What not to cook in an Instant Pot

The Instant Pot Pro on a kitchen countertop
(Image credit: Instant Pot)

Cooking the same type of meal regularly, can lead to food boredom. After all, variety is the spice of life, so whether you’re trying to impress friends and family with an array of cuisines, or you simply want to liven up dinner time for yourself, there are plenty of handy kitchen gadgets to help. 

The Instant Pot is perfect for this. Already a cult product, this multi-cooker offers an array of cooking functions including slow cooking, pressure cooking, steaming and sautéin. It also speeds up cooking duration so you’re no longer chained to the stove. 

Food bloggers and recipe creators across the globe are continually giving us new and tasty recipes designed specifically for Instant Pots and the alternatives from brands such as Ninja and Sage. This means there’s no shortage of inspiration and advice to help you make the most of cooking in this appliance. (There's no shortage of savings either, especially with Black Friday Instant Pot deals available now.)

However, that’s not to say you can ditch your oven or stove completely and cook everything in a multi-cooker, there are some foods that absolutely do not work in an Instant Pot – and I’m talking from experience here.

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Read on to discover what you really shouldn't use an Instant Pot to cook, or if you’ve already decided you want to invest in a multi-cooker, check out the best prices right now:    

My Instant Pot baking disaster

Recently I used an Instant Pot for baking cakes and cookies but I’ll never do it again despite the fact that there are several recipes online saying it works. I tried three cake recipes in my Instant Pot, a chocolate cake, carrot cake, orange cake and even an oatmeal raisin cookie recipe for good measure. 

The only one that was enjoyable – or edible for that matter – was the chocolate cake. That’s because if a chocolate cake doesn’t rise and has a dense moist texture, you just need to change the name and suddenly it’s a delicious brownie. The rest came out dense and chewy at best or completely inedible at worst and the cookie just wasn’t a cookie, it was a weird dry flat cake. I thought the Instant Pot was going to revolutionize my cake baking so to say I was disappointed with the results would be an understatement.

You might call me naïve for thinking I could bake a cake in a pressure cooker but in another bid to test my Instant Pot cooking skills I made cheesecake in an Instant Pot and I’ll never go back to my usual method. Cheesecakes cook brilliantly in an Instant Pot so all is not lost when it comes to baking sweet treats in a pressure cooker.

What else doesn’t work in an Instant Pot?

Unless you’ve got one of the newer and more expensive models that can air fry, such as the Instant Pot  Crisp + Air Fry, don’t even think about attempting to bake bread in an Instant Pot. Bread needs to brown and develop a crisp crust, this is a big part of its appeal and is important to the flavor too, but a crust is something you just can’t achieve using pressure cooking or slow-cooking methods. 

If you’re a regular bread baker though, you might be interested to know that while it won’t bake bread to perfection, you can use your Instant Pot to proof the dough. The yogurt function is a low-temperature setting that’s designed to ferment yogurt cultures and works just as well at fermenting the yeast in your bread dough. Using the yogurt setting will give you a consistent proofing environment, which can help you perfect your method and make some of the best homemade bread.

In just the same way as an Instant Pot can’t give you a crisp crust on bread, the same goes for all other foods that are best served browned and crispy, including breaded or battered foods such as chicken or fish. You’ll be able to heat these foods in an Instant Pot, but there’s no way of crisping the crumb or batter, so it’s unlikely you’ll be pleased with the inevitably soggy end result. Anything with pastry should be included in this bracket as well, pale mushy pastry is rarely anyone’s aim. 

As a rule of thumb, if a crisp texture is important to the overall enjoyment of the food, then you’re best sticking to other methods like broiling, grilling or oven baking. Alternatively, when it’s time to upgrade your Instant Pot, look at investing in one with an air fry lid, these models can brown and crisp foods and will take your Instant Pot cooking to the next level.

Creamy dairy-based sauces can also be troublesome in an Instant Pot. Depending on what you’re making, sauces made with cream, cheese, and milk are prone to curdling when pressure cooked. Most Instant Pot recipes advise adding cream and cheese at the end of cooking. You can use the sauté function if some heat is needed to melt cheese and this allows you to keep an eye on the consistency and to stir it regularly.

Slow cooking and pressure cooking both work well to tenderize tough meats and will give you excellent falling-off-the-bone textures, both of these cooking methods allow you to get the most from cheaper cuts of meat. I wouldn’t recommend putting expensive cuts of red meat into your Instant Pot though, because to do justice to these pricier cuts, they should be served pink in the middle. And unless you’re using the sauté function to fry up a steak, you can’t achieve rare or pink results in red meats when cooking them in an Instant Pot.

Similarly, very delicate foods like fish and shellfish don’t work well in an Instant Pot. It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll overcook most fish and shellfish regardless of whether you’re adding them to a slow-cooked or pressure-cooked recipe. You can still create tasty meals like paella in your Instant Pot, in fact, it’s one of the best ways to cook rice, but you’ll just need to add the cooked shrimp at the end.

Helen McCue
Freelance Contributor

Helen is a freelance writer who specializes in kitchen appliances and has written for some of the biggest home-related titles around. She has been reviewing small appliances, including blenders, juicers, and multi-cookers, for more than 8 years,  and also upholsters furniture when she's not testing the latest food tech gadgets.