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How to Use an Instant Pot®

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There’s a new appliance in town—or should we say appliances? The Instant Pot® is the ultimate workhorse in the kitchen combining a few of our must-have kitchen tools like the pressure cooker and slow cooker into one brilliant gadget. We’re here to take the intimidation out of using your new appliance with the tips, tricks and recipes to make you a total Instant Pot pro. MORE+ LESS-
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If you’re new to the Instant Pot or even a newbie in the kitchen, brace yourself: This tool is a total game changer. The multicooker, no matter what model you have, will forever change the way you cook your favorite recipes. Here’s everything you need to know to master your new secret weapon in the kitchen.

What is an Instant Pot

If you’re unfamiliar with this genius kitchen tool, you’re not alone—many people either have misconceptions about what an Instant Pot is or are intimidated by how to use it. The Instant Pot is a multi-use, programmable cooker that features the functions and capabilities of other kitchen tools like a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice/porridge cooker, cake maker, yogurt maker, steamer, warmer and sterilizer. It also has sautéing and searing capabilities.

Of course, the various capabilities and features differ by model type. The Instant Pot is available as small as three quarts and as large as eight. The Lux® series has four different 6-in-1 models within it varying in size from three to eight quarts. The Duo® series features 7-in-1 models. Most notably, it has the yogurt making function. The Duo Plus® and Duo Ultra® feature 9-in-1 and 10-in-1 capabilities, respectively. Finally, the Smart Instant Pot® is Bluetooth®-enabled so you can run and monitor cooking from your smart phone or tablet. You can find a product comparison chart on the Instant Pot website so you can find the model and size that’s the right fit for you.

We’ll walk you through the basic individual functions so you can learn how to get the most out of your new appliance.

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Pressure Cooker

Arguably the most popular function of the Instant Pot, a pressure cooker is an appliance that boils liquid inside a sealed pot. This causes the internal pressure and temperature to increase, cooking foods very quickly. It’s a popular device for cooking meats like pork shoulder that would otherwise take all day to cook.

Slow Cooker

The Instant Pot also has a slow cooker function. If you’re not familiar with the slow cooker, it’s an electric appliance that simmers food at a low temperature so that you can leave it plugged in and unattended for hours. It’s useful for busy people who don’t have time to stand over the stove or wait around for the oven. The slow cooker can make a variety of dishes including (but not limited to) soups, pork chops, pot roast, chicken and even some desserts like cakes and cobblers.

Rice and Beans

You can cook both beans and rice in the Instant Pot, too. This is especially beneficial if you’re making these foods for a big potluck crowd. Plus, it eliminates the need to soak the beans or stand over the stove waiting for water to boil.

Yogurt

Yes, even some models of the Instant Pot can make homemade yogurt! The user manual for models that have the yogurt function has instructions for how to make yogurt, starting with milk. There is a specific “YOGURT” button on the Instant Pot that you will use.

Steam

You can also use your Instant Pot as a steamer. Normally, to steam foods such as broccoli or other vegetables, you would need a stove, a steamer basket and a pot. The Instant Pot eliminates the need for those items, making steaming your veggies super easy!

Sauteing and Searing

Need to sear or cook meat before cooking it in the pressure cooker or slow cooker? You don’t even need to turn on the stove. The Instant Pot can do it for you!

Warming

If you need to keep your food warm at a party or family dinner, you can also use the warming function with some models of the Instant Pot.

As we mentioned above, some newer models of the Instant Pot even have a cake making function. This is meant for really moist cakes like cheesecake or even certain banana bread recipes. Instant Pot is constantly making updates to their products and adding innovative functions, so check their website to see which product is the right one for your cooking and baking needs.

How To Use an Instant Pot

First and foremost, before you use your Instant Pot for the first time, make sure you take the time to read the user manual to familiarize yourself with the parts and how it operates. You may also want to see the section titled “Instant Pot Water Test” before you begin. The water test will demonstrate how the pressure works. Once you’ve done that, be sure to read your recipe from start to finish before you start cooking.

Instant Pot Parts

Knowing the parts of your Instant Pot is essential to understanding how your new device works. Read the user manual before assembling or using your Instant Pot. Different models have different capabilities and accessories, but most, if not all, include the main unit, a stainless steel cooking pot, a steamer rack, a sealing ring, glass lid, the lid to the main unit with a pressure and steam valve and a condensation collector.

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Sealing Ring

This is the silicone ring that helps seal steam inside of the pot. The sealing ring is replaceable—if yours tears or breaks, you can buy a new one on the Instant Pot website or other sites like Amazon. It can be removed for easy cleanup, too and can even be washed in the dishwasher!

Inner Pot

The inner pot is the part of the Instant Pot that you cook the food in, and it’s removable, which makes for easy cleaning!

Outer Pot

This is the outer part of the Instant Pot. It’s the part of the Instant Pot that heats up and hosts the control pad on the outside. The inner pot is placed inside—don’t cook anything in the Instant Pot without inserting the inner cooking pot first!

Steam Rack

The steam rack can be placed directly into the pot for when recipes call for the food not to be completely submerged in liquid.

Steam Release Handle

The steam release handle controls whether the Instant Pot releases steam naturally (which means you don’t have to do anything) or the manual, quick-pressure release, which the user flips to quickly stop the cooking process.

Manual

We mentioned this before, and we’ll say it again: Make sure you read your Instant Pot manual before your start cooking. The Instant Pot is an awesome device, but at times not completely intuitive. It may take some practice to get the hang of things! But if you’re armed with the manual and this article, you are well on your way to becoming a pro.

Extras

There are additional optional accessories that you can purchase as you begin to get comfortable with your appliance. The inner cooking pot that comes with the Instant Pot can be swapped out for a non-stick ceramic pot that’s easy to clean. If you’re using your Instant Pot regularly, it’s beneficial to have two inner pots to use. It’s also a good idea to purchase an extra sealing ring or two as this particular part tends to absorb odors and needs frequent washing. Another popular item that helps with Instant Pot cooking is a glass lid that fits over the inner pot. The glass lid will allow you to see what’s happening when you use the “Saute,” “Keep Warm” or “Slow Cooker” functions.

The items mentioned above are the most popular accessories, but you can also purchase novelty items like a steam rack with handles, yogurt cups, cake pans and loaf pans.

Manual vs. Natural Release

There are two techniques to release pressure in your Instant Pot when the cooking time is over. The natural release will slowly release pressure without you having to do anything. The natural release causes less friction and motion in the pot and is good for cooking foods with a high liquid or starch content, like soup. The process can take anywhere from five to 10 minutes.

Alternatively, the manual release, also called quick pressure release, will release pressure in one to two minutes which quickly stops the cooking process. This is useful for quick-cooking foods like vegetables or tender seafood. To trigger the manual release, you will turn the switch located on the top of the appliance from sealing to venting.

When you manually flip the switch, steam will rapidly exit the appliance so do not stand over your pot and keep your face away from the steam. You can also flip the switch using a wooden spoon so you can keep your distance. When the pressure is released, the floating valve will drop and you will be able to open the lid. The floating valve is the silver dot located to the right of the switch. The lid will not open until the pressure is fully released.

Instant Pot Water Test

So you just took your Instant Pot out of the box and you can’t wait to put it to good use—we don’t blame you! But before you start experimenting with your favorite recipes, you should conduct what’s called an Instant Pot water test so you can familiarize yourself with how the pressure works.

Step 1: First, place the pot inside of the heating element making sure that nothing is in between the two.

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Step 2: Next, pour three cups of water in the pot and close and lock the lid.

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Step 3: Press the “Steam” button on the front of the Instant Pot and set the pressure level to 2. The device will beep once it is ready. If you want the Instant Pot to release pressure naturally, simply wait until the valve drops down. If you’d like to use the quick-release function, flip the switch from sealing to venting until the valve drops.

What to Cook in an Instant Pot

Similar to your slow cooker, there are endless possibilities of what you can cook in your Instant Pot because there are quite a few functions within the device. The major benefit is that you can speed up the cooking process and have dinner ready in, well, an instant. But you can also use the slow cooker function, the steam or saute function or with some models, the rice and yogurt function.

The electric pressure cooker is the key function that can accelerate cooking time and it’s likely the function you’ll use most often.

Meats like poultry, beef and pork work well as does braised meat or tougher cuts of meat. Beans, potatoes and vegetables also work well since they can be steamed, braised or stewed. Soup is also an excellent candidate for your multicooker, whether you choose to use the pressure cooker for a quick soup or the slow cooker for a set-it-and-forget it soup.

As functional and diverse as the multicooker is, there are a few foods that do not do well and should be left to other cooking methods. Foods that have a crispy or browned exterior, meats that you prefer to eat rare and easily overcooked seafood. Then there are foods that you could cook in the Instant Pot, but there really isn’t a benefit to doing so versus the alternative. Foods like, cakes (unless it’s a custard-based dessert or cheesecake!) and some sauteed vegetables are better off being cooked in the oven or the stove since it doesn’t save you any time to make them in your multicooker.

If you’re wondering where to start or what to cook in an Instant Pot, give this super easy recipe for honey teriyaki chicken a try!

What you need:

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 chicken thighs
  • 1 green onion, sliced
  • Sesame seeds (optional)
  • ½ cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • ¼ teaspoon black peppe
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch

Step 1:  Combine teriyaki sauce ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside.

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Step 2: Heat the Instant Pot in sauté mode. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and brown the chicken, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.

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Step 3: Add the teriyaki sauce, cover and lock the lid. Cook in poultry mode for 20 minutes. Turn off the pot and allow it to release pressure naturally (do not flip the valve) for about 5 minutes.

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Step 4: Sprinkle with green onions and sesame seeds, if desired.

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Ready to try some more Instant Pot recipes? We have a whole bunch of kitchen-tested recipes for you to choose from.

How to Clean an Instant Pot

Proper cleanup and regular maintenance is the key to any longlasting appliance and your Instant Pot is no different. Before you give your Instant Pot a wipedown or a thorough cleaning, make sure that it is unplugged from the electrical outlet. Then remove the lid and inner pot from the main unit; using a damp cloth, wipe down the exterior of the appliance to remove any residue. Remember, the main unit of your Instant Pot has electrical parts in it so you should never submerge it in water or put it in the dishwasher.

Once you’ve wiped down the exterior of the appliance, use a small brush or Q-tip to get in any crevices where food debris may be hiding. Then you can move on to washing the lid with warm, soapy water. You don’t have to do this every time—usually you can just wipe down the lid with a dry cloth since it will likely only have condensation on it.

To wash the inner pot and steam rack, you can also do this with warm, soapy water. Both of these parts can be washed in the dishwasher as well.

Those steps should be taken each time you use your Instant Pot, but you should also conduct a more thorough cleaning and inspectation regularly to ensure the longevity and efficiency of your appliance. Periodically, you should remove the steam-release handle (not the steam valve—the steam valve should not be removed), the anti-block shield, the float valve and the sealing ring. Check for food debris, wipe down the individual parts and securely reattach the pieces to the appliance.

Be sure to inspect each part on a regular basis, especially the silicone sealing ring. The sealing ring is an important safety measure during pressure cooking so you should inspect to make sure there isn’t any cracking or leaking. The sealing ring can also be put into the dishwasher but be sure to place it on the top rack if you choose to do so.

If any of your Instant Pot parts become unusable, the Instant Pot website has an online store where you can order replacement parts individually.

FAQs

When using the pressure cooker function, how long does it take for the Instant Pot to get up to pressure?
Though it may take pork chops only a few minutes to actually cook in the pressure cooker, you need to remember that the Instant Pot needs time to get up to pressure depending on what dish you’re making, and time to come down before you can open the lid. It can take a few minutes or more for the Instant Pot to pressurize. It can take between 10 and 30 minutes for the Instant Pot to come down naturally, and it’s usually under two minutes using manual release.

Can I use recipes for stovetop pressure cookers for the Instant Pot, too?
Instant Pots and traditional pressure cookers have a different PSI (amount of pressure) for high and low, so Instant Pot and traditional stovetop pressure-cooking recipes are not interchangeable.

Is the Instant Pot safe to use?
The Instant Pot has a number of features that make it safer to use than older stovetop pressure cooker models. The anti-block shield keeps liquids from shooting out the top of the lid when releasing pressure manually. Just make sure you check and clean it after cooking to make sure it’s not blocked. The lid locking pin also locks to prevent you from opening the pot under pressure.

Can I use recipes for the Instant Pot for other multicookers produced by other brands?
We exclusively tested our recipes using 6-quart Instant Pot products, and would not recommend using these recipes for other countertop multicookers made by different brands. These products are constantly evolving, and results could vary.

Want to use your slow cooker tonight? We have the recipes you need to get started.


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