Cooking, and Reporting, in the Thrall of the Instant Pot

Cooking, and Reporting, in the Thrall of the Instant Pot

In addition to being a hit product, the Instant Pot is also a fascinating business story. These days, most big hardware advances come from companies like Apple and Samsung, which have thousands of engineers and billions of dollars to spend on research and development. But Instant Pot, which has only about 50 employees and never raised outside funding, has been able to reach enormous scale with none of those advantages. It’s a testament to the power of word-of-mouth marketing, and proof that not all useful innovation comes out of Silicon Valley.

The column I’ve written for the Times since last summer, called “The Shift,” is an attempt to make sense of all of the seismic changes happening in the business-and-tech world. That includes both addressing the big topics on everyone’s radars (last week, I wrote about how wrong I’d been about Bitcoin) and ferreting out this kind of story, which more often goes ignored.

I should admit upfront: Unlike my colleague Melissa Clark, who saw the Instant Pot’s virtues well before I did, I am not an accomplished cook. I spent most of my 20s as a five-days-a-week Seamless junkie, and started learning how to cook for myself only in the last year or two. But since I got an Instant Pot as a gift last summer, my kitchen game has leveled up considerably.

The Instant Pot’s main draw is its pressure-cooking function, which can cook unsoaked beans or soften tough cuts of meat in a half-hour or less. But it can also sauté, steam, and slow-cook, and its idiot-proof interface is perfect for … well, me. It’s now my go-to device for weeknight dinners — in the past few weeks, I’ve used my Instant Pot to make green Thai curry, butternut squash risotto, and a reasonable facsimile of a beef bourguignon.

By the way: The best use I’ve found for the Instant Pot is cooking raw beets. Beets are the greatest vegetable on God’s green earth, but roasting them the conventional way takes hours and gets red stuff all over your hands. Now, I just put a few beets in the Instant Pot with a steamer rack and an inch of water, turn on the high-pressure mode, and wait 20 minutes. They come out warm and soft, with skins that slip right off. No more red hands!

Normally, I’m skeptical of new product hype. The tech industry has an ignoble record of overselling its innovations and making even the smallest incremental advances seem like huge leaps forward. (How many times have I been pitched a “world-changing” start-up that turns out to be “Tinder for insurance agents” or whatever?) But in the Instant Pot’s case, I had already spent several months experiencing the product’s benefits, and talking to Mr. Wang convinced me that this device might represent an actual, lasting shift in the way people cook and eat.

In addition to making me more useful in the kitchen, the Instant Pot also has a calming effect on my frazzled, tech-addicted brain. Partly, it’s because cooking dinner is one of the only times of day that I’m not fidgeting with my phone or looking at the news. But it’s also the device itself. When you finish pressure-cooking a meal in one, you open a little valve on top, which produces a soothing hissssssss for the next few minutes while the pressure releases. It’s become my version of a meditation bell.

I’m still not a good cook. But I’m a lot better than I was. And for that, I have Mr. Wang’s invention to thank.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a beef stew to make.

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