Don’t be intimidated to use that brand new pressure cooker! Beginners can learn how to use an Instant Pot in minutes with this easy how-to guide, tips, and instructions.
“You need an instant pot!” “I love my instant pot!” So, you got one.
Now you’re sick of staring at that brand new “life changing” Instant Pot still sitting in its box.
I get it. It’s intimidating and it’s never really the right time to learn how to use it. What you need is a quick tutorial to start using your pressure cooker and finally see what everyone is raving about.
Give me 5 minutes and soon you’ll be drinking the Instant Pot kool-aid!
Beginners Instant Pot Basic Instructions
- Put ingredients in. Some recipes will required to use SAUTE function first without the lid in place to saute onion, garlic or brown meats in oil.
- Lock lid in place by turning clockwise. Make sure the valve at top is in SEAL position. (The valve automatically seals for some newer Instant Pot models.)
- Select MANUAL / PRESSURE and set the cooking time based on recipe. Hit START.
- First it will take 10-40 minutes for the ingredients to heat up and come to pressure. Once the pressure has built the Instant Pot will beep once and cooking time will start counting down. (By freaky Instant Pot magic, your pressure cooker knows when it’s at pressure and when to start cooking time.)
- After the set cooking time has expired the Instant Pot will beep a lot and turn off or automatically switch to KEEP WARM. This is when you release the pressure in one of two ways highlighted below.⬇️
What is Pressure Cooker Quick Release & Natural Release?
During cooking extreme pressure builds up inside the Instant Pot, which makes the food so tender, yummy, and delicious in such a short time.
In order to safely screw the lid off, the pressure needs to be released. The float valve comes down by either quick release or natural release, depending on the recipe and preference.
Quick Release (QR) – When the cooking time ends press or turn the button to release pressure. You do not need to hold it down. Some people use the handle of a wooden spoon to press it down and avoid risk of potential contact with hot steam.
Foods that can easily be overcooked will use quick release, such as vegetables, pasta, fish.
Natural Release (NPR) – Use natural release when your Instant Pot is very full (ie. soups), cooking meats, beans, or grains till tender.
After cooking completes your unit will either go to KEEP WARM, CANCEL, or turn off. Any of these are fine. The recipe will say, “Natural release for X minutes, then quick release” or it will indicate to just naturally release all the pressure.
Natural Release is leaving the pressure valve alone and letting the unit gradually release the pressure as it sits there. This can take 5-40 minutes, depending on the contents. You’ll know when it’s done because the lid will be able to screw off.
The more full the pressure cooker is, the longer it will take to come down to pressure.
Pressure Cooker Essential Tips
- Always have at least 1 cup of liquid in pressure cooker. Sometimes recipes will call for less if the ingredients contain a lot of water, like chicken, fruits, or vegetables.
- When pressure is released make sure valve is pointed away from people or kitchen cabinets.
- The valve will let off a little steam as the float lifts up and locks into place. This is normal and it will stop once the pressure cooker comes to full pressure.
- Don’t fill your Instant Pot more than 2/3 and make sure you are at or under 1/2 mark when cooking items that expand, like rice, dry beans, or pasta.
Instant Pot FAQ and Troubleshooting
I’m scared to press down the valve. Help!
Some people use the handle of a wooden spoon to press down the valve and avoid risk of potential contact with hot steam. Point the valve away from people or kitchen cabinets. I try to point it towards my cooktop exhaust fan and have it running at full blast.
Steam is coming from my valve. Is it not sealed?
First double check the valve is in fact sealed. If it is, normally steam escapes from the valve while pressure is building. Once the Instant Pot has fully come to pressure, the valve will seal, and the steam will stop.
If steam is coming from the sides of the lid, it means it’s not sealed properly. Turn off the unit, quick release pressure, and check under the lid to make sure the silicone ring and float valve are properly in place and free of food particles.
Why is liquid sputtering out of the valve? Is it not sealed?
The Instant Pot is either too full (never fill more than 2/3) or it is what you are cooking inside. Foods that typically froth or foam are pasta, soups, applesauce, beans, grains, and potatoes. When cooking foods such as these make sure pot is not more that 1/2 full and adding 1-2 tablespoons of oil to the liquids help stop foaming.
My Instant Pot stopped cooking and LCD says “BURN.”
Usually this means something you are cooking has deposited at the bottom and is overheating. I find this happens when I cook tomato-based foods. Release pressure, stir contents, and set cooking time for remaining time.
Can I cook frozen meats?
Yes, but some work better than others. Frozen chicken breasts work great, but large frozen solid roasts not so much.
My meat or pasta isn’t done!
You have two options. First, select SIMMER / SAUTE and finish cooking undercooked fruits, veggies, or pasta on that setting.
Alternatively, if your meat isn’t at proper temperature, or not as fall-apart tender as you’d like it, lock the lid in place, select HIGH pressure, and add additional cooking time. Remove cooked vegetables to keep warm while meat finishes.
My sauce is too thin / too thick.
Release pressure, remove lid, and select SIMMER / SAUTE. You can either simply let the sauce simmer and reduce without a lid on or mix together equal parts cornstarch with water and stir it into the sauce. I typically start with 2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water.
If the sauce is too thick add extra liquid to thin it out. It can be water, broth, or any other liquid called for in the recipe.
Learning Instant Pot Buttons
Although all the buttons can be intimidating, most are preprogrammed convenience settings (similar to a microwave’s popcorn setting).
Buttons such as MEAT, STEW, RICE, and BEANS still cook at HIGH pressure and have a preprogrammed time. Adjust the cooking time for these settings before you hit START.
Below are the buttons I use most frequently on the Instant Pot.
PRESSURE / MANUAL – Go to for all recipes that say “Cook at HIGH pressure.” Press it and hit +/- to adjust the time according to the recipe.
SAUTE / SIMMER – Use this button before and after pressure cooking. High SAUTE heat browns meat and softens veggies before adding liquid for pressure cooking. Low SIMMER or SAUTE heat thickens sauces or cooks pasta.
YOGURT – A button I use frequently for ridiculously easy and amazing yogurt. Click here for a full resource on making Instant Pot yogurt and to discover the best yogurt you’ll ever taste!
Instant Pot Cooking Times
(CLICK DOWNLOAD SYMBOL ⬇️ AT BOTTOM TO PRINT)
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Essential Basic Instant Pot Recipes
- Baked Potatoes – with crispy, seasoned skins
- Fresh or Frozen Chicken Breasts – essential for so many recipes, like Cranberry Chicken Salad!
- Rice – white, brown, and everything in between!
- Yogurt – the best yogurt you’ll ever taste!
- Oatmeal – steel cut or regular
- Mashed Potatoes – quick and easy side dish
- Spaghetti – everything is done in a single pot in just 30 minutes!
Best Instant Pot Recipes
- Broccoli Cheese Soup – Thick, creamy, and healthy soup prepared in only 15 minutes!
- Cincinnati Chili – The perfect medley of unexpected spices served over spaghetti with piles of cheddar cheese
- Cilantro Chicken – Tender, seasoned cilantro chicken with a creamy, lime sauce
- BBQ Pulled Chicken – Takes two simple steps, five minutes to prepare an effortless dinner or party food
- Buffalo Chicken Chicken Chili – Award winning with the perfect amount of spice, a smooth creamy base, lots of tender chicken
- Corned Beef and Cabbage – Corned Beef brisket flavored with brown sugar, mustard, and apple juice
- Beef Stroganoff – Tender, fall apart beef in a creamy, comforting sauce.
- Zuppa Toscana – Better than Olive Garden’s, made in minutes!
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