June 21, 2024


Welcome to the Food

How to use an Instant Pot

People love their Instant Pot pressure cookers, but learning how to use them can feel a bit overwhelming.

Since it’s not quite like tossing food in the oven — unlike say, an airfryer — there is a barrier to entry for some folks. But do not fret. It’s actually quite simple once you get the hang of it.

We have 6 essential tips — laid out in the order you’ll need them — for using your Instant Pot that’ll make your cooking life easier. There are plenty of different models of the Instant Pot, so find one that works best for you.

1. Plug in your Instant Pot

OK, this is, obviously, an easy first step. But it’s a good opportunity to point out that an Instant Pot uses electricity and is much easier and safer to use than previous pressure cookers, which relied on stovetop heat.

2. Understand how your Instant Pot works

To cook properly, it’s important to have a basic understanding of how the Instant Pot works.

Inside your Instant Pot is a metal pot. This is where you’re going to place your food and cooking liquid. The pot slips into the outer Instant Pot and is heated from a heating element below.

The heating element boils the liquid, and all that energy is then trapped inside the Instant Pot. The pressure, steam, and heat then cooks the food much quicker than boiling or using a crockpot. Dry beans, for instance, can take half a day in a crockpot, but can be cooked in under an hour in an Instant Pot.

3. Prep and fill the Instant Pot for cooking

OK so here is the tricky part of describing how to use your Instant Pot. The most important thing you’re going to need to do is follow the directions in any recipe you’re using. Some recipes may call for first searing a piece of meat (Instant Pot is able to do this, but I often find it more effective to use a separate pan). Some recipes like, say, a rice dish, might require an exact amount of water. Other recipes might involve a significant amount of prep work, like cutting a whole mess of veggies for an Instant Pot chili. I can’t walk you through everything, but, if you’re following a recipe, please pay attention to that.

Now, with that being said, there is one basic rule you must understand while using the Instant Pot. You must always — always —have liquid of some sort when cooking in an Instant Pot. This can be water, wine, beer, broth, whatever. But you need liquid.

Remember how the Instant Pot works? It cooks quickly by employing the energy of a sealed, pressurized, boiling liquid. If you don’t have some amount of liquid, you will burn your food. And you might create a dangerous situation.

How much liquid do you need? Well, that depends. Depending on the size of your cooker, you need a minimum of 1.5 cups to 2.5 cups. For a quick, specific cook, like rice, you might only need a cup and a half. If you’re making pulled pork from a massive pork shoulder, I’d recommend covering about half the meat in liquid.

Later on in your cooking journey, if you begin experimenting and making your own recipes, choosing different cooking liquids can be a fun variable to play with. I, for instance, grew partial to making a quick pulled pork using Corona beer, lime juice, and orange juice, all swimming in garlic and onions. The broth at the end of the cook proved to be a nice liquid to sauce the meat.

This is the pot that you'll fill up with liquid and food.

This is the pot that you’ll fill up with liquid and food.
Credit: mashable / tim marcin

4. Lock and seal the Instant Pot

So you have your pot filled. Now is a good time to confirm the rubber seal inside your lid is properly place. It should fit snugly and tightly inside the lid — this will ensure you get a good seal and thus retaining moisture and pressure.

Now you have to lock it. The lid should slide from left to right so it locks in place. You should feel it and you should hear a beeping sound from the Instant Pot alerting you it’s closed properly.

5. Make sure your vent in set to “sealing”

This is key. On your lid there is a vent that looks like a lever of sorts. When starting your cook, you want this lever pointing toward “sealing” and not “venting.” Sealing means the Instant Pot is going to hold all the pressure created inside the pot, while venting is what you’ll likely do to release the pressure when the food is finished cooking.

This is how your valve should look when set to "sealing."

This is how your valve should look when set to “sealing.”
Credit: mashable / tim marcin

5. Choose a cooking setting and time

Again, this is likely when you’ll rely on a recipe. But, in general, now is the time to choose the method of cooking and how long your food will cook. I’ve found I typically use the manual setting and high pressure, since I frequently use the Instant Pot to prepare large cuts of meat. But in general, you’ll choose a setting, set a time, then start cooking.

Be advised, it can take more than 15 minutes for an Instant Pot to preheat and pressurize, depending on the amount of food and liquid in the pot. That means the number of minutes you chose to cook your food might not show up on the display for more than 15 minutes. That is OK. That is normal. Do not freak out and stop the cook. (Yes, I’ve done that.) You might see small amounts of steam release through your valve. This, too, is normal. If you accidentally set your valve to “venting” you will know it. It produces a lot of steam.

After some amount of time, the Instant Pot display will show how many minutes are left in your cook. You’re off to the races. Set it and forget it, baby.

I most often use the manual setting, but there are lots of different options on the Instant Pot. When in doubt, use a recipe.

I most often use the manual setting, but there are lots of different options on the Instant Pot. When in doubt, use a recipe.
Credit: mashable / tim marcin

6. Vent the food (or maybe don’t) and enjoy

Once the cook time has passed, often you’ll then move the valve to “venting” which, in a glorious geyser of food smells, will release the pressure and steam inside your Instant Pot. Be careful touching the valve, it can get hot. Either wear an oven mitt or move the valve with a wooden spoon. It will release a lot of hot air, so it’s a good idea to lean back the first time you move the valve, and definitely keep your eyes away from the valve when you let it vent.

Once the Instant Pot is done venting — this might take a few minutes — remove the lid and gaze upon your finished food and enjoy.

A side note: in the picture below you can see a little circular valve that looks like a button. When the Instant Pot pressurizes, you should see it rise. This lets you know the Instant Pot is pressurized, which means the lid will be locked. The only way to open the Instant Pot, at that point, is to wait for it to depressurize. So don’t worry, feel safe.

This what the "venting" setting looks like.

This what the “venting” setting looks like.
Credit: mashable / tim marcin

Some recipes, including some very common ones like rice, call for something called a “Natural Pressure Release,” which just means you let the pressure slowly fade inside the Instant Pot. You do not move the valve to “venting” for a certain amount of time. My favorite Instant Pot rice recipe, for instance, calls for just a few minutes of cook time but 10 minutes of natural release before you open the Instant Pot.

Either way, you need to let the pressure release from the Instant Pot, but then you’re ready to enjoy.