If you don’t own an instant pot yet, you’ve likely seen it around the interwebs—after all, it’s all the rage these days. And for good reason: you can do everything from hard boil eggs to make a rib roast way faster than you can with any other cooking method.
The instant pot is essentially a pressure cooker and slow cooker in one. It’s also referred to as a “7-in-1 kitchen appliance,” which makes cooking and preparing food so much easier than any other method.
While there are tons of good things about this near-magical device, the instant pot can be really intimidating and overwhelming if you don’t know how to use it (and you probably don’t if you’re just unboxing it). It has tons of buttons, plus the “caution” stickers all over it doesn’t really help ease instant pot anxiety. (I counted five when I opened mine!)
To make sure you’re not burning your food (or your house down—just kidding), here’s everything you need to know before making your first (or next) meal in your instant pot.
Don’t forget to add liquid.
Depending on what you’re making, you’ll need to always add about a half cup to a full cup of some sort of liquid to the instant pot (e.g., water, broth, etc.). As a slow cooker, the liquid helps braise and tenderize meat, and when pressure cooking, steam builds up, and the liquid moisturizes the food, which is what causes it to cook and become tender at a fast pace.
Don’t overfill the pot.
More instant pot confusion: The inner pot comes with a fill-line, but that only applies when you’re slow cooking something. When using the pressure cooking option, you don’t want to fill the bowl more than half way. When it’s filled too high, liquid could clog the venting knob—and no one wants that mess.
Don’t use regular pressure-cooker recipes.
Conventional pressure cookers use more pressure than instant pots, so the rate at which they cook is totally different. While it’s probably possible to convert the time rates, do yourself a favor and stick with a straight-up instant pot recipe, especially if you’re new at this.
Don’t forget to set the steam release knob.
When pressure cooking, food needs steam, and if you forget to set the knob to “Sealing,” the steam will seep out and your food won’t cook properly. Just trust us on this one: Always seal the knob!
Don’t confuse “quick release” for “natural release”.
There are two types of “Release” settings: Quick release and natural release. Manually pulling the quick release valve releases pressure immediately, and the food will stop cooking right away. Natural release causes the pressure to go down slower, and food will gradually stop cooking. Quick release is better for things like veggies, or food that can become overcooked quickly. Natural release will work for those meals you’d typically make in a slow cooker (e.g., chilis, meats, pasta dishes, etc.).
Don’t mix up “cooking time” and “delayed cooking”.
People tend to hit the timer button to set the cooking time, but actually the timer button is for delayed cooking (and you’re not actually setting up the cooking time). It will light up green when ready. If you make this mistake, press “Keep Warm” or “Cancel”, and your Instant Pot will begin cooking again.
Don’t skip washing the lid and ring.
After each use, be sure to scrub the lid and ring, which can become pretty stinky if you don’t. Also, food particles tend to get stuck in the ring, so make sure you’re being really thorough.
Bottom line: Always read and refer to your manual if you’re having any issues.
Do you own and use an instant pot? Were you intimidated by it at first? Share your best instant pot tip for the newbies!