Instant Pot Guide for Beginners

Know where the manual button is!

Instant Pot Beginner Tips

The Instant Pot Prep You Need for Turning Your Kitchen into a Dinnertime Powerhouse!

If you received an Instant Pot from Santa (or any electric pressure cooker, for that matter), or recently made the big purchase yourself, you may be wondering how to best get started off on your pressure cooking journey. That’s why I’m here!

It’s great to peruse Instant Pot recipes on Pinterest, or to join Instant Pot Facebook groups – both of which are wonderful resources. But suddenly you feel weirdly paralyzed. Don’t worry! This is called “information overload” and it’s easy get a bit overwhelmed, truly.  Just take a deep breath and know in your heart it’s gonna be OKAY. (Chef Alli has your back!)

Below are my top Instant Pot beginner tips to get you over the hump and feeling much more confident in using the small appliance work-horse that is forever going to change how you do dinner.

1. First Things First: LIQUID.

In order for your pot to pressurize, you must have liquid inside. The very bottom of your pot needs to be just covered by the liquid. At least 1 cup of liquid is recommended for a 6-quart pot, and 1 ½ – 2 cups of liquid is recommended for an 8-quart pot.  Liquid is the key!

And here’s why:  When you begin the pressure cooking process, the liquid in your pot begins to circulate.  This circulation is what creates the steam.  And steam is what makes your pot pressurize.

What liquid should you use?  Lots of recipes call for water, but I find that using broth is actually best because it amps up the flavor of whatever you’re cooking. Unless I’m hard boiling eggs, I find that 95% of the time I’m using broth instead of water in my Instant Pot….occasionally beer or wine.

What about my chicken breast or my cheesecake? This is true for everything from a soup to a cheesecake to a whole chicken! Which is why you’ll see on some recipes that you are to set whatever you’re cooking on a trivet. A trivet holds your dish or food up out of the water (so you’re not just boiling it to death) while still utilizing the power of the pressure cooking steam.

Exceptions to the Rule:  There are basically 3 things you are going to cook in your pot that don’t follow the “just cover the very bottom of the pot with liquid” rule.  They are:  pastas, grains, and beans.  Whenever you are cooking a pot full of these ingredients, you will need to be sure they are covered with liquid (broth) by at least 1 inch.

2. For the Record… Two Things You Can Totally Stop Wondering and Worrying About.

Don’t worry about which BRAND of pot (electric pressure cooker) you have. All electric pressure cookers (no matter which brand….Instant Pot, Cuisinart, Farberware, Pressure Cooker XL, etc) work under the same basic premise: they need liquid in order to create steam, which in turn makes pressure.

Secondly, all electric pressure cookers are MULTI-COOKERS.  Nearly every one of them, no matter the brand, is a multi-cooker of some sort.  You can sauté in them (great for browning meats and aromatics!), you can use them as a rice cooker and a slow cooker, and some pots offer the function of yogurt maker, as well.

Brands really don't matter that much when it comes to Instant Pot cooking. They are all basically the same machine. Let me explain...

3. Know Which Size Pot it is That You Own.

This may sound weird or even trivial, but size really does matter.  Most recipes are created for 6-quart pots (because that size is what first became available on the market), so if you’ve got a 3-quart pot or an 8-quart pot, you’ll need to adjust your recipe and cooking time accordingly – a huge factor in a recipe’s success… or failure.

4. Read the Manual.

Then read it again. This will help you get familiar with the parts and pieces of your pot, how they all go together, and the basic premise of operation. Please don’t skip this step!


What to Do When Your Instant Pot Won’t Pressurize:

Download my FREE Instant Pot/Electric Pressure Cooker Troubleshooting Guide. It’s a simple 6-Step Checklist of the most common pressure cooker problems you’ll face. Click below to get this FREE PRINTABLE in your inbox!

Instant Pot Won't Pressurize? Print a FREE troubleshooting guide now and get dinner done!

5. Cook Yo-Self Some Water.

This is your first recipe and a very important first step. You’ve always wanted to make pressure cooked WATER, right?? Well, of course you have. Look at it this way: if it’s just WATER that you’re cooking, you don’t have to fear any repercussions, such as ruined, burned food ($$$ down the drain!) while you’re very first learning how your pot actually operates.

Cooking water as your first recipe allows you to learn how your pot will pressurize, how to freely move the sealing and venting knob, and what the front display says as you begin the pressure cooking process.

6. Perform Your Very First Quick Release.

*Warning: It Can Be Scary, so Get Ready.

When you’ve finished the cycle that cooks your water, you can now get the hang of turning your pressure release valve to let all the steam and pressure out of your pot. Use a long-handled spoon or spatula to turn your release valve to open. Steam will quickly begin escaping and hissing, just like in the movies! Take this opportunity to play with the valve. (stay away from the steam with your face and arms… it’s HOT) You will see how easily you can stop the release and start the release just by turning the valve slightly. To finish the process, leave the release valve open until all of the steam has escaped.

Pressure Cooker Valve

Electric Pressure Cookers now have a safety sensor that will drop when all of the pressure is officially out. Another great safety feature is that your pot WILL NOT OPEN until all of that pressure is released, so if you’re pot isn’t opening, don’t force it! When the pressure is all gone, it will unlock and Ta-Da! Congratulations! You’ve just performed your very first Quick Release. (Fist pump)

7. Immediately Make a Recipe….as in RIGHT NOW.

Once you’ve cooked WATER, you need to follow right up with a simple, basic recipe.  And, NO, that would not be Grandma’s Pot Roast…..sorry.  (Making meat as your first recipe can really backfire, causing you to NEVER want to use your Instant Pot again.) Instead, I recommend you begin with these 3 foods, in this exact order:

hard boiled eggs

applesauce

macaroni and cheese

When you make these three items in this exact order, you will quickly build excitement and confidence, which is EXACTLY what you need at this stage of the game. Trust me. Conquering these three recipes first is going to set you up for continued, long-term success…a very, very good thing.

8. Know the Lingo Going In.

Learning the language of something new can help you feel more confident, and luckily there are just a couple of important terms to know right off for pressure cooking:

NPR – Natural Pressure Release. When the timer on your pot sounds, you smile and walk away….you get to go do something else while your pot does all the work! A natural release means you let your pot’s pressure naturally come down on it’s own….the exact opposite of doing a quick release.

QR – Quick Release.  When the timer on your pot sounds, carefully move the pressure valve to the venting position to release all the pressure from the pot. (Just as you did in Tip #4 above.)

Trivet – Every pressure cooker should come with a metal trivet that fits in the bottom of the pot. As mentioned in tip #1, a trivet lifts food up out of the liquid when necessary, while still allowing the steam to circulate and cook. A recipe will let you know when a trivet is necessary. Most casseroles and cakes (yes… you heard that right) as well as some solid foods like eggs, beets, and potatoes will require a trivet.

9. Know Where These Two Buttons Are:  Manual (or Pressure Cook) and Sauté.

Older Instant Pot models sport a Manual button while newer Instant Pot models feature a Pressure Cook button…..they both perform the same duty. Once you push the manual button, this will allow you to program in the cook time that your recipe states.  Very few recipes will actually call for use of the preset buttons on your pot such as Meat, Rice, Porridge (does anyone really eat porridge???) so don’t worry about them – just manually program in the cook time that your recipe recommends.  Also, some pots have both a Low Pressure and a High Pressure option.  Opt for High Pressure unless your recipe specifically states Low Pressure.  (I’ve never used Low Pressure….not ever.  FYI)

Know where the manual button is!

10. Don’t Stir the Pot…..Literally.

This can be one of the hardest things to do when you are first starting out as a pressure cooker! Remember how we discussed liquid (and it’s importance) in Tip #1? Well that’s exactly why you DON’T want to stir up what you put in your pot until after you’ve cooked it.  If you stir your ingredients when placing them into your pot, the liquid needed to create the steam and pressure gets stirred in, which is where you DON’T want it to be.  That liquid needs to remain either on the bottom of your pot or on top of your ingredients so it can do it’s job.  Super important!

11. Don’t Be Discouraged

I don’t know how many people have tried one recipe and told me they never used their pot again because it didn’t save them that much time. It’s true. Larger items like roasts and chicken will still take a little time (although not nearly as long as roasting in the oven or in a slow cooker!) Foods that already cook quickly in a different device (like rice in a rice cooker… a rice cooker uses the SAME basic principles of steam to cook rice) are going to be about the same in an Electric Pressure Cooker. And when a recipe says “5 minutes” it is not usually accounting for the time it takes to come up to pressure, which can feel like forever!

Chef Alli would love to help you master your Instant Pot!

So what benefit IS there with an Instant Pot? Oh, let me tell you! First of all, don’t worry – there are plenty of recipes that will have a dramatic difference in time. Slow cooker recipes, for sure. Also, eggs, casseroles, and pasta dishes that can now be made in one pot. You will also save time in cleanup, since the Instant Pot is used as your burner,  your “oven”, AND your slow cooker. One pot. Done. And last but not least, you will see a dramatic difference in flavor. For example, a chili that takes twenty minutes in the Instant Pot (8 minutes under pressure) start-to-finish might seem the same as a chili on the stove, but it is going to TASTE like a chili that has been simmering for an hour. THAT is where you are going to really love the difference.

12. Use Good Recipes from Reliable Resources.

A recipe fail is super discouraging. This is why you absolutely need to find good, solid sources for your recipes.  All of the Instant Pot recipes found at ChefAlli.com have been tried and tested before ever making a debut on the site. We also recommend these resources for reliable recipes:  HipPressureCooking.com, PressureCookingToday.com, and ThisOldGal.com.

Ready to Begin???? You CAN DO THIS!


Start by downloading Chef Alli’s FREE Printable Quick Cooking Chart:

Get this quick reference guide to 14 commons foods complete with amounts, cooking times, and pressure release guidelines! Print it out, tape it to the inside of your cabinet, and you’re on your way to mastering your Electric Pressure cooker.

This FREE Printable Cooking Chart makes quick work of 14 common Instant Pot foods and will ensure Instant success for any new Electric Pressure Cooker user!

We love hearing from our readers and followers, so leave us a comment if you’d like.  And, if you don’t hear back from us shortly, know that we may not have seen your comment.  Feel free to reach out to us by email:  ChefAlli@ChefAlli.com

Let’s Get You Pressure Cookin’,
Chef Alli

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Chef Alli

Chef Alli is a home-grown Kansas girl on a mission to strengthen families through enabling kitchen confidence, educating the family cook, and encouraging better food relationships. She believes with her whole heart that time spent with our loved ones and our overall quality of life is greatly enhanced by nutritious food made at home with simple, wholesome ingredients. She loves being able to connect and share this passion with others through her website, her social media presence, and her coveted speaking engagements.

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