Since publishing and starting to sell my collection of Instant Pot boot camps this year, I’ll often get questions about how to use an Instant Pot. I don’t think it’s any secret that I am obsessed with mine – but yes, there is a learning curve and it can sometimes be difficult to get up and going with your IP because of that. But I’m here to tell you – the Instant Pot is absolutely nothing to be scared of and will quickly turn into your best friend in the kitchen!
A few months ago, I asked my Facebook followers and friends in the Instant Pot community what their biggest questions about the Instant Pot were. I’ve been compiling these questions ever since so I could have one big reference collection of FAQ’s for Instant Pot newbies! While I am no Instant Pot expert by any stretch of the imagination, I do have a year of pretty heavy Instant Pot cooking under my belt and have learned a few things (mostly through my own mistakes) over time.
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Without further ado, these were the biggest questions I got on Facebook:
What the heck does _________________ mean? The question I see the most is about the lingo used for Instant Pot cooking. I’ll admit – it is a little different. I’ve defined a few of the commonly-used terms below!
NPR or NR means natural pressure release. That means, instead of immediately releasing the pressure from your Instant Pot after the cooking time is up, give it about 10-15 minutes to release on its own. Then, flip the nozzle and release the pressure (careful though…that’s pressurized steam coming out!) This is often used for cuts of meat or items that might get tough if the pressure is quickly released.
QR stands for quick release. That means you release the pressure and open the pot as soon as the cooking time is over. I use this one for pasta/rice that might overcook or for soups.
So, you’ll often see instructions that look something like this: manual, high pressure, 15 minutes, NPR. That means you’ll use the manual setting on your pot to put in 15 minutes yourself, then let the pot have a natural pressure release (for about 10 minutes) after the pot beeps when that 10 minute cycle is over.
PIP stands for Pot in Pot cooking. That means you’re cooking two dishes at the same time by stacking a separate pot on top of a trivet in the inner pot.
It’s a great way to cook rice, veggies, or several other different types of side dishes!
Here’s how I do it: insert the trivet that comes with your instant pot, putting the legs on either side of whatever you’re cooking in the bottom of the pot. Then, put your pot in pot dish (I use a cake pan similar to this one and it works great for the recipes I’ve listed) on top of the trivet and add whatever you’re cooking. Seal the lid and cook away! The cook times for the PIP cooking are all included in my meal labels above.
Is it going to blow up? LOL – I thought this question was funny! I’m sure many of you have seen that viral picture going around the internet of an entire kitchen caved in from using a pressure cooker – this isn’t that type of pressure cooker. There are many safeguards in place to ensure you don’t blow up your kitchen using an Instant Pot. Now, I’m not going to say you can’t do it – I’m sure someone out there will eventually find a way. But put it this way – I see what hundreds of thousands of users are doing with their pressure cooker in the Instant Pot Community on Facebook – not one time have I seen someone blow up their Instant Pot because of user error.
Why do I have to do a water test? The water test is the first thing you do with your Instant Pot ensures that it can come to pressure properly. Yes, you need to do it before cooking your first meal to make sure the pot is functioning correctly (because you don’t want to put a bunch of food in it that could go to waste if it malfunctions). It also helps you learn the parts of your Instant Pot.
Here’s how to do it:
- Make sure your silicone sealing ring is tucked inside the metal ring inside your lid. If not, your pot won’t come to pressure.
- Look at the top of your lid. All Instant Pots are a little different; check that the valve is turned towards the back (in the sealing position) and the metal floating valve is down (it will pop up when the pot comes to pressure). Make sure these two valves are not obstructed by anything before proceeding (sometimes they are covered for shipping).
- Make sure your metal inner pot is inside of your Instant Pot. Once you confirm that it is, place two cups of water in the inner pot. I know it sounds silly to even make this a step, but I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen ruin their pots because they put food in without a inner pot!
- Place the lid on your pot and lock in place. If your pot is plugged in, it should beep when you lock the lid on.
- Press the manual button on your Instant Pot. It will come up with a 30 minute indicator the first time…adjust this down to around 5 minutes.
- Now, let the pot do its thing! It will come to pressure in 10-15 minutes and complete the 5-minute “cook” cycle on your water. Once the cook cycle is over and the pot beeps, release the pressure (carefully!) by turning the venting knob forward.
Congratulations, you officially know how to use an Instant Pot!
How do I use all of the accessories that come with it? When you buy an Instant Pot, it normally comes with some sort of combination of the following: a steamer rack/trivet, a condensation collector, two types of spoons (one for soup, one for rice), and measuring cup. I’m going to be honest – I’ve never once used the spoons or the measuring cup. Chances are pretty good that you already have those in your house. The condensation collector isn’t really totally necessary (I forgot to even put it on for months after purchasing and never noticed that it wasn’t there).
But, the trivet it something you will probably use a good bit. I put mine in the bottom of the pot when I’m cooking something that doesn’t need to touch the bottom (or it will scorch), like hard-boiled eggs or potatoes. I also use it for pot-in-pot cooking – that’s what holds my inner pot up (see picture above). It’s also handy when you need to lift food out of the inner pot (just be careful – it’ll be hot!).
What extra accessories (that don’t come with the Instant Pot) do I need? There’s not much that you have to have (that doesn’t come with an Instant Pot)…but there is a lot that makes cooking with it a whole lot easier.
I strongly recommend having some kind of aluminum pan that you can use for pot-in-pot cooking. I have one very similar to this one.
Having an extra inner pot is great for when your original inner pot is dirty or storing leftovers in the fridge. I have just a stainless steel extra inner pot, but there are ceramic non-stick ones available too.
Having some sort of lid for your inner pot is great for yogurt/slow cooking (since you don’t need the pressure locking lid for either of those) or when storing food in the inner pot. Before ordering one – check your pots & pans set to see if one fits your inner pot. If not, this one is great (I have it) and this silicone one works for storing food in the inner pot.
I strongly recommend having an extra sealing ring to use for sweet foods. Food flavors tend to really get into the sealing rings, making future meals you cook with that sealing ring taste funny. So I use one ring for sweet foods (like pies and lava cakes) and one for savory foods. One note – it is recommended that you only use sealing rings made by Instant Pot, as the knock-off ones can void your Instant Pot’s warranty. The one I have linked above is from Instant Pot.
If you’re like me, you’ll quickly develop a whole drawer full of Instant Pot accessories! 🙂
Does the cook time differ for fresh vs. frozen foods? Technically…yes. But, you will set your pot for the same amount of cook time for fresh and frozen foods.
The big difference in the cook time for thawed vs. frozen will be the time that it takes the pot to come to pressure. Because the frozen item in the pot prevents steam from forming and bringing the pot to pressure, your meal will have to thaw out before the pot pressurizes (and the cook time officially begins). Therefore, the pressurizing process adds cook time to your meal when you start from frozen. So, yes…it will take your meal longer to cook (usually by 15-20 minutes) if it is frozen. But you’ll still set your pot for the same amount of cook time whether it’s frozen or not.
Do recipes include time to come to pressure? No. Recipes give you the amount of time you need to set on your Instant Pot (which doesn’t include pressurizing time). It’s hard to pinpoint an across-the-board time it will take meals to come to pressure because different situations will mean different pressurizing times (altitude, climate, size of meal, temperature of meal, etc.)
What should I make for my first meal? There are so many great, easy Instant Pot meals…I could never fit them all in one post! But here are a few of my favorites for newbies:
Pressure Cooker Easy Hard Boiled Eggs from This Old Gal
Kalua Pig from Nom Nom Paleo
Butter Chicken from Two Sleevers
Mac and Cheese from Dad Cooks Dinner
Cilantro Lime Rice from Food Faith Fitness
How long is normal for the Instant Pot to come to pressure? That all depends on the temperature of your food and the size of your meal. I’d say that an average amount of time is 15 minutes; from frozen often takes 20-30 minutes and larger quantities of food can take that long as well. If it’s a tiny amount of liquid (1-2 cups), you can expect the food to come to pressure in less than 10 minutes. Think about how long it takes something to come to a boil on the stove; it’s typically about the same amount of time in the Instant Pot!
How do I know when the pot comes to pressure? Look at the top of your pot – you’ll have two valves that are key to understanding how to use your Instant Pot. The one on the left is your pressure release valve – it looks a little different on every pot, but it should be turned to sealing when you’re trying to get the post to pressure. The one on the right is the floating valve that will indicate when you’re pot has come to pressure. The pressure from the steam in the pot will push this up and lock the pressure into the pot. Shortly thereafter, the countdown timer on your pot should start counting down.
If you ever have steam leaking out of the side of your lid or out of the sealing valve after the countdown has started or the floating valve has popped up, check the seals and locks on your pot and try again! This means there is a leak somewhere.
What setting should I use? Ninety-nine percent of the time, I use a “manual” setting on high pressure (on Ultra models, this is called the “pressure cook” setting). This allows me to set the amount of time I need according to the meal. You will almost always use this setting when cooking something from a recipe in your Instant Pot. I will occasionally use the soup setting or the steam setting (if I’m cooking veggies), and of course I use the yogurt setting when incubating yogurt for a long period of time. The slow cooker setting is great for meals that have a cook time already set for a slow cooking meal. But, when in doubt, use manual.
Is it really worth the money if I already have a slow cooker? Yes, yes, and yes! I have honestly thought about giving my old slow cooker away…this does everything a slow cooker can do and more. There is a slow cooker setting on the Instant Pot, as well as 6 other ones on my cooker (more on upgraded models). It can typically cook a meal meant for a slow cooker in a fraction of the time and can do things (like yogurt) that are difficult to cook in a slow cooker that doesn’t have those temperature functions.
Which Instant Pot should I get? That’s a pretty loaded question. 😉 There are many different models for many different situations…it just kind of depends on the functionality you need and how much food you’ll be cooking at once.
If you’re looking to truly beginner model that has few bells and whistles (and a great price), I’d go with the LUX60 6 quart.
If you think you’ll be making yogurt, go with the DUO60 6 quart. (This is my model and I love it!)
If you’re planning on sanitizing items and/or making baked goods, go with the Plus 60 6 quart.
If you’re wanting on with all of the bells and whistles (including a Bluetooth control), go with the Smart 60.
If you’ll be cooking more food at once, go with the bigger DUO80 8-quart.
If you’re just cooking for 1-2 people (or maybe in a dorm/apartment), go with the Duo Mini.
If you need a pot that allows for very custom programming, including altitude adjustment and the ability to see cooking progress, you’ll need the Ultra.
Can I convert slow cooker recipes to Instant Pot recipes (and vice versa)? Typically, yes! The two most important things when converting from slow cooker to pressure cooker are that a) when putting in the Instant Pot, you must have some kind of liquid to bring the pot to pressure in your recipe (or cook it pot-in-pot) and b) it must fit in the Instant Pot, which means your liner can be no more than 2/3 full.
I wish there was some magic formula I could give you for converting from slow cooker to Instant Pot – there’s not. It’s important to remember that veggies cook incredibly fast (usually in under 8-10 minutes) in the Instant Pot, so if you’re cooking a cut of meat that would normally stew with veggies for a long time in the slow cooker, you might want to add those to your Instant Pot for the last portion of cooking. I also typically don’t like to use dairy when actually cooking in the Instant Pot – just add that after the cycle is over. Here’s a site with a lot more information about converting those recipes.
What can it not do? Not much. 😉 The one area where I’ve really seen that the Instant Pot is limited is in crisping/broiling foods. If you need a crispy crust on something or need a crunch to your food, this isn’t the place to do it. Every once in awhile I’ll find a food that requires a little extra broiling in the oven after the cook time in the Instant Pot is finished. It’s not a big deal (I just pop it in my Toaster Oven normally), but it is something to think about.
It’s also a little bit of a negative that you can’t check your food as you go. Once you set your time and lock on the lid, you won’t see how the recipe is looking until the cycle is completely over. For those of us who often cook by instinct, that can be tough to get used to. Sometimes you just have to trust a recipe!
Can your liquid that you have to cook with be frozen? If you’re just starting out with pressure cooking, you’ll eventually learn that one of the central, most important rules in pressure cooking is that there has to be liquid. Liquid creates steam which pressurizes your cooker. But I had a question about whether or not you can put a block of ice in the IP and expect it to come to pressure…and the answer is yes! The pressurizing process will thaw it out and create steam. Just make sure that, once thawed, your meal will have at least a cup of liquid so the pot will come to pressure! I do that all the time with my boot camp meals.
And fun news for all of those fans of Instant Pot Freezer Cooking – I started a group this week so my boot campers could connect to others and troubleshoot/share ideas! The name of the group is Instant Pot Freezer Meal Community on Facebook – I’d love if you would join!
Who else has a question about their Instant Pot? Comment below with your question and I’ll see if I can come up with an answer!
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