If you’ve ever wanted to buy an Instant Pot but are afraid of wasting money, or if you’ve had one sitting in its box for months–this post is for you! These five must-know tips will help you overcome your fears, and teach you all you need to know to get started.
Note: This post includes affiliate links to the products discussed, but always feel free to shop around for the best deals. See my disclosure to learn more.
The Instant Pot. It’s been the must-have cooking appliance for the past several years. Foodies sing its praises. Stores put it on their front page ads.
But, have you ever wondered, is it really as great as everybody says?
If you’ve ever wanted to buy an Instant Pot but are afraid of wasting money on a too-fancy appliance, or if you got one last Black Friday like I did and it’s still sitting in a box in your garage, don’t worry. I can help. I’ve been there.
Today I’m going to share with you why…YES, it is all it’s cracked up to be, and I’ll give you five must-know tips you need to get started cooking like a pro with it.
My Instant Pot Story
It’s been just about a year since I bought my Instant Pot. I’d been eyeing them for months, reading about them on various blogs and seeing ads for rock-bottom prices on America’s new favorite kitchen appliance.
Still, I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the plunge and spend the money. I’ve never been much of an early adopter of the “must-have” items on everyone’s Christmas lists. I’m frugal to a fault, and I don’t like change. Case in point: I didn’t get my first smart phone until 5 years ago. I didn’t even get a cell phone at all until my junior year of college (2005) when my mom practically forced me to get one because she was tired of leaving messages at my apartment that I may or may not ever return (sorry, Mom).
Then my Crock Pot died last year on the day before Thanksgiving. I realized that if I was ever going to upgrade to the Instant Pot, the timing was perfect (serendipitous, you might say). I clicked a few buttons on my phone, and my shiny new Instant Pot was on its way (I actually ordered it in the airport on the way to Hawaii…thank you, Amazon Prime).
Now, I just had to learn to use the thing. Hmm…
I’m not gonna lie, when I first pulled it out of the box, I had absolutely no idea what to do with it. There are just so many buttons. Supposedly you can use it to cook pretty much anything in the world (even cheesecake!), but I had no idea what button to push to make that happen. Slightly daunted–but unwilling to give up–I set to work learning.
You see, I have sort of a pride issue about buying things that I’m not sure my husband will totally see the merit in. I feel like I have to prove to him that it’s worth the money. I did the same thing when I bought my DSLR camera when we first got married. He had heard too many stories from men whose wives wanted a fancy camera but never learned how to use it on anything other than auto. I was determined not to be that girl. Almost eight years later, I am happy to report that he considers the camera to be a good investment. I wanted the Instant Pot to be the same.
So…one of my goals this year was to learn how to rock the instant pot. And I did it!
I’ll admit the Instant Pot does have a bit of a learning curve, but it’s actually quite simple once you understand a few key things. Read on, and you’ll be confidently cooking in no time!
First things first…
Top Three Reasons I Love my Instant Pot
You can sauté and slow cook in the same pot!
This was one of the main selling points for me. I HATE doing dishes, and I always thought it was super inefficient when a slow cooker recipe required you to brown meat before placing it in the slow cooker. Lame! The Instant Pot solves this. Now I can brown a pot roast, add liquid and seasonings, and set it to pressure cook all in the same pot. Wahoo for fewer dishes!
It really is faster…for most things
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that not all things cook faster in the Instant Pot. I’m still not sold on using it for rice or veggies (it’s not bad–just not any faster in my experience), but I can cook an entire roast in a little over an hour. You have to admit, that’s pretty impressive. And, yes, it is as tender as if it had been in the slow cooker all day.
You don’t have to thaw frozen meat before cooking.
A few months ago, when I made a ton of freezer meals in preparation for the birth of baby #3, I discovered something amazing about my Instant Pot. You can take a freezer “dump” meal straight out of the freezer, put it in the Instant Pot without thawing, and have a cooked meal in under 30 minutes. Whoa! I set the timer for 8 minutes, and my frozen chicken breast was completely cooked. Talk about an easy dinner! (Pro tip: freeze your meals in a round container–like an old ice cream tub–so they’ll fit in the Instant Pot easily).
Are you convinced you need an Instant Pot yet?
Okay, I admit the Instant Pot is not a NEED. There are few things in life that really are needs. Food, water, sunshine, Swedish Fish…. However, as kitchen appliances go, I’m really impressed with this one.
In case you’re wondering, this is the one I bought last year.
Okay, on to the tips. If you already have an Instant Pot, go get it out of the box. Oh, and while you’re at it, make sure you take out all the accessories, too. I didn’t realize they were in the bottom of the box at first and almost threw them all away. Whoops!
Ready? Let’s get cooking!
5 Must-know Instant Pot Tips for Beginners
Tip #1: Understand the real cook time.
This was one of the most confusing things to me when I started cooking in the Instant Pot. When you look at a recipe, most will say that you can cook chicken in 6 minutes or rice in 10 minutes. WHOA! That’s lightning speed!
Well, kind of. In reality, the cook time is longer. The Instant Pot is pretty speedy, but it’s not quite that instant. Most recipes don’t explain that you have to wait for the Instant Pot to get up to pressure before your “cooking time” actually starts. In my experience, it takes anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes for the Instant Pot to get up to pressure. You also have to account for the time it takes to release pressure after the timer goes off (what goes up must come down, right?).
So, for a chicken dish that has a six-minute cook-time, you need to plan on 10-15 minutes coming to pressure + 6 minutes cooking + 5-10 to release pressure. Total time is more like 25-30 minutes. Why DON’T they include this key information? Well, because it varies depending on the temperature of the liquid you add to the pot, how full the pot is, etc.
Tip #2: Always put liquid in the Instant Pot before sealing.
A certain amount of liquid is required for the Instant Pot to come to pressure. It’s the trapped steam from the heated liquid that increases the pressure in the pot. As the pressure increases, the temperature at which water will boil increases. This resulting higher temperature is what cooks the food inside faster (cool science!).
Bottom line: no liquid = ruined food.
From everything I’ve read and in my own experience, you always want to make sure you have at least a cup of liquid in the Instant Pot with whatever you’re cooking.
Tip #3: Learn how to use the pressure valve.
First things first: make sure you know where your pressure valve is. I may or may not have forgotten to actually close the valve the first time I tried to cook something in the Instant Pot. It turns out the pressure cookers don’t cook very well without pressure. Go figure.
Good news: it’s easy to find. It’s a little knob right on the top of the Instant Pot. You just have to make sure that it’s in the “sealing” position (pushed back), not “venting” (pulled forward).
Tip #4: Focus on “manual” mode.
There are lots of fancy buttons on the Instant Pot, and some day you can sit down with a cup of hot cocoa and read your user manual to learn about them (or Google it, like the rest of the world…hello, YouTube).
In the meantime, the only button you REALLY need to know about it the “manual” button. With it, you can cook just about anything. It’s what I use 95% of the time. Basically, when you use manual mode you can choose high or low pressure (most recipes use high), and set the cook time using the + and – buttons.
Tip #5: Understand “quick” release vs. “natural” release.
Once the timer goes off, you have two options for how to release the pressure in your Instant Pot:
- Natural Release: You can let the pressure release naturally, which usually takes between 15 and 30 minutes.
- Quick Release: You turn the valve from sealing to venting to quickly release the pressure and stop the cooking process (good for veggies). This will make some noise, and hot steam will come out of the vent, so keep your hands out of the way. I often cover the vent with a towel to control the spray.
- 10 minute natural release: Some recipes will suggest letting the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes and then quick releasing the pressure the rest of the way by turning the knob to venting.
One quick warning: be careful to keep your hands (and everything else) out of the way of the vent when releasing pressure. This is really hot steam we’re talking about, people.
Need some more help?
The five tips above tell you the basics you need to know to get started, but there is SO much more to learn. Once you start, you won’t want to stop. Pressure cooking is more addictive than Pringles.
In the spirit of continued education, here are a few more articles you might find useful as you continue your instant pot journey:
- Check out this free printable Instant Pot Cheat Sheet from One Good Thing by Jillee.
- Learn how to adapt Crock Pot recipes for the Instant Pot (spoiler: it’s SUPER easy).
- Get SUPER efficient by using the pot in pot method to cook multiple dishes at once (I haven’t done this yet, but it’s one of my goals for the coming year as I expand my Instant Pot repertoire.)
My Favorite Instant Pot Recipes:
- Easy Taco Soup
- Pear Applesauce
- Sweet Balsamic Pork Loin
- Zuppa Toscana
- Herb Roasted Red Potatoes
- Sunday Pot Roast
- 7 Make-ahead Chicken Marinades
And…wait for it…CHEESECAKE! Yep, you can make cheesecake in the Instant Pot. I haven’t actually tried it yet, but tons of reviews give me hope that it’s actually possible. I intend to try making THIS RECIPE as soon as I get a springform pan that will fit in my Instant Pot. Please, Santa! I’ve been good this year. 🙂
Do you have an Instant Pot? What you use it for most often? (Hopefully not a doorstop…at least not anymore!)