If you’re intimidated by your new Instant Pot sitting in its box in the corner of your kitchen–don’t be! Today you’re going to learn how to use an Instant Pot and you’re going to rock it!
How to use an Instant Pot (+ Video)
How does pressure cooking work?
First off let me say that the Instant Pot is totally safe! I always hear that people are “scared” to use their Instant Pot. Don’t be scared! There are so many safety features…it’s not like your Grandma’s stovetop scary pressure cooker. The Instant Pot will not even let you open the pot if there is any pressure in it.
The Instant Pot functions by building pressure and it does this by producing steam in an airtight container. This is why you need at least 1 cup of thin liquid (like water or broth) in any recipe you make. The steam is produced by that liquid which builds the pressure. Got it? This is why you cannot use thick sauces like spaghetti sauce or hoisin sauce as your “liquid.” They are too thick to produce that steam.
On your Instant Pot liner you will likely see a “MAX FILL LINE” a few inches from the top. Liquid cannot go over the max fill line because there will not be enough empty space for the pressure to build.
When you lock the lid in place and set the specified cooking time in a recipe, the display will say “On.” For the first couple minutes it won’t seem like it is doing anything. It is! The steam is building up inside the pot. Then you’ll see steam escaping from the float valve. Then the pot will reach pressure, seal itself off (no more escaping steam) and the pin on the lid will pop up (most of the time I don’t even notice this). Only then will your timer start counting down. The process of building pressure takes about 10 minutes.
For more info on how long it takes to reach pressure watch this video:
How does the time display work?
Once you have your food and liquid in the pot set the amount of time that you want the food to cook (here’s a Instant Pot cooking times cheat sheet). Press Pressure Cook or Manual (depending on your model) and use the + and – buttons to program the number of minutes. By the way, 00:02 means 2 minutes (not 2 seconds). And 02:00 means 2 hours, not 2 minutes.
When you close the lid and set the desired cook time the Instant pot will look like it’s not doing anything. Don’t worry. In a few seconds it will beep and the display will say ON. It will say ON until the pot comes to pressure and then the timer will start counting DOWN.
After the time has counted all the way down to zero the pot will beep 10 times. Then the display will start counting UP. On my Instant Pot it has an L in front of the counting up number. For example if the food has been done for 10 minutes it will say L00:10. L just stands for lapsed time. My Instant Pot automatically switches to Keep Warm at this point. This is very handy since I can get my food cooking, go do errands and come home to food that is sitting in the pot warm and ready to go. (I only leave once I know the pot has reached pressure and it is counting down).
Do I use high or low pressure?
Does the display seem confusing to you? There is a high, low, less, normal and more. What do they all mean?
Here are the basics:
- There are two pressure settings–high or low. I use high on 99.9% of my recipes and so do most other people. Always use high unless specifically indicated in the recipe. High is the default setting on the Lux Instant Pots (you cannot switch it to low). On other Instant Pot models you can toggle back and forth between high and low pressure by pressing the pressure cook/manual button and then and then the “pressure” button.
- The Less, Normal and More refer to the Saute function, not the pressure level. You can toggle between less, normal and more by using the Adjust button. Saute is a good setting to use when you want brown meat or saute onions before pressure cooking. LESS is for simmer, NORMAL for sauté and MORE for browning (kind of like the low, medium and high settings on your stove).
- What about all the other buttons on the Instant Pot like “rice” and “meat?” These buttons are suggested times for that specific food. I like to use the manual/pressure cook button because I don’t always agree with the specified times.
How long will this recipe take?
One thing that new users of the Instant Pot can get frustrated about is the amount of time food takes to cook. Some throw their hands up in irritation and say, “I could be eating right now if I made this on the stove!”
Just because a recipe has a pressure cook time of 2 minutes doesn’t mean that the food will actually be done in 2 minutes. There is a good 10 minutes of heating up the pot and letting the pressure build and then the recipe might also call for a “natural pressure release” which will take another 10 minutes or so. Don’t get irritated by this! Use your time wisely by doing all the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen in the meantime. I like to prepare a salad or fresh veggies during this time as well. I have gotten a lot of laundry folded and put away in the time the pressure is releasing. Make it a game to see how much you can get done while your Instant Pot is cooking your food! Remember it’s all hands-off cooking time which is such a blessing when you have a busy family that needs your attention on something other than stirring the risotto.
I like to use this formula to guesstimate how long a recipe will take from start to finish: prep time + pressure building time (10 minutes, more if the pot is super full) + pressure cook time + release time (if it’s a quick release it could be 1 minute if it’s a natural pressure release it could be up to 30 minutes).
What is natural pressure release and quick release?
You may be wondering what a natural pressure release is and what a quick release is. This video explains it well:
Natural Pressure Release (also called NPR or NR) means that you let the pressure in the pot dissipate on its own. A natural pressure release happens when the cooking time is over and the valve is left closed. The pressure decreases without doing anything. Your Instant Pot will automatically switch to the Keep Warm setting. As soon as it switches to Keep Warm the pressure will begin to drop. The time it will take to release all the pressure depends on the ingredients and the amount of liquid in the pressure cooker. Unfortunately, there is no beep or signal when the pressure is released. The float valve will simply drop down and you’ll be able to open the lid. Sometimes you can hear the float valve drop if you’re close by.
Quick pressure release (QPR or QR) is a way to let all the pressure in the Instant Pot escape as fast as possible. To release pressure quickly, move the valve from sealing to venting and allow the pot to release steam and pressure. Use the end of a spoon if you’re nervous. The steam will shoot out the top with a loud hiss–don’t worry, you’ll get used to it soon enough. Ensure that the pot is not directly under cabinets that may get damaged by steam, and be sure to keep hands and face away from the steam.
Most of the time I write recipes that call for a combination of the natural pressure release and the quick release. I’ll say something like, “let the pot sit for 10 minutes and then move the valve to venting.” This just means that you’ll let some of the pressure dissipate normally and the rest of the pressure is quickly released. I like to use this for full pots of soup or for chicken. That way there won’t be foam sputtering out of the valve but you also get to stop the cooking process in a timely manner. (One thing to remember is that the whole time the pressure is building the food is cooking. And when the pressure is slowly dissipating the food will still be cooking.)
What is pot-in-pot cooking?
The Instant Pot needs around 1 cup of thin liquid to build enough steam to create pressure. What if you want to cook a recipe that doesn’t have enough liquid in it? Say for example lasagna or cheesecake? If you tried to cook these items directly in the bottom of the Instant Pot you would get the BURN message (for more about the burn message read here).
That’s why pot-in-pot (PIP) cooking is so great! The PIP cooking method is cooking food in a separate dish that’s placed on a trivet inside your Instant Pot liner. Steam is created from water below the trivet and builds pressure to cook the food.
Here’s how to do it:
- Add 1 1/2 cups of water to the bottom of your Instant Pot liner.
- Place a trivet into the bottom of the Instant Pot liner.
- Put food in an oven-safe dish that fits inside your Instant Pot.
Here are the dishes that I use and love:
For your 6 quart Instant Pot you’ll want a dish with a 7 inch or less diameter.
- No liquid is necessary inside the dish. Place the dish on top of the trivet. You can cover the dish with foil or a lid but you do not have to.
- Cover the Instant Pot and pressure cook.
- One thing to remember is the amount of food you can cook in a PIP dish will be less than what you can cook directly in the inner liner. You may need to adjust your recipe.
- Pot-in-Pot cooking requires you to increase the pressure cooking time by 1-10 minutes depending on what you are cooking. Rice might need only an extra 2 minutes whereas a dense lasagna might need 5 extra minutes. Don’t be too worried about this because you can always close the pot and add another minute or two if it’s not quite done.
What does deglazing the pot mean?
To deglaze to pot means to add some liquid and use a wooden spoon to scrape all the browned bits off the bottom of the pot into the liquid. If you brown meat or saute onions before adding other ingredients deglaze the pot before you hit pressure cook or you may get the burn message!
Here’s a quick video showing you exactly what it looks like to deglaze an Instant Pot…
Other helpful resources for Instant Pot beginners…
I hope you feel like you know how to use an Instant Pot now! I have lots of other tips that can help you too. Here are some of my favorites:
Want tried and true Instant Pot recipes?
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*Karen Petersen is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.