New Instant Pot owners and old pros can all get tripped up by these mistakes. Here’s how to avoid them so you can pressure-cook everything to perfection.

By Andrea Beck
June 06, 2019
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Using an Instant Pot is one of the best ways to get tender roasts and juicy chicken dinners on your table fast. Still, sometimes looking at all of those buttons and taking stock of each different part can make this handy countertop appliance, like the 6-quart Instant Pot Duo ($69.99, Amazon), seem intimidating. With so many parts and pieces to keep track of, it can be easy to make a mistake. To make mastering your Instant Pot easier, we uncovered some of the most common Instant Pot mistakes to help you can avoid them.

Image courtesy of Amazon.

Mistake #1: Not Checking That Your Instant Pot Is Sealed

If you’ve ever walked away after setting the cook time only to come back and find that your perfectly seasoned chicken breasts didn’t actually cook, there are a couple of different things to check. The first is the pressure release valve on top—it needs to be in sealing position for pressure to build. The second is the sealing ring on the inside of the lid, which can crack or expand over time, or might not be fitted to your lid properly if you’ve recently removed it for cleaning. You might need a new sealing ring, like an Instant Pot Sealing Ring ($7.95, Amazon) if it’s torn, or you may just need to double-check it’s snapped into place—you should be able to rotate the ring with some effort if it’s in the right spot.

Luckily, there’s an easy way to tell if you Instant Pot is actually building pressure. If it’s not sealing, you might notice leaking steam, which can help you tell if there’s a problem with your pressure release valve or steam ring (based on where the steam is coming from). But if you’re not sure if your Instant Pot is pressurizing, check the float valve—it looks like a small pin, and it’s right next to the pressure release valve. If the float valve is up, it means your Instant Pot is pressurized. When it’s down, the pot isn’t pressurized, and it’s safe to open the lid.

Mistake #2: Not Using Enough Liquid

Your Instant Pot needs liquid to work. If there’s not enough, your pot won’t be able to create enough steam to build pressure. About 1 cup is the minimum amount of liquid, so if you’re cooking a recipe that will absorb water, like rice or beans, you’ll need even more. Make sure you follow your recipe to know how much liquid to use—also, if you have a mishap with your Instant Pot sealing, you might need to add more liquid before you try cooking again, because some of the initial liquid may have evaporated.

Mistake #3: Overfilling Your Instant Pot

Your Instant Pot should have a line on the inner pot to show the maximum amount of food you can cook in it at once (and it’s there for good reason!). Overfilling your Instant Pot can affect the pressure that builds up inside, so you might end up with a mushy meal, or one that doesn’t cook properly. Also, an overly-full Instant Pot can lead to a clogged pressure release knob, because food and liquid can get sucked up inside. To stay on the safe side, don’t fill your pot over that two-thirds line on the Stainless Steel Inner Cooking Pot ($29.95, Amazon), and stay below half full for foods that expand while cooking, such as beans and lentils.

Mistake #4: Using the Wrong Pressure Release Method

The Instant Pot recipe you’re using should specify a quick pressure release or a natural release, so stick to it! We know how handy a quick pressure release is, especially if you’re impatient to get dinner on the table, but you don’t want to use it all the time. A quick release is great for immediately stopping the cooking process on delicate foods like fish or steamed veggies. However, if you use a quick release for a recipe with a lot of liquid, like soup, the pressure in your Instant Pot can cause some of the liquid to foam, which can overflow through the pressure release valve along with the usual steam. Always follow your recipe instructions on which release to use.

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Mistake #5: Forgetting About the Power Cord

Getting tripped up by your Instant Pot’s power cord might seem like a silly mistake, but if it gets knocked slightly off-kilter, your Instant Pot won’t even turn on. If you’ve ever dumped in all your ingredients only to have the screen remain dark, try giving the power cord a quick jiggle (or unplug it completely and plug it back in) where it’s connected to your pressure cooker. Sometimes that pesky cord can get knocked loose, especially if you’ve moved your pot, and while it might still look like the cord is plugged in, it just needs a quick adjustment to get it back in the right spot, and get your Instant Pot recipes cooking.

Mistake #6: Using the Timer Button to Set the Cook Time

Rather than setting the cook time, the “timer” button on your Instant Pot is actually for delaying cooking. So if you press it, you’ll be delaying your Instant Pot from cooking, not starting your recipe. Instead, make sure you use the “manual” button (or any other cooking button, like “poultry” or “soup”), then use the plus and minus buttons to adjust the cook time. The timer button will be lit green if it’s on, and if you press it by accident, you can cancel it with the “keep warm” or “cancel” buttons.

Mistake #7: Not Reading the Manual

Especially if you’re new to using an Instant Pot or electric pressure cooker, make sure you read the manufacturer’s instructions to learn how to use it. Every pressure cooker works a little differently, so even if you’re a pro at using an older model, you’ll find helpful tips in the manual when you upgrade to a new one, including ones for cooking different recipes like meat, beans, and even desserts. Usually, the instructions will include a troubleshooting guide, so if you run into a different problem, the solution may be there.

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Keep these common cooking mistakes in mind the next time you reach for your Instant Pot, and you won’t get tripped up trying to perfect your recipe for falling-off-the-bone pressure cooker ribs. And remember, simple mistakes can happen to even the most experience Instant Pot users. The trick is in figuring out what went wrong so you can fix it the next time around.

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