Got an Instant Pot and feeling overwhelmed? Not sure where to start? Sharing a simple guide that shares step by step help for how to use your Instant Pot. We also teach you how to use each instant pot function and share common instant pot cooking times!
So you got an Instant Pot and pulled it out of the box…now what?
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Don’t let all the buttons intimidate you or lack of helpful information in the instruction booklet intimidate you! You can use your Instant Pot without fear if you read my helpful tips below! We can have you cooking dinner tonight and you will quickly be on your way to becoming an Instant Pot pro in no time!
It took me a while after I bought my Instant Pot to actually use it because I felt intimidated by it. I was also admittedly a little bit nervous about using the Pressure Cooking setting because of the memories I had of my Mother’s Pressure Cooker whistling away in all of its foreboding scariness!
But after much research and finally gathering the courage to use it, I tried the Instant Pot, and it has quickly become one of my favorite cooking appliances. I use it all of the time now and no longer pull out my Slow Cooker or my Rice Cooker because it is just too easy and convienient to use! And I LOVE having only ONE kitchen appliance on my countertop!
The Instant Pot has a lot of functionality for one appliance, and at a decent price point. (I got mine here). Most of all, I love the convenience and speed of it. I can set it and walk away and not have to think about what’s for dinner in the mad rush of the after school chaos OR I can forget about dinner until 4:30 pm and have something on the table in minutes (which lately has been more my style). It also saves you time by cooking foods quickly that usually have a longer cooking time like beans.
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The Instant Pot as a Multi-Purpose Appliance
The Instant Pot DUO is a multi-cooker that offers the same functionalities you’d find in the following:
- Pressure Cooker
- Slow Cooker
- Rice Cooker/Porridge Maker
- Yogurt Maker
How to Set Up Your Instant Pot
The Instant Pot comes with some tools some of which I use and some that I don’t. The electrical cord is pretty obvious a needed part so be sure to pull that out and plug it into the pot. Some come with a measuring cup that you may or may not want to use. I personally don’t use mine as I prefer my own measuring cups. I also don’t really use the utensils that come with it either.
Steam Rack (or Steam Basket). Now here’s a handy accessory! The steam rack. Use this to hold vegetables, pans (for when you make things like meatloaf or cheesecake), or anything that you don’t want sitting in the cooking liquid.
If your model doesn’t come with a steam rack, you may consider getting one. They’re really handy. You might also want to pick up a steaming basket. Small vegetables and other foods tend to fall through the steam rack. To solve this problem, you can put the steam rack in the Instant Pot and put the steamer basket on top of it. Works great for steaming your veggies quickly!
Instant Pot Condensation Collector. This little cup hooks on to the side of the Instant Pot. It’s supposed to keep condensation from hitting your counter during cooking and cooling. Don’t toss this…you will want to use this. Slide it onto the side of the pot and it should click into place. You can remove this and clean with warm, soapy water as necessary.
The Instant Pot Lid
The lid of a pressure cooker is an integral part of the machine. Without this lid, you can’t cook foods under pressure.
Steam Release Valve. This is the steam release valve. It has two settings: sealing and venting.
1. Sealing: When cooking food under pressure, close the lid and line up valve with the “wavy” lines. This position seals the pot. It allows pressure to build as the food inside heats and produces steam. The valve won’t lock into place when set to sealing. For safety reasons, it will always wiggle a little.
To set the valve to the sealing position, turn it clockwise as far as it will go. (This is for DUO machines. LUX machines have a different sealing position.)
2. Venting or How to Release Pressure from the Pressure Cooking Setting
Once the pressure cooker completes its cooking cycle, there are TWO ways to release the pressure built up.
-Quick release. You will use the quick release for items that have a quick cook time and that you want to stop cooking immediately. To do a quick release, you will have to push the valve yourself. The quick release method is engaged when you turn the valve on top of the pot from the “sealing” setting to the “venting” setting. This turn can be a little nerve wracking the first time, but if done right isn’t scary after your first attempt…I promise!
To release the pressure, I like to use a long handled object like a wooden spoon and keep my arm and objects away from the vent. Push the valve to the venting position and the steam should release quickly from the pot. You can safely open the pot when the pressure valve has dropped to the lowest position and the venting has stopped.
-Natural release. If you do NOT do a quick release by pushing the valve to the venting position, the Instant Pot will naturally begin to release the steam on it’s own immediately after the programmed cooking time is over. This allows the pressure to naturally dissipate on its own. It will start counting to let you know how many minutes it has been releasing the pressure. Usually this takes about 10-20 minutes depending on what and how long you have been cooking something.
This is good to do for meats and stews that you may want to continue to cook a little longer. Remember to keep this in mind when you are setting times for your recipes to cook.
*It is always a good idea to just push the valve to vent just to be sure all the pressure is released before opening the Instant Pot. DO NOT EVER force the lid open as this is very dangerous!
The Underside of the Instant Pot Lid
The underside of the Instant Pot contains four important parts.
Depending on whether you have a version one DUO or a version two, the shield will either look like a small oval cage covering both the float and pressure release valve or a small round piece just covering the pressure release valve (pictured below).
The Anti-Block Shield. The anti-block shield prevents small foods and foam generated during cooking from clogging the pressure release valve and causing an unsafe amount of pressure to build. It’s an important piece. Don’t run your Instant Pot without it in place.
The cover can be removed for cleaning with warm soapy water. Make sure the cover is in place before using. This prevents food from getting in the valve which can cause problems and create safety issues later.
Instant Pot Sealing Ring. The white silicone ring is an integral part of the Instant Pot. Without it, pressure can’t build. During heating, the sealing ring expands to create a seal that allows pressure to safely build inside the machine. If the sealing ring isn’t inserted correctly or is worn or out of shape, steam can leak from the lid and the Instant Pot won’t seal.
To remove the ring for cleaning, allow the lid to cool and then pull gently on the sealing ring. To clean, use warm soapy water or run through the dishwasher. Dry the ring thoroughly before placing it back into the lid. To put the sealing ring back properly, insert the sealing ring snugly in the wire sealing ring rack. When inserted, the sealing ring should lay flat against the lid and shouldn’t pull out easily if you give it a soft tug.
You may want to keep an extra sealing ring on hand in case you notice a tear or a rip. The silicone sealing ring may also retain some odors of the food you cook. If you plan on making yogurt or desserts with a milder flavor, using this extra ring can prevent these foods from picking up the odor from the stronger foods you have cooked.
How Full Can I Fill the Instant Pot?
When using the Instant Pot for pressure cooking, NEVER fill the pot more than 1/2 full. If a pressure cooker contains too much liquid, the hot liquid can spray out of the pressure release valve, causing severe burns. As long as you respect the maximum fill on a pressure cooker, you’ll be fine.
*The Max Fill Lines on the Instant Pot Cooking Insert are very confusing and you should NEVER fill it to the maximum levels when pressure cooking. Food will expand when it is under that intense pressure/heat and this is where you can run into safety problems.
**The Max Fill lines should only be used for the Rice Cooker, Slow Cooker functions, etc.
How To Use The Instant Pot Settings
There are 16 settings on the Instant Pot, which can be very intimidating.
Each button designates a type of cooking. The buttons have preset cook times to make things easier for you and to take the guess work out of the cooking times for different items. The setting on the buttons also help you to know if the pot will be locked to capture steam in a pressure cooking setting, or if you will be using the Instant Pot like a regular cooking pot or a slow cooker which cooks without pressure.
- Soup– high pressure 30 minute cook time. Press soup and the Adjust button once (more) to cook for 40 minutes. Press soup and the Adjust button twice (less) to cook for 20.
- Meat/Slow– high pressure 35 minute cook time. Press the Adjust button to navigate to the Less setting to cook for 20 minutes or navigate to the More setting to cook for 45 minutes.
- Bean/Chili– high pressure 30 minute cook time. Press the Adjust button to navigate to the Less setting to cook for 25 minutes or navigate to the More setting to cook for 40 minutes.
- Poultry– high pressure 15 minute cook time. Adjusted to more – 30 minute cook time; adjusted to less – 5 minute cook time.
- Rice– cooks on low pressure and is the only fully automatic program. It’s for cooking white rices and will adjust the cooking time depending on the amount of water and rice in the cooking pot.
- Multigrain– high pressure 40 minute cook time. Adjusted to less – 20 minutes cook time. Adjusted to more – 45 minutes warm water soaking time and 60 minutes pressure cooking time.
- Porridge– high pressure 20 minute cook time. Adjusted to more – 30 minute cook time; adjusted to less 15 – a minute cook time.
- Steam– high pressure 10 minute cook time. Adjusted to more – 15 minute cook time; adjusted to less – 3 minute cook time. Use this function with a rack or steamer basket because it heats at full power continuously while it’s coming to pressure and you don’t want food in direct contact with the bottom of the pressure cooking pot. Once it reaches pressure, the steam button regulates pressure by cycling on and off similar to the other pressure buttons.
- Slow Cook– defaults to a 4 hour slow cook time. Use the adjust button to slow cook on low (190-201°F), normal (194-205°F ) or high (199-210°F). Use the “+” and “-” buttons to increase or decrease the cooking time.
- Pressure– switches between low and high pressure.
- Adjust – Use this button to cancel a function or turn off your pressure cooker. On the Smart, you can use the Adjust button to reduce or increase the keep warm temperature from 145° (normal) to 133° (less) and 167° (more).
- Yogurt– used for making yogurt in the pot or in individual jars.
- Sauté – use the Sauté button to sauté in the pressure cooking pot with the lid off. You can also press Sauté and the Adjust button once (more) for browning. Press Sauté and the Adjust button twice (less) to simmer.
- Manual – an all-purpose button. Use the manual button if a recipe says to pressure cook on high pressure for a specific number of minutes. Use the “+” and “-” buttons to increase or decrease the cooking time.
- Timer is for delayed cooking. You need to select a cooking function first, make any adjustments, then press the timer button and adjust with the “+” and “-” buttons.
- Keep Warm/Cancel– Use this button to cancel a function or turn off your pressure cooker.
Instant Pot Cheat Sheet
This question depends on a lot of different factors. Is the item frozen? How many ounces is the meat or poultry? So the guidelines are just best guess suggestions. As you cook with your Instant Pot you can make adjustments based on your personal preferences. I have created a FREE Printable Instant Pot Cooking Times Cheat Sheet for your convenience.
How to do an Instant Pot Test Run
Now we are ready for your initial test run of the Instant Pot. This is a good way to test your machine and give you some confidence to get started!
- Make sure the steam release handle and float valve are unobstructed and that the sealing ring is properly align with the lid.
- Add water to your instant pot stainless steel inner pot up to the inner mark “3”.
- Close the lid and make sure that the steam release handle is pointing to “Sealing”.
- Press the pre-set Steam Button.
- Press the (-) minus sign to change the time to 2 minutes.
- At around 10 seconds, the Instant Pot pressure cooker will be in a pre-heating cycle. Within minutes, the steam will come out of the valve until the float valve pops up and seals the cooker. When this valve is up it will be flush with the lid.
- Once the countdown is finished, the instant pot will beep and automatically go into “Keep Warm” mode.
- You can either release the pressure immediately by doing a quick release (as we mentioned above) or let the Instant Pot complete a natural release on it’s own. Give it about 10 minutes and then push the vent valve before opening the lid to ensure there is no more pressure in the pot.
Phew! That was a lot of information! But you should now be ready to cook your first recipe. Be sure to come back here where I will be sharing my first of many Instant Pot Recipes for you to try (listed below)! I will update this as I add them to our recipe box!
Instant Pot Recipes:
- Pulled BBQ Chicken
- Chicken and Rice Burrito Bowls
- Chicken Tacos
- Chicken Tortilla Soup
- Pot Roast (Gluten Free)
- Baby Potatoes
- Hot Cocoa
Want to get all this information and more in an easy printable Instant Pot Guide? It also includes a printable Instant Pot Cooking Times Guide. Perfect for easy reference when working with your Instant Pot.
Grab the Printable Instant Pot Guide by entering your information below.
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