Instant Pot Newbie Guide
Now that you've selected your Instant Pot model, the following video from Pressure Luck Cooking is
an excellent short video that will introduce you to the basics of the pressure cooking process in the
Instant Pot, including the “water” (pressure) test; which is the very first thing a new Instant Pot owner
should do to verify the proper operation of their new electronic pressure cooker. Note: this example of
the “water test” uses an older model Instant Pot with a Manual button. As explained below, newer
models don’t have a Manual button, they have a Pressure Cook button.
After performing the water test and verifying that your new Instant Pot is working properly, your next
step should be viewing this short Instant Pot introductory video by Jeffery Eisner from Pressure Luck
Cooking. Jeff’s videos are informative, entertaining, and funny. And his web site is filled with delicious
recipes for people with Instant Pot cooking skills from newbie to advanced.
Another great Pressure Cooking web site with training videos covering almost everything you’ll ever
want to know; from the proper use of your Instant Pot, to making the right choice about the foods you
intend to cook in it. Welcome To The Pressure Cooking School!
Now that you’ve been introduced to the Instant Pot, here are a few things you should know before you
start cooking with you Instant Pot pressure cooker. They are listed in my order of importance.
Before discussing the finer points of using an Instant Pot electronic pressure
cooker, let's take a look at the various models that are available from the Instant
Pot Company. This web page is an excellent reference if you're looking for a buyers
guide to pick the Instant Pot model best suited to your needs.
As a first meal, you can't go wrong making a soup or stew. These are almost impossible to mess up, and
they'll give you confidence using your Instant Pot as you become familiar with it. One of the biggest
mistakes new Instant Pot owners make is starting off trying to make complicated and involved meals
that require some familiarity with electric pressure cooking. Keep it simple to start and work your way
up to the challenges.
As you gain experience with your Instant Pot you should follow recipes from well known trusted web
sites. Here are some of the more popular web sites for tried and true recipes:
When you first open up your Smart, LUX, DUO
or DUO Plus model Instant Pot, you may be
overwhelmed with all the buttons on the front
panel. Instant Pot Ultra models don't have
buttons, but the functions you select from
spinning and pressing the main selector knob
correspond to the Instant Pot cooking functions
accessed via the front panel buttons. This
Amy+Jacky web page gives an excellent
variety of Instant Pot Tips that include an
explanation of what the Instant Pot's front
panel buttons do, and how they interact with
The buttons on these different model IP’s show
how the nomenclature has changed over time.
The older style in the Upper Left is different
from the newer DUO, Smart, and Mini models.
The text in the Lower Right shows the old and
new button names. Many recipes have been
around for years while a tremendous number of
older model Instant Pots were sold, so when you see a recipe that tells you to use the “Manual” button,
this translates into using the “Pressure Cook” button on the newer
models. As shown in the image above-right, the names have also changed
for the “Timer” and “Pressure” buttons. Note: newer models no longer
have an Adjust button. This function is replaced by simply pressing your
program buttons multiple times to scroll through the Less, Normal or More
settings. (IE. Pressing Sauté multiples times allows you to chose the
desired Heat setting of Less, Normal or More heat; and pressing Meat/Stew
multiples times allows you to chose the desired setting for Less, Normal or
More cooking time.) If you’ll be using the Instant Pot’s Slow Cook feature,
be aware the three temperature settings for Less, Normal, and More are the
equivalent of a Slow Cookers temperature settings of Warming, Low Heat, and High Heat respectively.
Note: Instant Pot LUX models DO NOT have a Pressure button. The LUX is the Instant Pot company’s
entry level pressure cooker that is High Pressure only; it can not be set to Low Pressure. It also lacks the
Yogurt function found on the other Instant Pot models. However, the procedure described at this web
site will allow you to make Yogurt in your LUX Instant Pot.
When you see an Electric Pressure Cooker recipe that gives a cooking time, this is NOT the total amount
of time it will take to cook your food. There are actually THREE time periods to be aware of. There’s:
(A) Come to Pressure Time.
(B) Actual Cooking Time.
(C) Natural Pressure Release Time (NPR or NR).
Recipes typically only specify a Cooking Time, but they may also suggest a Natural Pressure Release
Time and (or) a Quick Pressure Release (QPR or QR) where you manually open the Sealing/Venting
The “Come to Pressure Time” (A) varies and is dependent on the amount of food and liquid in the pot
and the initial temperature of the food and liquid. This can vary from 10 to 30+ minutes after you seal
the Pressure Release valve and start your cooking program. A cup of water used to steam vegetables
would only take a few minutes to come to pressure; but a pot full of frozen meat, broth, and vegetables
could take 30 minutes or more. If you’ll be cooking frozen meat, there are special considerations to be
aware of. If you'll be cooking with the maximum recommended amount of liquid in the pot, and/or
you'll have frozen food in the pot along with the liquid, here's a tip that will speed up cooking in your
Instant Pot. Press the Sauté Mode button then press Adjust, or press Saute multiple times depending
on your model, for “More” heat. Wait until you see the liquid in the pot start to boil, then press “Cancel”
or “Keep Warm/Cancel”, and proceed with your normal cooking program. Using Sauté Mode to pre-heat
the contents of the pot can save several minutes of overall cooking time to prepare your meal. Also,
always assume that a recipe is calling for the use of High Pressure. Low Pressure is rarely ever used, and
will be specifically mentioned if needed. Lastly, if you live at higher altitudes you need to make
adjustments to the cooking time given in your recipes. The cooking guide shows the normal cooking
time for various types of food, along with the adjustments needed for high altitude pressure cooking.
When you close and seal the lid, and press Manual or Pressure Cook, this is what happens:
First, the liquid in the pot is boiled to make steam. The steam escapes through the pop-up float valve, and when the volume of
steam passing through the valve becomes great enough, the float valve pops-up (closes) and the pot starts to build up
pressure. Different model Instant Pots have float valves that are either flush with the lid, or raised above the lid when closed.
When sufficient pressure is reached inside the pot, the cooking time (B) starts and the front panel display switches from
showing “On”, to showing the Cook Time that you programmed in minutes. During the Cooking Time the IP display counts down
until it reaches "0" then the display switches to show either "L0:00" or "00:00" depending on your model. At this point
cooking is complete and you start the last time period (C), the “Natural Pressure Release” time (NPR).
When "L0:00" or "00:00" is displayed, the IP switches from Cooking Mode to Warming Mode and the timer starts counting back
up showing the number of minutes that have elapsed since cooking has finished. Note, on newer models Warming Mode can
be turned On/Off if you so choose. During the post cooking time period (Natural Pressure Release time) you are letting the
Instant Pot sit so it can naturally reduce its internal steam pressure without opening the Sealing/Venting valve. Some recipes
require an NPR time, others do not. If a recipe says to perform a Natural Pressure Release, this means you let the pot sit
undisturbed until its internal pressure is lowered to the point where the float valve drops open on it own. If a recipe says to
perform a 15 minute Natural Pressure Release, this means you should let the Instant Pot sit for 15 minutes undisturbed after
cooking finishes and Warming mode starts, then perform a QPR by opening the Sealing/Venting valve to manually release any
remaining pressure. If you are cooking meat, it’s always a good idea to have at least a 15 to 20 minute NPR time. Note: one
of the Instant Pots safety feature prevents you from opening the lid while the float valve is still closed (popped-up).
Recipes that fill the pot with liquid, or contain thick or starchy food, usually specify a minimum NPR time of 15 minutes, and
sometimes require a full Natural Pressure Release. Thick or starchy foods can, in rare
occasions, pose an eruption hazard if pressure is released too quickly. When cooking
something thick such as oatmeal, applesauce, pasta and split peas/lentils, you
should give the Instant Pot base unit a shake before opening the lid. Refer
this website for further details. When the NPR time has elapsed, turn
the Sealing/Venting valve to the Venting position to release pressure.
you are cooking meat, it’s always a good idea to have at least a 15 to 20
minute NPR time. Releasing pressure in a pot too soon that’s nearly full
contains thick or starchy liquids could result in an eruption of the contents
spurting out from the Sealing/Venting valve.
Become familiar with the terms Natural Pressure Release (NPR),
and Quick Pressure Release (QPR). This is what determines the
amount of time it takes for time (c) above to finish. A QPR means
you turn the Sealing/Venting valve to the Venting position even though
there may still be steam pressure in the pot. A NPR means you should let
the Instant Pot release its pressure naturally, without touching the
Sealing/Venting valve to bleed off pressure; eventually the pop-up float valve will drop
on its own. Some recipes will specify either a QPR, or NPR with a limited time period, or a
combination of both. If a NPR time is given, then let the IP sit untouched for the amount of time
specified in the recipe after cooking has finished, then manually open the Sealing/Venting valve to
release pressure. You can't open the pot's lid until the silver pop-up valve (red on the 8 qt. model)
opens (drops down) on its own. Some recipes may cause foaming or spitting liquid if pressure is
released too quickly; in these cases a longer NPR time is recommended before doing a QPR. This web
site explains what many Instant Pot abbreviations mean.
Some recipes may specify sequential cooking times. Items that take longer to cook in a Pressure Cooker
like dried beans, could be cooked in the same pot with other items that take far less cooking time like
meat or fish, if the cooking process is broken up into multiple steps. An example of this might be to
cook the dried beans for 45 minutes, then perform a NPR or QPR, open the lid, add the fish or meat, and
program the pot to continue cooking for another few minutes.
Remember that a pressure cooker only cooks with steam that comes from boiling liquid. In general,
everything you cook must contain at the very minimum a cup of thin liquid, such as water, or broth. You
can’t dump a jar of thick sauce in a pressure cooker and expect it to cook. It has to turn liquid into
steam. This is a major cause of problems when people find their pressure cooker isn’t coming up to
pressure because they tried to cook something like a very thick chili or sauce that didn’t have enough
liquid water to create enough steam pressure. If this happens, all you can do is either use the Sauté
mode, or the Slow Cooker mode to finish your meal.
Another problem that some people experience is their food comes out undercooked or dry. Generally,
this can happen if there isn’t enough liquid placed in the pot before cooking starts, or you are cooking
something like pasta that's absorbed much of the liquid in the pot as it cooks, leaving insufficient liquid
to maintain sufficient steam pressure. A half pound of Pasta can absorb 2 cups of liquid while it’s
cooking. If the pot doesn’t have enough liquid to create steam and hydrate the items in the pot like
pasta, your food will not cook thoroughly; especially if you are using a long timer setting, or cooking
something large and dense like a frozen turkey breast or roast. Other causes for roasts or chops being
dry after cooking are (1) Failure to sear the meat which helps lock in juices. (2) Cooking very lean meat
that has a low fat content to begin with. (3) Selecting an overly long cooking time. (4) Cooking very thin
cuts of meat that quickly cook though, causing the loss of meat juices. This web page is an excellent
reference for diagnosing problems with meat being over or under cooked.
Once all of the above is understood and you perform the initial pressure (water) test to verify that your
Instant Pot (not "INSTA-POT") is working properly you'll be exposed to your first QPR. This can be
somewhat frightening to a person who’s never been around a Pressure Cooker, or is old enough to have
been on a train platform during the age of steam engines. At first the instinct for self-preservation kicks
in and you’ll naturally reach for a long stick to open the Sealing/Venting valve to release the steam.
After a few sessions with the IP you’ll become comfortable and be able to open the valve with your LEFT
hand without any fear. I say to use your LEFT hand because if you’re looking at the front of the pot
facing the digital display, the handle on the Sealing/Venting knob is on the left. DO NOT EVER have any
part of your body above the Sealing/Venting valve when you perform a QPR. By using your LEFT hand to
turn the valve knob, your hand will be beside the knob instead of above it.
When your food is cooked and
you've finished the Quick Release of
pressure, you're ready to open the
lid. Turn the lid counter-clockwise
unlocking it, then lift and tip it up
so the back edge of the lid is lifted
up before the front edge. This lets
any remaining steam escape from
the pot at the back, away from you.
Now that you have the lid in your
hand what do you do with it? If you
look closely at the lid you'll see that
those little tabs on each side fit perfectly into the slots on each side handle on the pot body. The IP
comes with a built-in lid holder. This is a great way to store your lid when the pot isn't in use because It
lets air circulate into the pot and around the lid to help remove
odors. By the way, the easiest way to clean your Instant Pot lid is to
place it in the upper rack of your dishwasher, handle side up. You
can also pull off the Sealing/Venting valve knob and place it in the
silverware basket for cleaning.
Lastly, you’ll hear people use the term “PIP”, meaning “Pot-In-Pot”
cooking in the Instant Pot. This cooking method is used when you
want to prepare a recipe that doesn’t include enough liquid to make
sufficient steam to build up pressure. What you do is use the Trivet
that came with the Instant Pot; add about a cup and a half of water
to the bottom of your pot (this is what will make the stream to
pressurize the pot and cook your food), and place your uncooked
food into an oven proof cooking pot that will fit inside the Instant
Pot liner. Typically people either
use a tall enough Steaming Rack
under the cooking pot to bring it near the top of the liner, or fashion a
sling out of Aluminum Foil placed under the cooking pot, allowing it
to be lowered into the main pot and later used to lift it out. People
use the PIP method to cook cakes, bread, egg bites, cheesecake, and
FYI, the 3 qt. Instant Pot liner makes an excellent pot for use in PIP
cooking. It easily fits inside both the 6 and 8 qt. IP DUO models. And it
comes in a non-stick version.
As you become more familiar and comfortable using your Instant Pot
you'll discover that you can make all kinds of things in it using the Pot-In-
Pot cooking method. There are literally dozens of cooking pot
accessories you can purchase.
When looking for accessories to fit
inside you Instant Pot Inner Liner
just keep these dimensions in
mind when ordering your
accessories. Remember, the pot is
tapered at the bottom and looses
about ¼” in width.
This web site lists just a few.
When you talk with other Instant Pot
owners you’ll need to know the names of
the parts that you’ll be talking about. The
most common topic of conversation is the
Lid and its related parts. Here’s a drawing
that shows the Instant Pot parts and their
names. Note: The Lid’s Blocking Shield
(sometimes called the anti-foaming shield)
is the older style that covered both the
Steam Release vent and the Pop-up Float
Valve. The newer model shields only cover
the Float Valve. Click on the drawing
below for an expanded view.
Troubleshooting Pressure Problems
Problems with your Instant Pot not coming to pressure generally fall into one of the following categories:
Problems with the components inside the lid.
Failure to properly install and/or close the Steam Release knob.
Obstructions that prevent the lid from making a tight seal against the inner pot.
Failure to produce enough steam to pressurize the pot.
Mechanical or Electrical failures preventing the pot from operating correctly.
When trying to diagnose a pressurization problem, always start from the beginning and perform the water
test. This eliminates the possibility that the the food being cooked is the source of the problem. If the
water test works, then it’s not your Instant Pot that’s at fault.
Lid Component Problems
Problem: This includes a missing, dirty, or improperly installed Sealing Ring, Float Valve, or Silicon Float
Valve Gasket. A clean Sealing Ring must be
firmly pressed into place so the track (grove) in
the gasket completely encases the circular
mounting rack that’s located under the lid.
Solution: Verify the Float Valve & gasket, and
the clean Sealing Ring are installed properly
and that the lid closes and locks into place.
This video gives a clear description of removing
and reinstalling the Float Valve & gasket and
Sealing Ring. Note: this video shows the lid of
an Instant Pot Ultra, but the principle is the
same for all other model Instant Pots.
Steam Release Valve Problems
Problem: If you’ve removed the steam release knob for cleaning, failure to reinstall the knob properly, or to
fully close the Sealing/Venting (pressure release) valve can be the cause of the Instant Pot not coming to
Solution: When the Pressure Release Knob is removed for cleaning it must be firmly pushed down on the
steam exhaust stem so it “snaps” into place; then turned 1/4 turn clockwise to the Sealing position before
cooking (non Ultra Models). The Steam Release Knob is a calibrated weight that sits on top of the steam
release exhaust vent. If food debris or other foreign matter should become lodged in the vent, it could
prevent the knob from seating properly over the exhaust vent stem, and prevent the pot from coming to
pressure. I recommend you clean your Instant Pot lid in the dishwasher, every few times you use it. Do this
by removing the Sealing Ring, Pressure Release Knob, and Anti Blocking Shield and place them in the
silverware basket. Then place your lid and Sealing Ring in the upper rack with the handle facing up.
Obstructions that prevent Sealing in pressure
Problem: Sometimes when you’re putting food into the Instant Pot, large leafy vegetables like Spinach or
Cabbage can have a leaf that isn’t fully pushed down into the pot. Food items that drape over the lip of the
inner pot can prevent the lid from making a tight pressure seal. Even small food debris like spices or herbs
stuck in a wet spot on the lip of the inner pot can prevent the pot from coming to pressure.
Solution: If a leaf is left draping over the lip of the inner pot, this can prevent the sealing ring from making a
tight seal and could cause a pressurization failure. Make sure all the ingredients are completely enclosed in
the inner pot. As a final step before placing the lid on your pot, use a damp cloth to wipe the lip of the inner
pot to remove any food debris that might prevent the lid from making a tight seal against the inner pot.
Failure to produce enough steam
Problem: As mentioned earlier, a pressure cooker only cooks with steam that comes from boiling liquid. If
the liquid content in the pot is too thick to boil off water, your pot will not pressurize and chances are good
your food will dry out and burn before being cooked. Well though out Instant Pot recipes will take into
consideration the amount and types of food being cooked. Some recipes will require one or more cups of
thin liquid; while others may require as little as ¼ cup of water. The need for extra liquid in a recipe takes
into account the type and amount of food being cooked, combined with the need to add liquid water for the
purpose of creating steam. Some Vegetables and Meat release water while they cook. Adding too much
extra liquid at the start could produce an overly thin broth. For recipes like this, a balance is made between
the need to add extra liquid at the start to build up steam pressure, and the water released into the pot by
the ingredients being cooked. Too little liquid at the start, or too little liquid released by the ingredients as
they heat up, could result in not enough liquid to create steam, and failure to pressurize.
Failure to pressurize can also happen if you have something in the pot that has stuck or burned to the
bottom while the pot is trying to build up pressure. Food stuck to the bottom acts as a thermal insulator
preventing heat from boiling the liquid into steam. Older Instant Pot models will fail to come to pressure,
time out, and start the cooking cycle in WARMING mode without ever coming to pressure. Newer Instant
Pots will display the word “Burn” or "burn" on the front panel to indicate the Instant Pot’s computer
detected a problem heating the pot. For additional information on what the Burn message means, visit the
Paint The Kitchen Red web site.
Solution: The best way to prevent pressurization problems caused by the ingredients being cooked, is to
follow tried and true recipes and follow them precisely. Don’t try cooking extremely thick sauces without
sufficient liquid to build up and maintain steam pressure. When sautéing meat in the Instant Pot make
sure when you’re done cooking, the pot is deglazed before starting the pressure cooking cycle. And
whenever possible, try to keep easily scorched items from coming in direct contact with the bottom of the
cooking pot. Place your large pieces of meat or fish on top of any vegetables you may also be cooking in the
pot. The space between vegetables allows your cooking liquid to be in direct contact with the bottom of the
pot, insulating the meat from being burned.
If you are using the Instant Pots “Steam” selection, in general you should also be using the supplied Trivet to
keep you food off the bottom of the pot. The Steam function heats the pot to a higher temperature than the
Manual or Preset buttons. Cooking with the Steam button could scorch your food if not used with the Trivet.
For additional information on pressurization problems, please visit this web site that discusses all types of
pressurization and sealing problems.
Mechanical or Electrical Failures, or Worn out Instant Pot components
Problem: Of all the types of problems than can
prevent the Instant Pot from pressurizing,
mechanical or electrical failures are the one
type that can’t be overcome by simple
adjustments. A breakdown of one of the pots
electrical sensors or electronic circuits is a
critical failure and the Instant Pot must be
professionally repaired or replaced. Parts like
the Sealing Ring and Float Valve gasket
experience normal wear and tear and have to
be replaced periodically. Replacement parts
can be obtained directly from the Instant Pot
company or from third party parts vendors like
Amazon. In some cases the Instant Pot can detect a defective component and display an error message on
the front display panel. This web site lists some of the known defects and error codes the Instant Pot can
Solution: A type of pressurization problem that recently appeared is where the Instant Pot comes to
pressure and seems to be working normally, but then steam begins to escape through the Pressure Release
knob shortly after the control panel display switches from “On” to showing the cooking cycle countdown
time. This video shows an example of the problem.
The test is started with 2 cups of water, Steam Mode, High Pressure, for 3 minutes. When the pot builds up
enough steam the float valve closes, and the pot starts coming to pressure. Eventually pressure is reached
and the display switches from "On" to "3". At this point an on-screen timer shows that less than 30 seconds
later the pressure release safety valve is tripped and steam starts escaping from the Pressure Release knob.
This is an indication of a mechanical or electrical failure in the pots pressure sensor. The pots computer
isn’t being informed that operating pressure has been reached so power can be switched off to the pots
heating element. Instead, heat is still being continuously applied until the maximum safe operating
pressure has been reached, and the safety valve opens bleeding off steam pressure. This problem was