Feeling overwhelmed by your new Instant Pot? This beginner's guide will walk you through the essentials of using an electric pressure cooker and will leave you feeling confident and ready to conquer using your Instant Pot.
If you have recently been gifted or purchased an Instant Pot, chances are you are either feeling excited or completely overwhelmed.
One look at the manual that came with the Instant Pot and you are feeling even more confused than when you first opened the box. It is really lacking in information!
I have helped thousands of people put aside their fears and tackle cooking in their Instant Pot and I want to help you!
How to Use an Instant Pot
Using an Instant Pot is not hard. In fact, I have found it has made my life immensely easier, but it is a bit of a learning curve.
First I will walk you through the basic Instant Pot parts and jargon. Then I will show you how to set cooking time and how to release pressure. After that, you will be well on your way to becoming an Instant Pot Master!
And if you learn better through video, be sure to check out my YouTube Video!
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.
The stainless steel pot that fits inside the Instant Pot, is called the inner 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.
This is the silicone ring that fits on the lid of the Instant Pot that helps to seal in the pressure. It is removable and should be removed and washed thoroughly any time it gets dirty.
The inner ring can cause the MOST issues when it comes to pressure cooking. You need to be sure it is always tightly inserted on the lid. If not, pressure will not be reached properly and you may experience a burn warning.
If you notice any tears on your inner ring, or it becomes loose over time, be sure to immediately replace it.
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.)
This plastic cup collects any moisture or condensation that leaks out during the cooking process. It also collects moisture that may drip down from the lid once you open the Instant Pot.
It removes easily to be cleaned. Be sure to check it every once in a while to keep it from getting nasty.
Stainless Steel Trivet
Most Instant Pot models will come with a metal rack, often referred to as a trivet.
Using the Instant Pot
Now that you know the parts of your Instant Pot, it is time to use your Instant Pot.
I always suggest starting off by doing a water test. This is a way to get comfortable using the Instant Pot without wasting any actual food. It is quick and easy to do, so well worth the extra few minutes.
After doing the water test, keep in mind the following steps whenever you use your Instant Pot.
- Be sure your inner pot is secured into the base of your inner pot.
- Always use thin, cold, liquid (water, broth, beer, juice, etc) to achieve and maintain pressure.
- 3-Quart Instant Pot: ½ cup thin liquid
- 6-Quart Instant Pot: 1 cup thin liquid
- 8-Quart Instant Pot: 1 ½ cups thin liquid
- 10-Quart Instant Pot: 2 cups thin liquid
- Check to be sure that the sealing ring is attached securely to the lid and place the lid on the inner pot.
- Be sure the vent knob is sealed.
- Set the cooking time using manual or pressure cook to control the time yourself.
- Remember it will take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes for the Instant Pot to come to pressure. This is determined by how full the inner pot is.
- Once the cooking time has started, it will count backward.
- After the cooking time has elapsed the Instant Pot will default to holding the food warm. It will count upward showing how long since the cooking time has elapsed.
- Based on the recipe's instructions, allow the pressure to release naturally or do a quick release of pressure.
- After pressure has been released, it is safe to remove the lid and enjoy your recipe!
Instant Pot Key Tips
While the basic steps outlined above, will give you success when using your electric pressure cooker, they are not thoroughly explained.
Below I break down the key aspects of using your Instant Pot in more detail, giving you even more confidence to use your Instant Pot as it is intended.
Liquid is Essential in Pressure Cooking
In order for pressure to build in a pressure cooker, there must be liquid, but not any liquid will do! You need to have thin liquid. Examples of thin liquids would be broth, wine, beer, juice, or water.
Keep in mind that sauce, like tomato sauce or BBQ sauce, is thicker, and will need to be thinned out in order to prevent a burn notice.
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 a mess!
Instant Pot Functions
At first glance at your Instant Pot, 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 in chicken, hit the poultry button, and walk away.
DO NOT DO THIS!!!
To rely solely on the pre-set cooking settings could very well result in over-cooked chicken, undercooked 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.
Personally, I stick to using the saute function, the manual (or pressure cook) function, and the yogurt function.
How to Seal the Instant Pot
In order for pressure to be reached, the Instant Pot needs to be well sealed.
Therefore, it is crucial you assure that the inner ring is properly attached to the lid of the Instant Pot and you ensure your vent knob is pointed to the sealed position.
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.
You will know that your Instant Pot is properly sealed when the float valve (red or silver depending on your model), 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.
How to Release Pressure
After the cooking time has elapsed you may wonder how the pressure is released.
You have two options, you can do a natural pressure release or a quick release of pressure.
- Natural Pressure Release (or NPR) is when the pressure is slowly released on its own. This is when you leave your Instant Pot alone and allow the float valve to float down on its own. It is best to use a natural pressure release for meats, recipes with high starch (like rice or grains), and recipes with a high volume of liquid.
- 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. This method is used for things like seafood or delicate vegetables.
Important Tip for using Quick Release on your Instant Pot: Use a long handle of a wooden spoon to manually turn the valve from seal to venting AND STAND BACK to prevent yourself from getting burned by the steam.
How to Determine Cooking 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 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 to 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.
Now you are ready to browse through my Instant Pot Recipes and get cooking. And remember, I am always happy to answer any questions you may have! Simply leave a question below in the comments and I will get back to you ASAP!
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.