5-Step Guide to Using an Instant Pot for Beginners

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You’ve heard a lot of great things about using an Instant Pot from friends and coworkers, and you’ve finally decided to bite the bullet and buy one.

Yay to all the culinary possibilities! However, a week passes, then another, yet your new Instant Pot still sits there unused. How come?

You now the answer: using an Instant Pot can be confusing for a beginner. All those buttons, the fancy lid, plus the very thought of pressure cooking – will this shiny new gadget blow up if I do something wrong?

You search for Instant Pot tips online, but soon realize that there are way too many guides, a lot of them really long and detailed. That’s not bad if you’re studying for a degree in Instant Pottery, but what if you just want to make some chili for dinner tonight?

Instant Pot tips for beginners: 5 things to know

I’ve been in your place before. I bought my Instant Pot a couple days before my daughter was born, so trust me: I’ve put aside quite a few recipes because I just didn’t have the time to do all the research.

Thankfully, those days have long since passed, and I’ve learned quite a bit about using this fancy pressure cooking tool. So today I decided to share five main facts about using an Instant Pot that will help any beginner to go from “Where the heck do I start?” to “All right, let’s do this!”

What you need to know about using an Instant Pot as a pressure cooking newbie: Click To Tweet

The Beginner’s Guide to Using an Instant Pot: 5 Main Things to Know

1. It may be called Instant Pot, but it will take more than an instant to cook your food.

The cooker will need a few minutes to reach the needed pressure, then cook the food for as long as you set it for depending on the recipe, and a few more minutes after that to release the pressure. The larger the food volume, the longer the overall time.

Good news: that’s all hands-off time, so you can do whatever you want while your food is cooking.

Example: my Instant Pot vegan jambalaya recipe calls for 4 minutes of the actual pressure cooking. Add to this about 5-7 minutes for the pressure to build up before that, then 10 minutes afterwards for the 10-minute natural release. (More about the natural release method in #3 below.)

2. Don’t let the buttons on your Instant Pot confuse you!

In all fairness, you can get anything pressure cooked using only 3 buttons: Manual, Sauté, and Keep Warm/Cancel (plus the “+” and “-” to adjust the time). The exact names of these buttons may vary depending on your IP model.

Using an Instant Pot: 3 main buttons that get all the work done

– Manual – the button that you press to get the pressure cooking process started. After the lid of your IP is closed, press Manual and use the “+” and “-” buttons to set the cooking time. The IP will beep to let you know that the process has started. The dial screen will say “On” while the pressure is building, then it will start counting down the cooking time.

– Sauté – this button lets you use the bowl of your IP the same way you’d use a pot on the stovetop. Sauté vegetables to build the flavor of your soups and stews before pressure cooking, or add more ingredients or spices afterwards and let the food simmer a bit longer. To use this function, just press the Sauté button and wait until the bottom of the bowl is warm.

– Keep Warm/Cancel – this button is used to cancel a function (like when you’re moving from sauteing to pressure cooking), or to turn the IP off. Older Instant Pot models have two separate buttons for this function.

What do the rest of the Instant Pot buttons mean? Soup, Meat, Chili, Rice, Multigrain, etc. – those are just preset times for pressure cooking each of those things. However, it’s easier and more precise to use the Manual button for all your pressure cooking needs since your IP isn’t going to know how much foods you’re putting in; if those beans are dried or pre-soaked; if any of the ingredients are still frozen; or if you’ve pressed the right button for the type of food you’re cooking.

3. There are 3 ways to open the Instant Pot at the end of pressure cooking.

– Quick release – for releasing the pressure instantly. Press Cancel, then carefully turn the pressure knob to Venting position to allow the steam to escape.

– Natural Release – for continuing to cook the food in the residual heat and steam after the pressure timer runs out. Press Cancel, then wait for the pressure to come down naturally until the metal pin on the lid drops. Unlock the lid carefully.

– 10-minute Natural Release – a Natural Release variation that doesn’t take as long. After the pressure cooking time runs out, wait until the “Keep Warm” timer reaches 10 minutes. Press Cancel, then turn the pressure knob to Venting position.

4. Pay attention to the pressure knob position when closing the lid.

The little handle on top of the lid closes the opening that allows the steam (and thus the pressure) to escape. That’s why it’s important to make sure the handle is turned clockwise to “Sealing” position before the pressure cooking begins. To release the pressure at the end of cooking, turn the handle counterclockwise to “Venting” position.

Using an Instant Pot: tips for sealing and venting the lid

When the lid is properly sealed and the IP reaches full pressure, the metal pin next to the pressure knob will rise up. When the pressure is released, the pin will drop.

Note: When releasing the pressure, be careful not to burn yourself on the escaping steam! Keep your hands and face away from the lid, and use a spatula to turn the handle if needed.

5. Vegans rejoice: cooking beans and grains in the Instant Pot is a breeze!

However, there are a few things to keep in mind.

– When cooking beans, add enough water to cover them at least by a couple inches, but avoid filling up the inner pot with beans and water more than halfway. Beans need room to expand during cooking.

Using an Instant Pot: how to cook beans and grains

– You can cook beans without pre-soaking them first, but pre-soaking makes them cook faster and lets their nutrients be more bio-available. It also helps break down components that might give us gas and bloating. For best results, pre-soak your beans for 6-12 hours before cooking.

– The exact timing for cooking beans and grains may vary depending on the altitude of your area. The Instant Pot manufacturers suggest adding 5% to the cooking time per every 1000 feet of elevation starting at 2000 feet.

– When cooking grains, follow the grain-to-water ratios suggested by the Instant Pot website or the pamphlet that comes with each Instant Pot. However, be aware that there are some differences between the ratios listed on the website and in the pamphlet. For best results, you may need to experiment with both versions and find out what works for you.

Here’s what works great for me when cooking rice:

  • White basmati rice: 2 cups rice + 2.5 cups water. I set it to cook at high pressure for 3 minutes on Manual, then do the 10-minute Natural Release (see above).
  • White jasmine rice: 2 cups rice + 2.25 cups water. Same instructions as basmati rice.
  • Brown rice: 2 cups rice + 2.5 cups water. Cook at high pressure for 22 minutes on Manual, then do the 10-minute Natural Release.

I hope these tips help you demystify using an Instant Pot. Before you know it, you’ll be pressure cooking all kinds of deliciousness!

See all of my vegan Instant Pot recipes and cooking tips from the blog (I’ll be adding more in the near future).

5 things to know about using an Instant Pot for beginners


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About Alina Zavatsky - Vegan Runner Eats

Alina first made a switch to a vegan diet in 2013 to optimize her athletic performance as a marathon runner. Being vegan eventually opened her eyes on the issues of animal welfare, environmental protection, human rights and feminism. Alina hopes that her blog will help its readers on their path to making this world a better place.

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