How to Use an Instant Pot

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Wondering how to use your new Instant Pot? This guide is for anyone using an Instant Pot for the first time or you’ve owned yours for a while but still have some things to learn. This guide will offer you recipes, tricks, tips, and more for breaking in your new pressure cooker. 

The Instant Pot can be intimidating for a new user, especially if you weren’t interested in pressure cooking before. You might think the Instant Pot is similar to that steaming, hissing pot on the stove your mom used to use. There are so many buttons and safety warnings. It just seems overwhelming

However, I can guarantee that once you start using it, the mystery and fear will go away. You’ll wonder what you ever did without your Instant Pot. I use mine nearly every day and can’t imagine my kitchen without it.

Instant Pot with Lid
Instant Pot Duo unboxing

What is an Instant Pot?

The Instant Pot is an all-in-one electric pressure cooker. It was one of the first electric pressure cookers to come on the market, which is why it’s so popular. However, there are now dozens of brands that do the same thing.

In addition to pressure cooking, the system does sautéing, slow cooking, and makes rice, steams veggies and poultry. As it’s an all-in-one device, you can, for instance, brown a chicken and cook it all at the same time. Instant Pot meals are usually ready  to serve in less than an hour.

Pressure cooking allows it to cook food quickly; it locks steam created by liquids (even liquids released from meat and vegetables), building pressure and causing steam to be released back into the food. 

The pressure cooker you use on your stovetop is not the same as this. By locking the lid until the pressure is released, the Instant Pot eliminates the safety concerns of your grandparents’ pressure cooker.  

How to Get Started With Your Instant Pot

First: Safety Precautions

Before you get started using your Instant Pot, there are three important safety precautions you need to follow.

  • 1. Never put your face near the steam release valve while the Instant Pot is on.
  • 2. Never touch the metal top parts of the Instant Pot while it’s on. The parts get extremely hot.
  • 3. Stay clear of the steam release valve when releasing the pressure. Never put your hand or arm over the steam valve.

When Is It Okay to Open the Lid?

One of the biggest fears people have with the Instant Pot is getting burned, and that’s a valid concern because the steam built up in the machine is ultra pressurized and it can burn you in an instant. The good part, though is that with a little precaution, you don’t need to worry about this.

The Instant Pot has a float valve that shows when it’s under pressure. If the float valve is up, that means it’s not safe to open the pot. The vent is set to sealing and if you open the vent, that hot pressurized steam will start blowing out the top of the machine. It’s that steam that can burn your arm, particularly if you open the valve with our hand in the way.

The best way to prevent getting burned is to know when it’s okay to open the pot. 

venting and sealing

Float valves on Instant Pots may be red or silver, depending on the model. Under pressure, it may rise above the level of the lid, or it may rise to be flush with the top of the lid. Normally, the silver float valve in my 6 quart LUX is below the lid level and pops up when it is pressed. As you use your Instant Pot, you will become more familiar with it.

As you can see in the photo above, my 6-quart DUO has a silver float valve that is at lid level when pressurized and drops down below the lid level when not under pressure. When the float valve is up, never attempt to open the lid.

A recipe might call for a natural release, in which case you should wait for the time specified in the recipe and then move the release valve to the “venting” position to ensure that all steam and pressure has been released. When you do this, either use the handle of a spatula to open the vent knob or twist it with your hand, making sure your hand is out of the want of the flow of steam that will arise from the vent when you open it.

When the float valve has dropped, it is safe to open the Instant Pot lid. Slowly open the lid, keeping it tilted away from your face, so any hot water or steam won’t hit you in the face.

What’s Included in the Box

Instant Pot
  • Base Unit – The casing that contains the heating element.
  • Stainless Steel Inner Pot – The pot in which everything is cooked. It fits into the base unit.
  • Lid – Fits on the top of the unit, seals with an inner ring and a valve.
  • Steam Release Valve – located on the top of the lid. Can be set to Venting or Sealing.
  • Condensation Collector – attaches to the back of the Instant Pot to collect condensation (some models don’t have one.)
  • Trivet – fits into the base of the inner pot to hold ingredients up off the bottom.
  • Power Cord – removable in some Instant Pot models.
  • Measuring Cup & Utensils – can be used to measure ingredients and stir the pot.
  • Recipe Book / User Manual – all you need to get started.

INSTANT POT WATER TEST

Perform a water test before using your Instant Pot for the first time. The Instant Pot water test is like an initial test run and ensures that the machine is working properly and that you know how to use it.

A water test will also help you determine if your newly bought Instant Pot is working properly or is defective. It does happen. Better to know it up front and send it back straight away.

What you'll need
Instant Pot Duo
Buy
Steps
1
Remove the lid. Pour 3 cups water into the inner pot. Lock the lid.
2
Move the vent nozzle to "sealing".
3
Press the Pressure Cook button and +/- buttons to set for 5 minutes. It will switch to on.
4
After reaching pressure, the display will start counting down.
5
When time is up, keep warm turns on and the clock starts counting up.
6
Do a quick release of the pressure (keep hands away from nozzle).
7
When all steam has released, the float valve will go down.
8
Now you can open the lid. The test is complete.

How To Do An Instant Pot Water Test

  1. Plug the power cord into a power outlet in your wall.
  2. Place the stainless steel inner pot in the base unit. Add 3 cups of water to the inner pot.
  3. Ensure that the silicone sealing ring is properly fitted into the  Instant Pot lid. Put the lid on the Instant Pot and turn it  clockwise until it is in the closed position. When you open and close the lid, the Instant Pot will play a sound (only when it’s plugged in).
  4. Set the steam release valve to the “sealing” position. (If you have  an Instant Pot Ultra, the steam release will automatically be set to “sealing” when the lid is closed.)
  5. To begin, press the “Manual Cook” or “Pressure Cook” buttons. (Some Instant Pot models have a “Manual” button and others have a “Pressure Cook” button. Both function exactly the same way.)
  6. Set the time to 5 minutes by pressing the +/- buttons. After 10 seconds, the Instant Pot display will say “On” and the cycle  will begin.
  7. It will take about 10 minutes to reach pressure. Then the float valve will pop up, there will be a single beep letting you know the cooking time has started. It will count down until completed and then beep 10 times to let you know it’s finished.
  8.  The Instant Pot will switch to “Keep Warm” mode and the time will count up the minutes since the end of cooking. For the purposes of the water test, you will perform a quick release (QR) to release the pressure from the pot quickly. To do this, turn the valve to the venting position with a spatula, keeping your hands away from the top of the valve where the steam will shoot out.
  9. After the pressure is fully released, the float valve will click down and that’s when you know it’s safe to open the lid. Open it away from your face and allow the water to drop from the lid before setting it aside.

Troubleshooting

If your water test went off without a hitch, then you’re all set to go. The cooking process will follow these same steps, only with food inside the pot!

If the water test didn’t go well, it could be due to a number of issues. Before determining that it’s a faulty machine, double check these things:

  1. Was the seal set firmly in the lid? If the seal is not firmly set around the inner wire of the lid, it won’t be able to get a good enough seal to hold the pressure. If you have two ring seals, replace it and try again.
  2. If the pot continues hissing and doesn’t stop, so the float valve never latches and the cooking time won’t start, try pushing down on the lid to form a seal. Just pushing the lid sometimes alleviates the problem. 
  3. Was the vent turned all the way to the sealing position?
  4. Did you have at least 1 cup of water in the pot? It takes at least 1 cup of water to produce enough pressure. You should be using 3 cups for the water test.

If none of these issues were the problem, you may have a faulty machine and should contact the manufacturer, according to the instructions in your manual.

How to Cook With the Instant Pot

cooking with an instant pot

Many recipes follow the same type of cooking instructions, though things like rice, pasta, eggs, and yogurt will be different. For most recipes, you will follow these basic steps:

  1. Brown meats using the saute mode. Add oil (or other fat) and brown your protein, like beef or chicken, plus aromatics, like garlic and onion.
  2. Cancel saute mode. Add the ingredients for your recipe to the inner pot. Remember that some liquid is required to cook properly.
  3. Place the lid on the Instant Pot and lock it into place. You should hear a chime, letting you know it’s locked. Make sure the valve in the lid is set to the sealing position. 
  4. Press a pre-set button, like Meat or Soup, which will automatically set the correct time for that dish. Or press the manual or pressure cook button (most recipes require high pressure), and set your own time. Use the plus and minus buttons to set the cook time.
  5. The Instant Pot will beep once to let you know it’s building pressure. When the Instant Pot builds enough pressure, the float valve will pop up and the cook time will begin.
  6. When the cook time runs out, do a natural or quick release of the pressure. Remove the lid. Enjoy your food!

The above steps can vary quite a bit, depending on the recipe, but most of what I cook in my Instant Pot follows that sequence.

What is a Natural Pressure Release VS Quick Release?

Two methods can be used to release pressure: natural release and quick release. 

Natural pressure release is just that – you leave the lid’s valve in the sealing position and allow the pressure to dissipate naturally over time. It can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, depending on what you’re cooking. High-liquid meals, like soup and chili, require more time than low-liquid dishes (like chicken drumsticks). 

There’s also a quick release option (also called manual pressure release). You’ll carefully move the valve into the venting position here, releasing the pressure manually. Steam will shoot out of the vent until all the pressure is released. The quick release method is much faster, but it will still take time to release the steam through the vent, especially for very high-liquid meals, like soup.

Which method you use depends on the food you’re making. There are cases for both. With a natural pressure release, the Instant Pot is still full of pressure, so the food will continue cooking as the pressure naturally dissipates. This is good for soups and stews, braised meats, and whenever you have time. Manual pressure release is useful when cooking needs to be stopped as fast as possible, like with steaming vegetables, cooking potatoes and eggs, pasta and rice.

A good recipe should say which method to use. If in doubt, you can do a hybrid release where you do a 10 minute natural release, then manually release the remaining pressure.

Now to Get Started

If you haven’t pulled that Instant Pot out of the box yet, now’s the time to do it. Even if it’s just been sitting in your kitchen unused, now is the time to get it out and get started. You’ll be amazed at what it can do and how easy it is to cook delicious food in it with very little effort.

isntant pot guide

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