Instant Pot 101: A Beginners Guide to Electric Pressure Cooking. Feeling overwhelmed by your new Instant Pot? Do NOT fear!! I will walk you through the essentials on electric pressure cooking. Before long, the Instant Pot will surely become your new favorite kitchen appliance.
Once you master knowing your Instant Pot, check out Instant Pot Recipes to get cooking!
The Parts of an Instant Pot
Inner Pot: The stainless steel pot that fits inside the Instant Pot. Removable for washing. And essential for cooking–do NOT operate your Instant Pot without the inner pot.
Inner Ring: A silicone ring that seals on the lid of the Instant Pot that helps to seal in pressure in electric pressure cooker. Needs removed for cleaning and replaced when any wear or tear is visible. I personally like to have one for savory and one for sweet dishes.
Floating Valve and Shield: The shield prevents food from getting trapped in pressure release valve and the float valve is designed to be pushed up once there is sufficient pressure inside the cooker. Once pushed up, the silicone band seals the instant pot and the pin of the float valve serves as a lock, preventing the lid from being opened before pressure has released.
Condensation Cup: This plastic cup collects any moisture of condensation that leaks out during cooking process. I most often see this in use during the cooking of stew or stock. It removes easily to be cleaned.
Stainless Steel Rack: This rack (or trivet) can be placed into your Instant Pot to place a pot on for Pot in Pot cooking or to place food on to cook that you don’t want submerged in liquid, as I do with my Baked Potatoes and Ground Beef.
What do all those buttons on an Instant Pot mean?
At first glance at your electric pressure cooker, it looks like you can cook just about anything with a simple touch of a button. There is a function for Yogurt, one for multi-grain rice, regular rice, stew, beef, and poultry.
It may be tempting to put chicken in the IP hit the poultry button and walk away.
To rely solely on the pre-set cooking settings, could very well result in over-cooked chicken, under-cooked rice, or dried out beef. These functions are set based on the AVERAGE cooking time and are just a starting point. Check out my Instant Pot Functions Post that tells you exactly how to use each and every function on your pressure cooker.
So how do you know how long to cook a recipe in your Instant Pot?
You can refer to Instant Pot Cooking Time Tables, for a breakdown of how long to cook just about ANYTHING. Of course you can follow recipes that have been tested by others as well–I experimented with baked potatoes and sweet potatoes over a dozen times before I nailed a consistent cooking time I could rely on.
Or experiment yourself! Use the suggested time as a guide and then good old trial and error.
**It is important to note that an Electric Pressure Cooker does not reach the same pressure a stove-top pressure does, so you will need to increase cooking time by a few minutes for an electric pressure cooker if the recipe was written for a stove-top pressure cooker.
Sealing the Vent on the Instant Pot
If you want the magic of Pressure Cooking, you must allow pressure to be trapped in your electric pressure cooker.
Pressure is trapped in your Instant Pot when no air is allowed to escape. Therefore, it is crucial you allow assure that you turn the valve on your Instant Pot to “Seal” and that you inner ring is properly attached to your Instant Pot.
If those two things are not done, pressure will NOT be trapped and your Instant Pot will not reach pressure to begin the cooking time.
Pressure is reached on an electric pressure cooker, when the pin raises to the upright position, the lid locks, and the timer begins to count down the cooking time.
Having trouble with your float valve rising? Check out Reasons Your Instant Pot May Not Be Sealing.
Natural Pressure Release vs Quick Release
First of all, let me explain the difference between Natural Pressure Release and Quick Release when it comes to pressure cooking.
- Natural Pressure Release (or NPR) is when the pressure is slowly released on it’s own.
- Quick Release (or QR) is when you manually turn the valve to “Vent” and allow the pressure that has been built up to release rapidly.
How do you know if you should use NPR or QR in recipes?
- Natural Pressure Release is for tougher cuts of meat, recipes with high starch (like rice or grains) and recipes with a high volume of liquid.
- Quick Release is to be used for more delicate cuts of meat and vegetables–like seafood, chicken breasts, and steaming vegetables.
Important Tip for using Quick Release on your Instant Pot: Place a towel over the valve and use a wooden spoon or pot holder to manually turn valve from seal to vent. The towel will help to prevent your steam burning your face or hands and if the recipe starts to spew liquid, you protect your walls and ceilings from being covered in cooking liquid.
Liquid is Essential in Pressure Cooking
In order for pressure to build in a pressure cooker, there must be liquid. There needs to be a minimum of 1/2 cup liquid for proper pressure to be reached and for recipe to not burn, but I have found most recipes work best with 1 cup liquid.
- 1/2 cup liquid for 3 quart Instant Pot
- 1 cup liquid for 6 quart Instant Pot
- 1.5 cups liquid for 8 quart Instant Pot
A sauce only counts towards PART of your liquid requirement.
Meaning, if you are using 1 cup tomato sauce, you can only count 1/2 cup of the sauce towards your total liquid count. Sauces are thicker and you need still need fluid liquid.
Cooking Pot in Pot (PIP)
What if your recipe does not have liquid in it? What if you want to bake a dessert or custard in your Instant Pot?
This is when cooking Pot in Pot, or PIP, is necessary. To cook pot in pot is basically placing another pot inside the instant pot on a trivet to cook.
Here are the Step by Step directions for Cooking Pot in Pot in the Pressure Cooker.
Never OVER fill the Instant Pot
It is very important to note that the max fill line on the Instant Pot is not intended for pressure cooking or for cooking foods that expand–like rice and beans.
It is best to never fill the Instant Pot more than 2/3 of the way full for pressure cooking (and only 1/2 full for rice and beans).
What happens if you overfill the Instant Pot? First it will take a long time to reach pressure and a long time to release pressure. It is also NOT advised to do a quick release if you did happen to overfill the Instant Pot, as that would result in mess!
Cooking Time is NOT amount of time recipe takes
It is important to note that when planning your meals that you don’t count on the pressurized cooking time as the amount of time it will take complete the meal.
When it comes to pressure cooking, you need to account for the time it takes to come to pressure and the time it takes to release pressure.
Therefore the total time for pressure cooking is
Time to Come to Pressure + Cooking Time + Time for Pressure to Release = Total Time
The amount of time needed for a recipe to come to pressure and time to release pressure varies based on recipes.
A Few Final Tips for Instant Pot and Electric Pressure Cooking
- If your Instant Pot will not come to pressure, check to see if the inner ring is properly inserted on the lid and the valve is sealed properly.
- Remember to use COLD water in your Instant Pot. If you use warm water, the amount of time that it takes the IP to come to pressure may change and that will result in a different cooking time.
- The rice function cooks at LOW pressure, not high pressure. Therefore if you are cooking a recipe that cooks at High Pressure for 12 minutes (like my Instant Pot Baked Potatoes), do NOT be tempted to hit the rice function.
- Check out all my Healthy Instant Pot Recipes for a perfect place to start cooking recipes for your pressure cooker.
My Must Have Instant Pot Accessories
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(And in case you misplace your Floating Valve, you can get an extra to fit your model on this here.)