Just because you can cook anything in an Instant Pot doesn't mean you should. Here are the top foods to leave out.

Krissy Brady
April 08, 2020
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It's no wonder so many of us hopped onto the Instant Pot bandwagon and are never jumping off. Among other talents, this multi-tasking kitchen appliance pressure cooks, slow cooks, steams and sautés like a boss.

"It cooks tough cuts of meat to tender perfection in a fraction of the time that braising and slow-cooking take," says Oregon-based registered dietitian Elle Penner, RD. "It also makes the most perfectly cooked (and easy-to-peel) boiled eggs, every single time."

And thanks to its ability to sauté, many recipes can be made from start to finish with the Instant Pot, which means less mess and faster cleanup.

But it's just as important to take note of which foods won't do well in an Instant Pot. "People assume if there's a recipe for it, it must be a good way to cook the food," says Jodi Greebel, RDN, a New York-based registered dietitian who specializes in feeding families. "For some foods, you can find lots of Instant Pot recipes for them, even though there are better—and often more efficient—ways to cook the foods."

Here are the foods that experts recommend cooking using trusty traditional methods instead of your bright-and-shiny Instant Pot:

1. Fried Foods

The Instant Pot is a master at moist-heat cooking, which is precisely why fried foods fall flat. "Frying is a form of dry-heat cooking," says Penner. "In dry-heat cooking, heat is transferred to food through oil or fat without using any moisture." Unfortunately, the Instant Pot wasn't built to heat oil to the high temperature required for deep-frying.

Either stick to making fried foods on the stove, or invest in an air fryer to make healthier fried foods that still give off that mouthwatering, deep-fried vibe.

2. Steak

"When you're cooking steak, the goal is to make the outside crispy with the inside tender," says Greebel. "An Instant Pot isn't good for this method of cooking and will instead leave your steak mushy." Cook your steak on the grill or in a cast-iron pan on the stove, and save your Instant Pot for tougher cuts of meat (think: pot roast).

3. Burgers

One of the many great things about the Instant Pot is that all you need to do is set the timer and walk away—but it's really hard to cook the perfect burger without monitoring it while it's cooking. Besides Instant Pot burgers ending up mushy and overcooked, so they'll also lack the flavorful seared finish we know and love.

"If you have to bring your barbecue game indoors, burgers will fare best in a cast-iron skillet," says Penner.

4. Stir-Fry

Really, anything that requires consistent attention is best done away from the Instant Pot. Because the Instant Pot works best by pressure cooking with a liquid to make food moist, its particular M.O. doesn't jive with making a stir fry, which is meant to be crisp and evenly browned.

"That's why stir-fries need a hot pan with a large surface area, like a wok, to help get the outside crisp and keep the vegetables crunchy," says Greebel.

5. Cream-Based Sauces

Some items require a little more attention, such as cream-based sauces. "Pressure cooking yogurt, milk and cream-based sauces will leave you with a curdled mess," says Penner. "When milk is boiled, the milk proteins coagulate and separate from the water." To prevent this from happening, make sure to add dairy ingredients at the very end, after pressure cooking (or skip the Instant Pot altogether).

"Cream-based sauces work best on a stove top, where you can control the exact temperature," says Abbie Gellman, RD, NYC-based registered dietitian and author of The Mediterranean Dash Diet.

6. Noodles

While, technically, you can cook pasta in an Instant Pot, it's probably best not to. "Cooking noodles in an Instant Pot usually makes them come out gummy and mushy," says Greebel. Boiling the pasta in a pot on the stovetop is best, as noodles cook quickly anyway, and doing so gives you full control over their consistency. But meat sauce or ragu is totally fair game to make in your Instant Pot!

7. Seafood

Most seafood and shellfish are too delicate for an Instant Pot. "They cook quickly—probably even faster—with other methods," says Greebel. "Plus, to get the right texture, you're better off with methods that you can watch and control." Think: baking, poaching or pan-frying. If you do decide to go ahead and cook seafood in your Instant Pot, be aware that the cooking time will be short - just a couple of minutes at the most.

8. Cookies

No matter how you like your cookies, these are always best made in the oven. "There isn't enough surface area in an Instant Pot, and the consistency of cookies is best baked," says Greebel. "This allows the outside to be crunchy and the middle soft." Cue drooling.