Get answers to your biggest Instant Pot questions and see what other pressure cooker newbies are asking! This list of FAQs for Instant Pot beginners will help you get started with your appliance.
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Since I have a pretty large collection of Instant Pot recipes on the blog, I'll often get questions about how to use an Instant Pot. I don't think it's any secret that I am obsessed with mine - but yes, there is a learning curve and it can sometimes be difficult to get up and going with your IP because of that.
I'm here to tell you - the Instant Pot is absolutely nothing to be scared of and will quickly turn into your best friend in the kitchen!
A few years ago, I asked my Facebook followers and friends in the Instant Pot community what their biggest questions about the Instant Pot were. I thought I'd answer a few in this post. While I am no Instant Pot expert by any stretch of the imagination, I do have years and years of pretty heavy Instant Pot cooking under my belt and have learned a few things (mostly through my own mistakes) over time.
What is an Instant Pot?
An Instant Pot is one of the most useful kitchen appliances out there.
An Instant Pot is a multi-use kitchen appliance that works as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, warmer, yogurt maker, steamer, and more. It replaces so many different cookers in the kitchen, making it perfect for homes with little space. Once you have one, you'll find yourself using it all the time!
What exactly does an Instant Pot do?
Different models have different functions. This is a list of all of the functionality you'll find in different models of Instant Pot cookers:
- Pressure cooker
- Slow cooker
- Yogurt maker
- Egg cooker
- Rice/grain cooker
- Bread proofer
- Air fryer
- Sous vide
*Not all models have all of these functions.
Common Instant Pot Terms
The question I see the most is about the lingo used for Instant Pot cooking. I'll admit - it is a little different. I've defined a few of the commonly used terms below.
NPR or NR means natural pressure release.
That means, instead of immediately releasing the pressure from your Instant Pot after the cooking time is up, give it about 10-15 minutes to release on its own. After 10-15 minutes, flip the nozzle on the lid and release the pressure. (Careful though…that’s pressurized steam coming out!)
Natural pressure release is often used for cuts of meat or items that might get tough if the pressure is quickly released. It takes a little bit longer but lets the food slowly lose pressure and heat.
QR stands for quick release.
Quick release means you release the pressure valve on the lid and open the Instant Pot as soon as the cooking time is over. I use this method for pasta/rice that might overcook. It's also great for soups.
So, you'll often see instructions that look something like this: manual, high pressure, 15 minutes, NPR. That means you’ll use the manual setting on your pot to put in 15 minutes yourself, then let the pot have a natural steam release (for about 10 minutes) after the pot beeps when that 15-minute cycle is over. After 10-15 minutes, release the remaining pressure by turning the valve on the lid.
Let's use another example: you have instructions that say "manual, high pressure, 30 minutes, QR." That means you'll use the manual setting to set the timer on the Instant Pot for 30 minutes. Once that cook cycle is over and the Instant Pot beeps, release the pressure by turning the valve on top of the lid.
PIP stands for pot-in-pot cooking.
Pot-in-pot cooking means you’re cooking two dishes at the same time by stacking a separate smaller pot on top of a trivet in the inner pot.
It’s a great way to cook rice, veggies, or several other different types of side dishes!
Here’s how I do it: insert the trivet that comes with your instant pot, putting the legs on either side of whatever you’re cooking in the bottom of the pot. Then, put your pot-in-pot dish (I use a cake pan similar to this one and it works great for the recipes I’ve listed) on top of the trivet and add whatever you’re cooking. Seal the lid and cook away!
What is an Instant Pot water test?
The water test is the first thing you do with your Instant Pot. This ensures that it can come to pressure properly.
Yes, you need to do it before cooking your first meal to make sure the pot is functioning correctly (because you don't want to put a bunch of food in it that could go to waste if it malfunctions). It also helps you learn the parts of your Instant Pot.
Here's how to do an Instant Pot Water Test:
- Make sure your silicone sealing ring is tucked inside the metal ring inside your lid. If not, your pot won't come to pressure.
- Look at the top of your lid. All Instant Pots are a little different; check that the valve on top of the lid is turned towards the back (in the sealing position) and the metal floating valve is down (it will pop up when the pot comes to pressure). Make sure these two valves are not obstructed by anything before proceeding (sometimes they are covered for shipping).
- Make sure your metal inner pot is inside of your Instant Pot. Once you confirm that it is, place two cups of water in the inner pot. I know it sounds silly to even make this a step, but I can't tell you how many people I've seen ruin their pots because they put food in without an inner pot!
- Place the lid on your pot and lock it in place. If your pot is plugged in, it should beep when you lock the lid on.
- Press the manual button on the control panel of your Instant Pot. It will come up with a 30-minute indicator the first time...adjust this down to around 5 minutes.
- Now, let the pot do its thing! It will come to pressure in 10-15 minutes and complete the 5-minute "cook" cycle on your water. Once the cook cycle is over and the pot beeps, release the pressure (carefully!) by turning the venting knob forward.
Congratulations, you officially know how to use an Instant Pot as a pressure cooker!
Is an Instant Pot safe to use?
Somebody asked if their Instant Pot was going to blow up - I thought this question was funny! I'm sure many of you have seen that viral picture going around the internet of an entire kitchen caved in from using a pressure cooker. This isn't that type of pressure cooker.
There are many safeguards in place to ensure you don't blow up your kitchen using an Instant Pot. Now, I'm not going to say you can't do it - I'm sure someone out there will eventually find a way. But put it this way - I see what hundreds of thousands of users are doing with their pressure cooker in the Instant Pot Community on Facebook. Not one time have I seen someone blow up their Instant Pot because of a user error.
Should steam come out of the Instant Pot while pressurizing?
No. If steam is coming out of the sides of your Instant Pot lid (or if you hear a hissing sound), that typically means your silicone sealing ring isn't secured into the lid of the Instant Pot.
First, turn the valve on the top of the lid to release any pressure that has built up. Then, carefully unlock the lid, remove it, and secure the ring in the metal casing on the outside rim of the lid. (Careful - it will be hot!) Lock the lid back in place and try again.
Steam should come out of the pressure valve on the right of your lid for the first few minutes of cooking. After a little while (3-5 minutes), the pressure from the steam will make the valve pop up, locking that valve into place and sealing it. If it never pops up, it might be stuck.
Steam shouldn't come out of the valve on the left while pressurizing. If it does, make sure the valve is turned away from you...this should lock it.
Why is my Instant Pot not pressurizing but counting down?
After a while, your Instant Pot will assume the pot is pressurized and start the countdown timer on the cook cycle even if there isn't pressure. This could come from a few reasons:
- There's not enough liquid to come to pressure. You need at least 1 cup of liquid.
- The bottom of the Instant Pot liner is scorched. There needs to be very little food stuck to the bottom of the pot for it to come to pressure.
- The meal is frozen and not thawing quickly enough. If this happens, start the cook cycle over to give it extra time to thaw.
- The pressure seal of the lid isn't holding. If steam is coming out of the lid, troubleshoot it with the question I answered above.
Why does my Instant Pot say burn?
You probably have too much food stuck to the bottom of the Instant Pot liner. This is common when you saute something in the Instant Pot before you pressure cook. Use a little bit of liquid and a wooden spoon to scrape up the burnt bits and try again.
It also might mean you don't have enough liquid in the pot - make sure there's at least a cup of liquid when pressure cooking.
What does LO mean on an Instant Pot?
If you see LO on your Instant Pot screen, that means the pot is on the warmer function. This will turn on after a pressure cook or slow cook cycle is finished. You can also turn it on by pressing the "warm" function on your Instant Pot.
The pot will display LO, then a number; that's just how long the warm function has been running. So, if you see LO:13, that means your pot has been on warm for 13 minutes.
How do I clean an Instant Pot?
It's easy to clean - you just need to know where to scrub! I have a whole blog post about How to Clean an Instant Pot.
Is an Instant Pot Dishwasher-Safe?
Some parts are.
The lid is dishwasher safe (unless you have a pot with an air frying lid, like the Instant Pot Duo Crisp. Just remove the silicone ring (also dishwasher-safe) and top valve and put on the top rack of your dishwasher.
The actual pot base is not, but the inner stainless steel liner is. I talk more about exactly what you can put in the dishwasher in that cleaning post I linked above.
How do I use the accessories that come with an Instant Pot?
When you buy an Instant Pot, it normally comes with some sort of combination of the following: a steamer rack/trivet, a condensation collector, two types of spoons (one for soup, one for rice), and a measuring cup.
I'm going to be honest - I've never once used the spoons or the measuring cup. Chances are pretty good that you already have those in your house. The condensation collector isn't really totally necessary (I forgot to even put it on for months after purchasing and never noticed that it wasn't there).
But, the trivet is something you will probably use a good bit. I put mine in the bottom of the pot when I'm cooking something that doesn't need to touch the bottom (or it will scorch), like hard-boiled eggs or potatoes. I also use it for pot-in-pot cooking - that's what holds my inner pot up (see picture above).
The trivet is also handy when you need to lift food out of the inner pot (just be careful - it'll be hot!).
What extra accessories (that don't come with the Instant Pot) do I need?
There's not much that you have to have (that doesn't come with an Instant Pot)...but there is a lot that makes cooking with it a whole lot easier.
- I strongly recommend having some kind of aluminum pan that you can use for pot-in-pot cooking. I have one very similar to this one.
- Having an extra inner pot is great for when your original inner pot is dirty or storing leftovers in the fridge. I have just a stainless steel extra inner pot, but there are ceramic non-stick ones available too.
- Having some sort of lid for your inner pot is great for yogurt/slow cooking (since you don't need the pressure-locking lid for either of those) or when storing food in the inner pot. Before ordering one - check your pots & pans set to see if one fits your inner pot. If not, this one is great (I have it) and this silicone one works for storing food in the inner pot.
- I strongly recommend having an extra sealing ring to use for sweet foods. Food flavors tend to really soak into the sealing rings, making future meals you cook with that sealing ring taste funny. So I use one ring for sweet foods (like pies and lava cakes) and one for savory foods. (One note - it is recommended that you only use sealing rings made by Instant Pot, as the knock-off ones can void your Instant Pot's warranty. The one I have linked above is from Instant Pot.)
- Lots of people like making cheesecakes/pies in the Instant Pot...a pan like this is perfect for that! You can also use a Springform pan that is no larger than 7" in diameter.
If you're like me, you'll quickly develop a whole drawer full of Instant Pot accessories! 🙂
Does the cooking time differ for fresh vs. frozen foods in a pressure cooker?
Technically...yes. But, you will set your pot for the same amount of cooking time for fresh and frozen foods.
The big difference in the cooking time for thawed vs. frozen will be the time that it takes the pot to come to pressure. Because the frozen item in the pot prevents steam from forming and bringing the pot to pressure, your meal will have to thaw out before the pot pressurizes (and the cooking time officially begins).
Therefore, the pressurizing process adds cook time to your meal when you start from frozen. So, yes...it will take your meal longer to cook (usually by 15-20 minutes) if it is frozen. But you'll still set your pot for the same amount of cooking time whether it's frozen or not.
Do Instant Pot recipes include time to come to pressure?
No. Recipes give you the amount of time you need to set on your Instant Pot (which doesn't include pressurizing time).
It's hard to pinpoint an across-the-board time it will take meals to come to pressure because different scenarios will mean different pressurizing times (altitude, climate, size of the meal, the temperature of the meal, etc.)
How long does it normally take for the Instant Pot to come to pressure?
That all depends on the temperature of your food and the size of your meal.
I'd say that the average amount of time is 15 minutes. Food cooking from frozen often takes 20-30 minutes and larger quantities of food can take that long as well. If there's only a tiny amount of liquid (1-2 cups), you can expect the food to come to pressure in less than 10 minutes.
Think about how long it takes something to come to a boil on the stove; it's typically about the same amount of time in the Instant Pot!
How do I know when the Instant Pot is done cooking?
When the countdown timer on your cooking cycle reaches zero, the Instant Pot will beep. Then, it starts counting up (in minutes) to help you know how long it's been since the cook cycle stopped. This will help you time a natural pressure release.
So, in short, if it's counting up (not down), the cooking cycle is over.
When can I open my Instant Pot?
The Instant Pot is safe to open after a pressure cooking cycle when the pressure is released and that silver knob on top of the lid pops down. That shows you that the pressure is gone. But don't worry - it's incredibly difficult to open an Instant Pot while pressurized. You won't accidentally open it with too much pressure!
What should I make for my first meal?
There are so many great, easy Instant Pot meals...I could never fit them all in one post! But here are a few of my favorites for newbies:
How do I know when the Instant Pot comes to pressure?
Look on the lid of your Instant Pot - you'll have two valves that are key to understanding how to use the pressure cooker function.
The valve on the left is your pressure release valve. It looks a little different on every pot, but it should be turned to sealing when you're trying to get the pot to pressure.
The valve on the right is the floating valve that will indicate when your pot has come to pressure. The pressure from the steam in the pot will push this up and lock the pressure into the pot. Shortly thereafter, the countdown timer on your pot should start counting down.
If you ever have steam leaking out of the side of your lid or out of the sealing valve after the countdown has started or the floating valve has popped up, check the seals and locks on your pot's lid and try again. This means there is a pressure leak somewhere, usually having to do with the silicone sealing ring in the lid.
What pressure setting should I use on the Instant Pot?
Ninety-nine percent of the time, I use a "manual" setting on high pressure (on Ultra models, this is called the "pressure cook" setting). This allows me to set the amount of time I need according to the meal. You will almost always use this setting when cooking something from a recipe in your Instant Pot.
I will occasionally use the soup setting or the steam setting (if I'm cooking veggies), and of course, I use the yogurt setting when incubating yogurt for a long period of time. The slow cooker setting is great for meals that have a cooking time already set for a slow-cooking meal.
But, when in doubt, use manual.
Which Instant Pot model should I get?
That's a pretty loaded question. 😉 There are many different models for many different situations...it just kind of depends on the functionality you need and how much food you'll be cooking at once.
- If you're looking for a truly beginner model that has few bells and whistles (and a great price), I'd go with the DUO60 6 quart. (This is my model and I love it!)
- If you're planning on sanitizing items, making baked goods, or cooking sous vide style, go with the Plus 60 6 quart.
- If you want one with all of the cool features (including a Bluetooth control), go with the Pro Plus.
- If you'll be cooking more food at once, go with the bigger DUO80 8-quart.
- If you're just cooking for 1-2 people (or maybe in a dorm/apartment), go with the Duo 3-Quart.
- If you need a pot that allows for very custom programming, including altitude adjustment and the ability to see cooking progress, you'll need the Ultra.
- If you want to crisp items in the Instant Pot, go with the Duo Crisp.
Can you use an Instant Pot as a Crock Pot?
Absolutely! There is a slow cooker setting on the Instant Pot that works just as well as a Crock Pot. This machine eliminates the need for a slow cooker completely. I have honestly thought about giving my old slow cooker away...this does everything a slow cooker can do and more.
One important note: when using the Instant Pot slow cooker function, the "normal" setting is equivalent to low on a Crock Pot. The "low" setting is just a warmer and won't really cook your food. I've heard many stories of people coming home to an uncooked dinner by making this mistake!
Can I convert slow cooker recipes to Instant Pot recipes (and vice versa)?
Typically, yes! The two most important things when converting from slow cooker to electric pressure cooker are that a) when putting in the Instant Pot, you must have some kind of liquid to bring the pot to pressure in your recipe (or cook it pot-in-pot) and b) it must fit in the Instant Pot, which means your liner can be no more than ⅔ full.
I wish there was some magic formula I could give you for converting from slow cooker to Instant Pot - there's not. It's important to remember that vegetables cook incredibly fast (usually in under 5 minutes) in the Instant Pot, so if you're cooking a cut of meat that would normally stew with veggies for a long time in the slow cooker, you might want to add those to your Instant Pot for the last portion of cooking.
I also typically don't like to use dairy when actually cooking in the Instant Pot. Just add that after the cycle is over.
Here's a handy dandy chart to help you convert those recipes! Just download the pdf with the button below.
What can an Instant Pot not do?
Not much. 😉 The one area where I've really seen that the Instant Pot is limited is in crisping/broiling foods. If you need a crispy crust on something or need a crunch to your food, this isn't the place to do it (unless you have the Duo Crisp model).
Every once in a while I'll find a food that requires a little extra broiling in the oven after the cooking time in the Instant Pot is finished. It's not a big deal (I just pop it in my Toaster Oven normally), but it is something to think about.
It's also a little bit of a negative that you can't check your food as you go. Once you set your time and lock on the lid, you won't see how the recipe is looking until the cycle is completely over. For those of us who often cook by instinct, that can be tough to get used to. Sometimes you just have to trust a recipe!
Can the liquid that you have to cook with be frozen?
If you're just starting out with pressure cooking, you'll eventually learn that one of the central, most important rules in pressure cooking is that there has to be liquid. Liquid creates steam which pressurizes your cooker.
I had a question about whether or not you can put a block of ice in the IP and expect it to come to pressure...and the answer is yes! The pressurizing process will thaw it out and create steam. Just make sure that, once thawed, your meal will have at least a cup of liquid so the pot will come to pressure.
Who else has a question about their Instant Pot? Comment below with your question and I'll see if I can come up with an answer!