So you got your first Instant Pot — welcome to the clan! If you’re feeling a bit apprehensive about the sheer number of functions, features, and buttons on your Instant Pot, you’ve come to the right place: Here, we round up 14 essential Instant Pot tips for beginners.
1. Read the user manual
This is just a friendly nudge to remind you that companies put a lot of effort into user manuals for good reason. This manual has everything you need to know about your new Instant Pot — tossing it without looking will surely result in confusion and frustration.
2. Don’t fear the Manual button
Instant Pot is known for its insanely convenient one-touch, preset cook settings. While those settings are super helpful, don’t be afraid to use the manual button. The preset functions don’t know how much food you’re placing in your Instant Pot, so the manual mode allows you to cook with more precision and accuracy. For example, the “poultry” setting doesn’t know if you are cooking a whole chicken or two pounds of sliced chicken breast. With the manual button, you can set the correct time and pressure for perfectly cooked chicken, no matter what form it’s in.
3. Get familiar with quick release and natural release
After your Instant Pot stops cooking and starts to cool, pressure will naturally begin to release from the pot. This is called natural pressure release, and the time it takes to fully release depends on the food you cooked and the quantity in the pot. Quick pressure release refers to the action of flipping the Venting Knob from sealing to venting in order to manually release pressure.
It’s extremely important to use caution when doing a quick release — a great deal of very hot steam will release very quickly. Use a heavy-duty oven mitt and release away from yourself and cabinets.
4. Use at least one cup of liquid at all times
The simplest way to describe pressure cooker function is this: Liquid heats up and turns to steam; as the steam builds inside the pot, pressure increases; and food cooks. If you don’t have enough liquid in the pot, you’ll likely end up with undercooked food since steam is the driver of the cooking mechanism. If your main liquid is thicker, such as tomato sauce, add an extra half-cup of water on top of the main liquid to ensure you get enough steam and pressure.
5. Always check the sealing ring before cooking
All Instant Pots (and all other pressure cookers, for that matter) come with a silicone sealing ring in the lid. This ring keeps the lid in place and prevents steam from releasing before it should. Always check to make sure the sealing ring is in place before cooking, and if you start to notice any deformations, replace it. Instant Pot recommends replacing the silicone sealing ring approximately every 18 to 24 months for safety.
6. Don’t forget to turn the Venting Knob
The Venting Knob has two settings: venting and sealing. When cooking in your Instant Pot, you must remember to turn the knob to sealing. This sounds simple, but it’s a step that many new Instant Pot owners forget about. Sealing is the closed position that allows your pot to build pressure, whereas venting is the open position that allows steam to release. If you forget to turn the knob to sealing, your cooking countdown will never start.
7. Cook from frozen
Gone are the days that you kick yourself for forgetting to move chicken breasts from the freezer to the fridge before work. With an Instant Pot, you can cook from frozen faster than you can cook from fresh on a stovetop. Just keep in mind that when you start cooking from a cooler temperature, it often takes the Instant Pot longer to reach pressure.
8. Allow extra time for your Instant Pot to reach and release pressure
Instant Pot cooking times sure are impressive — I mean, eight minutes for a whole chicken? That’s unheard of before pressure cooking turned into the culinary phenomenon it is today. But keep in mind that most recipes don’t account for the time it takes for your Instant Pot to reach pressure and release pressure.
So don’t go thinking that you can really cook an entire chicken dinner in less than 10 minutes: Tack on a few extra minutes before and after, as well as time for any necessary setup, such as chopping veggies to cook along with the chicken. And when browsing recipes, always look for the total time versus cook time.
9. Do not overfill your Instant Pot
All Instant Pot models have a max fill line — respect that line. Overfilling your Instant Pot presents the unfortunate opportunity for kitchen mishaps, such as a clogged vents and uncooked food. In a worst-case scenario, you risk your safety.
10. Remember that cooking times are based on size
Cooking times in the Instant Pot are typically based on size, not weight. If you’re used to other methods of cooking, particularly grilling or oven-baking, this might confuse you. But it’s actually pretty simple: If you have a 1-lb pork shoulder and a 3-lb pork shoulder, they will obviously differ in size. If you cook these meats whole, the 3-lb pork shoulder would cook for longer because it is larger. But if you cut the 3-lb pork shoulder into 1-lb chunks, cooking time reduces to what you would use for a single 1-lb chunk — larger pieces, longer cook time, and vice versa.
11. Cook pot-in-pot
Instant Pot takes “one-pot meal” to a whole new level. The pot-in-pot method simply means placing an additional pot inside of your Instant Pot. This way, you can cook two dishes at once, without the foods ever touching. For example, if you want to make beef stew with rice, you can place the beef and vegetables into the main pot and insert a smaller pot to hold the rice. Generally, anything that is oven-safe is also Instant Pot-safe, so don’t feel the need to purchase a million accessories.
12. You can now get rid of your slow cooker
We have nothing against slow cookers, but you can’t argue that decluttering your kitchen is one of the best feelings in the world. All Instant Pot models can function as slow cookers, eliminating the need for an additional bulky appliances. Sayonara, kitchen clutter!
13. And your rice cooker and your steamer basket and your…
Speaking of decluttering, even the most basic, entry-level Instant Pot model has 6-in-1 capabilities, so you can comfortably toss some of your older, single-use appliances if you want to. For instance, if you typically use a rice cooker alongside pots and pans for your main dish, allow Instant Pot to replace the rice cooker.
14. Cook water first
No, I don’t mean cook water before you start your first Instant Pot recipe… I mean cook water AS your first Instant Pot recipe. While I’m sure you’ve never dreamed of having pressure-cooked water for dinner, this exercise will truly allow you to get familiar with your new Instant Pot’s functions and features without repercussions of inedible food or a sauce-splattered kitchen.
Follow your user manual to ensure you have all parts, valves, and seals in the right places, and then enjoy watching the display as your Instant Pot reaches pressure, cooks, and releases pressure. When you’re ready for a real recipe, try one of these mouthwatering mac and cheese dishes.