Cooking with an Instant Pot is one of the easiest and most effective ways to cook many dishes. It can save time and make favorite recipes quick and delicious. Nevertheless, cooking with one is a little different than traditional cooking methods, and there are some things consumers should know.
For instance, some dishes call for a “natural release,” while others require a “quick release” to ensure that a dish comes out perfectly. These terms are referring to how the pressure in the Instant Pot is allowed to escape. Let’s break down the difference between the two terms and get to know the different settings.
Pressure Cooking 101
The reason an Instant Pot can cook certain dishes in record time—such as Instant Pot ribs, stews, and chicken—is because of how it builds and holds pressure and heat inside. In other words, the heat builds, causing pressure that enables the Instant Pot to cook so many things quickly and deliciously.
Whether using the Instant Pot Duo or Instant Pot Ultra, home chefs will notice almost immediately that the lid on top of the Instant Pot locks in place and has a firm seal. This is to trap the heat and to build up pressure, and it’s what offers super-quick cooking times.
A floating valve on the lid at the top that rocks and releases steam on its own. Next to that is the venting knob that enables the steam to release manually as the cook desires. For those that are new to an Instant Pot, however, using automatic settings might achieve better results (at least at first).
As heat builds pressure inside the Instant Pot, it’s normal to hear sounds, and a little steam may hiss as it escapes the floating valve (especially if you’re using a Power Pressure Cooker XL). Don’t worry; this is normal. When the Instant Pot has warmed up, the pressure will push the valve closed, creating a seal and locking the heat inside.
In this way, an Instant Pot can cook many dishes that would take hours in the oven in record time.
However, some recipes call for a Quick Release while others call for a Natural Release. The right setting depends on the type of dish and its cook time.
What is Quick Release?
Quick Release, or QR, is a method where all of the pressure inside the Instant Pot is released as fast as possible in the form of steam. The steam will escape the Instant Pot very quickly, hissing as it goes.
The Quick Release feature is used for many different dishes. For some recipes, it’s crucial not to overcook the food. In these cases, the pressure inside an Instant Pot needs to be released to prevent the food from continuing to cook.
How Long Does Quick Release take?
Generally, using the Quick Release feature will take less than two minutes for the heat and steam inside to escape. You’ll know the pressure inside the pot has returned to normal when the steam stops, and the pot opens easily.
It’s vital to wait for all of the steam to escape before doing anything else with the Instant Pot. While the pressure remains inside, the steam will be scalding, and the lid won’t open.
How Do I Use Quick Release?
When using the Quick Release feature, steam will shoot out of the top of the Instant Pot very quickly, so be aware of location when doing this. The escaping steam can damage kitchen cabinets and may have a strong food smell.
For this reason, taking the pot outside for a second or moving it to a safe location like a countertop away from the cabinets or the kitchen table could be helpful. Whatever you choose to do, to use the Quick Release, do the following:
- Wait for the cooking cycle to end.
- Place the Instant Pot in a safe location where steam cannot damage kitchen cabinets or burn anyone.
- Push the Venting Knob to the side from the sealing to the “venting” position. This position will cause steam to escape very quickly, so using an oven mitt is advisable.
- Keep the Venting Knob in the venting position until all of the steam has escaped, and the Instant Pot is no longer making any noise. One sign that the pressure has been released is that the floating valve will settle.
- Open the Instant Pot and move the food to a serving dish.
When Should I Use Quick Release?
Quick Release is used to prevent your food from overcooking. Some dishes are sensitive, such as when cooking chicken in an Instant Pot or Macaroni and Cheese. The last thing anyone wants is for chicken to become rubbery or mac and cheese to be too mushy.
To prevent these things from happening, it’s essential to complete the cooking process as fast as possible. Using the Quick Release does just that.
Is Quick Release Safe?
Quick Release can be intimidating because it makes a lot of noise and steam shoots out of the Instant pot very quickly. While this is a perfectly safe method to use, the hot steam can burn skin, and there may be a little sputtering that can be dangerous.
To ensure proper safety, always use an oven mitt or other protective covering when pushing the Venting Knob to release the pressure. It’s also critical to position the Instant Pot away from anyone who could be burned by the escaping steam or sputtering water.
That said, Instant Pots are designed to be safe, with overheat protection, lid position detection, and pressure control so you don’t have to worry about having an accident or anything like that, especially with a newer Instant Pot model.
What is Natural Release?
Natural Release, or NR, is the process of waiting for the pressure to subside on its own before opening the Instant Pot. Steam and heat slowly escape the Instant Pot, dissipating naturally until each dish is ready to be served. In other words, the operator doesn’t need to do much of anything; just wait.
The Natural Release method is used for dishes that prefer to remain heated and can continue to cook and don’t mind the gradual cooling process. It’s best employed for pot roast, chile, stews, or anything simmered or slow-cooked.
How Long Does Natural Release Take?
Depending on the dish, a Natural Release can take up to 30 minutes to complete. However, most dishes take between 10 and 25 minutes to finish the Natural Release process. It varies depending on the cook cycle and how full the Instant Pot is.
As the pressure releases and the Instant Pot begins to cool, the floating valve will begin to lower. When it has settled entirely, it’s time to open the Instant Pot. This method is very safe because the Instant Pot will not open until all of the pressure has been released.
How Do I Use Natural Release?
When the cooking cycle is complete, users won’t be able to open the lid right away. This is because there is still too much built-up pressure inside the pot. Never force the Instant Pot open as the escaping steam can be a burn hazard.
Instead, simply wait for the pressure to release naturally. When the floating valve on the top of the Instant Pot has settled, it will open freely, and the food is ready to be served. To ensure proper safety, follow these instructions:
- Wait for the Instant Pot to beep, signaling that the cooking cycle is finished.
- Turn the Instant Pot off and continue to wait 10-25 minutes for it to cool naturally and the steam to release slowly.
- Alternatively, keep the Instant Pot on Keep Warm. However, it will take longer for the Natural Release cycle to complete.
- When the floating valve has dropped, open the Instant Pot. Do not try to open it until the floating valve has settled completely.
- Turn the venting knob to venting to ensure all of the steam is released, and there is no residual pressure build-up.
- Open the Instant Pot and transfer the food to a serving dish.
When Should I Use Natural Release?
When cooking dishes that have a lot of liquid, the Natural Release method is often the best option. As such, stews, pot roast, and especially soups generally benefit from the Natural Release process.
After the cooking cycle has finished, steam and pressure will begin to dissipate naturally. All the user needs to do is give the Instant Pot a little time, and then opening and accessing the food is safe and simple. Nevertheless, it’s essential to remember that the food will continue to cook during this process, so bear that in mind depending on the dish.
Is Natural Release Safe?
Natural Release is one of the safest ways to open an Instant Pot. Since it doesn’t require moving the steam valve, users can stay safely away from anything that could potentially burn them. For this reason, there’s very little chance the resident chef will come in contact with hot steam or burn themselves on the top of the lid.
When it comes to using the Natural Release method, the best way to ensure safety is to give the pot the necessary time to cool. If escaping steam is a concern, waiting an extra ten minutes is a worthwhile step.
Some Last Minute Advice
It’s critical to use whichever method is best for the dish that’s on the menu. Fortunately, most Instant Pot recipes will note whether Quick Release or Natural Release is optimal. It’s best to follow these directions as closely as possible, no matter which top Instant Pot is in use.
Of course, many home cooks skip recipes, especially when cooking a family dish from memory. In that case, consumers need to use their best judgment. Remember that Quick Release is used for any dish that needs to be removed from heat immediately, while the Natural Release is for food that can simmer and has a high liquid content.
Either way, check to make sure steam isn’t escaping during the cooking process. It’s essential that the Instant Pot is sealing correctly to ensure that the food is cooked to perfection.
And finally, some people have found that food turns out best from the Instant Pot by using a combined approach. To do this, allow the Instant Pot to Naturally Release for ten minutes and then flip the release valve to vent the remaining steam. In this way, consumers can get the best of both worlds, and create some truly delicious meals.