Meals in Minutes: How to Use An Instant Pot
By: Esther Pransky, Lubicom Marketing Staff
Instant Pots inspire passion.
Talk to an Instant Pot enthusiast, and you’ll hear claims like “changed my life” and “don’t know what I did without it.”
So why isn’t everyone using an Instant Pot? Probably because it can be daunting. Pressure cooking doesn’t work like conventional cooking.
But while there’s definitely a learning curve, it’s not rocket science either.
What’s an Instant Pot?
An Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker that can take the place of seven appliances: pressure cooker, sauté pan, steamer, slow cooker, rice cooker, food warmer, and yogurt maker.
Pressure cookers aren’t new, but the Instant Pot includes loads of safety features to remove the common risks of pressure cooking. You can safely and quickly cook chicken, meat, soups, stews, rice, vegetables, and even pasta.
Two years ago, we wrote about Instant Pots and reported on their benefits. Now we’re going one step further with tips and pointers to get you comfortable cooking with an Instant Pot.
There’s a lot to say, but we’re going to stick to the basics in four areas:
1. Caring for your Instant Pot
2. General pressure-cooking tips
3. How much liquid to use
4. Understanding how steam release works
With those four topics down, you’ll be ready to start.
(Note – most of this information comes from Instantpot.com, a great resource for everything Instant Pot.)
1. Caring for your Instant Pot
First thing first. Keeping your Instant Pot in tip-top shape will ensure you get great results when you cook.
When you get your Instant Pot, read the manual, and familiarize yourself with the parts.
For example, the top of the Instant Pot has a little metal button called a float valve. The float valve rises to be flush with the lid when the pot is pressurized. It sinks as the pot releases pressure. Make sure the float valve is clean and unclogged before you start cooking.
But the float valve is just one of many little parts that need to be clear of food particles to perform properly. Regularly inspect the steam release handle/valve, steam release pipe, anti-block shield, and heating element, too.
That sounds like a lot to do, but all it takes is a quick lookover.
The silicone sealing ring needs TLC, too. You’ll want to replace it every 18-24 months. Not only does it stretch, but it takes on the smell of the food in the pot. For that reason, Instant Pot recommends keeping two sealing rings on hand — one for sweet and one for savory dishes. It can also help to store your Instant pot with the lid upside down so the sealing ring can air out.
And NEVER fill the Instant Pot past the “Max 2/3” line. For foods that expand, like rice or beans, don’t fill past the 1/2 line. Overfilling the inner pot can clog the steam release and develop excess pressure. And that can cause leaks and damage to your cooker-or you.
2. Pressure Cooking Tips
At first, you’ll want to follow Instant Pot recipes to the letter. Conventional recipes will flop unless you have the expertise to know how to adapt them.
But as you use the Instant Pot, you’ll understand how it works and be able to improvise.
There are three stages to pressure cooking:
- Heating & Pressurization: The cooker heats the cooking liquid into steam pressure.
- Cooking: After full pressurization, the Instant Pot begins counting down the programmed cook time.
- Depressurization & Keep Warm: The cooker releases steam and “depressurizes” after cooking.
Yes, pressure cooking is fast, but keep in mind that the cooking time is not the full time it takes to get supper on the table. The pressurization and depressurization stages can each take anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes. That’s free time since you don’t need to babysit the food, but do plan accordingly for when you’ll have hungry troops wanting to eat.
Here are a few more tips for best results:
- Cut larger pieces of food into smaller, uniform sizes for even and thorough cooking. Thicker chunks of food take longer to cook.
- Before you start cooking, check that the pressure valve is in place correctly.
- Default is to cook foods on high pressure-except for rice. Always cook rice on low pressure.
Try it out! Instant Pot Honey Sesame Chicken cooks both the chicken and rice in an Instant Pot.
3. Liquid in the Pot
The amount of liquid in your recipe is key to Instant Pot cooking success.
The Instant Pot needs liquid to build up steam and create pressure. Without enough liquid, the pressurization will take a very long time, and the food won’t cook properly. Instant Pot recommends these guidelines for different sized Instant Pots:
- 3 Quart: 1 cup (8 oz / 250 mL)
- 6 Quart: 1 ½ cups (12 oz / 375 mL)
- 8 Quart: 2 cups (16 oz / 500 mL)
- 10 Quart: 2 ½ cups (24 oz / 625 mL)
But of course, always follow your recipe.
In general, foods that absorb moisture (like rice, pasta, quinoa, or beans) will need more liquid in the Instant Pot. Foods that release moisture (like chicken or meat) can start with less.
But of course, always follow your recipe. (You’re getting that, right?)
Liquids should be water-based, like stock, broth, juice, cooking sauces, wine, or beer. Instantpot.com doesn’t recommend oils and oil-based sauces because they don’t have enough water content for the required liquid volume.
Try it out! Red Wine Braised Short Ribs uses wine and broth to cook the meat.
4. Letting Off Steam
Like we wrote above, depressurization is the third cooking stage in the Instant Pot cycle. The food continues to cook as long as it’s under pressure.
NEVER, EVER open the lid of a pressure cooker when the pot is still under pressure. In fact, one of the Instant Pot’s safety features is that it locks the top until it’s depressurized.
There are three options for releasing the pressure:
- Quick release or manual release – When the cooking cycle is over, turn the pressure valve from “sealed” to “venting.” It will release a geyser of boiling steam that erupts for up to five minutes.
If you do a quick release, be sure your hands, face, or any other part of you is not directly over the release valve! The steam can cause severe burns.
Avoid releasing the Instant Pot directly under cabinets because the steam can damage them, too.
- Natural release – When the cooking cycle is over, allow the Instant Pot to depressurize on its own. It may take 30 to 40 minutes, but you’ll see the float valve slowly drop down, and the lid will eventually unlock.
- Delayed quick-release – Some recipes say to wait 5 or 10 minutes after cooking and then do a manual release. That allows the food to depressurize on its own slightly and eliminates some of the sputtering and mess when you release it.
Which release should you use? Follow your recipe!
Recipes will call for a quick release to immediately stop the cooking process and cool off the food. It’s used for foods that you don’t want to overcook, like chicken or pasta.
Try it out! Cook pasta to perfection with Instant Pot Macaroni and Cheese.
Meats, on the other hand, do better with a natural release, so they don’t dry out.
Ready for more? Here are some other Instant Pot recipes to try.
Many of these use the Instant Pot’s sauté feature. You’ll first sauté onions or brown meat and then switch to pressure cooker mode. Follow instructions for when and how to release the steam.
What’s your Instant Pot experience? Do you have any tips or tricks to share?
Let us know in the comments below.