Why did the Instant Pot go out of style?
Sep 13, 2023

Why did the Instant Pot go out of style?

The once-beloved gadget seems headed for the graveyard of kitchen appliances. The New Yorker’s Susan Orlean is sending hers off with an obituary.

If you’re a kitchen tech fanatic, the odds are good that you’ve purchased or been gifted an Instant Pot. Five years in, I still use mine pretty much every day, but when I asked other people if they’re still using their Instant Pots, I learned I’m an outlier.

Margaret Yi, who lives in the Los Angeles area, said, “I work remote all the time, I just don’t really have to think about meal prepping, and I don’t find myself reaching for it.”

Cassie Plunkett, another Angeleno, told me, “It’s just so bulky and hard to clean. It’s really useful, but I just haven’t gotten into the habit of how other people seem to be using it.”

Instant Brands, the maker of the Instant Pot, filed for bankruptcy in June of this year, so Susan Orlean, who writes Afterword, an obituary column in The New Yorker, said it seemed fitting to compose an homage to the Instant Pot.

The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Susan Orlean: When I saw this mention of Instant Pot filing for bankruptcy, I was shocked. For several years in a row on Amazon’s Prime Day, the No. 1 product was Instant Pot. It just seemed extraordinarily successful. As best as I can tell, they made a few errors, some of which are kind of tragic. Namely, they made a product that was too durable and didn’t need to be updated or upgraded. If you bought an Instant Pot, you never needed to buy another one.

Lily Jamali: Let’s take a look back at 2018. I saw this stat from Kohl’s, the department store, that said during Thanksgiving that year, they were selling 60 Instant Pots per minute. What do you think it was that made the Instant Pot such a breakout hit?

Orlean: There are a lot of reasons I think that it clicked. No. 1, it was reasonably priced. Secondly, they promised utopia. They promised that you could cook dinner in an instant. It promised to make 90% of the appliances in your kitchen unnecessary. It was the do all, end all, be all of kitchen appliances.

They also, in probably almost accidental way, took out the word that had made pressure cookers very unpopular in this country. And that is the word “pressure.” People were afraid of pressure cookers, they thought they would blow up. Everything about them seemed dangerous and frightening. So, Instant Brands didn’t emphasize the fact that this really was a pressure cooker. And they applied the idea of cooking things under pressure to foods that hadn’t been associated with it before.

I remember one of the first things I made in my Instant Pot was salmon, which is pretty funny because salmon doesn’t take very long to cook in normal circumstances. You could practically put a piece of salmon on a sidewalk on a hot day and it would be cooked in 10 minutes. But it seemed magical to put it in the Instant Pot and cook it in two or three minutes. And it was delicious. It was incredible.

Jamali: What is the lesson to be learned here, particularly when we think about what the next trendy kitchen gadget might be?

Orlean: Food preparation is so central to every single life, and it will always attract trends. Most of those innovations have a moment and disappear. We’re seeing that now with air fryers. The moment that air fryers existed, it was something everybody was talking about. There was great excitement and drama. Everything about it was miraculous. And then you use your air fryer a few times and it’s very messy and it’s hard to clean up. Now, the moment of embrace has kind of somewhat passed. Maybe there will be something else that emerges and really sticks in the way that the Cuisinart food processor has. An Instant Pot combines a bunch of things you could already do, but the Cuisinart does stuff you couldn’t do. Maybe that’s the difference. Everything you do in the Instant Pot you could kind of do on your stove. And I think as a result, people sometimes revert to the familiar and go back to doing things the way they always did them.

Jamali: Right. We always end up reverting back. Somehow the microwave is an outlier here when it comes to kitchen tech. How do you think the microwave has stood the test of time so well?

Orlean: It’s a little bit of a mystery to me. When microwaves were introduced — and I kind of remember this — people were absolutely terrified of them and thought you would grow horns if you stood near one while it was operating. People were afraid of them. I find it one of the mysteries of life that microwaves managed to embed themselves in the culture in a way that has lasted for so long. They do a few things that you can’t do otherwise. You can’t soften butter, you can’t soften ice cream. You can’t say, you know what? I think I’ll soften ice cream on the stove because it’s easier. You just can’t. It may be that the key to really landing a permanent place in our kitchen use is to do something that you cannot do with your main appliances like a stove and an oven. I think that’s the key to the microwave.

More on this

Susan Orlean’s ode to the Instant Pot in The New Yorker this summer is a really fun read. In it, she foretells the coming of the artificial intelligence-powered toaster oven and the cutting board with a built in, high-resolution screen.

Reading Orlean’s piece opened my eyes to the fact that you can spend an entire workday wading through lists of the worst kitchen gadgets ever invented. Believe me, I just did it! Some of my favorites: the pickle picker, the 3D latte art gun and the Hostess Twinkie maker.

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