is the same thing). In a normal oven, I’ve forgotten to set a timer or didn’t hear the timer and burned the food too many times. The Foodi stops broiling after the interval I set it to, so my food is never overdone.

- Non-stick pot. I know some people don’t love non-stick, and I get it, but my husband and I are fans. It makes our lives and, in some ways, our marriage, a lot better because cleanup is so easy and we don’t have a ton of time to spend together as just the two of us. We use the time we would’ve spent scrubbing a pot to hang out and catch up with each other.
posted by saltypup at 9:09 AM on November 29, 2019

Also! Hard-boiled eggs. Usefulness depends on whether you’re a fan, but I always have these in my fridge because they’re easy snacks. The 5-5-5 formula is a thing, which basically means your eggs come out perfectly without much effort. I honestly always skip the chilling part (the last five) and don’t care if my eggs are kind of overcooked.
posted by saltypup at 9:19 AM on November 29, 2019

My college age son swears by his instant pot, because it is nap-friendly. You dump your veg, spices, chickpea and rice in, set timer, go for a nap. “When you wake up, wow! There’s curry! And you have food for tomorrow, too!” —- overbusy college student who likes healthy tasty food. Also, he chooses brown rice more often now because it cooks in 20 minutes instead of 40, and has a 1-1 measuring ratio. 1 cup brown rice, 1 cup water = less attentive measuring too. I’m going to get one for my easily distracted self. And for his use when he’s home. Because the biggest time-saving strategy in the kitchen is Getting Someone Else to Do It. (See also: young kids think vacuuming is fun if the vacuum is partially transparent.)
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 9:29 AM on November 29, 2019

Adding, because the young man wants you to have cooking success...”I don’t usually add rice and chickpeas at The Same Time...” so, ymmv. It appears one has to practice at least once.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 9:32 AM on November 29, 2019

Seconding everyone who says that food prep (chopping, washing, measuring, etc) isn't solved, but I find that acceptable. The advantage to the pressure cooker is that it manages the whole cooking process in a way that inverts the "can't leave a saucepan unattended" anxiety into "I can just leave this alone for half an hour, and probably should."

So usually when cooking on a stovetop there's an anxiety of "got to stir, got to prep the next ingredient, aaah got to hurry and get it in!" and that is definitely not something I miss.

I tend to cook by frying onions and spices in oil, adding garlic and/or ginger, and going from there. So I have a short period where I'm using the saute function and manually managing things, but then it's just chop, drop, press the button and forget it.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 9:39 AM on November 29, 2019

The air fryer is more versatile in its ability to create eat-now fried mains and sides with pretty low effort. Dump a cup of jerk sauce and some raw chicken wings in and come back in 45 minutes to something amazing. That said, cleaning it is more annoying than cleaning the instant pot, because it's got grease all over it and there's lots of fiddly little crevices in the stirrer that need attention. It's not onerous, but clean-up is likely what you'll be spending the most time doing with it, other than waiting for shit to cook.

The IP is more versatile for preparing larger quantities foods for eating later, like broth or pork shoulder, or hard boiled eggs (2 dozen at a time easy) or a whack of potatoes, or stew, or oatmeal (my favourite use). It's also dead simple to clean up, soak the stainless steel pot in hot water with a bit of soap, swish with a scouring pad and you're done.

We have both and they both have their uses. The IP will do the most to reduce overall time in the kitchen because you can make 5-6 meals at once in it that you save for later. The fryer can make things the IP cannot, but you'll use it 2-4 times as often to get the same number of meals.

If we had to choose one, we'd go with the IP because it makes the absolute best bone broth in a hands off four hours, and one load of bones turns into a dozen bowls of rich soup easily, and there ain't no better meal in the winter than soup.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:06 PM on November 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

The short answer is "No." I like cooking. Yes, it is work but there is much enjoyable work. For some people, knitting, needlework, painting, writing poetry, and on and on. But if you don't like cooking, adding ANY gadget won't get you to like it more. The gadget isn't intended to make cooking more enjoyable, although some kitchen gadgets make certain kinds of foods easier or quicker to do. The food processor, for example, does some things that are wearying or just challenging to do by hand. But one still has to cook!

Save the money. Order out more.
posted by tmdonahue at 12:47 PM on November 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thanks everyone for your answers. After reviewing, I have updated my wishlist as follows:

Household chef
Nintendo switch
Big ass air fryer
posted by WeekendJen at 3:56 AM on November 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also consider taking a home cooking class maybe. I used to hate cooking but once I dedicated myself to learning about the process I have come to really enjoy it. Also lost a ton of weight accidentally as a side benefit because I wasn’t eating extra rich delivery food all the time.

Also Frozen mirepoix exists and is a game changer prep-time wise.
posted by wowenthusiast at 5:47 AM on November 30, 2019

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