A lot of home cooks use Crock-Pots to make football-friendly food for their Super Bowl parties. But now there’s the Instant Pot, the Tom Brady of slow cookers.

Yes, the Instant Pot can make Super Bowl meatballs as tasty as the ones simmering in your mom’s ancient Rival, but the hot new kitchen gadget is also a pressure cooker, a rice cooker and a steamer. It browns meat and makes yogurt, too. (And it won’t – spoiler alert, “This is Us” fans – set your house on fire.)

Like the Patriots’ quarterback, the Instant Pot performs more quickly, using less energy. So we wondered: What could this souped-up appliance do if we put it in the right hands?

With the Super Bowl fast approaching – it’s this coming Sunday – and figuring Santa probably brought a lot of Mainers an Instant Pot for Christmas, we held a friendly competition, inviting chefs from seven local restaurants into the new Press Herald kitchen in South Portland to cook a Super Bowl party dish in an Instant Pot. Twenty lucky subscribers signed up to taste the results and vote for their favorites.

We scrounged up five shiny new Instant Pots from Press Herald newsroom cooks, but two chefs brought in their own – surprising, since many chefs don’t like extra gadgets in their kitchens. Jay Harris, chef/owner of Esidore’s Bistro in Falmouth, has used his Instant Pot at home to make brown rice, pulled pork and other dishes, and he brought it into his restaurant recently when his rice cooker broke. “It’s an incredible contraption,” he said.

When we called Dave Mallari, chef/owner of The Sinful Kitchen in Portland, he was awaiting the delivery of his new Instant Pot. Turns out he and his wife had recently attended a party where the pot was the No. 1 topic of conversation, and they’d come home and ordered one. (His wife nixed the Bluetooth version, though, which would have allowed him to control the device with his smart phone.) Mallari spent the weekend before our cook-off experimenting in his new gadget with Filipino Adobo Party Ribs, the dish he makes every Super Bowl Sunday.


Stephanie Brown, the chef/owner of North 43 Bistro in South Portland, was an Instant Pot novice. Her only previous encounter with the device was the night before our Instant Pot Super Bowl cook-off, when she borrowed one to do a test run of her Blood Orange–Maple Braised Beef.

On “game day,” she got pointers on how the timer works from Nick Verdisco, executive chef at Bolster, Snow & Co. in Portland, an Instant Pot veteran who was making what he called “down and dirty, delicious” Mexican street tacos. Verdisco cooked with the device in his previous gig at The Inn at Pound Ridge, a Jean-Georges (Vongerichten) restaurant not far outside New York City, where he said multiple Instant Pots were used to make the stew-like base for steak dishes.

“We started tweaking recipes that would normally take three hours on a stove,” Verdisco said. With an Instant Pot, “you can knock them out in a half-hour or so.”

Rounding out our chef roster were Melissa Bouchard, executive chef at DiMillo’s in Portland, and Cordelia Davies, sous chef at David’s Restaurant in Portland’s Monument Square. (Karen Rice, not a chef, ably suited up to represent Ri Ra Irish Pub in Portland after the chef who was supposed to attend couldn’t make it.) “I have no actual plan,” said Davies, an Instant Pot virgin who got help from Bouchard figuring out how to control the heat on the appliance. “I’m just winging it.”

The room soon filled with hunger-inducing aromas, smells we think much more tempting than a $14.50 cheeseburger at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, where the New England Patriots will meet the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. A decade or two ago, the pots might have been filled to the brim with a variety of chilis or chicken wings. Our chefs went global, offering up dishes with Mexican, Korean and Filipino influences.

Press Herald food editor Peggy Grodinsky wandered from chef to chef, asking them to talk about their dishes. At one point, she mentioned she grew up in Philadelphia, an admission that drew a few boos from the crowd. (Sorry, Peggy, this is Patriots country.)


At one table, Maria Odlin of Scarborough and a friend visiting from Costa Rica, Susan Kosek, chowed down on Mallari’s ribs, followed by Harris’ Korean-style Wagyu Meatballs.

“It’s layered,” Kosek said, evaluating the rib she was eating. “As it sits on your tongue, it changes. It starts off tangy and sweet. OK, I’m ready for more. I’m going to lick the sauce off the plate.”

Odlin liked the meatiness of Harris’ meatballs, held together with just a scant amount of gluten-free panko breadcrumbs. “The fermented sauce that he used has a nice kick to it, but it’s not overpowering,” she said, referring to the gochujang Harris used.

Neither woman owns an Instant Pot, but this tasting event made them want to go out and buy one, they said.

Mallari’s ribs got a lot of love. One taster wrote on the voting sheet that the tender ribs would be “hard to beat.” Another praised the flavorful glaze and said the ribs were “definitely Super Bowl food.”

Mallari said he had resisted his wife’s desire for an Instant Pot at first because he thought it would be a waste of money (Instant Pots, depending on the model, range from $64.95 to $159.95), just another pressure cooker sitting around the kitchen. Now, he says, “I am totally impressed with this thing.” His ribs cooked in half the time it takes in his pressure cooker, he said, and they came out “super, super tender.”


Chris Huff of Portland, who got an Instant Pot for Christmas, voted for Bouchard’s spicy Miso Pork Belly Tacos. “It is very tender, the pork belly,” he said. “That’s got to be the Instant Pot doing that.”

Every dish had its fans.

“Super Bowl guests would definitely enjoy this dip!” subscriber Julie White wrote on her voting sheet. She was referring to Davis’ Chipotle Chicken & Black Bean Dip, which is based on Davis’ mother’s recipe for chicken tortilla soup. “Great flavor, not too spicy, colorful vegetables and delicious.”

Guests noted that Verdisco’s soft tortillas tended to fall apart and make a mess, but the chef made up for that fumble with the filling, which tasters described as “melt in your mouth good.”

But there can only be one Most Valuable Player. Brown, with more than half the votes, won by an overwhelming margin. People loved her blood orange–hoisin glaze.

“Wow!” “Really amazing.” “Amazing flavor.”


Comments are no longer available on this story