Now that you've selected your Instant Pot model, the very first thing every new Instant Pot owner should do is verify the proper operation of their new electronic pressure cooker by performing the water (pressure) test.  The water test insures that your Instant Pot can make steam, then build up and hold the proper level of pressure for a specified amount of time.   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 your 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.   If you already have an Instant Pot continue reading below.
1. 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 many new Instant Pot owners make is starting off trying to prepare complicated and involved meals that require some level of skill and familiarity with electronic pressure cooking.   Keep it simple to start, and work your way up to the challenges.    2. As you gain experience with your Instant Pot you should follow recipes from well known trusted web sites or cookbooks.   Here are some of the more popular web sites for tried and true recipes: https://pressureluckcooking.com/ https://www.adventuresofanurse.com/ https://thisoldgal.com/ https://www.pressurecookrecipes.com/ https://www.hippressurecooking.com/ https://encouragingmomsathome.com/100-best-kid-friendly-recipes-for-instant-pot-all-kid-approved/ https://encouragingmomsathome.com/100-best-instant-pot-recipes-soups-stews/ https://www.simplyhappyfoodie.com/ https://instantpot.com/top-10-unexpected-ways-to-use-your-instant-pot/ https://encouragingmomsathome.com/100-best-instant-pot-thanksgiving-recipes/ https://thebellyrulesthemind.net/how-to-make-perfect-instant-pot-rice/ 3. 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 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: The regular Pressure Lid works just fine for Slow Cooking, just make sure you set the Pressure Release valve to the Venting position. The Instant Pot also provides the ability to cook food through Steaming.    Steaming is another form of Pressure Cooking, so you close and lock the lid and set the Pressure Release knob just as you would when pressure cooking your food.    The difference between Steaming and Pressure Cooking is that the Instant Pot heats the bottom of the pot to a higher temperature when steaming.   So, when you use Steam mode, you should place your food on the trivet that comes with the Instant Pot to prevent it from being burned. Note: Instant Pot LUX models DO NOT have a Pressure button.   The LUX is the Instant Pot company’s entry level pressure cooker that cooks with 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. 4. Techniques used when cooking on a stove top don’t always apply when pressure cooking. a.  Thickening - In the traditional method, people add some flour and butter right after caramelizing onions to give a soup a nice body.  Unfortunately, thickening with flour,  starch, puree or flakes before pressure cooking will “solidify” most of the liquid that needs to boil and make vapor to reach pressure.   This could result in displaying the Burn message, the pressure cooker not reaching pressure at all, or if it does, spurting thick liquid instead of vapor when pressure is released.    Add thickeners after cooking is finished and the lid is opened. b. Flavoring with Wine or Liquor – In the traditional method, you might add 1 cup of wine to boil, simmer and eventually evaporate it’s liquid in a soup.   Unfortunately, wine and liquor will not evaporate while boiling under pressure. The wine will remain as fully flavored and tangy as  when it was first added, dominating the flavor and leaving an unpleasant effect.   Instead,  reduce the quantity of wine and fully evaporate it before pressure cooking. c. The use of Milk or Cream - In the traditional method, you would add your milk or cream as part of the cooking process.   Unfortunately Milk, Cream and Cheeses don’t do well in the super-heated environment inside your pressure cooker – they can scorch or curdle.   Wait until after pressure cooking is finished to add them. A few extra minutes of simmering after you pop off the lid are enough to infuse their flavor and creaminess into the food. 5. 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), or Timed Natural Pressure Release.  Recipes typically only specify a Cooking Time, but they may also suggest a Natural Pressure Release or a Timed NPR, and (or) a Quick Pressure Release (QPR or QR), sometimes called a Normal Pressure Release, where you manually open the Sealing/Venting Pressure Release 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 Sauté 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 (Normal Release) 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 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 eruption 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 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 Instant Pot abbreviations and terminology. 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.   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 overcooked, undercooked or dry.  Generally, this can happen if cooking time is wrong for the contents, or 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.  This web page has suggested cooking times for various types of food, along with information about the proper type of pressure release technique to use, and corrections for food that are frozen or being cooked at high altitudes.    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 time 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.  (5) Releasing pressure too quickly after the meat has been cooked.  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. 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. 7. 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 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: 1. Problems with the components inside the lid. 2. Failure to properly install and/or close the Steam Release knob. 3. Obstructions that prevent the lid from making a tight seal against the inner pot. 4. Failure to produce enough steam to pressurize the pot. 5. 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 pressure. 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 this Amy + Jacky 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 display. 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 solved by filing a support ticket with Instant Pot where they eventually replaced the 8 qt. DUO for free.
Instant Pot Newbie Guide