Mastering the Instant Pot: Tips for Beginners

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What is an Instant Pot?

An Instant Pot is a multifunctional electric pressure cooker that has revolutionized home cooking. It combines the functions of a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, steamer, and sauté pan, all in one appliance. This means you can make a variety of dishes, from soups and stews to cakes and yogurt, with just one device.

Why Use an Instant Pot?

There are several reasons why the Instant Pot has become a kitchen staple for many:

  • Convenience: It significantly reduces cooking time and effort.
  • Versatility: You can make a wide range of dishes.
  • Healthier Meals: It preserves the nutrients in your food.
  • Energy Efficient: It consumes less energy compared to using multiple appliances.

Getting Started

Unboxing and Setting Up

First things first, take your Instant Pot out of the box and place it on a flat, stable surface. Make sure all the components are there: the base, the inner pot, the lid, the sealing ring, and the steam rack. Wash the inner pot, lid, and steam rack with warm soapy water before using them for the first time.

Understanding the Controls

The Instant Pot comes with various buttons and functions. It may seem overwhelming at first, but it’s actually quite straightforward. Here are some key buttons you should know:

  • Pressure Cook/Manual: This is the most commonly used button. It allows you to set the cooking time and pressure level.
  • Saute: This function allows you to brown meat or sauté vegetables before pressure cooking.
  • Steam: This function is used for steaming vegetables, fish, or dumplings.
  • Slow Cook: This function allows you to cook food slowly, similar to a slow cooker.

Basic Instant Pot Tips

Water Test

Before you start cooking with your Instant Pot, it’s essential to do a water test. This will help you get familiar with how the appliance works and ensure that it is functioning correctly. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Add 3 cups of water to the inner pot.
  2. Close the lid and make sure the valve is set to “sealing.”
  3. Select the “Pressure Cook” or “Manual” button and set the timer for 5 minutes.
  4. Once the timer goes off, turn the valve to “venting” to release the pressure.
  5. Once all the pressure is released, open the lid.

Sealing and Venting

The sealing ring is crucial for the Instant Pot to work correctly. Make sure it is properly placed in the lid before closing it. Additionally, ensure the valve is in the “sealing” position when pressure cooking.

Natural vs Quick Release

There are two ways to release pressure from the Instant Pot:

  • Natural Release: This means allowing the pressure to release naturally. Once the cooking time is up, the Instant Pot will automatically switch to the “Keep Warm” mode. Wait until the float valve drops down before opening the lid. This usually takes about 10-15 minutes.
  • Quick Release: This involves manually turning the valve from the “sealing” position to the “venting” position. Be careful when doing this as hot steam will come out of the valve. Use a towel or oven mitt to protect your hand.

Cooking Tips


Before the Instant Pot starts cooking, it needs to reach the desired pressure. This is known as the pre-heating phase. The amount of time it takes to pre-heat depends on the quantity and temperature of the ingredients. It usually takes about 10-15 minutes.

Saute Function

The sauté function is handy for browning meat or sautéing vegetables before pressure cooking. This helps to develop flavors and makes the dish more delicious. Remember to deglaze the pot by adding liquid and scraping the bottom to remove any stuck-on bits.

Layering Ingredients

When cooking multiple ingredients, it’s important to layer them correctly to ensure even cooking. Start with the ingredients that take the longest to cook at the bottom, followed by the ones that cook quicker. For example, if you’re making a chicken curry, start with the chicken at the bottom, followed by the vegetables and then the sauce.

Using Liquid

It’s crucial to have enough liquid in the Instant Pot for it to generate steam and build pressure. A minimum of 1 cup of liquid is usually recommended, but it may vary depending on the recipe.

Avoiding the Burn Message

If there’s not enough liquid or if something is stuck to the bottom of the pot, you may get a “burn” message. To avoid this, make sure to add enough liquid and deglaze the pot before pressure cooking.

Cleaning and Maintenance

After Every Use

After each use, wash the inner pot, lid, and sealing ring with warm soapy water. Remove the anti-block shield and steam release valve and wash them as well. Make sure to check the sealing ring for any cracks or damages.

Deep Cleaning

Over time, food residues and odors may build up in the Instant Pot. It’s essential to do a deep cleaning every once in a while. Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Remove the sealing ring and soak it in vinegar for a few hours to remove odors.
  2. Fill the inner pot with 2 cups of vinegar and add a few lemon slices. Close the lid and set the valve to “sealing.” Select the “Steam” function and set the timer for 2 minutes.
  3. Once the timer goes off, do a quick release and open the lid. Discard the vinegar and lemon slices.
  4. Wipe the inside of the lid and the base with a damp cloth.


Mastering the Instant Pot may seem daunting at first, but with practice and the right tips, it can become your go-to appliance for quick and delicious meals. Remember to do a water test, understand the controls, and follow the cooking tips mentioned above. Also, don’t forget to clean and maintain your Instant Pot regularly to ensure its longevity.


  1. Can I cook frozen food in the Instant Pot?
    • Yes, you can cook frozen food in the Instant Pot. However, it will take a bit longer for the Instant Pot to come to pressure as the food needs to thaw first.
  2. Do I need to adjust the cooking time for high altitudes?
    • Yes, cooking time needs to be increased by about 5% for every 1,000 feet above 2,000 feet elevation.
  3. Can I use my Instant Pot as a slow cooker?
    • Yes, the Instant Pot has a “Slow Cook” function that allows you to use it as a slow cooker.
  4. Can I deep fry in the Instant Pot?
    • No, the Instant Pot is not designed for deep frying. It is a pressure cooker, and using it for deep frying can be dangerous.
  5. How long does it take for the Instant Pot to come to pressure?
    • It usually takes about 10-15 minutes for the Instant Pot to come to pressure, but it may vary depending on the quantity and temperature of the ingredients.


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