The Best Instant Pot Tips For Beginners

Know where the manual button is!
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If you received an Instant Pot from Santa, 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!  #InstantPot

Below are the Instant Pot Tips You Need for Turning Your Kitchen into a Dinnertime Powerhouse!

Yep, there on tons of Instant Pot recipes on Pinterest and it’s great to join Instant Pot Facebook groups – these 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. I promise.

 

Instant Pot Beginner Tips

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 Instant Pot to pressurize, you must have liquid inside. The very bottom of your pot needs to be just covered by  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 Instant Pot begins to circulate.  This circulation is what creates the steam.  And steam is what makes your Instant Pot pressurize. So remember, no liquid inside, no pressurization, no dinner.

What liquid should I 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.

Exceptions to the Instant Pot Liquid 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 above the ingredients.

2. Two Things You Can Totally Stop Wondering and Worrying About Regarding Your Instant Pot.

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 pressurization.

Secondly, your Instant Pot (or any brand of electric pressure cooker, actually) is definitely a MULTI-COOKER that performs many functions – it braises, steams, pressure cooks, sautés, performs as a rice cooker, and a slow cooker. in Some Instant Pots even function as a 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 Instant Pot it is That You Own.

This may sound weird or even trivial, but size really does matter….at least when you’re talking Instant Pots. Most recipes are created for 6-quart pots since that is the original size that became popular when this small appliance hit the market a few years back.

That said, if you own a 3-quart Instant Pot or an 8-quart Instant Pot, be aware that you need recipes that work in those specific size of pots as the cooking time for each size of Instant Pot varies, along with the quantity of ingredients each one will hold.

Remember if you’re using a 6-quart recipe in a different in a different size Instant Pot (say the 3-quart or the 8-quart) you’ll need to adjust your recipe and cooking time accordingly – a huge factor in the success or failure of your recipe.

As an example, if you’re using an 8-quart pot that can hold more ingredients, you’ll have to increase the cooking time; if you’re cooking in the 3-quart pot that holds fewer ingredients, you’ll probably have to decrease the cooking time.

If you’re using a 3-quart Instant Pot, look specifically for 3-quart recipes, and the same goes for the 8-quart pot.  Most recipes state which size pot it needs.

However, if the recipe does not state which size Instant Pot it’s been created for, the likelihood is that the recipe is for a standard 6-quart Instant Pot, FYI.

4. Read the Manual That Comes with Your Instant Pot.

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!

Also, most manuals come with food charts included.  These are a very hand reference when you want to know how long you cook specific ingredients.  The food charts are usually grouped by the type of foods – meats, poultry, beans, grains, vegetables, etc.  Many food charts also include how long to cook foods based on whether they are fresh or frozen, too.


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

Download my FREE Instant Pot Troubleshooting Guide. It’s a simple 6-Step Checklist of the most common Instant Pot cooking 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.

Yep, 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 exercise with your Instant Pot allows you to learn how it will pressurize, how to freely move the sealing and venting valve, and what the front display says as the pressure cooking process takes place when you’re cooking.

6. Perform Your Very First Instant Pot Quick Release.

*Warning: Your First Quick Release Can Be Scary, so Get Ready! It’s a bit noisy, too. 

When you’ve finished the Instant Pot 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.

Most pressure release valves turn to release the pressure. On some models, you can use a long-handled spoon to press against the valve to release the pressure, too.

Steam will quickly begin escaping and hissing – this is how a quick-release works. Take this opportunity to play around with the valve a bit. Beware of the escaping steam – it’s HOT!  You will see how easily you can stop the release and start it again just by turning the valve slightly.

To finish the process, leave the release valve open until all of the steam has escaped.

Question? And How Will I Know When ALL the Pressure is Removed From My Instant Pot?

First of all, watch for the stem at the back of your Instant Pot to fall down (you can usually hear it click, too) once all the pressure is removed from the pot.

Secondly, once all the pressure has released from the Instant Pot, you can easily turn the lid to open the pot.  If you can’t turn the lid as easily as when you locked it into place before pressurizing, the Instant Pot is still pressurized.

Don’t ever force the lid to open – this is very dangerous and you could get burned.  Simply perform a quick release once more to remove any remaining pressure in the Instant Pot. Ta-Da!

Pressure Cooker Valve

 

7. Get Cooking with Your Instant Pot Right Away….as in 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 if the meat turns out chewy, rather like a rubber ball.

Instead, I recommend you begin with these 3 foods, in this exact order: hard boiled eggs, applesauce, macaroni and cheese.  Here’s a post containing each of these recipes IN ORDER!

When you make these three items in this exact order in your Instant Pot, 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.

Jump in!  You can do this Instant Pot thing.  View your first cooking experiences as experiments!

 

8. Know the Instant Pot 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 in your Instant Pot:

NPR – Natural Pressure Release. When the timer on your pot sounds, simply 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. 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 such as when you make hard-boiled eggs will require a trivet.

Pot Head – Any one who crosses over “to the dark side” and loves their Instant Pot.  I am proud to be an official Pot Head!

9. Know Where These Two Instant Pot 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. After you choose the manual button, you can then program in the specific cook time that your recipe requires.

Your other option is to use buttons on your Instant Pot that are labeled with various food groups (such as Soup, Meat/Stew, Rice, Grains, Beans, etc). These buttons are pre-programmed at the Instant Pot factory with specific time settings. I don’t trust them.

I personally do not use the food group buttons on my pot unless I’ve taken the time to re-program the times that I know work best for specific food types. I always use the manual button, programming in the cook time that my recipe recommends.

 

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 pressure cooking in your Instant Pot!

Remember how we discussed liquid (and it’s importance) in Tip #1? Well that’s exactly why you DON’T want to stir what you put inside your Instant Pot until after you’ve cooked it.

If you stir your ingredients after layering them into your pot, (usually when you’re cooking pastas, grains, or bean recipes) the liquid needed to create the steam and pressure gets stirred into the center of these ingredients which is exactly where you DON’T want it to be.

The liquid can’t circulate to create steam and pressure unless it’s on the bottom of your ingredients or on the very top.  Super important!

11. Understand That Your Instant Pot Needs to Come Up to Pressure Before the Cooking Time Actually Begins.

When an Instant Pot recipe states the time that is needed for the ingredients to cook, it is referring to the time UNDER PRESSURE.  The cook time that’s stated doesn’t include the time that your Instant Pot needs to come up to pressure.

Once the cook time begins to count down after the ingredients are pressurized in your Instant Pot, they will cook in about half as much time as when they are cooked conventionally on the stove top or in the oven.  Instant Pot cooking is such a time saver, truly!

 

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

12. Appreciate the Many Benefits the Instant Pot Offers.

In a nut shell: the Instant Pot gives us a huge savings of time, intensified flavors, more nutritional value, energy efficiency, one-pot cooking, and ease of clean up. 

I also love having the ability to cook up pork butts, pot roasts and turkey breasts on the weekend (in just over an hour!) so that I’ve got cooked meats in my fridge to begin the work week. You can make so many different meals when you have cooked meats ready – pastas, skill

13. 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!

Other Instant Pot Info You Will Find Helpful:

 

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 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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