A lot of people have asked us about cooking with an Instant Pot. Brad is a vandweller and does quite a bit of cooking in the Instant Pot, so I decided to interview him and see what he says. Is it practical? What kind of foods can you cook? What kind of power needs does it have? Let’s find out.
Bob: So, Brad, how long have you had your Instant Pot?
Brad: I’ve had the Instant Pot for about a year, and I’ve been on the road for about a year and a half now. I started out with a propane tank and a double-burner cook stove, and I got this about six months into my trip. And so, I’ve been using this for about a year now.
Bob: And do you still use your propane?
Brad: I don’t. In fact, since I bought this, I haven’t used the propane. I’ve been able to actually replace everything I was doing with my propane stove with this Instant Pot. And so, I like it a lot. And one of the reasons I really like the Instant Pot is I don’t find myself to be an exceptional cook. And so, with the Instant Pot, there’s a wide room for error. And I think the key is that because you’re adding water and it’s a kind of a pressure cook system, you don’t have to worry about scorching or burning things. Everything just comes out pretty easy, and I like that.
Bob: Okay. And so, something I make is grilled cheese sandwiches. Can I make a grilled cheese sandwich in it?
Brad: So, yes, you could. And so, the Instant Pot works in two ways. You can use it with the lid closed, which will be your pressure cooking. So, you can cook soups and stews, and you can cook meats to tenderize them. But the other way you can cook it is if you take the lid off, and it has just a pan inside, stainless steel or pot inside, and then it has a little rest you can set things on top of. But whenever I cook meats, you first brown the meats in the Instant Pot. So, it has a sauté feature, which heats the bottom like a traditional stovetop.
Bob: So, could you do a grilled cheese?
Brad: Yes, the only catch is you would have to dig it out of this pot, right? The depth of it down there will make it a little different. It would be a little bit of a challenge. So, yeah, you would probably want a traditional pot or pan for a grilled cheese. Then also, for a large steak or something, that would probably be better on a pan as well. But this does have the ability.
Whenever I cook, for example, a stew, I put the meat in there first and brown it. So, you put the meat in a third cup of water and stir it, and it browns up the meat. From there, you can add your ingredients and complete it.
Bob: So, really, where this excels is as one-pot meals. You could boil eggs. This would be perfect for beans.
Brad: I’ve made rice in this. Both rice and beans. Then, anything you need to boil. So, I’ve used just boiled water for hot coffee or hot chocolate.
Bob: And so, you make coffee in it every morning just by boiling water?
Brad: Every morning, every morning. And it’s nice because you wake up, put in the water, and hit the power button, and, you know, you don’t have to light the propane or any of that business.
Bob: Yeah, carrying propane is kind of a pain. But, you know, most of the things I like, like grilled cheese, I love a good grilled cheese every so often, and I fry up hamburgers on a pan on my burners. So, but everything else, I think you could do in here. So, if you want to throw a can of chili in there, you could absolutely. Any kind of soup.
Brad: And that’s why I like it, it’s so easy. You kind of just throw whatever you want in, and you cook it. Then, what I do is I make a big batch. So, if I make a soup or a stew, I fill it up, and then I’ll eat off that for, you know, four days.
Bob: And so, you have refrigeration, then?
Brad: I do.
Bob: What are you using, a 12-volt compressor or an ice chest?
Brad: It’s the Dometic CRX50, with a 12-volt compressor. And it’s a traditional upright, not the cooler or chest style. It opens like a traditional fridge. What I’ll do after I cook is put all my leftovers into a small container and save it. When I’m ready to reheat my leftovers, I just put this piece down, then take a regular bowl, put my leftovers in, set it on top of this little trivet, put the lid on, turn it on, and it just heats right up.
Bob: When you say bowl, it couldn’t be a plastic bowl?
Brad: No, no. I use, like, a ceramic or old stainless steel camping bowl, anything microwave-safe and not plastic. It comes out hot. You don’t want to just grab it. So, it even works great for warming up leftovers. What’s really nice is that everything stays moist because it’s heating them up with water in the bottom. So, your chickens, your meats, nothing dries out when you reheat it. Sometimes, in a microwave, you’ll add water or a wet paper towel to add moisture, but this one has the moisture built in.
Bob: Do you always have to have water in it?
Brad: Yeah, yeah, yeah. If it’s on, you always want something; otherwise, you will scorch the bottom of the pan. So, you always want at least some kind of water in there. I heated up tamales today for lunch. So, I bought some tamales at the convenience store, and I just put them in the bowl, put a little water in the bottom, and steamed them real quick, and they came out good.
Bob: Oh, wow. I hadn’t thought of it as that flexible. So, I’m glad we’re talking about it. These are things you probably never thought about. And there are tons and tons of recipes for the Instant Pot.
Brad: It came with a huge book. When I want to make something new, like I was trying to figure out some beef stew the other day, I’ll type in Google, you know, beef stew Instant Pot, whatever you want to make, plus Instant Pot, and the recipes will come up off the internet. There are endless recipes, and they’ll tell you exactly how to do it, what buttons, and what settings to use.
Bob: So, if you want to eat cheaper and healthier, this is the perfect tool. Beans, you know, grains, all those things. This is the very best way to cook them. And so, it essentially is a pressure cooker.
Brad: It’s using pressure, and that’s really what makes it cook so quickly. It’s the pressure that it’s building.
Bob: So, it’s very versatile and in ways I would never even
consider a possibility. As long as you have refrigeration. It’s really hard to buy for one person.All of us single people out there know you go to the store, and everything’s in big packages. You don’t want to mess with it, but if you make a big pot of something and have the refrigeration, then you can eat on it for a week. That’s the most economical and healthiest way to eat.
Okay, so people will want to know how much power they need. You’re running this off solar, correct? So, how much solar does a person need to run this?
Brad: So, I have 200 watts of solar, two 100 watt panels, and a 200 amp hour sealed lead-acid battery. And so, between those two items, I can run the Instant Pot for, you know, really however much time I need. Most recipes don’t call for more than five to seven minutes. It is a hungry appliance. Today, we calculated that it takes 73 amps when running. So, it draws my battery down pretty far. So, if you can, you definitely want your panels to be in direct sunlight when using it.
Bob: And what size of an inverter are you using?
Brad: So, I’m using a 1,000 watt pure sine inverter, and this Instant Pot is rated at 800 watts. So, it’s kind of right there on the edge of what’s acceptable.
Bob: But there’s no motor, so you don’t have a big startup. That is a really good thing.
Brad: Yeah, there’s no surge. So, 1,000 watts runs it fine. I haven’t had any issues with it. I will say that when I initially installed my inverter, it was a really short run. I only have about twelve inches between the inverter and the battery, and I used a 4 gauge cable wiring. It was too small of a gauge for this Instant Pot, and it overheated and started to melt the insulation. So, I went up to a big zero-gauge wire and haven’t had any problems since.
Bob: Do you still check to see if it’s hot?
Brad: I do check it occasionally to see if it’s hot, but definitely, you know, when you’re getting into the big appliances, you want to make sure the wiring is correct.
Bob: I run a 2,000 watt inverter, and for that, I have a two-aught, yeah, which is, you know, thumb-size. So the cabling is very, very important.
Brad: Instant Pots come in different sizes, and this is one of the smaller sizes. I believe this is three quarts. When I bought it, it was the smallest one they made. I know they have all different stuff now, but this is a pretty good size. Even for two people, two people can eat out of this. And, you know, for a couple days. I bought it because I had a 1,000 watt inverter and wanted to stay under that thousand. The next size up, I believe, is 1,200 watts, and then it goes up to 1,500, and so on.
Bob: As long as your inverter is big enough, you could get a larger one. If you have a family or want to cook for groups and need a bigger one, you’ll need to get a bigger inverter and probably have more solar. You definitely couldn’t run a bigger one on 1,000 watts.
Brad: I only turn the inverter on while using it, and it immediately goes back off. It saves you a lot of power.
Bob: We put my amp meter on it while it was running, drawing 73 amps an hour. That is a lot, so it’s easy to think that 73 amps an hour is too much. If you have 200 amp hours of battery and can only burn half, you only have 100 amp hours, with 73 going to the Instant Pot. You don’t have enough to play with, but it doesn’t work that way. It’s actually amps per hour, so at 73 amps per hour, you divide by 60 and get 1.2 amps a minute. That’s a really different story; if you’re only running it for ten minutes, that’s 12 amps, which is pretty insignificant when you have 100 amps to use. Most of us can afford that, even if it’s a long cook. At 20 minutes, you’re still only using 32 amps. My microwave draws about 2 amps a minute, and this thing is drawing about 1.2, so that’s pretty practical for most of us, even with just 200 watts of solar and 200 amp hours of battery.
Brad: Pretty practical. The other thing I think about is this is the only appliance I have that draws a lot of amps. The only other thing I’m doing is running my Maxxair fan, fridge, cell phone, and laptop. Giving up a large portion of my power for this is really no problem.
Bob: The bottom line is, it works. If you’re getting by with 200 watts, then you know you’re okay, and you did it over the winter as well when the sun was a lot lower and running everything else.
Brad: Yeah, I was worried when I started that the 200 watts would just be getting by, but it’s turned out to be probably even more than I need.
Bob: Thanks so much, Brad, for sharing your experience with the Instant Pot. It’s very helpful for a lot of people. Tell us, what do you like to cook in your Instant Pot?