You Just Got an Instant Pot—Now What?

Starter tips for the multi-cooker that does it all. 

Photo: Getty Images

I don't remember the exact moment that Instant Pot became the kitchen appliance; but it seems like, at every dinner party, the host credits at least one of their mouthwatering dishes to this multi-talented gadget. And not just my friends—Instant Pot is Amazon's top seller in their Home and Kitchen section, with reviewers calling it a "game changer for those who are short on time." If you're known for spending time in the kitchen, there's a good chance you were gifted an Instant Pot at some point.

What exactly is an Instant Pot, anyway? This wonder machine is a programmable, electric pressure-cooker, which means it combines heat and pressure to cook food in about half the time of traditional methods. Most models also have settings for sear, sauté, steam, slow-cook, and simmer. You can also use the Instant Pot to cook rice, make yogurt, and walk your dog. OK, that last one was just wishful thinking, but the Instant Pot really can cook almost anything. Along with all those functions, though, can come a fair bit of confusion. We have a few tips for making sure the start of your pressure-cooking journey is as smooth as possible.

If you recently acquired an Instant Pot, use these pointers to get started. If you're still on the hunt for one, I personally use the 6-quart Duo Nova; large enough to fit a whole chicken, but not so big that it takes up all my spare counter space. If you're regularly feeding four or more people, you might want to go with an 8-quart model.

01 of 06

Start with the basics.

When you first open the Instant Pot box, you might be overwhelmed by the amount of literature to sift through. But don't give up—all you really need to start is the instruction booklet and safety card. After reading the basic instructions, don't get booged down in the multitude of features and options for cooking. For pressure-cooking, you'll likely use the "Manual" setting, so don't bother with all the pre-programmed settings just yet; learn as you go.

02 of 06

Don't be intimidated.

If the idea of a pressure-cooker conjures up images of exploding devices and cooking experiments gone terribly wrong, you should know that this is not your grandmother's appliance. It's hard to mess up the Instant Pot, especially to the point where it becomes dangerous. It visually lets you know when enough pressure has been relieved and it's safe to open the pot: The float valve (the small silver post that pops up when the pot is pressurized) drops back down to be flush with the lid. As long as you wait for that signal, you're safe from exploding appliances.

One safety matter worth noting: If using the "quick release" function (as opposed to "natural release," which is more gradual), be very, very careful to keep your hands and face away from the valve (to avoid being burned by the power and heat of the quick release in pressure). Use quick release when the food you're cooking relies on a specific time to cook properly, such as poached eggs. Feel free to enlist tongs for turning the valve, and wear an oven mitt.

03 of 06

Factor-in preheating and pressure release time.

The cooking time listed in Instant Pot recipes is the time at full temperature and pressure, and doesn't include time for the unit to preheat before the countdown begins, which can take between 5 to 45 minutes, depending on what you're cooking. This means that sometimes you have to let the device preheat for as long as your dish's cook time; which can be annoying, but necessary for the Instant Pot to function properly. During the preheat stage, make sure the steam valve is in the locked, sealed position to ensure pressure is building.

You also need to account for the time on the other end for the pot to release pressure and normalize before you can open it, which can take up to 30 minutes.

RELATED: 6 Genius Ways You Can Use Your Instant Pot for Meal Prep

04 of 06

Adjust your flavor expectations.

When I first got my Instant Pot, I was sure slow-cooking was in my rear mirror for good. After all, why would I choose to take 8 hours to cook a dish versus 1 hour in the pressure cooker? I quickly changed my mind on that, though—and now appreciate Instant Pot's slow-cook setting. The Instant Pot will certainly pressure-cook your chilis and stews more quickly than a slow-cooker or simmering on the stove, but you might miss out on some of that deep flavor that only comes with time.

I use my Instant Pot's pressure cooking setting to make beans, rice, eggs, and a whole chicken for shredding, but I stick to the slow-cook method when I want to let the flavor develop more. Of course, when I inevitably forget to plan ahead, it's incredibly helpful to have the pressure-cook feature to save dinner.

RELATED: A Clear Breakdown of the Differences Between an Instant Pot, Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, and Crock Pot

05 of 06

Use recipes designed for the Instant Pot.

We recommend using recipes especially designed for Instant Pot's pressure-cooker or slow-cooker features to ensure the right ingredient amounts, ratios, and cook times. You can find plenty of recipes online (like this drool-worthy Instant Pot Mac and Cheese), or check out the new Instant Pot app for Android and iOS, which has nearly 1000 recipes designed specifically for your Instant Pot.

06 of 06

Make sure to include liquid.

If you get bold and decide to wing it without a recipe, remember to include at least 1 cup of water or other thin liquid—broth or wine, OK; but not thick sauce like enchilada or BBQ—with whatever you're cooking. That thin liquid combines with heat to create pressure the multi-cooker uses to work its magic.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles