The Instant Pot is an appliance that is incredibly popular and has so many useful functions. This post is for Instant Pot Beginners, explaining how it works and its many features. You’ll also find helpful tips, troubleshooting advice and easy recipes to try.
One of the kitchen appliances that has become a huge phenomenon since its introduction is the Instant Pot. It has taken the cooking community over by a storm. Are you are new to the Instant Pot? This post will help you find out how it works and the best ways to use it. Learn what the different cooking terms and phrases mean and some easy recipes to try.
I love to cook, so secretly, a part of me wants to try ALL the cooking gadgets and appliances. However, the bigger part of me strongly resists them. Yes, I want to try them, but do I actually want to own them? Usually not. I am really skeptical about whether it’s REALLY going to work as well as it’s hyped up to be. I don’t want to spend money on an appliance that is going to take up valuable space in my kitchen if it doesn’t I can do the same functions just as well or better on something I already have, like the stove or oven. After resisting for a while, I finally broke down and bought it on a huge sale one Black Friday.
After using it just a few times, I was quickly won over. It has become one of my favorite kitchen appliances. (Here are some of my other favorite small kitchen appliances.) I use it all the time and it really fits my cooking style. After owning it for 5 years, I still use it several times a week. Not only that, but I also find more and more ways to use it. I’ve published many recipes, but I also wanted to share some general information that would be helpful to a beginner. I will give you my best tips, troubleshooting advice and answer some frequently asked questions.
Watch the Instant Pot For Beginners Video
A comprehensive video for Instant Pot newbies, how it works, how to use it, what functions are useful. I also demonstrate how to use it by making one Hard Boiled Eggs. This is one of the easiest recipes to try if you’re learning how to use the Instant Pot.
I have the 6 quart Instant Pot and it’s the perfect size for our family.*
What is an Instant Pot and How Does It Work?
An Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker that also has other features. It can steam, slow cook, braise, saute, make yogurt, ricotta cheese and so much more.
Even though it’s not “Instant”, like the name suggests, it DOES speed up the cooking process for many things. You’ll especially notice it for things like braising tough cuts of meat or cooking steel cut oats.
Best Features of the Instant Pot
While the Instant Pot is a wonderful invention, I wouldn’t get rid of all my other appliances just yet or cook everything in the Instant Pot from now on. I still love using my stove and oven just as much as before. Some Instant Pot enthusiasts are so excited they are ready to only cook in this magical pot and use it for ALL cooking.
Just like most other tools, the Instant Pot will excel in the tasks that it was created to do.
I can use my hair straightener as an iron to get rid of a wrinkles in my clothes and it will work, somewhat, but will it do a great job? No. It may work in a pinch if you have a small wrinkle, but it won’t do the best job. The same goes for an Instant Pot. Here are some of its best features where it really shines.
Since the main feature that it was created to do was to be an electric pressure cooker, this is one of the best ways to utilize it. The pot will come to pressure and seal, locking in all the hot steam in the pot and will “pressure cook” the contents. This helps it to cook things much faster. It is wonderful for broths and for cooking tough cuts of meat in record time. You will get really tender, juicy meat in a fraction of the time that it would take on the stove or in the oven.
Saute, Braise and Cook in the same pot.
The Saute Button heats up the bottom of the inner chamber and you get a cooking surface, a built in skillet. This is one of my favorite features, since you can sear meat, brown vegetables and build flavor. The food has a much richer and more concentrated flavor. It’s really handy to be able to saute and then braise and cook in the same pot. Less dishes is always a plus, right?
Another feature that I use almost every week. We love yogurt in our family and making homemade yogurt is really easy with the Instant Pot.
Quick and Easy One Dish Dinners
There are so many Instant Pot recipes that are so simple to put together, are comforting, delicious and awesome.
Set and Forget
It’s great knowing that you can turn it on and walk away without worrying that something will burn or spill over. I can put all the ingredients for oatmeal into the Instant Pot, (takes me less than 5 minutes), turn it on and go get ready for my day. So many times while cooking oatmeal on the stove I turn around for a minute and in that very moment the milk runs over:). Not in the Instant Pot. (It also has a Keep Warm setting, so if you’re gone longer that expected, your meal will still be warm and inviting.)
You can make breakfast, soups, entrees, desserts and so much more in the Instant Pot.
Awesome For Meal Prep
I meal prep a ton for my family and it is such a huge help.
I’ve shown this in meal prep videos and blog posts, where I prep ingredients and meals for the coming week.
- Often, I’ll cook a large batch of oatmeal and then reheat it in the mornings for my boys.
- Hard boiled eggs are AMAZING in the Instant Pot because they are SO easy to peel when cooked with this method. It’s really handy to have a batch of hard boiled eggs on hand for a simple snack, breakfast or lunch.
- Cooking broth and whole vegetables is also a great way to make your cooking throughout the week faster and simpler.
Instant Pot Recipe Terms and Functions Explained For Beginners
If you’re new to cooking with in an Instant Pot, reading the recipes can be intimidating. It can seem as though these recipes have their own secret language. Let me decode it for you.
These are exactly the same thing. Older models have a Manual button, newer models say Pressure Cook on them. This is the main function and you will use this for almost everything. This is the default setting and allows you to turn on any Pressure level and adjust the time. The other functions are programmed for specific tasks, such as, such as “Soup”, “Rice”, “Poultry”, “Yogurt”, etc. The default setting – Manual/Pressure Cook allows you to be the boss and be in control of the settings. This is the function I use most often. If you’re a beginner, I recommend that you don’t worry about most of the other functions for now. Focus on getting comfortable using the Pressure Cook function first.
Pressure Level: High Pressure vs Low Pressure
These two functions allow you to choose what level of pressure to cook your food. In most cases, I choose High Pressure. Low Pressure is used if you want to cook something really gently, such as making Egg Bites.
When you turn this function on, it will heat up the bottom of the inner chamber inside the Instant Pot. Now you to brown and saute your food right inside. You have the option to adjust the temperature to Less, Normal or More. Then, you can hit “Cancel” and set the function to Pressure Cook, close the lid and keep cooking that way. You can also turn on the “Saute” option AFTER pressure cooking. For example, if you cook chicken, then add a cornstarch slurry/flour to make a gravy or thicken up a sauce. So many awesome options.
The yogurt function is a dream. I absolutely love this option. Ever since I first learned how to make Homemade Yogurt in the Instant Pot, I make a big batch almost every week. It really simplifies making yogurt from scratch and will give you amazing results – really creamy, thick yogurt. Here’s the Yogurt recipe.
You can also use the “Yogurt” setting to proof bread dough (or any yeast dough). It will cut the rising time in half. It’s the perfect environment to make your dough really happy and rise really quickly.
I don’t use this very often, but it’s handy once in a while. I like it for steaming broccoli if it’s part of another meal. Add your broccoli at the end, turn on the “Steam” function. So convenient to cook it right there instead of separately on the stove. I also use this option sometimes when making Egg Bites.
If you turn on this button, the Instant Pot will keep your food warm after it finishes cooking whatever you set it for.
Adjusting the Time
Adjust the the time using the _ and + buttons in the center, right above the “Pressure Level” and “Keep Warm” settings. When you first turn on the “Pressure Cook” button, it will automatically default to the Pressure Level and the amount of time that you set the last time you used the Instant Pot.
The pressure valve is located on the lid. When you turn on your Instant Pot, make sure the valve is pointed toward “Sealing”. If it’s pointed toward “Venting”, the Instant Pot will not come to pressure, it won’t cook your food correctly and the timing will not be accurate. It will also squirt out liquid out of there, if you have a lot of liquid inside, it will make a big mess.
The Instant Pot comes to pressure and seals the lid when it is cooking. You will not be able to open the lid unless the pressure is released. There are two options for releasing the pressure:
- Natural Release – this means that you allow the Instant Pot to release the pressure naturally – by doing nothing. Slowly, as the temperature cools, the pressure will release on it’s own, naturally.
- Quick Release, aka Manual Release – as the name suggests, this method is faster. You release the pressure manually, quickly. After the Instant Pot beeps and turns off, carefully turn the pressure valve from “Sealing” to “Venting”. Stand away from the lid and turn the valve slowly and not all at once. DON’T use the manual release when you’re cooking a large amount of broth or soup. You will have a giant mess on your hands.
Helpful Tips and Frequently Asked Questions
Always add at least 1 cup of liquid
The Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker, so it needs liquid to come to pressure and then cooks the food with all that hot steam. If you’re cooking something that doesn’t have liquid in it, such as Hard Boiled Eggs, baked potatoes, steamed vegetables, etc, pour in water or broth to the pot before turning it on.
Time – The Instant Pot needs time to come to pressure and seal.
Keep that in mind and add a bit of time to the total cooking time, because it won’t start cooking and counting down the time that you set until the lid completely seals. (This is why you need to remember to turn the Pressure Valve to sealing, because if the steam is coming out, the lid won’t seal and the time won’t count down correctly.)
How can you get the Instant Pot to come to pressure faster?
Sometimes, if I want it to come to pressure faster, I will pour in hot water, or use the “Saute” option to bring something to a simmer first and then turn and then close the Instant Pot. If the contents are already hot, it will come to pressure faster.
Even after the time has run out, the food will continue cooking.
If you’re using the natural release instead of manually releasing the pressure, your food will still continue cooking. In some recipes, such as hard boiled eggs, corn, potatoes, chicken breast, rice, etc., this is not good. By the time the Instant Pot naturally releases the pressure, the food will be overcooked. For pulled pork, cabbage rolls, Goulash and other recipes like this, it won’t affect the texture of the final dish at all, whether you release the pressure manually or not.
You won’t be able to open the lid if the Instant Pot is coming to pressure or while it’s already cooking.
This is a safety feature, so you don’t hurt yourself from really hot steam pouring out. The only way to open the lid is if you release the pressure. This can be a bit annoying if you just want to peek in to see how things are going in there. (Err on the side of setting the time to less than you think you need. If a food is not cooked enough, you can always cook it longer, but if you overcook it, there’s no going back.)
Be extra cautious when releasing the pressure.
Stand away from the Instant Pot and turn the knob carefully and slowly, in spurts, not all at once, when releasing the pressure manually. I like to use a towel, just make sure not to cover up the valve completely with a towel, the steam needs to release, otherwise you may clog it up.
Don’t overfill the Instant Pot.
There is a mark on the inside of the inner chamber. Don’t overfill it. The Instant Pot may not come to pressure correctly or will later create a giant mess when the pressure will release. Never release the pressure manually when the pot is really full of liquid, like a big batch of oatmeal, soup or broth.
How To Prevent the “Burn” Alert
- Make sure to add enough liquid. If there isn’t enough liquid, the bottom of the pot can start burning when it’s cooking under pressure. This often happens when you’re cooking something in a tomato sauce or gravy. Add more liquid than you normally would on the stovetop. You can always reduce the liquid later after cooking by using the “Saute” function.
- When using the “Saute” function, “deglaze” or clean the bottom from any fond. If the bottom of the pot has a lot of cooked on food, when it comes to pressure, it can also show the “Burn” alert. Add a bit of water or broth, scrape the bottom of the pot with a whisk or wooden spoon until it’s completely clean before you bring it to pressure.
- Set up most foods on a trivet, such as roasts, stuffed peppers, chicken, hard boiled eggs, vegetables, so that it’s not actually touching the bottom of the pot.
Easy Instant Pot Recipes For Beginners:
- Instant Pot Yogurt
- Hard Boiled Eggs in the Instant Pot
- Chicken Broth in the Instant Pot
- Steel Cut Oatmeal in the Instant Pot
- Homemade Hamburger Helper in the Instant Pot
- Beef and Rice Plov, Instant Pot Version
- Potato, Sausage and Pepper Dinner in the Instant Pot
- Pulled Pork in the Instant Pot
- Barbecue Chicken Wings in the Instant Pot
- Stuffed Peppers in the Instant Pot
- Corn on the Cob (recipe below)
- Barbecue Ribs in the Instant Pot
Bonus Easy Instant Pot “Recipes”
Corn on the Cob Recipe:
Pour in 1 cup water into the bottom of the Instant Pot. Place the corn on top of the steam rack, sprinkle with salt. Cook on Manual mode for 3 minutes, manually release.
Simple Herbed Potatoes in the Instant Pot
- Cut potatoes into about 1 – 1 1/2 inch pieces. Season with salt, tossing the potatoes in a bowl until the salt is evenly dispersed.
- Pour 1 cup of water into the bottom of the Instant Pot. Put the potatoes into a steaming basket inside the Instant Pot. (I use the OXO steaming basket.*) Cook on Manual Pressure, 5 minutes, manually release.
- Serve the potatoes with melted butter and fresh herbs.
- Other times, I brown the potatoes in a skillet. You can also toss the potatoes with olive oil, herbs and spices and minced garlic. Then roast them in a 400 F preheated oven until the potatoes are crisp and golden. In this case, cook them 1-2 minutes less. This way, they won’t fall apart and turn to mush when you’re tossing them. (Here’s my Garlic Herb Roasted Potatoes recipe.)
Do you have an Instant Pot? What is your favorite way to use it? ?
*None of this is sponsored – truly just items I love. Some of these links are affiliate links.