How To Use An Instant Pot – Proven Expert Tips For Beginners

Instant pot is the in thing as far as home gadgets go; so learning how to use an instant pot would do you a lot of good.

You may wonder what the fuss about instant pots is; I’ll tell you.  These gadgets are a like a magical variants of pressure cookers. They are electrical pressure cookers that are multifunctional and can be used for myriads of recipes and meal prep.

So if you are looking for something that would alleviate the stress of meal preparation, think “instant pot”. This appliance would replace your slow cooker and pressure cooker amongst others.

In fact most instant pots are called electric pressure cooker .

Additionally, mastering the use of an instant pot would take your culinary liberty to a whole new level. It would give you the creative liberty to explore new recipes.

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The Basics Of Using An Instant Pot

The selling point of an instant pot is the time it takes to get your food ready. With an instant pot, you can slow cook, sauté, steam vegetable and poultry, make yogurt, bake bread and cook rice.  Most instant pot meals are done in an hour or less.

More interesting and convenient is that you can prepare everything in one pot. There’s virtually nothing that can’t be cooked in an instant pot and very fast too!

The most basic function of an instant pot is pressure cooking. They function almost the same way with manual pressure cookers; the only difference is that they are electric pressure cookers.

In addition to that they can also perform slow cooking function. It is this additional slow cooking ability that makes the instant pot a versatile kitchen gadget.

Pressure cooking is a method of food preparation that seals the food to be prepared in a container with liquid and then use heat to create steam. This increases the pressure in the container which in turn traps the steam or releases it to control the level of pressure. As the pressure increases, the boiling point of the liquid rises causing the food to cook faster at a higher temperature.

Pressure cooking is beneficial because it helps the food to retain its nutrients and flavors. It also produces moist results and saves energy and time.

The Design Of An Instant Pot

Every instant pot comes with an outer pot or housing and an inner pot or insert as some people call it and a lid.

The outer pot is the part that houses the control buttons and all the function buttons. The inner pot or insert is where you place the food to be cooked while the lid is the part that creates the airtight seal for pressure cooking.

The most common shapes that instant pots are designed in are round and oval. These shapes each have their advantages and disadvantages but they do not in any way impact on the overall performance of the pot.

That being said, note however, that the shape would surely determine the shape of meat or other foods that can conveniently be cooked in the instant pot.

Accessories To Expect

The most common accessories that comes with an instant pot include the following:-

Soup Spoon

Steam Rack with Handles

Rice Paddle

Measuring Cup

Condensation Collector

Recipe Booklet

User Manual

There are myriads of accessories that would enhance your cooking experience with an instant pot. But the ones mentioned above would get you off to a good start.

As you get more adept in using your instant pot, you would be able to make the right judgement call on the extra accessories to buy.

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How To Set Up An Instant Pot

The first thing to do when you take delivery of your instant pot is to take out time to read the user manual. This would help you get to get a hang of the usage of the pot faster.

All the following steps that we would discuss hereafter would surely be covered in the user manual. Although we are confident that some of the expert tips that we would share would not be found in our user manual.

Wash All The Removable parts

Ensure that you wash all the removable parts of your instant pot immediately you unpack the pot before even thinking of using the pot. These parts include the inner pot, the lid, sealing ring and accessories.

Use warm soapy water to wash them and then dry thoroughly.

Position The Inner Pot And Practice Closing and Opening the Lid

After you have dried off the lid and the accessories, follow the instructions on the user manual.

Align the lid to the pot as shown in your manual and then twist the lid following the markings. The pot would chime when the lid is securely in place.

Always remember to check that the sealing ring is properly aligned in the bracket of the lid and that there is no piece of debris in it.

Do not ever pull this sealing ring forcefully or else it may be damaged and wouldn’t perform as it should.

Do not use this sealing ring if there is any form of damage or obstruction to it. That is why it is advised to have an extra piece of sealing ring on hand always.

In fact, veteran users of the instant pot say that they have two sealing rings as a rule of thumb. This is because the ring can absorb smell and flavor over time so they love to have one for sweets and another for savory food.

Check The Other Essential Parts Of The Lid

There are three essential parts of the lid of an instant pot that are vital to the proper functioning of the pot. Therefore you have to ensure that these parts are clean and free of any obstruction then properly aligned before using the pot.  

These parts are as follows:-

  1. The Steam Release Valve – This knob has to be completely attached to the lid and pressed down all the way.  It would usually be loose so don’t worry about that. When not in use, this valve can be detached for cleaning by pulling it straight up out of the lid.

  2. The Float Valve – This knob is pushed from the bottom of the lid and has to pop up and down quite easily. So test it and ensure that this is the case.

  3. Anti-Block Shield – You push this part on the side to lift it and push down to former position to put it back in. Food particles would most often get into the anti-block shield or on it. so it is necessary to wash it occasionally.

Position The Condensation Collector

Every instant pot comes with two plastic cups; one is a measuring cup while the other is the condensation collector. The measuring cup is usually round while the condensation collector is longish in shape.

Check the back of the pot for the spot where the condensation collector should be fitted and slide it right in.

Don’t Forget To Plug In The Power Cord.

Sounds very pedestrian right? Don’t roll your eyes just yet! Some new users often forget to check and ensure that the power cord is properly plugged in before complaining that the instant pot is not starting up.

So check your power connection and ensure that the plug is not loose. The power cord should be firmly fixed into the power base of the pot. Then you’ll hear a beep to indicate that you’re good to go.

Check out the video below for a demonstration:-

Test Run The Pot

After you have set up the instant pot, the first thing you are advised to do is to learn how to boil water with it. This may sound quite remedial but trust us when we tell you that boiling water is the best way to test run your instant pot.

So here are the steps:-

Measure The Water

Add water to the inner pot until you get to the maximum (each pot has markings on the inside to show you where the minimum to fill it is and also the maximum. Bear in mind that you should never exceed the maximum or fall below the minimum.

 Another point to note here is that you never put anything directly into/onto the instant pot (outer pot). It is always “into the inner pot first and then inner pot into the outer pot”

Seal The Lid Properly

Seal the lid and choose a short cooking time (this would be about 5 minutes at most). Ensure that the steam release is set to the sealing mode. Some models would automatically set it. The pot would always chime when the lid is securely on and when you open the pot.  Some models would show the timer as  “5” while others would show it as  “00:05”

Release The Pressure

Once that cook time is done, the pot would beep and then go to “Keep Warm” (that is if the keep warm button was left ON). After this the pot would start to release pressure naturally. You can also decide to use the quick or manual release method.

We’ll discuss more on how to release pressure from an instant pot later in this article so stay with us.

The Buttons?

Is it possible to understand all the buttons of your instant pot? Well, that shouldn’t be your top priority. Why do we say so? It is because you cannot in all honesty understand all the buttons at a go.

But as you master the use of the pot for one recipe after the other, you’ll develop muscle memory that would help you navigate the instant pot perfectly.

That said however, here are a few buttons that you may want to understand their functions:-

  1. Fish –This button would cook your food for a short while usually 5 minutes.

  2. Sauté – Not every model of instant pot have this button. But for those that do, it is used to sear meat, sauté veggies, onions or other aromatics or reduce sauces. You press the sauté button then use the adjust button to set how hot you want the pot to be. Note that the pot is left uncovered when you are using the sauté button.  The advantage of using this button is that you wouldn’t have to wash an extra pot.

  3. Manual – This is the button you use to select your cooking time. You press the + or – sign to add or reduce the time.

  4. Sterilize – Some recent models of instant pots have the “sterilize” function which allows you to sterilize veggies, fruits, utensils and so on.

  5. Slow Cook – This button lets you set the pot to cook without pressure. This is great for recipes that call for long hours of cooking.
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Basic Steps For A Meat Based Recipe

After you have done a test run of your instant pot, it’s time to get cooking! The basic steps below would help you get a hang of using the instant pot to make meat based recipes.

Although different recipes would have different settings and directions for preparation, we would give you the basic steps that most instant pot recipes that involve meat require.

  • First set the instant pot to the sauté mode. Next add whatever form of fat you want to use and brown the meat; don’t forget to add the onions and garlic in this step.

  • Press the cancel button, then the manual and finally the pressure button. Set the pot on high pressure mode. Then you can use the plus and minus button to set your cooking time.

  • Cover the instant pot and ensure that the lid is locked in place. There should be a ping to alert you to the fact that it is properly locked.

  • Finally ensure that the inbuilt valve in the cover is in the sealing position.

  • After the instant pot has built enough pressure, the red button would come on. That is when the cooking time starts.

As we said earlier, these steps would vary from recipe to recipe. After your cooking time is up, it’s now time to release the pressure.

Releasing Pressure From An Instant Pot

There are two ways of releasing pressure from an instant pot and we’ll discuss them briefly:-

Natural Pressure Release

With this method, the valve on the cover of the instant pot stays in the sealing position while the pressure evaporates on its own. This takes at least 20 minutes and on some cases over an hour. It depends on what’s cooking.

Food that has low liquid content would take less time to release naturally than those with high liquid content.  Experts say that placing a very damp dishtowel on the lid can help make the release process faster.

Manual/Quick Release

In this method, you’ll have to move the valve into the venting position and the steam would spew out, thereby releasing the pressure. This is a faster method than the natural pressure release. Even at that, this process can still take about 15 minutes for food with high liquid content.

Bear in mind as you release pressure from the pot that the steam will be very hot(naturally) and can burn you.  So ensure that the hole on top of the place where the steam is released from is not facing you before you press the release button.

Although many newer models have tried to increase safety issues surrounding pressure release in instant pots, it is still better to err on the side of caution.

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Which Method To Use?

Now that you have seen the two methods and how they work, you need to factor the release time into your cooking time.

In the natural release option, the instant pot is full of the pressure so your food will continue to cook at a slower rate. This is because the pot would still be in the sealing mode. So if you didn’t build in the release time into your cooking time, then you’ll need to use the manual/quick release option.

The manual/quick release option also comes in handy when you are in a mega rush to get your food done and on the table. 

But when you have enough time on your hands, deduct the release time from the cooking time then set the balance as your cooking time. That way, your food would not be over cooked.

Also, bear in mind that the manual/quick release option is not good for any recipe with high volume of liquid; for example soups. Similarly recipes with high starch content would not do well with the quick release method. The reason for this is that the food may get splattered all over your kitchen as it would ooze out with the steam.

Safety Issues To Consider When Using An Instant Pot

The instant pot is a fairly safe appliance to use but you still have to take note of some safety issues. These include the following:-

Never Leave Pot Unattended/ Not Monitored

Do not leave the pot unattended to if you are using high pressure. It is best to stay close to the pot so that you can quickly address any issues that come up while the pot is cooking on high pressure.

Stay Clear Of The Steam

Never allow your face to come in contact with the steam from the pot; you could get burned. So always follow the rule of facing the steam vent away from your face.

Do Not Over-fill The Pot

Do not fill your instant pot to the maximum. This is especially important for food that would expand. Always leave room for expansion of food. If you don’t you run the risk of your pot exploding when you open it after the food is cooked.

Always Check The Sealing Ring

Always check the sealing ring to ensure that it is without damage or obstruction. This is critical to the safe use of the pot. That is why it is best practice to have extra sealing ring on hand always. Check out and buy extra sealing rings here

Do Not Use Instant Pot As Pressure Deep Fryer

Do not use the instant pot as a pressure deep fryer; they are not built for such tasks. If you want to try out recipes that require pressure deep frying, use the right appliance such as the T-fal Deep Fryer with Basket .

Expert Tips

Get Familiar with Combining Function Buttons

Most recipes for instant pot meals would usually require that you use more than one button/function on the pot. So you’ll do yourself a world of good by learning how to combine the function buttons. In order words; read the user manual carefully. You can also watch some YouTube videos. We’ll share one or two here.

Observe The Liquid Content Rule

Always add a minimum of half to one cup of liquid to the instant pot before setting it on pressure mode. This is because pressure cooking needs liquid to build up the pressure needed.

Wash The Pot Immediately After Use

Wash and dry your instant pot immediately you are done using it. Build up of food debris and grime would help quicken the damage of your instant pot

Thaw Out Frozen Food Before Cooking

Although you can cook frozen food with an instant pot it is advised that you thaw out frozen food first. However, if you have to cook frozen food, ensure that you increase the cooking time.

Explore The Versatility of Your Instant Pot

Depending on the brand/model of the instant pot, you can use it to proof bread dough. Use the yogurt function and it would give you the right temperature and cut down the proofing time.

Factor In Pressure Release Time to The Overall Cooking Time

When you get a recipe that states 30 minutes as the cooking time, be sure to add 10 to 15 minutes for the pressure to build up and another 10 to 15 minutes for pressure release.  Your cooking time doesn’t start until the pressure is built in the pot. So factor in these times so that you can correctly calculate your cooking time.

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More Tips and Tricks For Beginners

  • You can turn off the sound of your instant pot by pressing down on the minus button for three seconds. Turn it back on by pressing down on the plus button for three seconds.

  • Do not be in a rush to get the lid off your instant pot. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to open the pot after using.

  • When shredding chicken sautéed in an instant pot, use a hand mixer on low for faster and more even result.

  • You can use an instant pot to make any recipe that requires a water bath. This includes recipes such as bread pudding or cheese cake.

  • Never put food directly in an instant pot. Put your food in the inner pot or a steamer basket which is then placed in the instant pot.

Cleaning and Maintenance Of An Instant Pot

An instant pot is one of the easiest kitchen appliances to clean and maintain.

To clean the pot after every use, all you have to do is to wash the inner pot (the insert), then use a damp dishcloth to wipe down the casing or outer pot. Remember that you are never to immerse the outer pot (casing) of the pot in water.

In case you do not seal the pot well while cooking, you would have to dismantle the pot and give it a thorough going over for cleaning.

First of all, check all the small parts like the anti-block shield, the steam release and float valve.  These parts get sticky with constant use, so they need through cleaning every once in a while.

Secondly, check the lid of the pot especially the sealing ring. Remove this sealing ring from the lid or pot and make sure that there are no food particles hidden in them.

Finally, check every crevice of the pot where food particle or grime can get trapped and clean them all out.

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Conclusion

Now that you have unpacked, setup and test run your instant pot, we know that you are excited to start using it.

Note however, that this is not an exhaustive list of all that’s involved in using an instant pot. But as with every kitchen appliance, you get to discover many more tricks and hacks on how to make it serve you better.

However, we believe that with these basics, tips and tricks that we have shared, you are off to a good start with your instant pot.

Do not confine yourself to a particular set of recipes; there are a lot of resources both offline and online that would help you improve on how to use an instant pot. These resources would also help you get the best value from your instant pot. So go for them!

Additionally, there are many great kitchen appliances that would make preparing healthier meals in the instant pot less stressful. Click here to find out more. Also check out this post on using an instant pot to make perfectly boiled eggs consistently.

We’ll leave you with an accompanying video for a more visuals.

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