Instant Pot Newbie Guide
Now that you've selected your Instant Pot model, the following video from PressureLuckCooking 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. 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 Pessure 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.
1. 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 each other. 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 since 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.   (i.e. Pressing Saute 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.) 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. 2. 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 valve. 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 happenes: First, the liquid in the pot is boiled to make steam. The steam escapes through the popup 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 erruption 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 to this website for further details.   When the NPR time has elapsed, turn the Sealing/Venting valve to the Venting position to release pressure.   If 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 or contains thick or starchy liquids  could result in an erruption of the contents spurting out from the Sealing/Venting valve.  3. 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 popup 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 popup 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. 4. Remember that a pressure cooker only cooks with steam that comes from boiling liquid. 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.    This web site discusses the many problems that can Prevent your Instant Pot from coming to pressure. Failure to pressurize can also happen if you have something in the pot that has stuck or burned to the bottom of the pot.   Food stuck to the bottom acts as a thermal insulator preventing heat from boiling the liquid into steam.   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 a detailed description of what the Burn message means, visit the Paint The Kitchen Red web site.  When sautéing meat in the Instant Pot make sure when you’re done cooking, the pot is deglazed before starting the pressure cooking cycle.    This is another potential source of getting the "burn" message.   And whenever possible, try to keep easily scorched items from coming in direct contact with the bottom of the cooking pot.   Wwhen possible 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. One other complaint that some people experience is that 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 liuid 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. 5. 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. 6. 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. 7. 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. 8. 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 the like. 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 insided 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 Popup Float Valve.   The newer model shields only cover the Float Valve.    Click on the drawing below for an expanded view.