How to use an Instant Pot

New to Instant Pot? A no-pressure guide to using the popular pressure cooker

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The versatility of the Instant Pot makes it a great kitchen companion, but it can also be a little intimidating if you’re a newbie just opening the box. With so many buttons, programs, and functions, it’s difficult to know exactly what to select when you’re just starting out with an Instant Pot. After all, the multicooker functions as a pressure cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, egg boiler, and cake maker, to name just a few of it may uses. Here, we’re going to demystify the magical Instant Pot and show you just how useful your new multicooker can be.

What is pressure cooking?

The primary function of most Instant Pot models is pressure cooking. The pressure is what allows the Instant Pot to be such a versatile cooking appliance. But what exactly is pressure cooking? It’s a food-preparation method that seals the food inside a vessel with liquid, using heat to create steam, which increases the pressure in the vessel. The appliance then traps or releases steam to control the level of pressure. With more pressure, the boiling point of the liquid rises, and the food cooks faster at a higher temperature. Pressure cooking retains the flavors and nutrients of your food while also creating moist and delicious results and saving energy in the process.

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How do I use the settings?

The front of your Instant Pot can look pretty complicated, with all the different buttons denoting various programs. But once you understand what all the buttons mean, it’s pretty straightforward. Basically, each button refers to a different cooking method and has a preset cook time and pressure setting to make things more user-friendly.

BUTTON PRESSURE SETTING COOK TIME
Slow Cook Normal 4 hours
Pressure Low or high Manual
Soup High 30 minutes
Meat/Stew High 35 minutes
Bean/Chili High 30 minutes
Poultry High 15 minutes
Rice Low Auto
Multigrain High 40 minutes
Porridge High 20 minutes
Steam High 10 minutes
Yogurt 3 programs Manual
Saute Normal Manual
Manual Defaults to high (can be adjusted) Manual
Adjust N/A N/A
Timer N/A Manual
Keep Warm/Cancel N/A

Under the pressure setting column, you’ll see “High,” “Low,” and “Normal.” A high pressure setting indicates the Instant Pot is cooking at high pressure, and the lid is sealed to keep the pressure trapped. A low pressure setting indicates lower pressure, but the appliance is still pressure-cooking. A normal setting shows that the appliance is functioning as a slow cooker and is not sealed or using pressure.

As for cook times, some recipes come with preset times, while others require you to manually input how long you want the cooking process to be. The Keep Warm setting will automatically turn on when cooking is done.

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How to release pressure

There are two ways to safely release pressure from the Instant Pot: The natural release method and the quick release method. Natural release lets the pressure slowly dissipate on its own, depressurizing as heat gets released from the metal parts of the cover. Depressurization can take between 10 and 30 minutes, depending on how much liquid is in the cooking pot. Recipes with more liquid will take longer to depressurize than dishes with less. The natural release method lets food stay intact during the depressurization process, as there is less movement within the appliance. Foamy foods or dishes with lots of liquid are best left to the natural release method. According to Instant Pot, to speed up the process, you can place a cold towel on the metal portion of the lid to help the appliance cool down faster.

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To utilize the quick release method, you can manually turn the steam release valve to the “venting” position. This cools the cooker down faster and only takes 1 or 2 minutes to completely depressurize. The company deems the steam release handle as a safe mechanism for letting steam quickly escape from the pot. The quick release method is ideal for foods like salmon and crab that you don’t want to overcook, or vegetables such as broccoli and bok choy that cook very quickly. However, keep in mind that it is not recommended when cooking recipes with high starch content, as the quick release method can result in food bubbling out from the handle.

Please note that it is crucial to wait until all the steam has been released from the Instant Pot before taking off the lid. Never try to force the lid open before depressurization is complete, as this can be very dangerous.

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How to clean an Instant Pot

Maintaining an Instant Pot is relatively easy when compared to other kitchen appliances. For daily clean-up, all you have to do is wash the insert and wipe down the exterior housing unit. If your Instant pot isn’t getting a proper seal during cooking, it might be time to give it a deeper clean. Remove the silicone sealing ring to ensure it is free of residue. Other small parts, such as the steam release handle, anti-block shield, or float valve can get sticky over time, so give them a good once-over to remove any stubborn residue or food particles that may be lingering. While you’re at it, be sure to check the recess around the pot, as well as the spoon rest, for any grime that may have gotten caught.

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