As a home chef, you never stop learning new tricks in the kitchen. This is especially true for pressure cooking and Instant Pot recipes. However, if you’ve been Instapot-ing for years, you may feel at a standstill with recipes, flavors, and creativity — and you might be wondering just how to get the years of cumulative food smells off of your pot. Try these 10 tips and tricks to get the most out of your Instant Pot; you might learn something new or spark a novel idea with a trick you already knew.
1. Get that pot sparkling clean
If you’ve had your Instant Pot for a while, you may have started to notice some weird smells, discolorations, and/or a buildup of food grime and residue. Truly, your Instant Pot needs a very deep clean every so often. I’m certain you clean your Instant Pot after each use, but a seriously deep clean is one (free!) way to enhance both the flavor and health quality of your Instant Pot meals. After a while, food odors and tastes may start to transfer to food and create strange aftertastes or other generally unpleasant situations. So give your pot a good scrub: You’ll be glad you did.
2. Combine buttons
Instant Pot is famed for its touch-and-go preset cook functions, but the truth is, you can’t really just press and go for most of them. If you’ve had an Instant Pot for a while, you probably know that you actually use the Plus (+) and Minus (-) buttons more than anything else. And to be a real Instant Pot pro, you definitely need to know how to utilize these two buttons.
Let’s look at the Porridge button. If you want to make white rice porridge, you can press Porridge and go. But if you want to make oatmeal, you’ll need to press Porridge and then Minus for a shorter cooking time — otherwise, you’ll end up with a mushy mess. Conversely, if you want to cook a creamy rice-based dish such as risotto, you can press Porridge and then Plus for a longer cooking time.
4. Finally use that dang yogurt button
Everyone raves about how the Instant Pot replaces virtually every kitchen appliance, including a yogurt maker. But who really ever had a yogurt maker in the first place? Personally, I never even knew that you could make yogurt at home with a special appliance, and I’m a die-hard Chobani girl anyway. Alas, you can make yogurt in the Instant Pot, and if you’re like many Instant Pot owners, that yogurt button has sat dormant since the day you got it.
It’s time you press that button. There’s a plethora of Instant Pot yogurt recipes online, but for the purposes of this article, I want you to remember just one thing: You cannot just pour milk into your pot, press the yogurt button, and leave. Making Instant Pot yogurt involves boiling, cooling, whisking, incubating, and chilling — and you’ll need a yogurt starter to get going. Once you make yogurt, consider yourself the king or queen of Instant Pots: This is the ultimate Instant Pot hurdle and you just toppled it.
5. Aluminum foil is your friend
Most Instant Pot models come with a trivet or steaming rack. These accessories are great and you will get good use out of them. However, plain old aluminum foil might be the best Instant Pot accessory of all. You can use foil when you don’t want to really elevate ingredients, but you don’t want them to come into too much contact with liquid at the bottom. Examples: hard-boiled eggs, cakey desserts (no mushy bottoms), and whole meats that you don’t plan on shredding.
6. Adjust for altitudes
If you ever find yourself traveling for a get-together, such as an engagement party or holiday gathering, and want to make an InstaPot meal, don’t forget to adjust your recipe for the change in altitude. Foods cook slower at higher altitudes (specifically 5 percent slower for every 500 feet gained) because the air pressure at higher altitudes is lower. This lower air pressure in turn lowers the boiling point of water, so your food will cook at a lower temperature — lower temps equal longer cook times.
7. Be a professional serving-size adjuster
In addition to adjusting for altitude, you may often find yourself needing to adjust recipes for serving sizes. Maybe the recipe serves four but you want to serve six; maybe it serves six but you want to serve two. In general, a good rule of thumb is to add two to four minutes for every two additional servings, and subtract two to four minutes for every two servings reduced.
If you’re nervous about overcooking your food, start on the lower end: Remember, you can always add time to undercooked food, but you can’t take time away from overcooked food.
8. Go above and beyond pot-in-pot
In our Instant Pot tips guide for beginners, we covered how to cook pot-in-pot with your Instant Pot — but if you’ve been using an Instant Pot for a while, it’s time to up the ante with stackable recipes. With a three-tiered stackable insert, you can cook up to three dishes at once in your Instant Pot: Think pot roast, steamed vegetables, and cornbread. Voila, dinner’s on the table.
You can also opt for other accessories that will separate your food, such as a three-piece divided cook pan or double-stacked steamer basket. Honestly, the more accessories you have, the more you can fit in your Instapot at once. From there, it’s all a matter of experimentation.
9. Freeze meals in circles
In circular containers, that is (though meal prep does sometimes feel like running in circles). If you plan to meal prep Instant Pot recipes in advance, avoid the hassle of trying to fit an oddly shaped frozen chunk into a circular pot: Freeze your meals in circular containers from the get go! For example, if you plan to make Southwest chicken burritos, chop and freeze all of your ingredients for the burrito filling in a single circular Tupperware (glass or plastic works). When it’s time to cook, dump the entire thing in the Instant Pot. Easy peasy.
Just keep in mind that the shape of your frozen meals will affect the cooking time. Food frozen in a flatter circle will cook faster than food frozen in a taller, thicker circle. I personally like to freeze full Instant Pot meals up to 4 inches thick and no taller, or the cooking times get wonky.
10. And place said meals on a trivet
When you cook full meals (or large chunks of meat) from frozen, consider placing the food on a trivet instead of directly on the bottom of the inner pot. This is not a must-do tip (your food will cook fine on the bottom of the pot), but I find that most frozen meals get a more even cook when placed on a trivet. This happens because the food is lifted, so the hot air and steam can circulate fully and cook the food from all sides — like a rotisserie chicken.
11. Combine cook methods
We’re the first to say that having an Instant Pot is wondrous and often life-saving. But the Instant Pot isn’t the end-all. Don’t be afraid to combine cooking methods for uber-tasty meals — this allows you to capture more flavors and exercise more creativity in the kitchen! For example, you can lock moisture into meats by pressure cooking and later fire up the grill for that delectable smoky flavor. This works wonders for meals like baby back ribs, short rib, and grilled bone-in chicken thighs and drumsticks.