This review is part of our community-driven book tournament, The Big Community Book-Off. With your help, we’re finding the best books across categories (from bread to pasta, one-bowl to weeknight-friendly, and cake to cookies, to name a few), and putting them through a series of rigorous reviews—considered, tested, and written by none other than you. And so, let’s hand it off to our community members Sarah, Robin, and
Rosa. Here are their reviews of your five favorite Instant Pot books—and their nail-biting verdict on which one reigned supreme.
We came about our love for the Instant Pot in different ways. Sarah wanted to know if the Instant Pot was everything it was hyped up to be, and if it could save valuable cooking time between busy work shifts. Rosa bought the Instant Pot because a certain Instant Pot cookbook made her finally say, “yes!” Robin, like many of you, wanted the ability to cook time-intensive meals faster without sacrificing the integrity of the dishes, and to shave hours off meal prep.
Say your kid wants an artichoke with his dinner (don’t laugh, it’s happened!). Why boil it for over an hour when you can have a perfectly cooked artichoke in 25 minutes? Or perhaps you want to hard-boil a dozen eggs for some healthy lunches? In the Instant Pot, it takes just 3 minutes (plus a little bit of time to come to pressure, of course). Want to make chili with dried beans and can the canned ones? Don’t worry about soaking them—with an Instant Pot, dry beans take just a bit longer to cook than it does to open a can. For us, as for many of you, the Instant Pot has opened doors to fulfilling weekday meals without too much fuss, and we were excited to put this workhorse to the test to find the best cookbook to go with it.
There are guidelines for the use of the Instant Pot: close the valve before using the pressure cooking function; don’t overfill; use a towel when you open the valve after cooking; and, the cardinal rule of Instant Pot cooking, keep a few spare rubber rings around so your rice pudding doesn’t taste like your brisket! In that same vein, we came up with our own guidelines for the review:
We would choose one recipe that we would all make (so we could test the cookbook’s consistency).
After that, we each would choose a minimum of two additional recipes from each book that caught our attention. That way, we would have at least nine tests from each book.
While testing each recipe, we would keep the following questions in mind:
Utilization of the Instant Pot. Does the use of the appliance significantly simplify the cooking process or enhance the dish itself?
Versatility. Does the cookbook demonstrate the versatility of the Instant Pot? Does it offer a wide range of recipes using the multiple functions?
Design. A lot of appliance cookbooks can feel more like a manual than a cookbook—is this one attractive and well designed?
Taste. Do the recipes stand on their own merit, regardless of the Instant Pot? Are they truly interesting and flavorful?
The 5 Instant Pot cookbooks selected by you, the Food52 Community, are:
These cookbooks are all great, and reflect a range of cuisines and styles, but which book used the Instant Pot best? Let’s take a look at them one by one.
Before this challenge, we all enjoyed cooking Indian food, but none of us had ever cooked Instant Pot Indian food, other than a few time-saving tricks (such as pressure-cooking dried beans to add to the rest of a dish finished on the stove). We’d never really considered the Instant Pot, since it’s easy to brown meat and sauté vegetables with spices right on the stove, with what we thought were amazing results. What would the Instant Pot bring to the proverbial and literal table? Urvashi Pitre took our hands and showed us. Her book has a variety of recipes, each written in a clear and inviting manner. The recipes are not complicated, but nor do they skimp on flavor. Suffice it to say, these three Food52 Community members will be using the Instant Pot to cook Indian food from now on.
Dry chickpeas can be challenging to prepare properly, so when we saw the Chana Masala recipe in Pitre’s book, we knew it was the perfect jumping-off point. Rosa thought that the chickpeas cooked up creamy and in a short time—and the accompanying onion masala had everyone’s mouth watering. Robin could not believe the flavor of this dish. She froze the leftover onion masala, which she appropriately labeled “gold,” and made the dish two more times during this challenge. It was better than any chana masala she had ever ordered at a restaurant. Sarah’s chickpeas came out undercooked, but this could have been user error or older beans. The flavor of the dish was enough for her to want to attempt a second try with a longer cook time or some new chickpeas.
Robin made the Palak Paneer, her very favorite Indian dish of all time. Hands down, it was the most flavorful she has ever eaten and gave her “all the feels.” Pitre provides a recipe for garam masala, and wow, is she right: Making your own garam masala is worth every penny spent on a spice grinder. Sarah also made the palak paneer and was equally impressed. This velvety, delicious creation delivered restaurant-quality flavor in an impressively short amount of time. If you have the paneer on hand, it’s ready in under 30 minutes.
All three of us made Pitre’s Paneer. We had never made cheese before and were happy to learn that making your own paneer is extremely easy with an Instant Pot (and Pitre’s recipe).
Robin also made Baingan Bharta, a tasty mashed eggplant dip. After charring the eggplant using the Instant Pot’s sauté mode, the eggplant is then cooked under pressure, transforming it into sweet, smoky goodness.
The most impressive recipe overall for Sarah was the Chicken Vindaloo. This recipe did require some advanced planning, as the chicken has to marinate for 1 to 8 hours—the longer, the better, says Pitre—but it was well worth it. This vindaloo packs a bright, acidic punch with an adjustable heat level that is now in heavy rotation in her house.
Rosa had never made biryani before and so was curious about the Paneer Biryani. The result was perfectly fluffy, cooked rice. Both she and her husband kept going back for more bites after they finished their first bowl. It was Butter Chicken, though, that stole Rosa’s heart. This recipe really made the Instant Pot shine, resulting in fall-apart-tender chicken with incredible flavor.
Overall, this volume is utter genius; however, there are only a handful of pictures scattered throughout, making it look more like a manual than a cookbook. The exciting aromas and flavors more than make up for the manual-like layout, but our interest in this cookbook may not have been piqued had we not been involved in this challenge.
The Everyday Mexican Instant Pot Cookbook delivers traditional Mexican recipes, plus some modern Tex-Mex and Cali-Mex favorites with a more accessible approach, using the Instant Pot to cut down on the long cooking times often required to re-create these dishes. Limón’s love for fresh, bright ingredients that reflect the regional flavors of Mexican and Mexican-influenced American recipes allows you to take a journey away from your own kitchen. The back of the book conveniently offers time and measurement conversion charts, as well as some recipes for sides and accompaniments that do not use the Instant Pot, but which should not be overlooked.
We chose the Salsa Verde Shredded Chicken Taquitos to test and compare for consistency. While the flavor of the chicken was bright and delicious, assembling the taquitos proved difficult (and messy) for us.
Robin made Albondigas de Pollo al Chipotle. These chicken meatballs were extremely easy to prepare. Limón uses a mixture of bread crumbs, rice, and oatmeal to bind the mixture, all of which help add to the moistness of the meatballs. The sauce really packed a flavor punch. Robin also made Limón’s Nacho Cheese Sauce and felt it had great flavor, but she did not have luck with the consistency.
Sarah’s choice of Arroz con Pollo was a weeknight wonder, as the longest part of the recipe is waiting for the Instant Pot to depressurize. Easy to put together and incredibly flavorful, this recipe was something she did not know she was missing, but is so happy she found it. It also makes incredible leftovers—if you ever end up with any. Portobello Alambres cook up in just 20 minutes, and Sarah thought they were absolutely fantastic. This was a hearty, spicy vegetarian main that she can see herself enjoying frequently. Sarah used an 8-quart Instant Pot (though the cookbook calls for a 6-quart), and it turned out perfectly.
Rosa selected the Arroz con Tres Leches. Unfortunately, this recipe was not exactly a success. When Rosa opened the Instant Pot after the allotted time, she was greeted with very soupy rice. While it was tasty, it was not the creamy rice pudding she had hoped for. Rosa decided to improvise, using the sauté function to help get the pudding closer to the correct consistency. Rosa chose Limón’s Barbacoa Pollo as her second dish: It was fall-apart tender and super easy to put together.
Limón’s book has a similar aesthetic to Indian Instant Pot Cookbook, as it looks more like a manual, with few photos. The consensus: Not all the recipes were a home run, but there are some true hidden gems in here that are sure to win you over.
The design of Dinner in an Instant is of coffee-table-book caliber. The pages are shiny and the food is beautifully photographed. The recipes range from the expected (chili, soups, and brisket) to less-common Instant Pot fare, such as fish and seafood, Persian rice, and even a frittata. Melissa Clark’s recipes are tasty, colorful, flavorful, and easy to follow. Indeed, she stays true to herself in this book, sacrificing nothing—well, except cooking time.
Boeuf bourguignon is an iconic dish. It can take up to 6 hours to complete, though, as in the case of Julia Child’s much-loved recipe. Could an Instant Pot cookbook really deliver the flavor and texture of a 6-hour recipe? What better way to find out than to test Clark’s Boeuf Bourguignon recipe. The answer, in a word: oui! The beef was fork-tender, the sauce full-bodied, and everything finished in a fraction of the time the classic recipe requires.
The Vietnamese Caramel Salmon was a real hit for Robin. She assumed fish cooked in the Instant Pot would taste rubbery, but the salmon cooked to tender perfection. The sweet-umami, gingery, limey goodness truly made this dish a winner. She served it over a bed of arugula drizzled with more of the sauce. While the Instant Pot had to come to pressure for about 10 minutes, there was literally only 5 minutes’ worth of work. She made this for a friend for a socially distant outdoor lunch, and it took longer to set the table than it did to make the meal!
Robin found the texture of Clark’s Rice Pudding With Cardamom & Rose Water creamy and rich. The cardamom and rose water made for a delicious and harmonious blend of flavors. It tasted like a big hug.
Wanting to give a fair shot to recipes she may not have otherwise considered for the Instant Pot, Sarah also chose the Vietnamese Caramel Salmon. The salmon came out perfectly cooked with a fresh, citrusy-sweet sauce that required almost no effort to create. Sarah made the Wild Mushroom, Pancetta & Pea Risotto, but struggled a bit with it. While it was really nice to not have to babysit a risotto, the texture was a little off (overcooked, perhaps?) and it was a bit too salty, even though Sarah used her own no-salt-added broth.
The first recipe Rosa tested from Clark’s book was the Dulce de Leche. She had always been fearful of making this, as she imagined scalding-hot condensed milk exploding all over the place. With the Instant Pot, however, that fear was eliminated—making the recipe could not have been easier. And what better to pair Dulce de Leche with than a Classic Cheesecake? Clark’s recipe resulted in a creamy and completely crack-free cheesecake in far less time than the traditional baking method.
This book is absolutely gorgeous. There is a large variety of recipes showcasing the versatility of the Instant Pot. The recipes inside don’t just work with the Instant Pot; they are, in fact, enhanced by the device.
When we first looked through this book, the three of us were struck by the sheer volume and variety of recipes: everything from Indian to Italian, meat-lover’s to vegetarian. Prior to this review, Robin found that many Instant Pot books tend to contain lots of pulled-meat variations flavored with bay leaves, which she finds somewhat limiting, particularly for one whose diet is more plants than meats (she’s not a huge fan of bay leaves, either). But this book has some of everything, and then some. In addition to the recipes, you can also look to “the Bible” for timing and technique when adapting any recipe for the Instant Pot.
The team decided to start with the the Road Map: Mac & Cheese (“road map” meaning “customizable” here). This was a true test of the Instant Pot, as all three of us had tried recipes in the device where the pasta turned out mushy and the cheese curdled. This one was a resounding success! The pasta was perfectly cooked, and the sauce was incredibly creamy. Even the leftovers were amazing. This is one of many “Road Map” recipes in the book, meaning the final results are adaptable to your own personal ingredient preferences.
Rosa also made the Buttery Caramel Pears, which will be a mainstay ice cream topping in her house from now on. The pears were tender and had a nice punch of cinnamon. The Classic Bolognese was Rosa’s son’s favorite and will now be a weeknight staple in her house.
Robin made the Lentil Sloppy Joes. When you’re not up for meat but are still craving a hearty, comforting recipe, this dish hits the spot. It also freezes well. The mini chocolate Lava Cakes were fudgy and oozy, perfect right out of the pot with ice cream. Robin was amazed how easy they were to make, and how the steam from the Instant Pot actually enhances the cooking process for these cakes.
Sarah made the Road Map: Vegetable Soup. This could just as easily be an epic fail as a huge hit; since it’s a “choose your own adventure” recipe, make sure you pick spices, herbs, vegetables, and stocks that play well with one another. Sarah’s first attempt did not work well, but her second try turned out great. Still, Sarah found the Cheeseburger Casserole to be quicker and simpler for a weeknight dinner.
Madhur Jaffrey’s Instantly Indian Cookbook, like Pitre’s book, focuses on Indian cuisines, but the two volumes couldn’t be more unique. A beautifully designed book with some great photography, Jaffrey’s makes use primarily of the Instant Pot’s pressure-cooking setting to develop some seriously tasty recipes. Delivering consistent results with incredible flavor, Jaffrey’s book proved that the Instant Pot really is a game-changer when it comes to re-creating your favorite Indian recipes at home.
Our group recipe was Butter Chicken. As a well-known and much-loved dish, this would be a true litmus test of how well this recipe translates into Instant Pot cooking: Jaffrey did not disappoint, delivering tender, flavorful chicken that leaves no chance of leftovers.
Robin made My Mother’s Red Lentil Soup. This dish was beautiful in color and in flavor, and was done in a matter of minutes. It also freezes well, meaning Robin will keep this one in frequent rotation for sure. Robin also made Mung Dal With Spinach and was delighted to end up with a very aromatic, hearty, and flavorful meal.
Rosa made the Turkey & Potatoes and South Indian Mixed Vegetable Korma. Both recipes came together quickly, were highly satisfying, and were voted an ideal weeknight meal.
Sarah made the South Indian Mixed Vegetable Korma as well, which allowed for some liberties in selecting which vegetables to add to the creamy, spiced sauce. It did require some thickening after pressure cooking, but was well received in her household. She also made Jaffrey’s Basmati Rice Pilaf With Peas. This fragrant, heady rice came out fluffy and was an ideal accompaniment to the other recipes in this book.
Jaffrey’s book is beautiful, with an excellent collection of Indian recipes. We just wish that the recipes had also included an approximate cooking time and yield at the top, to help with meal planning.
Three cooks, five books, and dozens and dozens of delicious recipes—so what does it all add up to? In the end, which Instant Pot cookbook reigned supreme? Drumroll, please…
Melissa Clark’s Dinner in an Instant!
We really put our Instant Pots and these books through their paces, and the race was very close. In order to help us choose a winner on such thin margins, Sarah suggested we look at the four guiding questions we established at the start and then rank each book’s performance in each category from 1 to 10. While The Instant Pot Bible best demonstrated the versatility of the Instant Pot, and the flavors of the Indian Instant Pot and Instantly Indian cookbooks truly made the Instant Pot shine, in the end, it was Dinner in an Instant that we rated the highest overall.
Utilization of the Instant Pot. Clark’s goal when writing Dinner in an Instant was to provide recipes that showcased the strengths of the Instant Pot. She succeeded, as her use of the Instant Pot not only highlighted the device’s strengths but also enhanced the cooking process in terms of taste, texture, and time.
Versatility. Dinner in an Instant also passed the versatility test with flying colors. Clark provides instructions in practically each recipe for the pressure cooker and slow cooker settings, and she also offers some recipes for the yogurt and steam settings. As for the range of recipes, she covers everything from beans and grains to meats and vegetables, not to mention desserts. She showed that this machine can do it all.
Design. As stated earlier, the design of Dinner in an Instant is more like a coffee-table book than your average run-of-the-mill cookbook. The pages are glossy, and a majority of the recipes are accompanied by a gorgeous photo. Each picture and recipe title had us wanting to plug in our Instant Pots. This challenge convinced us how important good photography and design are to a cookbook: Not only do photos help convince us that we want to make a certain dish, they help us assess whether we made the dish correctly.
Taste. If you have experienced any of Clark’s other recipes, you know that she is not afraid of flavor. The recipes in Dinner in an Instant are not just good Instant Pot recipes, they are straight-up good recipes, period.
Which recipes have you made from Dinner in an Instant, or from the other nominated books? Let us know in the comments!
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