How To Use An Instant Pot Without Freaking Out

Dear instant pot owner (or soon-to-be),
        This post is dedicated to you especially if you have recently purchased an IP (short for instant pot) and you have yet to take it out of the box or have left it on the counter top untouched because you are slightly freaked out by the idea of using it. If that's the case, continue reading because I've covered all the basics you need to know to use your IP confidently. And, to those of you if you are still following and have no clue what IP is, you will benefit from this post too. IP is a multi-functional pressure cooker can be used for sauteing, steamer, pressure cooking, rice cook, & making yogurt among other things. I hope my 5 steps to use an instant pot without freaking out will be a valuable resource for you. If you know anyone who needs this guide, don't hesitate to share away! 

instant pot for beginners

Step 1: Take out IP from it's original box. IP works with electricity so unless you physically plug it in, nothing happens I promise. I want you to see and feel the device and get an idea of what is it. Depending on how often you plan on cooking with IP (I cook at least once a week so I store mine in a reach-in cabinet), find a space for your baby in the kitchen. In some homes, IP has a permanent spot because it gets used frequently. My only suggestion is to not cook (you can store though) with your IP directly under a wooden cabinet because overtime the steam can destroy the cabinet. 

Instant Pot Use Everyday

Step 2: Learn pressure cooking 101. If you didn't grow up using an old school pressure cooker, I completely understand why you are not comfortable with IP. Pressure-cooking is a cooking method, where liquid such as water, broth, or wine creates pressure inside the pressure cooker. The trapped steam increases the internal pressure and allows the temperature to rise, which in turn cooks food with far less energy, short cooking time, and retain more vitamins and minerals when compared to boiling. 

You may have seen old school pressure cooker with a moving valve on top of the lid, which makes noise, it indicates that the cooker has reached full pressure and is releasing excess pressure. This is probably the freakiest part about pressure cooking but if you let the pressure to release fully before opening the lid, you will be fine. In an IP, you cannot even open the lid until pressure is fully released. Additionally,  IP is built with safety features such as safety lid lock, pressure regulator, leaky smart lid detection, anti-blockage vent, and more to take your worry out of pressure cooking.

Step 3: Get to know your IP.  Depending on what model or make you have, the functionalities may vary slightly but in general, all IPs are equipped with manual button (you are in complete control), saute, soup, meat/stew, bean/chili, rice, steam, slow cooker, keep warm/cancel, timer etc. Except for the manual button, most function buttons does exactly what is says and are set at pre-programmed default cooking times. For example, poultry button is used to cook chicken/turkey at high pressure for 15 minutes (default) but you can adjust the time to 5-30 minutes while for slow cook button defaults to a 4-hour cook time. You can adjust to less, normal, or more (high) using the + and - button on your IP. Each IP comes with an instruction manual and I highly suggest you familiarize yourself with different functions and how it will affect your cook time. 

instant pot freaking out

Besides the saute function, you will always cook with your lid on. Make sure IP is locked before you start pressure cooking (it won't work until it's locked). There is a triangle mark on the lid which aligns with "unlocked" mark on the side of the rim. You simply turn the lid 30 degree clockwise until it aligns with "locked" mark. You also need to turn the pointed end of the pressure release handle on top of the lid to the "sealing" position to capture all the pressure inside the pot. Once the cooking is done, you need to release the pressure and there are two ways you can do it :

  • Natural-release : In this method, you let all the steam to naturally release by simply waiting for IP to cool down. It's ready when the float valve drops (about 10-15 minute depending on the quantity). You can then unplug and open the pot or use keep warm function to keep your food warm.

  • Quick-release : In this method, you unlock the lid immediately by forcing the steam out manually. Since you will be playing with steam, make sure you are not directly looking over the IP and wearing oven mitts. Gently turn the pressure release handle from "sealing" positing to "venting" to let the pressure out until the float valve drops. It will make a hissing noise as it releases steam and that's totally normal! 

Step 4: Briefly know what not to do with your IP. Even though we've gone through the basics of what to do, I think it's good to review what not to do with IP because we all make mistakes esp when we are nervous about a new tool/gadget. Some of the common mistakes that can happen (and how to avoid it) : 

  • People have mistakenly poured ingredients without the inner lining pot so always always always put inner pot back in your IP

  • Do not quick release if your pot has soup or starchy food (rice, beans) because it will splatter..and also do not fill past the max line

  • Make sure to press the cook time or function button and turn the knob to sealing position; if you don't, your dinner won't cook

  • Never put your IP on top of stovetop because if you mistakenly turn on the stovetop, you will ruin your IP 

  • Make sure the sealing ring is in place before cooking

  • Use enough water in the pot, else you may have 'burn' error

  • Clean the exterior and interior heating element after each use because food, toys, and other objects may lodge there 

  • IP doesn't heat up enough for deep-frying, grilling, baking cookies, or canning so don't try to do any of those 

instant pot freaking out
  • Step 5: Get Cooking. The whole idea of having an IP is to whip up delicious, easy meals fast and IP is great for that. Since you are new to IP, I highly recommend you start with super simple recipes and really follow instructions, cook time, and ratio of liquid etc. I have seen a lot of people get frustrated over failed recipes and it could be not using the setting correctly or not following the recipe or the combination of two. Another key thing to remember is "instant pot" may not always be instant because you have to consider the time it takes to build pressure before it starts cooking. I love this "Instant Pot Cooking Time Guide" for most foods and it comes really handy!! 

Before you cook an actual recipe, I'd suggest doing "water test" to get you comfortable. It's a quick test where you pour 2-3 cups of cold water into the pot. Then you close the lid and make sure the knob is in sealing position. Use the manual or steam function for water test and set the time to 2 minutes by adjusting it using + or - button. Make sure it is under "high pressure", which is also a default setting. The screen will change from 2 to ON in about 10 seconds which means it has started pre-heating to generate steam. It is normal to see some steam come out during preheating cycle. To fully reach the high pressure, it will take about 12-13 minutes and you will notice floating valve pop up. The screen will change from ON to 2, indicating pressure cooking has started and it will pressure cook for 2 minutes. You will then notice screen turn automatically into warm/cancel mode and at this point you can release the steam naturally or do a quick release before opening the lid. 

I love using my IP for cooking beans, rice (in large quantity and khichdi very often), stew, soups, whole chicken etc. Even though IP has functionalities for making cheesecake, bread, pasta etc, I just haven't tried them because I know certain recipes are easily done on the stovetop or oven. It's really easy to get excited about IP but I also want you to think about what appliance do you have or currently use. One of the reasons I bought IP was to get rid of my rice cooker, pressure cooker, slow cooker so I can have one appliance doing everything for me and I am really happy with it. 

10 beginners Instant pot Recipes

Instant Pot Rice
Instant Pot Ribs
Instant Pot Hard Boiled Eggs
Instant Pot Steel Cuts Oatmeal
Instant Pot Moong Daal

I hope reading this guide on "How To Use an Instant Pot Without Freaking Out" has given you the confidence and tips you need to go ahead start using your IP right away. If you have any other questions or concerns on IP, please share them in the comments and I'd be happy to find answers for ya.

And if you an Instant Pot Pro, I'd love to hear your experience and feel free to share your tips, tricks, successes/failures with IP.