Wanna lean how to use an Instant Pot? Can you boil water in the Instant Pot? This Instant Pot basics will guide you through IP uses, address safety concerns, and put your IP to use making delicious real foods with 10 basic Instant Pot techniques. Plus I’ll toss in a few more tips and tricks to make sure you’re getting the maximum benefit out of this countertop kitchen appliance.
Back when the Instant Pot was first released many years ago, I was a total skeptic. I thought, “If there’s one thing my kitchen (and life) can’t handle any more of, it’s a one-hit wonder!”
Those huge items that can only be used to make one thing, like tortilla presses (have one, don’t use it), rice cookers that can only make rice, or those quesadilla cookers that were really popular Christmas gift items a million years ago take up TOO MUCH SPACE and drive me crazy!
Those appliances that can be used over and over for a bajillion things, like my food processor and my blender, now we’re talking.
So what about the Instant Pot? Was it just another one-hit wonder? Or the next perennial kitchen staple?
Well, we use the Instant Poy constantly (it hardly gets put away) and now we have a second larger Instant Pot (the 8-quart found here) that we took on vacation with us one summer! I couldn’t imagine cooking in Airbnbs without it (and we even used it to cook homemade meals in hotel rooms!).
As an owner of 2 Instant Pots and “heavy user,” I’m on the side of the Instant Pot replacing a bunch of your one-hit wonders and making your real food cooking life thousands of times easier!!
What Is an Instant Pot?
Simply put, the Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker.
Pressure cookers are appliances used to speed cooking by employing steam pressure. Instant Pot is a brand of electric pressure cookers, and certainly the most popular one, but there are a few others on the market.
Instant Pot vs. Other Electric Pressure Cookers
Full disclosure, I only have the Instant Pot brand myself, but I do have some thoughts about the other ones.
A major disadvantage of most other electric pressure cookers is their use of questionable interior surfaces.
I have always appreciated that the Instant Pot insert is stainless steel. That means I reach for it over my slow cooker (the ceramic insert raises questions about lead), and especially over any appliance with a non-stick teflon surface.
I have also heard of many people having trouble with other brands.
One that comes to mind immediately is a friend’s fail with the brand sold at ALDI, a store you all know that I love dearly. A reader got an electric pressure cooker at Costco and returned it for an Instant Pot, and another said that the one she bought at Sam’s Club doesn’t have a high/low setting option, is a non-stick insert and feels flimsy.
In my opinion, when it comes to pressure cooking, go with the Instant Pot, but what you put in it you should get at ALDI (or maybe Costco). 😉
Instant Pot vs. Traditional Pressure Cookers
The Instant Pot did not invent the concept of cooking with steam pressure. Stovetop pressure cookers have been helping home cooks long before the advent of this convenient countertop appliance.
So what’s the big difference? Why did the Instant Pot explode the popularity of pressure cooking?
The Instant Pot has quite few perks over the traditional stovetop pressure cooker.
- It’s more ‘hands-off’ than the stovetop model. You don’t have to watch for the Instant Pot to come to pressure or adjust the heat at all.
- There is a lot of automation. The Instant Pot has buttons for soups/stews, beef, poultry, a convenient saute button, and a lot more.
- The Instant Pot can be used as a ‘fifth-burner’ for those times when the stove is full due to a big meal or a large gathering. Plan ahead and use it to make a component of the meal, like no-drain mashed potatoes, or use that handy saute function to warm foods, heat liquids, or even boil water.
One important note – the Instant Pot cannot be used to seal canning jars. You’ll have to hang on to the stovetop pressure cooker for that.
RELATED: How to use a pressure cooker (both kinds)
Where to Buy an Instant Pot
This is the 6-quart Instant Pot I started out with. After a few years, we added an 8-quart partly because I knew I would use two at the same time often enough, partly because it was the Prime Day sale, and also because I wanted more space for certain recipes. Both are a pretty basic model and you don’t need more bells and whistles than that!
If you’re deciding on size, most people say it’s better to get a deal on the 6-quart and just have 2 rather than go big, BUT if your family has 5 or more people or you really like to batch cook or do more than a pound of beans, the 8-quart may be the best choice. My full Instant Pot review and buying guide for features, size, and model.
If you’d like to shop directly at Instant Pot’s website instead of Amazon (or just compare prices), check them out here.
If you’re still on the fence about adding an Instant Pot to your kitchen appliance arsenal here are my Instant Pot pros and cons.
You’re Just *7 Days* Away From Easier Meals with Your Instant Pot
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May I send you my best hacks to maximize my fav appliance so you can spend more time with your family AND nourish them well?
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How to Use an Instant Pot
In general, many folks learn to use an Instant Pot by finding a great, detailed recipe and following it closely. But, like most new appliances, the intimidation is included for no extra cost – and you may want a little extra guidance getting started.
Plus, it’s always good to know a bit about the ins and outs of your appliance. There are plenty of recipes that aren’t very well-written, and people often tell me that even the instruction book from the company itself leaves a lot to be desired.
Note: You can always find the latest recipes I’m posting by clicking to the “Real Food in the Instant Pot” series.
Instant Pot Basics
Here’s what I wish I knew before I bought my Instant Pot.
The Instant Pot Requires Water
Because an Instant Pot uses steam to cook with pressure, it’s imperative to have at least one cup of liquid in the pot, or nothing will cook.
It’s not exactly “dangerous” if you don’t get this right, but you’ll likely either burn the bottom of your food or end up with uncooked meat or rice, or both. No fun!
Water, broth, and juices from canned tomatoes all “count” as liquid, but please note that tomato sauce does NOT. It’s too thick to create enough steam. If you have tomato sauce in a recipe, I’d recommend pouring it in last on top of everything else and not mixing it in with the water.
If you’re an experienced cook, you know that meats generally release a lot of juice during cooking, so can that “count?” Sometimes. I’ve often gotten away with just a half cup of liquid when cooking a meat-based meal, so it’s something to experiment with, but you’re taking a risk of your meat not getting cooked.
Don’t Overfill the Instant Pot
This can really be a big issue, as overfilling may lead to safety issues or food not getting cooked.
Only fill 2/3 full with normal recipes and 1/2 full when cooking dry beans or anything foamy. Ignore the “max fill” line if you’re cooking with pressure – that mark is for slow cooking in the Instant Pot only.
Always Check the Lid
In our Kids Cook Real Food eCourse Instant Pot series, we use video to teach kids about all the parts of the Instant Pot. On the lid alone, there are quite a few parts, and it’s good to understand them all.
The handle is the only part of the lid that’s really safe to touch while cooking, and you will use the handle to twist the lid clockwise to lock it into place before you start cooking.
On top, you will also see a steam valve, which needs to be turned to “sealing” during cooking and only turn to “venting” if the recipe calls for a quick release. Keep reading for more info on natural vs. quick release, but first an important safety note – Never allow anyone’s face to go above the Instant Pot while it is up to pressure or while doing a quick release.
On the underside of the lid, there will be a metal apparatus near the pin. These look slightly different on each model, but if a piece can be removed, be sure to remove and clean it regularly, especially if you make a foamy meal.
The most important part of the lid is the sealing ring. If the ring is not present or malfunctioning, the appliance cannot get up to pressure. It’s a good habit to check this ring every time you seal the lid to make sure it is in good shape, no cracks, and not gunked up with food or debris.
Understanding The Pin Mechanism
The pin, or float valve, is a small piece that can move up and down and is either metal or colored. When your Instant Pot gets up to pressure, this pin will rise, and you cannot open the lid until it falls back down. On some Instant Pot models the pin rises to be flush with the lid, on others, it will rise above the lid’s surface.
It is incredibly important to understand for safety that you should never try to force an Instant Pot lid open. That’s how they explode. Even when I’m impatient, I usually give my IP at least 30 seconds after the pin has dropped before I try to open it.
Understanding the pin mechanism is also good for troubleshooting, because if the pin never goes up, your Instant Pot has not come up to pressure and you may not have enough liquid.
I asked her about the pin function and she gave me a blank stare. A quick second later, with the Instant Pot lid in hand, she realized she had been oblivious to this feature for more than 3 years! She learned to use the IP from following recipes, like so many others do and had never even noticed this super important safety feature.
We shared a quick laugh because it really was funny in the moment, but I know she was also so relieved there had never been a terrible accident caused by that lack of knowledge.
The Instant Pot Condensation Collector
On the side of your Instant Pot just under where the lid locks in is one of the most confusing pieces for most people – the condensation collector. It’s a small plastic piece that is difficult to attach correctly until you’ve done it once, and then it’s easy. Its job is also very simple: it catches extra condensation in the form of liquid while you are cooking.
Your only concern with this piece is to make sure it’s on there, dump it out if there’s liquid in it, and wash it every so often.
This TV anchor was even distracted by it while we were trying to show off all the cool things our Instant Pot can do!
Dealing with Foam
Cooking in an Instant Pot
Adding Time to Cook from Frozen
When to Add a Steamer Basket or Trivet
The Truth About Instant Pot Recipe Cook Times
The most important note I think any new Instant Pot owner needs is this:
It doesn’t really cook things in 30 minutes on those 30-minute recipes!
It really irks me that so many recipes are saying “whole chicken in 30 minutes!” and “perfect rice in 10 minutes!” because if you hung your hat (or planned your dinner) on those times, dinner would be late.
It takes 10-20 minutes to get up to pressure, depending on how much is in the cooker, and some recipes call for a natural pressure release for another 15 minutes at the end – which means your “30 minute” recipe is nearly doubled.
Be sure to do that math on the whole process as you plan when you need to get started cooking something!
RELATED: 30 Min Dinner Ideas
Instant Pot Uses: Natural Release vs. Quick Release
When you start reading through Instant Pot recipes you’ll see reference made to ‘natural release’ or ‘quick release’. These terms refer to the way the pressure is released from the Instant Pot.
With a natural release, you let the Instant Pot sit for around 15 minutes after the recipe is finished cooking to allow the pressure to gradually lower. At the end of the 15 minutes, or after the pin has dropped, you can safely open the lid.
With a quick release, you move the nozzle from ‘sealing’ to ‘venting’ as soon as the recipe is finished cooking. Use caution. The steam can cause burns. I like to use a wooden spoon or similar utensil to move the nozzle from a safe distance. Once the steam has released from the Instant Pot (2-3 minutes), it is safe to remove the lid.
A natural release is better for recipes with high liquid content, like soups or broths, or for thick recipes like chili or porridge. A quick release is best for steaming vegetables or cooking other delicate foods at risk for becoming overcooked.
Troubleshooting Instant Pot Meals: What if Something Doesn’t Cook?
We’ve sadly had the experience of food not cooking wayyyyy too many times in the Instant Pot, and it’s so frustrating! Everyone is hungry!
Here’s what to do if your food isn’t done when it should be:
- Double check: Did it need a natural release and you did a quick release? If so, turn the IP back on for 2 minutes and allow for a natural release.
- If the food is “close” but not quite done, as long as there’s still plenty of liquid inside, you can just turn it back on for 5-10 minutes and see what happens.
- When pressure cooking very large or tough cuts of meat, like a pork shoulder or chuck roast, I find a lot of recipes don’t call for nearly enough pressure time. If you want falling-apart meat, you may need to literally double the cook time! Search for other recipes using the same cut and see how high they go.
Sometimes it simply takes more time. It’s not always quite as “instant” as we expect.
Other times the food seems like no one even tried to cook it, and that’s no good! In any of these circumstances you may need to repeat the entire Instant Pot cycle, but make sure you’ve solved the original problem first.
- Examine the ring and under any removable metal parts on the underside of the lid for debris. Make sure they’re all clean.
- Do you have a full cup of liquid, not including tomato sauce or something thick? If you run the cycle again, watch for the pin to come up and make sure a LOT of steam comes out when you release the pressure. If not, your appliance definitely isn’t getting up to pressure correctly. (In other words, the pin can go up and yet not be completely at pressure, just weakly. This is most likely the culprit with a tomato or dairy based recipe.)
- Is your Instant Pot too full? This can interfere with proper pressure.
- Is the valve all the way to “sealing”?
Ultimately even with a few total food fails, we puffy-heart-love our Instant Pot for so many reasons!
Is the Instant Pot Safe?
In a word – Yes! Of course there are risks in using the Instant Pot, just as there are for cooking on the grill or using sharp knives, but with the proper techniques, those risks can be mostly mitigated. Follow these 3 safety tips to set your mind at ease.
Safety Lesson 1: Don’t Open the Lid Until it’s Time
The Instant Pot is much safer than the old pressure cookers because the temp is much more regulated and there is less human error (not zero). When the pot is up to pressure, there are mechanisms in place to prevent a home cook from opening the lid.
Safety Lesson 2: Don’t Overfill the Pot
My Instant Pot has a “max fill” line, which I understood to be the fullest I can make it — but I was wrong. That line is for slow cooking, not pressure!!! To pressure cook, these are the max fill rules:
- Don’t fill over 2/3 with food.
- Don’t fill over 1/2 if cooking legumes, grains, or anything like that that could expand or foam. (also always add some oil to prevent foaming when cooking dry beans)
Breaking that rule can lead to problems, including safety issues but also your food might not cook because the pot can’t get up to pressure without air/steam space.
Safety Lesson 3: No Quick Release for Thick Recipes
Natural pressure release is best for these recipes, but many aren’t written that way. If you do need to quick release steam on a “thick food” recipe, at least give the whole machine a little jiggle to release any possible steam pockets before opening the lid.
Does the Instant Pot Live up to the Hype?
The Instant Pot hasn’t gotten a good name and a lot of buzz for nothing. It can do a LOT of things in the kitchen, and not just making recipes for soup, meat or one-pot meals faster and with less babysitting than the stovetop.
As I dug into the IP’s capabilities, I was impressed to find out how many basic kitchen tasks it could help me accomplish! If you have an Instant Pot, you’ll love this list too, and if you don’t, it may just convince you to buy one!
Also Read: Instant Pot Pros and Cons
10 Basic Instant Pot Techniques
Boiling eggs, yummy applesauce, the perfect rice, steaming veggies, timesaving oatmeal and beans, a whole chicken (plus the bone broth), spaghetti squash, and cauli rice – mastering these 10 techniques will make your real food lifestyle so much easier to manage.
1. Hard-Boiled Eggs in the Instant Pot
Tired of spending money on fresh farm eggs that you then have to let ‘get old’ in your fridge so they’ll be easier to peel? Using the Instant Pot to hard boil eggs is the perfect solution!
All you need is your eggs, the trivet, 1 cup of water, and 4 minutes on high pressure!
At first glance, this method may appear to not save much time, but the real benefit comes at the end. Perfectly cooked eggs that are truly easy-peel! Steaming them under pressure helps the white easily release the shell, even for super fresh farm eggs.
2. Instant Pot Applesauce
Using the Instant Pot to make applesauce will make you wonder why you ever bothered with any of the store-bought varieties. Make use of even the soft and wrinkly apples in this technique. The joint efforts of the pressure cooker and the food processor make peeling optional.
Apples (use a variety to boost natural sweetness), a cup of water, cinnamon if desired, and 10 minutes on high pressure – voila! Delicious applesauce that’s naturally sweet and ready in less than 30 minutes.
3. Perfect Rice in the Instant Pot
Brown or white, you can get perfect rice every time in the pressure cooker. You can use the ‘rice’ button that is included as a feature on almost all Instant Pot models, but there are a couple of nuances – like rice variety, differing water requirements, etc, that make it a little more difficult than it appears at first glance.
Click over to Perfect Rice in the Instant Pot to get more detailed instructions and tips on troubleshooting any cooking problems.
Bonus: Rice Pudding
I’ve been making extra rice all the time because my kids looooove rice pudding for breakfast. After I cook a batch of rice, I just stick the whole IP in the garage (in the winter in Michigan) and then in the morning, I cover the rice completely with milk or dairy-free milk (no measuring necessary) and set the Instant Pot to the rice function (which is 12 minutes on low pressure).
In less than half an hour total, with no stirring, babysitting or worrying about the pot boiling over, we have perfect pudding consistency. UPDATE: I’ve since done it in a mere 5 minutes on manual!
Add a few big chunks of butter, a splash of vanilla or almond extract, and maple syrup to taste, and stir it all up. Serve warm with cinnamon (also great cold). My kids like to add extra milk to cool it down and to add moisture to cold pudding. (I first tried the porridge function, but that was too high and scalded on the bottom.)
I’d recommend allowing a natural pressure release because dairy products foam up a lot, OR get this reusable mesh cover to keep the foam down. It just sits on the top of the liquid.
Alternative: You can also use the sauté function to bring the milk to a boil, then press the Cancel/Keep Warm button twice to leave the IP on low for 20-30 minutes while the liquid absorbs. Be sure to babysit closely while on sauté and stir often to avoid scalding your milk!
4. Instant Pot Steamed Veggies
You can steam vegetables in the Instant Pot quite quickly – although I’ll be the first to say that it’s probably not all that much quicker than the stovetop (if at all) and another negative to this technique is you lose some control over just how much they’re steamed since you can’t be cracking the lid open to check every few minutes.
Pro Tip: Try using the “manual” button and set the pot for ZERO minutes for the lightest steam possible at pressure, and be sure to use a quick release!
The upside? It’s a no-touch process and frees up your stove for other things, so it’s awesome to know how to do it when you’re hosting company, need to have freshly steamed veggies somewhere without a stove, or if you just tend to cook a ton of things at once like I do!
If your Instant Pot didn’t come with a steamer insert like mine did, you can buy one from Amazon.
5. Pressure Cooker Oatmeal
Steel-cut oats have a great texture to them, but take a fair bit of time on the stove. However, to making steel-cut oats in the Instant Pot is a cinch. Have a hearty breakfast for your whole family!
Use the Instant Pot’s timer function to set up the oats the night before and wake up to a warm, filling breakfast with minimal effort.
6. Dry Beans
The Instant Pot manual has an excellent chart for cooking any type of dried bean, both dry and soaked. This tool makes it so easy to have beans in a jiffy without opening a can.
Because of health benefits, I still soak the beans overnight, but if I forget and would just use a can of beans anyway, I’m so happy to just use the IP and add some kelp for digestibility and realize that it’s way cheaper than the cans, less waste, and at least as healthy if not more so.
It’s amazing to know I don’t absolutely have to be prepared overnight if I’m going to compromise on a can anyway!
7. Cooking Whole Chicken (or Chicken Breasts) in the IP
Cooking a whole bird or going from frozen chicken breasts to shredded chicken in 60 minutes total? Priceless.
Even for people who are squeamish about raw chicken, cooking chicken in the Instant Pot is so simple, is nearly a no-touch process, and really must become part of your routine. I’ve even been known to put a chicken in each of my Instant Pots – one for dinner tonight + one for lunches, salads, or soups.
Plus, just think of all that yummy broth!
My dear friend Wardee at Traditional Cooking School can do just about anything with her Instant Pot – cakes, bread, main dishes, veggies, even “stacking” multiple kinds of food at once!
She’s offering a free sourdough cornbread Instant Pot recipe!
This cornbread is delicious, nutritious, super easy to make, and it only needs 12 minutes of cook time.
8. Making Bone Broth Under Pressure
It’s so simple and hands-off to make bone broth in the Instant Pot! Put the bones right back in after you pick off the chicken, add some onion ends, carrots, celery, and garlic, fill the pot to about 2 inches from the top with water, and you’re good to go!
The last time I was sick I had only frozen broth in the house, but I had some bones in the freezer too – it was quicker (since I don’t use a microwave) to make broth in my IP than to thaw a jar, and I cannot tell you how glad I was to have warming, nourishing broth in a mug and going into my parched body!!!
Watch this video to learn more about bone broth from me and my kids!
9. Pressure Cooker Spaghetti Squash
It can feel like you have the oven on for ages when cooking winter squash. However, it’s really easy to cook squash in the Instant Pot!
I tried some other recipe online for cauliflower rice, but I just wasn’t happy with how other people did it – so I had to perfect it and post my own version!
Just follow the directions here for easy grain-free Cauli Rice with only one pot, plus two variations of flavor. It’s faster and easier in the IP for sure, and just as tasty.
Bonus – Boil Water in the Instant Pot with the Sauté Button
Ever just needed an extra burner to bring some water to boil? Instant Pot to the rescue.
Simply add water and turn on the sauté button!
You can also use the sauté function to warm leftovers, brown meat or veggies that are part of your IP recipe anyway, or as a way to ‘pre-heat’ the Instant Pot to help it come up to pressure more quickly.
To save time on coming up to pressure, turn on the sauté function with liquid in the pot as you prep your food and adding ingredients to the Instant Pot. The hot liquid will come up to pressure faster.
Note: Official Instant Pot instructions recommend against this practice. I’ve never had a problem with it, but make sure you have a few extra minutes on the other side just in case, especially if you’re cooking a tough roast or something that really needs all its time at pressure.
Instant Pot Accessories
Accessories can add extra cost to what is already a significant purchase, and it’s often something you don’t think of beforehand. But do you really need them?
I have a whole post on the Instant Pot accessories you actually need, but for these 10 basic Instant Pot techniques, the only accessory you truly need is a steamer basket or trivet. The steamer basket can be used to hard-boil eggs and to steam vegetables and may even be included with your Instant Pot.
Once you move beyond the basics, you may find that having specialty accessories just makes life easier – and there’s nothing wrong with that! Here are a few that look pretty handy.
- Egg Steamer Racks – Using an egg steamer rack ensures the eggs don’t bump into one another and crack in the Instant Pot. A basic steamer basket will do the job, but these egg racks may cause less headache.
- Silicone Roasting Rack – The Instant Pot includes a stainless steel roasting rack, and you may prefer that one, but the advantage of silicone is that it is non-stick. Most can be used as a heat-safe trivet when not being used in the Instant Pot.
- Tempered Glass Lid – Use this lid instead of the pressure lid when using your Instant Pot’s slow cooker, sauté, or keep warm function.
- Air Fryer Lid – Use this lid to turn your Instant Pot into an Air Fryer. I haven’t been able to give this a try, but it looks very promising – and it eliminates another single-function appliance! Be sure to check your Instant Pot for compatibility before you buy this one.
Moving Beyond the Basics
These 10 Instant Pot techniques will give you a great start on getting the full benefit of your Instant Pot, but when you’re ready to move on we’ve got you covered! Check out the Instant Pot library for more recipes, ideas, instructions, and how-tos.