14 February 2018

The Pressure Cooker Comes of Age, Not #InstantPot #KickAKitchen #QuickCook #HomeChef #SYWR

I'm certain you've heard of Instant Pot, a brand so dominant in its market that its name has become synonymous with "digital electric pressure cooker." In other words, Instant Pot isn't the only brand making these seemingly useful small kitchen appliances, but you wouldn't know this from all the brand's "free advertising" segments appearing on all the mainstream health, cooking and general interest TV shows and blogs touting the product. Instant Pot pretty much owned the 2017 small kitchen appliances market. But I didn't rush to jump on the bandwagon. My curiosity was peaked, however. So I investigated. Here's what I found....

First, do you actually need an electric pressure cooker or, more appropriately for these appliances, multi-cooker? This is why research is important. Don't run out and buy the "in thing" only to have it sit on a shelf collecting dust and eventually be relegated to the junk pile. (Please donate or recycle.) You should start by determining if this appliance will actually be useful for YOUR OWN NEEDS. Pressure Cookers of old (those manual, stovetop contraptions) were great kitchen appliances but required a lot of diligence to use. They were prone to exploding, and so were quite off-putting to any but the most dedicated cook. As technology progressed so did the pressure cooker. It became electric --- just plug it in --- then digital with clear LCD displays and eventually adding "smart" technology via micro-computer controllers --- with each iteration stabilizing the cooking process. Today's appliance is not your grandmother's. Safety innovations and task automation have transformed this appliance into a "must-have" kitchen gadget for many. Sturdily constructed aluminum or stainless steel pots with built-in pressure gauges & valves and lipless seals have all but removed the threat of explosion. And there's no need to slave over a hot stove watching the pot boil. Today's pressure cooker offers "set it and forget it" convenience, you toss the ingredients inside, pick a setting and allow the machine to do the hard work while you go do something else. Like read a book.

Second, merely because a brand dominates a market does not mean it's the only viable option. There are numerous brands making "digital electric pressure cookers." In fact, many recognizable small kitchen appliance brands have their own version. Performing a quick search for "electric pressure cooker" on a site such as Macys.com or Kmart.com returns items from brands like Presto, NutriChef, Pressure Pro and MegaChef to name a few. Yes, Instant Pot has the name recognition, but other brands options garner ratings that equal or surpass those of Instant Pot. (NOTE: Several well regarded cookery sites ranked other brands better than comparable Instant Pot cookers in tests.) As with any potential purchase, shop around. Evaluate your personal needs. For instance, think about for how many people do you typically cook meals? in order to determine the size gadget you'll need, as these appliances range from ~3QT to 10QT cooking vats. Pick a product that works within your budget --- while most versions are "$100 or less" there are, of course, pricier versions that may add options which you may find useless. Make a list of what features are important to you and then match it to any appliances at or around your price point.

As a vegetarian who hasn't met a grain she dislikes, the idea of a "digital electric pressure cooker" is exactly on target. I LOVE rice, quinoa, spelt, etc. I love stir-fry veggies. I love soups, and don't get me started on legumes.... Basically, anything this appliance is touted as being able to cook perfectly and effortlessly, I eat almost daily. So I figured getting one could change my kitchen routine in a positive manner. (It has been said that this appliance is a fast "slow cooker" --- and I live by my crock pots.) I wanted one! I decided I needed one. As a savvy shopper, I desired the BEST deal, I wished for a well-rated appliance with a decent amount of preset functions that would cost me as little OOP (out of pocket) as possible. I shop for quality and value. Brand is almost always an afterthought. Gone are the days when buying a specific brand automatically insured you purchased the best option. In today's marketplace, there are almost always many options and often "no-name" brands equal or surpass the known ones. So do your research and pick what is best for YOUR NEEDS. (I can't stress this enough.)

After deciding I could genuinely benefit from acquiring an "instant pot" --- I thought an "electric pressure cooker" would make a great Valentine's Gift to myself --- I looked at my budget and evaluated payment options. When shopping, I always look to use accumulated "purchasing power" like gift cards, rewards certificates, etc. FIRST and cash OOP as a last resort, of course. As a result, I buy a lot of things from Sears/Kmart. (I have discussed this before.) I am a long-time Shop Your Way Rewards (SYWR) member and this rewards program is still very good (it used to be insane). Though I worry about the ability of the company to continue to operate, I'm still "getting while the getting is good." So I started there, searching Kmart.com for "instant pot." I quickly discovered that Kmart doesn't carry the Instant Pot brand. It was available via third-party marketplace vendors, which would allow me to earn rewards points for the purchase, but not to redeem any points I had accumulated in my account. (One can generally only redeem rewards points on items sold directly by Sears or Kmart.) Preferring to use my rewards on an item from Kmart (or Sears), I next searched for the more generic "electric pressure cooker" --- and because Kmart's search function is temperamental to say the least, I also searched for the lowest common denominator term "pressure cooker" to be safe. Both searches returned items for which I could redeem rewards points. I refined those searches ranking the lowest price points and the best customer ratings in turn and came up with a short list of "electric pressure cookers" that were well rated, within my price range (based upon the amount of rewards points I currently had available) and that allowed for redemption of said rewards points.
Pressure Pro Electric Pressure Cooker
Pressure Pro 4QT Electric Pressure Cooker

I refined this list further by evaluating cooking pot size and listed features, and decided that Harvest Cookware's Pressure Pro 4QT Electric Pressure Cooker (Model 20512) should well meet my needs. It had a list price of $59.99 on Kmart.com. I added the item to my cart to "hold" as a potential purchase and continued my research. I never fully trust online reviews, especially on shopping sites that I know can be easily gamed. As a result, I always read reviews across multiple sites and "average" the feedback. So I travelled to Amazon.com, to the manufacturer's own web site and to a couple of other shopping sites to see what was being said about this product. I generally pay more attention to "verified purchase" reviews and longer, more detailed reviews. I look out for features listed on other shopping sites that have potentially been omitted from Kmart's product description. (I don't know who handles data entry for the Kmart/Sears catalogs, but I've found this person often "shortlists" products, leaving out important details, so I'll go check to see what the manufacturer says is included, etc. on its own website.) Overall the item I selected fared well. It had a number of solid reviews across the various sites I checked. It also had a lower list price on Kmart.com than Amazon.com, and to boot, by the time I'd finished my fact-checking, Kmart.com had put kitchen appliances on sale for Valentine's Day (by the way, knowing when special sales will occur can be beneficial when shopping), so the price was now listed as $54.99 in my cart.

Due to my SYWR membership (and possibly my extensive online purchase history), I'd been awarded $10.00 FREECASH Rewards Bonus Points to use towards a minimum $50.00 purchase at Sears/Kmart and also had $41.93 Rewards Points amassed in my account. Thus, I was able to put a total of $51.93 in rewards points credit towards a $54.99 item --- and would only need to pay $3.33 OOP (the total with tax included, after rewards credit). For this balance due, I used a virtual VISA Debit Card with an approximate $5.00 balance that I'd received as a gift from a nameless company's "Thank You eNewsletter Subscribers" promotion, so even the OOP part was "free" money, earned with little effort on my part. Because I (still) have a Shop Your Way Max trial membership, this order also qualified for free shipping and is scheduled to arrive here on Friday. So y'all, I got me a TOTALLY free "instant pot" for Valentine's Day! Hooah! I'm so excited. Can't wait to cook sticky rice, a fond memory from my college cafeteria forays. Of course, I can't say whether this appliance will work as advertised or whether these gadgets live up to the hype overall; however, having acquired one for FREE, I am willing to chance it --- and test it out in my kitchen. (Stay tuned for the results.)

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