Feeling overwhelmed by your new Instant Pot? Do NOT fear!! I will walk you through the essentials on how to use your Instant Pot! This beginners guide to using an instant pot will leave you feeling confident and ready to conquer pressure cooking! Before long, the Instant Pot is sure to become your new favorite kitchen appliance.
How to Use an Instant Pot
If you have recently been gifted an Instant Pot or purchased one yourself, you may be feeling excited. Or maybe you are overwhelmed. Maybe you read the instruction manual that came with the instant pot and are feeling even more confused---it is really lacking in information!
I have helped thousands of people put aside their fears and tackle cooking in their Instant Pot. It just takes a bit of understanding of how an Instant Pot works and lesson on Instant Pot jargon and you are well on your way to being an Instant Pot Master!
Instant Pot Parts
Before we talk about HOW an instant pot works, let's break down the standard pieces and parts of the Instant Pot. That way you will know which piece is which.
Inner Pot: The stainless steel pot that fits inside the Instant Pot. It is removable for washing. And essential for cooking--do NOT operate your Instant Pot without the inner pot.
Some people prefer to have two inner pots or a ceramic insert. Frankly, I think one stainless steel inner pot is sufficient, unless you plan to make yogurt frequently. Then an extra inner pot helps out tremendously.
Inner Ring: This is the silicone ring that seals on the lid of the Instant Pot that helps to seal in pressure in electric pressure cooker. It is removable (may be tight the first few times you try to remove it). It will need replacing when the ring becomes loose or there is a tear.
The inner ring can cause the MOST issues when it comes to pressure cooking. You need to be sure it is always properly, and tightly inserted on the lid. If not, pressure will not be reached properly and you may experience a burn warning.
Floating Valve and Shield: The shield prevents food from getting trapped in the pressure release valve. 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. The float valve will float back down as pressure is released, unlocking the lid from the Instant Pot.
(And in case you misplace your Floating Valve, you can get an extra to fit your model on this here.)
Condensation Cup: This plastic cup collects any moisture of condensation that leaks out during cooking process. It also collects moisture that may drip down from the lid once you open the Instant Pot. I most often see this in use during the cooking of stew or stock.
It removes easily to be cleaned--be sure to check it every once in awhile to keep it from getting nasty.
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 Instant Pot Baked Sweet Potatoes
Instant Pot Buttons
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.
Sealing vs Venting on 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 assure that you turn the valve on your Instant Pot to "Sealing" 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.
The venting position is used to do a quick pressure release. Confused at what a quick pressure release is? Read on!
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 venting. 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 ½ cup THIN 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.
- ½ 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 ½ cup of the sauce towards your total liquid count. Sauces are thicker and you still need thin fluid liquid.
Instant Pot Cook Time
Determining cook time on the Instant Pot is one of the most commonly asked questions I am faced with when it comes to using your Instant Pot.
I have worked at length to create a guide that will help you convert your favorite recipes into Instant Pot recipes.
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 my guide as a starting point and then through trial and error perfect a recipe to suit your needs and your Instant Pot.
It is important to note that just like traditional cooking, you will need to account for altitude if living at higher elevations. I have an Instant Pot Altitude Chart to help with 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.
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.
Never OVER fill the Instant Pot
It is best to never fill the Instant Pot more than ⅔ of the way full for pressure cooking (and only ½ 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!
A Few Final Important Tips
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
I am often asked what are my favorite Instant Pot Accessories, I try to keep things super simple, but these are my favorite accessories and why you may need them.
- 7 inch springform pan: Great for Instant Pot Cheesecake or Instant Pot Lasagna.
- Clear Lid: this is great for using your instant pot as a slow cooker or for making yogurt.
- Cake Pan: I use this for my Instant Pot Breakfast Casserole, but it also works for Instant Pot Lasagna.
- An Egg Tray: Perfect for holding eggs when making Instant Pot Eggs.
- Heat Safe Bowl: An essential for making Instant Pot Oatmeal.