August 2016 Issue  Volume 17  Number 8

Home Appliance Access

The Accessible Kitchen: Using the Instant Pot Smart Bluetooth-Enabled Multifunctional Pressure Cooker

If I say the words "pressure cooker" to you, your immediate response might very well be, "No way. I don't want any explosions in my kitchen." Likely as not this is because when you were growing up, you heard tales of a pressure cooker screeching out of control, then popping its lid like a champagne cork and splattering food all over the kitchen ceiling.

This scenario was especially common in the 50s and 60s, when the cookers' gaskets frequently failed under a bit of extra pressure. Also in these earlier decades, bits of food could clog the pressure valve, making excessive pressure buildup that much more likely. Today's models use stronger materials and often incorporate emergency pressure release valves, making them much safer than those older models.

Still, as a blind cook, you wouldn't catch me dead trying to use a stovetop pressure cooker. Even the newer, electric pressure cookers with their inaccessible controls were beyond my abilities. Recently, however, I came across the Instant Pot Smart Bluetooth-Enabled Multifunctional programmable pressure cooker. This is a combination pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, porridge maker, sauté/browning pan, steamer, yogurt maker, and stockpot warmer. This high-tech countertop appliance offers a complete set of touch panel controls…but it also includes Bluetooth connectivity, and your choice of either the iOS or Android Smart Cooker app. I have been using the Smart Pot for several months now with delicious success. Primarily I have used the iOS app installed on my iPhone to control the appliance. The app is quite accessible with VoiceOver. I also spent a little time using the Android app with TalkBack. There are several unlabeled buttons on this version, but on the whole it also seems quite accessible using TalkBack.

The Instant Pot: What's Included in the Box

Along with the Instant Pot itself, the box includes a six-quart stainless steel cook pot, metal food rack for meat, rice paddle, soup spoon, measuring cup, a silicon steamer for vegetables, and two silicon finger grips to lift out whichever of the racks you have used. I found the vegetable rack a bit unwieldy: it doesn't have sides, so lifting cooked vegetables out of the pot can be a bit difficult; instead, I substituted a different silicon steamer that had sides.

I also found the hand protectors less than adequate for the job for the sight-impaired. It's too easy to brush the hot sides of the pot. I prefer a pair of wrist-length silicon heat gloves.

Specifications, user guides, recipes, and a cooking times chart can be found on the company's website in accessible PDFs.

The Instant Pot: Description

The Instant Pot itself is well designed. The lid did take some practice fitting into place. You will know if you've done it correctly however, as when the pot is plugged in, a musical trill sounds whenever the lid is opened or closed. The lid's sturdy handle has a fairly high arch. The pot can easily be opened without risking a steam bath for your hands, though the pressure valve is nearer the left end of the handle so you will want to do this with your right hand.

Some pressure cooker recipes instruct you to let the cooker sit so the internal pressure lessens gradually. Others call for an immediate release of the pressure. The Instant Pot's pressure release valve is located just behind the left edge of the handle. Push it away to close the valve, toward you to open it. It's easy enough to locate and release with a finger; more cautious users may wish to use a pair of tongs or other utensil.

Accessible Use

The approximately 6-inch by 4-inch digital touchpad could be marked with raised dots, or a Braille overlay could have been created, but why bother when there is an accessible app for that?

I did need sighted help to pair the Instant Pot with my iPhone for the first time, but I only needed to do this once. The pairing button is near the bottom right of the touchpad; the extreme bottom right button is "Keep Warm/Cancel;" the Bluetooth pairing control is directly above it, and there are palpable indentations on the touchpad surface.

Press and hold the pairing button for a few seconds and the Instant Pot will show up in the available devices list on your iOS device. The iOS Dashboard tab alerts you to the Instant Pot's status, connected or not. If it is connected, it displays the work mode, including pressure level, temperature, time remaining, and heating level as a percentage of the cooker's capacity. For example, the Instant Pot might be cooking along at 200 degrees, but the elements are currently only working at 65% of capacity.

Also on the Dashboard tab you will find a number of presets that you can use and modify. The "poultry" listing, for example, sets the cooker to run at high pressure for 15 minutes. You can change either of these, or you can accept the defaults and press either Start or Delayed Start. Note: I would not choose Delayed Start for poultry for safety issues.

My first try at using the Instant Pot's pressure cooking settings was with a corned beef. I chose the Meat/Stew preset, but the duration was set at 35 minutes, and the recipe file suggested 45 minutes for corned beef. I pressed the "More" button twice to increase the time by 10 minutes. I also could have double tapped the 35-minute icon and used the picker items to set it more exactly. I had already placed the corned beef into the inner pot, added a few cups of water and closed the lid, making sure the tones sounded and the pressure valve was in the closed position. Had I missed this last step, I would have known soon enough as the pot would have begun emitting an audible hiss as steam emerged.

I next pressed the "Start" button, and after 45 minutes I allowed the pressure to subside naturally, as a sudden release of pressure can cause the meat to toughen. When the app showed no pressure I removed the corned beef and replaced it with cabbage, which I cooked using the Steam setting. The results were delicious; I repeated the meal for St. Patrick's Day.

Scripting a Recipe

The Smart Cooker app includes a few recipes, some of which use multiple steps, such as the Coconut Fish Curry, which uses the pot to sauté, then pressure cook. You can also create your own multi-step recipes with the app's scripting abilities. I created a simple recipe for short ribs with three ingredients:

  • 1 lb. short ribs
  • 1 can Coca-Cola
  • A pinch of Cajun spice mix

I could also create a shopping list for the ingredients, along with a recipe description, cooking techniques list, prep time, and cooking instructions (in this case, basically, combine in pot.) I then created a recipe script with the following commands, each of which is annotated on the app with an explanatory Help button:

  • Heat to pressure: High
  • Hold the pressure High five minutes
  • Pause with sound until temperature to 150 degrees Fahrenheit (during this step I opened the pressure release valve.)
  • Hold the temperature 158 degrees Fahrenheit 2 hours

I was able to save this recipe so I can run it quickly the next time I cook short ribs. I could also change the recipe by accessibly adding, deleting, and rearranging cooking steps.

Final Thoughts

I, like most readers, am heartened by the growing availability of app-controllable household devices and kitchen appliances. True, I am not quite ready for a refrigerator that auto-detects if I am nearly out of milk, but I look forward to controlling my next oven, microwave, dishwasher, and clothes washer and dryer via a mobile app. Touch controls are here to stay. Currently I cannot use three of my wife's four slow cookers, her rice cooker, or the countertop rotisserie. The Instant Pot will not rotisserie, but I can now use all the other cooking methods. I am also quite enjoying using the Instant Pot as a pressure cooker. It's fast, an energy miser, and since you cook with a lot less liquid than you would on the stovetop, that much less nutrition gets cooked out of the food. Best of all, if you are still a bit skittish about possible pressure cooker explosions you can control the Instant Pot from start to finish from as far away as your Bluetooth signal will travel.

And if anyone knows of an app-controllable rotisserie, please let me know.

Product Information

Product: Instant Pot Smart Bluetooth-Enabled Multifunctional Pressure Cooker
Available from: Instant Pot; 800-828-7280
Price: $420 (regularly discounted to $235.95; it's also available from Amazon.com for $179.95, and I have seen flash sales at Amazon for nearly $50 less)

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