How to Use an Instant Pot: To Make Cooking So Much Faster

Learn how to navigate this trendy countertop appliance and its amazing abilities so you can really put it to work.

Most people use multicookers for their pressure cooker settings, but the list of Instant Pot uses is much longer and includes a few surprising tricks you might not guess it can do. Most multicookers (including Instant Pot) have options for cooking rice, yogurt, grains, and chili, as well as functions for slow-cooking, browning, and sautéing. Thanks to the pressure-cook function, a lot of simple kitchen tasks are much faster—for example, cooking chicken breast in an Instant Pot takes just minutes, even if your chicken is still frozen. When selecting a multicooker, Instant Pot or otherwise, keep in mind which features are the most important to you and which ones you think you'll use the most.

Instant Pot Multicooker appliance

How to Use an Instant Pot

Using an Instant Pot is easy once you read the directions, and it gets even easier the more you use it. Just press a button or two, then let it be—multicookers don’t need supervision, and built-in timers show how long it takes the cooker to build up pressure, cook the food, and depressurize. Every model differs slightly in appearance, parts, and instructions, but here are the basic steps you need to follow for pressure cooking:

  1. Take a quick look at all the parts of your pressure cooker. Make sure the gasket is soft, flexible, and crack-free (check out our guide to parts and pieces, below). Snap it into place as directed in the manual. Make sure the pressure valve is in place and free of debris.
  2. Using it is optional, but most cookers, including the Instant Pot, have a built-in browning function, which is crucial if you want your meats to have rich, caramelized flavor. Add oil, set the browning function, and allow the cooker to heat up. Brown meat in batches to prevent the cooker from cooling down and steaming the meat instead of browning it. Just as when you cook on your stove top, don’t overcrowd the pot. You can skip this step for cooking veggies and grains, but for meat it'll add more flavor to your finished meal.
  3. When cooking meat, once it's browned add the remaining ingredients (or as directed in your recipe). For recipes without meat, just add the ingredients to the pot after double-checking the parts. Lock the lid into place and adjust the pressure valve to the closed position. Select the setting and time. The digital display will show when the cooker has gotten up to pressure (this usually takes around 15 to 20 minutes) and the actual cooking time has started to count down.
multicooker pressure cooker gasket

Instant Pot Parts and Pieces

When you start using your Instant Pot, it helps to know your way around the individual parts and pieces. Plus, if something breaks, it’s usually simpler (and cheaper) to replace an individual part than your entire multicooker.

Gasket: This is the circular piece of rubber that runs around the top of your pressure cooker. It might seem relatively unimportant, but it serves a crucial role. The gasket is what creates the secure seal during cooking, allowing pressure to build inside. The gasket can sometimes shrink or become deformed after being exposed to high heat over many uses, so if you’re having trouble with pressure-cooking, it’s worth taking a close look at your cooker’s gasket. Along with a few other handy Instant Pot accessories, we'd recommend having an extra gasket or two on hand if you're doing a lot of pressure-cooking.

Pressure Valve: The pressure valve is a crucial piece because it's one of the parts that helps seal your cooker so pressure can build; you can also use it to quick-release pressure. Make sure the valve is closed when you’re pressure-cooking; if it’s open, pressure won't build inside the cooker and your food won't cook. When the cooking time is up, the cooker will depressurize on its own, which is called a “natural release.” But if your recipe calls for it, you can open the valve as soon as the cook time is up, quick-releasing the pressure and letting out a rush of steam. While a quick-release can be a time-saver for many recipes, it’s not a good idea to use it for liquid recipes like soup because some of the liquid can get sucked up through the pressure valve. If you decide to use a quick-release, make sure to keep your hands and face away from the steam—use a wooden spoon or other utensil with a long handle to push the valve open, making sure you don't burn yourself in the process.

Programmable settings on pressure cooker silver

Programmable Settings: This is where the magic happens. Though it might be tricky to get the hang of programming your Instant Pot at first, reading the instructions from the manufacturer—and getting a little practice—will help you figure it out in no time. While the Instant Pot is pretty smart, it won’t be able to tell how many ingredients are in the pot or whether they're fresh or frozen. So while the “Poultry” button might come in handy at times, be sure to adjust the preset cooking time as needed to match your recipe.

Removable inner liner multicooker

Removable Pot Liner: The removable pot inside your multicooker is what makes cleanup so easy. Liners can be stainless steel or nonstick, and some are dishwasher-safe. All of the cooking happens inside this pot, so it should be your main focus when cleaning up after cooking. If the liner is not dishwasher-safe, wash it in hot, soapy water, along with all of the removable parts (including the lid and any removable parts on the lid, the steam catcher, and the gasket, as described in the manufacturer’s manual).

How to Use an Instant Pot as a Slow Cooker

One advantage of cooking with an Instant Pot and other electric multicookers is that they can take the place of a few other countertop appliances. For example, you can say goodbye to your slow cooker and rice cooker, because the Instant Pot can take over both of those tasks. But since the Instant Pot is a pressure cooker first, there are a few changes you need to make when you use it to slow-cook. First and foremost, slow cookers allow some steam to escape as they cook, so make sure the pressure valve is open when you're slow-cooking in your Instant Pot—the lid will still be locked, but this will let some steam out as your recipe cooks. You can also buy a glass lid for your Instant Pot that works just like a slow cooker lid and that will also release steam while you're slow-cooking.

The Instant Pot has three temperature settings you can use in slow-cook mode, while most slow cookers just have "high" and"low." The Instant Pot temperatures are"less,""normal," and"more," and they don't match up exactly with slow cooker temperatures. In general, the"low" setting on the Instant Pot matches more closely with "keep warm" on a slow cooker;"medium" is a better choice for slow cooker recipes that call for "low" temperature; and you can use "more" for high-temperature slow cooker recipes.

Fast or Slow Gruyère Risotto with Arugula Gremolata

Cooking Rice in an Instant Pot

Cooking rice in your Instant Pot is super easy, not to mention a time-saver. It actually works for all kinds of whole grains. One of the biggest advantages is that you don't have to monitor rice, quinoa, bulgur, or any other grain you cook in your Instant Pot—just set it and forget it until the time's up. For white rice, add 1-1/2 cups water to your Instant Pot for every cup of uncooked rice, and pressure-cook 5 minutes. For brown rice, use 1 cup water for each cup of rice, and pressure-cook 20 minutes. For wild rice, use 2 cups water for each cup of rice, and pressure-cook 20 minutes. You can quick-release the pressure once the cook time is up for all three varieties. And while rice may have its own button on the Instant Pot, it's not the only grain you can cook in there—quinoa, oats, farro, and barley are just a few of the other grains you can pressure-cook in an Instant Pot.

Get the recipe: Gruyère Risotto with Arugula Gremolata

Factors to Consider When Buying a Multicooker

Buying a new multicooker can be overwhelming because there are so many different models on the market, and each has a variety of functions. There are also a lot of different options from the Instant Pot brand alone, including different functions and models with touch screens. Here are a few factors to consider when buying a multicooker:

Pressure Options: Make sure to find a cooker with high- and low-pressure options. Though you’ll probably use high pressure the most, low pressure is useful for delicate foods like fish and veggies.

Size: Most of our multicooker recipes call for a 6-quart cooker, but there are smaller and larger options if you’re cooking for one or two or if you need to feed a crowd.

Watts: This feature is all about convenience and saving time. The higher the wattage, the hotter the cooking element, which means cookers with a high wattage will come up to pressure faster than those with a low wattage.

Inner Removable Liner: Most multicookers have a removable liner that makes cleanup quick. Decide if you prefer a stainless-steel or nonstick liner and be sure to find out if the removable liner is dishwasher-safe.

Delayed Start: Some cookers include the option to preset the start time. If you want your cooker to start cooking a short time after you leave the house, this may be a helpful setting.

Cooking Functions: Most importantly, make sure your multicooker includes the cooking functions that you care the most about and will use the most often. For example, if making yogurt or slow-cooking are must-have settings for you, make sure any cooker you consider includes them. Settings for rice, beans, and soup are nice, but you can usually pressure-cook these foods by following a recipe rather than needing a separate setting for them.

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