Don't Call Them Pot-Heads

Instant Pot Max Review: Are New Features Worth the Price Hike?


July 6, 2018 Home By Photo by Hunter D. Kelley

The Instant Pot Max, announced earlier this year, will be available August 1 and retail for $200.

When it comes to talk of the Instant Pot, headlines are filled with words like “cult favorite,” “life changing” and “love.” The $100 Instant Pot Duo model has racked up almost 30,000 reviews on Amazon, to the tune of a 4.5-star rating. The small kitchen appliance launched in 2010, but didn’t gain much traction until its second model released in 2012.

Instant Pot fandom grew, then, in the summer of 2016, it was listed at 30 percent off as Amazon’s Deal of the Day. The Instant Pot erupted — the official Facebook community group (which is a beacon of light in an otherwise deeply cynical internet) has since ballooned to 1.4 million members and Instant Pot cookbooks seized two of the top five best-selling cookbooks in 2017. Gear Patrol and other such publications praised it for its might and simplicity, and named it among the best products of the year.

So when Instant Pot announced a new model at this year’s International Home + Housewares Show, there was a fair amount of excitement. The Instant Pot Max promises more than any of its predecessors — more replaced appliances, more power, more technology, more room for creativity. We received a pre-release model to poke, prod, test and ultimately decipher whether the Max, which will launch as Instant Pot’s priciest option in August, is the smartest way to begin your Instant Pot fandom.

The Good: The touchscreen is a good idea and was executed very well. Its inclusion, a first for Instant Pot, makes operating the Max more streamlined and familiar than other pressure cookers and multicookers. Also new and exclusive to the Max: the automatic pressure release valve, which lets the user set how they want their Instant Pot to release pressure (natural, in spurts or all at once) and eliminates the need for them to twist the valve themselves.

I found the additional functionality of the sous vide helpful as well, and found it plenty consistent during testing. The canning abilities afford it more utility and perhaps a more measured way for the canning novice to get into the hobby. And, like all Instant Pot models, the resulting dishes were stellar.

Who It’s For: Seeing as the Max will retail at $200 on launch, it will be at least $50 more than any other Instant Pot. That means it’s for the people who will use the new features — namely canning and sous vide. If you’re simply seeking the standard multifunctionality that made Insant Pot famous — slow cooking, pressure cooking, etc. — you’re likely better off with one of the older models and pocketing some cash.

What to Watch Out For: The Max’s purported 15 PSI capabilities had no effect on cook times during testing. It performed no better or worse than other Instant Pot models in this area and it’s not a reason to buy the Max instead of a more affordable model. Quibbles with Instant Pots, in general, remain relevant, but not real issues — a mediocre sautée function, slightly annoying pre-heat times and not entirely accurate cook times.

Alternatives: To my mind the only alternatives to the Instant Pot Max are older Instant Pots. Namely, the aforementioned Ultra model, which is anywhere from $50 to almost $100 cheaper than the Max will retail for at launch (depending on fluctuating prices on Amazon). It lacks the touchscreen, sous vide, canning and hands-off pressure relief options, but its lower listed PSI levels didn’t prove to change pre-heat, cook or cool-down times in any significant way. It also comes in 3-, 4-, 6- and 8-quart sizes.

Review: The Max is not leaps and bounds ahead of past Instant Pots in areas where they are comparable — that is, they slow cook similarly, they pressure cook similarly and so on. It separates itself with the addition of canning and sous vide functionality and a few small quality-of-life enhancements. That’s important to keep in mind — if you have an Instant Pot now and aren’t terribly concerned with canning or sous vide, don’t bother. Wait until yours wears out.

Perhaps the most exciting of the Max’s initial announcement of new features was an increase in potential internal pressure, measured in pounds per square inch, or PSI. The thought was this would speed up cook times when pressure cooking. In reality, it didn’t make a significant difference in cook times during testing. Pre-heating, pressure cooking and pressure relieving all included, white rice took 29 minutes to make. Pork spareribs took about an hour and 15 minutes (no time added for broiling/charring). Beans took a little over an hour and a half. Basically, my tests don’t reflect a marked improvement in cook time. Sometimes manufacturers label their products with a PSI level that’s only obtained during the preheat cycle, as explained here. That could provide us an explanation for the higher PSI but similar cook times between the old and new models.

Apart from the dashed hope of even speedier pressure cooking, the Max operates just like the older models — sautéeing that’s just OK, consistent slow cooking, steaming, rice cooking and on and on. Sous vide, one of its new functions, works pretty well and adds another tool to the ever-growing list of things an Instant Pot can replace. I used a recipe for steaks brought to 135 degrees (medium-rare) and recorded an internal temperature of 136 when I pulled it out. It should be noted that another review of the Max reported the sous vide function to be significantly off in temperature readings, but I didn’t experience this issue (the review also stated the sous vide function could be used with the lid off the pot, which the user manual and an Instant Pot representative told me was not accurate). Overall, it’s as easy as most things with the Instant Pot — find a recipe, click a few buttons, put things in a pot and wait.

The least sexy update may have been the best, though. The addition of a pressure relief valve that acts automatically and can be set at different types of pressure relief is a really, really smart move. Essentially, it means you don’t have to touch the relief valve with your fingers at all and you can allow pressure to escape all at once, in intermittent bursts or naturally. As stated before, the touchscreen works well and makes everything a bit more streamlined — there’s also more indication on the progress of what you’re cooking on the screen, which is helpful.

On a sadder note, loads of publications (including ours) reported the Instant Pot Max would feature a self-stir ability, the hope being risotto just became one thousand times easier. Sadly for the involved parties, the Max does not support this function. A representative for the company informed me what the reports were referring to was a new technology called NutriBoost, which works by creating a boiling motion that’s activateable when pressure cooking that aims to break down food further.

Lastly, and it sort of goes without saying when it comes to the Instant Pot, the food was consistently great. For the uninitiated, these products drastically reduce cook time on certain dishes (everything that goes in the pressure cooker, basically) and provide a one-stop appliance for most other cooking needs. One of the few real holes in the areas of cooking the Instant Pots cover is achieving great crusts on food — which, again, is a dream I won’t let go of.

Verdict: Pricier than the priciest Instant Pot, but the improvements that work as advertised are worth the investment if you plan to use them — namely, the sous vide upgrade. Seeing as good sous vide setup can run you upwards of $200, a multicooker that does all the things it does seems like a worthy investment. However, if you don’t plan to regularly use the new cooking functions, there’s no real reason to upgrade — get the Ultra. As good as the far superior pressure release system and touchscreen are to the older model, they’re probably not so great as to warranty buying for their sake alone.

What Others Are Saying:

• “The Instant Pot Max had a lot of promise thanks to new features we hadn’t previously seen on other electric pressure cookers from Instant Pot and other manufacturers. The automatic pressure release valve is a smart addition, as is the Max’s easy-to-use control panel. But the bright sides are few and far between when you consider all that the Max promised and failed to do, especially when you consider its $200 price.” — Brian Bennett and Ashlee Clark Thompson, CNET

Key Specs:
Release Date: August 1st
Weight: 13.25 pounds
Volume: 6 quarts
Size: 13.8″ x 13.8″ x 14″
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