Instant Pot tips for beginners

Photo credit: Instant Brands Inc.

Congratulations on your new Instant Pot! Welcome to the club. You are about to enter a world of quick, easy and delicious meals you never imagined you could make in an electric pressure cooker. Once you learn how to use the Instant Pot, your new tool will revolutionize the way you cook. It does have a bit of a learning curve, so we have gathered the best Instant Pot tips for beginners to give you a smooth start.

Do the water test first

This is one of the most important tips in the Instant Pot quick-start guide: Make sure you do the water test as explained in the instruction manual. This has two purposes. The first is to make sure your electric pressure cooker is working properly. You don’t want to find out you have a defective unit in the middle of making your first meal. The second purpose is to give you some practice using it before you try to cook any food. It helps you get familiar with how to lock the lid, use all the buttons, and release pressure without worrying about ruining your meal.

MORE: Instant Pot mac and cheese

Never store your Instant Pot on top of your stove

Some people think their glass top stove is a great place to either store or use their Instant Pot. Those people are soon heartbroken when the bottom of their unit melts beyond recognition. It is far too easy to accidentally turn on a burner or turn on the wrong burner. To be safe, keep your Instant Pot completely away from the stove. If you are short on counter space, you can keep it on a rolling storage cart — along with all the accessories you’re soon going to buy.

Always double check that the liner is in the unit before adding food

When you’re learning how to use your new Instant Pot, it’s easy to get distracted by the excitement and make a mistake. Your ingredients go inside the stainless steel liner pot, which is then placed inside the electric unit. It’s easy to forget to put the liner pot inside, and in a rush, dump your ingredients straight into the electric unit. Always double check that the liner is inside first, or you’ll ruin your Instant Pot.

Always cook with at least one cup of liquid

The liquid is what builds pressure inside the Instant Pot, and without enough liquid, your food will scorch and the pot will turn off. No matter what you’re cooking, at least one cup of thin liquid, like water or broth, needs to be added — even if you’re cooking something like spaghetti sauce.

Double-check the silicone ring and steam valve

Troubleshooting is an important part of learning how to use the Instant Pot. If your pot isn’t coming to pressure, or there’s steam coming out from under the lid, don’t panic. It’s time to investigate. Usually, the problem is one of two things: the steam release valve was not closed all the way or the silicone ring inside the lid is out of place. Always double-check these before turning your pot on, and you’ll save lots of time by avoiding these mishaps.

It will take at least 10 minutes longer to cook your food than the recipe states

Many beginner’s guides to the Instant Pot forget to mention this: Cook times in Instant Pot recipes do not include how long it takes the pot to come to pressure. The time listed is only how long you’re supposed to set the pot for. It can take anywhere from 10-30 minutes for the pot to come to pressure, depending on how full the pot is and the temperature of the ingredients. A frozen pot roast will take longer to come to pressure than room temperature eggs. Make sure you build in extra time if you need the meal at a specific hour.

MORE: Applebee’s Instant Pot artichoke and spinach dip

Know the difference between QR and NPR and when to use them

QR, or quick release, is when you manually open the steam release valve to release the pressure from the pot in the form of steam. Be prepared for a loud hissing noise; it can be startling! Quick release is best for soft or delicate foods, like vegetables. NPR, or natural pressure release, is when you allow the Instant Pot to sit anywhere from 10-15 minutes and slowly release the pressure itself without opening the steam release valve. NPR is a must when cooking meat, as this time is what makes it tender. If you QR meat, it will be tough and chewy. NPR is also necessary with sauces and soups, as a QR will send it flying through the valve and all over you and your kitchen. If the recipe calls for NPR, remember to build that extra time into your schedule too.

Use your Instant Pot in an open area only

Another important warning in the Instant Pot quick-start guide: Your Instant Pot should only be used in an area where the steam release is not obstructed by anything. Releasing the steam under your cabinets will ruin them. If you have no other place to cook, a steam diverter can solve the problem.

MORE: Instant Pot quick start guide

Don’t overfill the pot

Never fill your pot more than 2/3 of the way full. There is a fill line on the inside of the steel liner pot. If you’re cooking something that will expand, like beans, the safest bet is to not fill more than halfway.

Cut your meat into chunks before cooking.

You certainly can throw a whole roast in your Instant Pot — even a frozen one — but it will cook faster and more evenly if you cut it into chunks first. Your meat will be much more tender after the NPR too.

Get some gadgets

While you’re learning how to use your new Instant Pot, don’t forget that you still may have some shopping to do. There are lots of accessories that enhance your Instant Pot experience — everything from extra silicone rings to egg racks. They’re all designed to allow you to make even better meals, even easier.

This is just a mini beginner’s guide to the Instant Pot. Make sure you read the manual completely — it doesn’t take very long, promise — and take your time learning how to make the most of your new tool.