Instant Pot Newbie Tips
Now that you've selected your Instant Pot model, here are a few things you should know before you
start cooking with an electronic pressure cooker. Here they are 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 at 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.
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 at 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)
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).
Recipes typically only specify a Cooking Time, but they may also suggest a Natural Pressure Release
Time and (or) a Quick Pressure Release (QPR) 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. 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 with the maximum
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.
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. 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
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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
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
This web site lists just a few.