In 2018, I bought an Instant Pot, as one does when pressured by social media hype. I dreamed of unsoaked beans going from dried to delicious in a flash and of rich stews, whose shockingly short cooking times would be my secret.
Four years and maybe a dozen total uses later, I have — finally — decided to part with the thing. It turns out that the whole “set it and forget it” style chafes at my preference to taste, meddle, and stir. Plus, a cutting board and an eight-quart Instant Pot is a big ask of my counter space. So the Instant Pot lives on the very highest shelf, dusty with disuse.
Hoping to recoup a few dollars, I went on Facebook Marketplace to scope out the going rate (I paid $76.20, though the same model now goes for $99.95). I expected to see just a handful of listings — Instant Potheads are so eager, so unwavering, so evangelical in their support that the writer Casey Johnston once rightly proclaimed in the Outline: “Please leave me alone about the Instant Pot.”
To my surprise, I found more than a handful. Several were on their second markdown; a few listings lingered long after posting. Griffin, a 23-year-old in Brooklyn, offered up a barely used Instant Pot for $50 after finding that he struggled to find trusted recipes for it, but told me that six weeks later, nothing has panned out: “Got one response a while back that never followed up.” To be sure it wasn’t just New Yorkers getting rid of their Instant Pots — we are more space-deprived than most — I checked Marketplace in a few other towns and cities, where Instant Pots were similarly cheap and abundant.
Like the Peloton bike, which was once extremely in-demand but now comes deeply discounted from resellers everywhere, is it possible that after dozens of cookbooks and millions of devoted fans (the official Instant Pot Facebook group boasts 3.1 million members), the Instant Pot’s glory days are behind us?
Interest in the Instant Pot picked up in 2016, according to Google Trends. Virality on social media and discounts on Prime Day and Black Friday turned it into a household name, according to NPR, and around 2017, bloggers led the charge in pushing Instant Pot cookbooks. With all this momentum, search interest in the Instant Pot shot up in 2018 and built to a peak in January 2020. Melissa Clark noted in a 2017 New York Times piece that the word “love” appeared over and over in the device’s “15,000 or so” Amazon reviews; as of this writing, it has nearly 50,000.
More recent data would suggest that the Instant Pot’s popularity is on the decline. Search interest for the device in June 2021 was the lowest it’s been since 2018, and its big spikes in interest — which happen like clockwork every winter — failed to hit the same highs in 2020 and 2021. Perhaps it’s just that if you bought an Instant Pot a few years ago, it’s still working and you have no need to look for another one. But there’s also the air fryer to consider as it’s slotted into a similar life-changing appliance argument. Indeed, compare search interest in the air fryer and the Instant Pot over the same time period and you’ll find that the air fryer’s rising popularity correlates with the declining search interest in the Instant Pot.
After its “first big sales boom” in 2017, according to the New York Times, the air fryer could be found in about 36 percent of households nationwide in 2020, according to market research firm NPD. NPD also found that over 25 million air fryers were sold in the United States from January 2020 through December 2021. Even Instant Pot now makes an air fryer adapter lid. Of course, the two aren’t mutually exclusive: People, likely with more space than I have, may very well have both an air fryer and an Instant Pot.
To be clear, plenty of people are holding onto their Instant Pots, as proven when I teased this idea on Twitter. “I literally cannot imagine why anyone would want to get rid of their Instant Pot,” one person wrote in reply. When the Instant Pot works, it seems to really, really work, changing the game for people who need to feed families, or who like to meal prep, or who dabble in collagen-heavy meat or making yogurt at home, or who just don’t enjoy standing there over the stove. It’s only natural for those people who found it game changing to spread the word in case it can do the same for others (the same proselytizing naturally follows the air fryer).
But in this way, the Instant Pot sitting untouched on the shelf can also be a reminder of the unfulfilled promises of the single life-changing appliance. It is but a successor in a long line that includes bread machines, George Foreman grills, turbo broilers, coffee pod machines, juicers, sous vide sticks, and Sodastreams. Like the aspirational outfit that sits in the closet unworn, the Instant Pot can be motivation in a particular direction, or it can taunt as another thing that didn’t work, pushing us deeper into capitalism’s maw: If I buy this one more thing, my life can be better.
What the Instant Pot helped me realize — and maybe, what all these Marketplace sellers are discovering — is that I can’t force something to work for me, even if it works for everyone else. Once I part with it, I won’t be replacing it with an air fryer, no matter how much everyone online wants to persuade me of its benefits. The next time I try to buy a solution, I’ll think a bit harder about whether I actually have a problem in need of solving.