The Instant Pot can be the best but most intimidating kitchen tool on the market. Don't fear! This Instant Pot 101 will walk you through everything you need to know to using your Instant Pot.
I'll be honest - when I first got my Instant Pot I was so intimidated with it. There were so many buttons I didn't know where to start and I was afraid of releasing the steam (my husband was in charge of this for the first month we owned it!). But over time I learned how to use my Instant Pot the right way and best practices and now it's my go to appliance.
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What is an Instant Pot?
The Instant Pot is a multi-cook appliance. It's a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker all packaged into one appliance. Some of the newer models even can be used for sous vide and air fryers! It really is a one stop shop appliance. For this Instant Pot 101 we'll go through the features on the basic model Instant Pot.
Instant Pot Basics
Before we get into how to use the Instant Pot and best practices,it's important to understand the basics of the machine (don't worry - this isn't too technical!) and terms.
Inner Pot - this is the stainless steel pot that goes inside the Instant Pot. The inner pot is removable and can be washed in the dishwasher. This pot is essential for cooking in the Instant Pot - you do not want to operate the machine without this!
If you use your Instant Pot multiple times a week I recommend getting an extra inner pot. Instant Pot also makes a ceramic non-stick inner pot but I haven't personally used it. The regular stainless steel one has worked great for me!
Inner Ring - This is the silicone ring that seals the lid of the Instant Pot. This is removable (it might be tough the first few times you use the pot) and should be cleaned after every use. I like to have a few sets of rings because I've noticed over time that the ring will absorb the smells of the food you're making - especially chilis!
I recommend having a ring that you use for chilis and similar dishes and another you use for more delicate dishes like hard boiled eggs or cheesecakes. You'll also occasionally need to replace your ring as it breaks down over time. I like these extra silicone rings.
When you take out your inner ring make sure you put it back in properly! The ring should tightly fit into the lid and "click" in. If your Instant Pot is having issues pressurizing this is usually the problem!
Floating Valve and Shield - These are inside the lid and help keep food from getting stuck inside the pressure release valve. When pressure builds up in the Instant Pot the valve will pop up (you might hear a clicking as the Instant Pot is pressurizing - this is normal! This is the valve adjusting). When the valve is pushed up this means the Instant Pot is at pressure and the silicone band will seal the pot, preventing it from opening.
When you release pressure from the Instant Pot the valve will go down. Once it pops all the way down it's safe to open the pot.
The valve can come off of the machine to be cleaned (I recommend hand washing). If you lose the valve you can get a replacement here.
Condensation Cup - This cup collects extra condensation that leaks out of the pot during cooking. It clips into the side of the pot and can be removed to be cleaned. It doesn't fill up too much but you do want to remember to clean it out every few uses.
Stainless Steel Trivet - This is one of the accessories that comes in the box with the Instant Pot. You can put it inside the pot to keep food out of the liquid (like in my Instant Pot pulled pork recipe).
Instant Pot Buttons
There are a lot of buttons on the outside! The basic Instant Pot comes with preset cook settings for:
and even more. That's A LOT to choose from but in all honesty you can ignore most of these settings. These buttons are basically a general average preset for what you're cooking.
I do not recommend relying on these buttons because again these are just averages, not custom settings to what you're cooking. The difference between the buttons are the pressure type (low or high) and the length of cooking time - which will drastically vary based on what you're cooking and the amount. When you're first starting out with your pot I recommend following the recipe pressure settings and cooking times for best results and then tweaking from there. Generally, I like to use:
- Chicken (1lb) : High Pressure + Fresh: 10 Minutes or Frozen: 15 minutes
- Brown Rice: High Pressure + 22 Minutes
- Beef: High Pressure + Fresh: 22 Minutes or Frozen : 27 Minutes
Instant Pot's website has a really great resource for all cooking times. You can find it here.
Sealing vs Venting
On the outside of the lid you'll notice the floating valve has two settings: Sealing or Venting. Select sealing for when you want the Instant Pot to seal pressure (for cooking). When it's done cooking, you'll want to carefully move the dial to venting to release the pressure that's built up.
Natural Pressure Release vs Quick Release
There are 2 ways to release pressure:
Natural Pressure (NP): This is when you allow the Instant Pot to sit after cooking and release the pressure on it's own. This generally will take 10-15 minutes
Quick Release (QR): This is when you release the pressure yourself by turning the floating valve to "venting". I recommend doing this slowly and having a dish towel to cover some of the steam that comes out. When I first started I would use a wooden spoon to move it so my hand wouldn't get too close to the hot steam.
Also one thing to note is when doing a quick release on an item with a lot of liquid (like a soup) some of the coloring from the liquid can come out through the steam so make sure to release the steam slowly so it doesn't spray everywhere and make a mess. A best practice is to use a towel over the valve.
NPR vs QR - Which do I use?
Generally most recipes will tell you which option to use. A general rule:
- Natural Pressure Release (NPR) - use for high starch recipes (like rice), tough cuts of meat (like chuck roast or brisket) or items with a lot of liquid.
- Quick Release (QR) - Quick release is used for meats like seafood or poultry.
Instant Pot Cooking Times
The cooking times in recipes are not the total amount of time a recipe will take. When recipes talk cook time that's exactly what it is - cooking time. An Instant Pot needs additional time to come to pressure and release pressure if using NPR.
Pressurizing can take anywhere from 5-15 minutes depending on the volume in the pot and if cooking fresh or frozen. Frozen items will take longer to pressurize.
- Always include some kind of liquid in the recipe - The Instant Pot NEEDS liquid to build pressure (sauce does not count). It will even give you an error message if you don't add enough liquid! I add in about 1 cup of liquid - water or broth- to my recipes. If a recipe doesn't call for water (like cheesecake) you'll want to use the trivet to separate the water from the food (and in the cheesecake example you'd use an Instant Pot safe springfoam pan on top of the trivet. This is called cooking Pot in Pot).
- Do not overfill the Instant Pot - there are markings inside the Instant Pot that can help with this. If you overfill the inner pot it can end up in a huge mess.
Must Have Instant Pot Recipes and Meal Plans
Ready to cook? Here are my favorite recipes:
Must Have Instant Pot Accessories
Here are a few of my favorite Instant Pot accessories:
Springfoam Pan - This can be used to make dishes like cheesecake and lasagna
Extra Inner Pot - If you're planning to use your pot often, I recommend having an extra inner pot on hand.
Extra Silicone Rings - I like to have one for my savory dishes and one for my more delicate dishes. It's also nice to have an extra set or two around just in case one breaks or becomes loose.
Egg Bite Mold - This mold is great to make egg bites (like the ones at Starbucks!)
Glass Lid - This is great to use for the "stay warm" setting as well as if you're using the Saute or slow cook features.