How to Use an Instant Pot

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Wondering how to use an 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.

Instant Pot with Lid
How to use an Instant Pot
Instant Pot Duo unboxing

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.

» Read about these 15 Common Instant Pot Questions You Might Have and What To Do When Your Instant Pot Says Burn.

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.  

» You might also like How to Cook Sous Vide in the Instant Pot or How to Use the Instant Pot as a Slow Cooker.

Why Use An Instant Pot?

The Instant Pot is one of the most useful kitchen appliances you can buy, because it drastically cuts down on the cooking time for developing flavors in soups and stews, getting tough cuts of meat tender, and even baking a cheesecake. If you don’t have one, check out our guide on which one to buy. Also see our guide to How to Use an Instant Pot and the many accessories you can buy for it.

Instant Pot Duo Plus

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.

It’s also very helpful to read through your Instant Pot’s users manual. There are enough models out now that it is worth your time to take a look at how to use your specific model.

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.

» Need some help with Instant Pot terminology?

Instant Pot Water Test

Perform an easy 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 before you add food.

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.

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 liquid to drop from the lid before setting it aside.


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, 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? Turn the vent valve one way and back again to make sure it is in the right position.
  4. Did you have at least 1 cup of liquid in the pot? It takes at least 1 cup of liquid 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.

» Instant Pot Symbols & Display Icons: What Do They Mean?

What To Cook in the Instant Pot?

The Instant Pot is a versatile kitchen appliance that can be used to cook a wide variety of dishes, such as:

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!
  7. Some recipes will have you turn on saute mode again to add a thickened or reheat after adding more ingredients.

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.

Super Useful Instant Pot Accessories

Once you’ve started using your Instant Pot more regularly, you’ll find there are so many other ways you *could* be using it, if you had a few extra useful accessories. Here are a few favorites that we use almost every day.

  • All-In Instant Pot Kit – a kit, like this 27-piece set, will get you just about everything you will ever need to make whatever you want in the Instant Pot. It includes steamer baskets, a springform pan, a steamer rack, egg rack, egg cutter, egg ring, egg whisk, egg bites mold, dish plate clip, spatula, kitchen tong, silicone pad, scrubber, and oven mitts, magnetic sheets and a recipe book.
  • Stackable Steamer Insert Pans – Using stacking containers allows you to cook different foods in separate containers. If you’re making a complete dinner, you will be able to cook all the components at the same time, rather than one at a time.
  • Instant Pot Ceramic Inner Cooking Pot – I can’t express enough how nice it is to have two inner pots. Having an extra will allow you to cook two parts of a meal without transferring and cleaning the original pot after the first step.

Should You Double The Cook Time When You Double The Recipe?

Doubling a recipe in an Instant Pot doesn’t necessarily mean you should double the cooking time. In most cases, you can use the same cooking time as the original recipe, but there are a few considerations to keep in mind: 

  1. Larger cuts of meat may require you to increase the cooking time.
  2. When doubling a recipe, be cautious not to exceed the recommended fill level.
  3. The natural release time may need to be adjusted slightly for larger recipes. 
  4. Some recipes may require stirring or mixing during cooking to ensure even heat distribution. This is especially important when doubling recipes to prevent uneven cooking.

What is a Natural Pressure Release VS Quick Release?

instant pot valve

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.

releasing pressure from an Instant Pot

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.

» Wondering if the Instant Pot is Dishwasher Safe?

» Check out our free Instant Pot Cooking Times Cheat Sheet so you never have to look up times again for your favorite foods you make in the pressure cooker. Print or bookmark it so you always have it handy!

Expert Instant Pot Tips

Instant pot and accessories

Some valuable Instant Pot tips to keep in mind:

  • Familiarize yourself with your specific Instant Pot model’s manual.
  • Always follow safety guidelines and ensure the Instant Pot is properly sealed and depressurized before opening the lid.
  • Be cautious when releasing steam, as it can be very hot.
  • Begin with easy recipes and gradually move on to more complex dishes as you become comfortable with the device.
  • Utilize the sauté function to brown meat or cook onions and garlic before pressure cooking to add depth of flavor to your dishes.
  • Inadequate liquid can result in a “burn” error, while excessive liquid can dilute flavors.
  • Understand when to use natural release (letting the pressure release naturally) and when to use quick release (manually releasing pressure). Natural release is best for dishes with delicate ingredients, while quick release is suitable for most recipes.
  • Remember that liquids don’t evaporate in an Instant Pot, so use less liquid than you would in traditional cooking methods.
  • When layering ingredients, place denser items at the bottom and lighter ones on top to ensure even cooking.
  • Do not overfill your Instant Pot, especially when cooking foods that expand during cooking like rice or beans.
  • After you saute, deglaze the pot by adding liquid and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom.
  • The silicone sealing ring can absorb odors, so consider having a spare for sweet and savory dishes.
  • Ensure the sealing ring and steam release valve are regularly cleaned to prevent odors.

» Still have questions? Check out these 15 Instant Pot Questions.

Other Ways To Use an Instant Pot

Slow Cooker


If you haven’t yet tried to use your Instant Pot to slow cook, now’s the time to check it out. It differs from a traditional slow cooker in a few ways, you’ll need to make a few adjustments when using the Instant Pot slow cooker settings. 

Here are the steps that you’ll need to follow:

  • Prepare the ingredients and place them inside the inner pot
  • Close the lid
  • Press the “Slow Cook” button
  • Press the “Adjust” button to change the heat setting to “Normal” or “More”
  • Set your desired cooking duration, using the “+” and “-“ buttons, for anywhere between 0.5 to 20 hours
  • Hang up your kitchen apron and enjoy the magic

The Instant Pot will start cooking 10 seconds after the final button is pressed and will remain on “Keep-Warm” mode for up to 10 hours after the timer runs out.

Sous Vide

chicken in water

One of the most exciting newer functions of the Instant Pot is the sous vide function. This built-in function differs from traditional sous vide circulators, so you need to read up on how to use it before getting started.

It is important to note that you can only use the sous vide feature on specific Instant Pot models. You’ll find that with the Instant Pot Duo, sous vide functions are only available on newer models.

Soup Setting

Cheeseburger Soup
Instant Pot cheeseburger soup

The Instant Pot soup setting is perfect for making clear broths, creamy soups, and chunky stews. With the Instant Pot, you can cook your soup in a fraction of the time it would take on the stove, and you can also set it and forget it, allowing you to do other things while your soup cooks.

The soup setting on your Instant Pot is a preset button that makes pressure-cooking soups easier. When you press the soup button, it automatically sets the cooking time and pressure level for you. By default, the normal setting is for 30 minutes at high pressure, but you can adjust the time and pressure level to suit your recipe.

Questions About the Instant Pot

What to do the first time you use Instant Pot?

Before you begin, it’s essential to read the user manual that comes with your Instant Pot. It will give you a good understanding of the different parts, functions, and safety precautions.
Wash the inner stainless steel cooking pot, the sealing ring, the steam rack, and any other removable parts with warm soapy water. Also, clean the exterior of the Instant Pot.
Perform the water test. The water test is a great way to familiarize yourself with the Instant Pot. It ensures the appliance functions correctly before you start cooking actual dishes. During the water test, practice the quick-release method. Remember to use caution when turning the steam release valve to “Venting,” as hot steam will be released.
Familiarize yourself with the control panel of your Instant Pot. Understand how to select different cooking functions, adjust cooking time, and set the pressure level. Finally, start with a simple recipe. Soups, stews, and one-pot meals are great options.

What are the benefits of an Instant Pot?

The Instant Pot is a popular kitchen appliance with several benefits: time efficiency, versatility, energy efficiency, tender meats, flavor retention, convenience, consistent results, and easy cleanup.

What is the average life of an Instant Pot?

The average life of an Instant Pot can vary depending on several factors, including how frequently it’s used, how well it’s maintained, and the specific model. However, on average, an Instant Pot is designed to last for about 2-5 years. Some people may find that their Instant Pot continues to function well beyond 10 years, while others may encounter issues sooner.

Before You Go

Since you made it to the end of this article, you’re probably pretty interested in Instant Pot cooking. Here are a few more articles we think you might enjoy.


4.9 from 26 votes
Instant Pot Lasagna (Springform Method)

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9 thoughts on “How to Use an Instant Pot

  1. David says:

    Thank you for the advice on the InstaPot. I just picked one up and wasn’t really sure on how to use it. It was very helpful in discovering a new product! Tonight I am making beef stew too!

    • Angela Morris says:

      Hi Billie, The Instant Pot comes with 13 built-in safety features that prevent it from mistakes that might cause an explosion. For instance, if the pressure or temperature gets too high, the machine will shut off. If a burn is detected, the machine will shut off. There have been a few incidents of Instant Pots exploding, but this is usually due to a faulty machine or inappropriate usage.

  2. Rhonda says:

    I got my instant pot in yard sale and no instructions or anything. I’m trying to learn what and what not to do. but I think I’m gonna like it.

    • Laura Lynch says:

      I’m sure you’ll love it Rhonda. Stick with it, even if a recipe or two doesn’t turn out the way you expect. It takes a while to get adjusted.

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