Getting a new kitchen appliance in my life is like when your average American woman gets a new pair of shoes.
It makes me feel special.
…new kitchen toys are different than shoes because they have directions.
And dinner has to get made on time whether you have bandwidth to read directions or not.
Even though it’s not hard to make a bunch of everyday foods faster in something like an Instant Pot, I have to admit that mine stayed in its box, floating around from the mud room to the kitchen to the basement, for at least six months. (Maybe longer!) It seems dumb, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed, 15 minutes to read directions is just too much to consider – and then you probably need to find new recipes too!
I’m glad to know I’m not alone in the new-appliance-in-box-for-six-months syndrome. I heard this from a reader a while back when I mentioned the Instant Pot on Facebook:
“I have one of those. It’s still in the box. I’m terrified it will explode if I use it.”
LOL I did the same thing – leaving it in the box – but not because I was afraid of it. I just felt like I didn’t have time to read the directions, but then I finally just did it and pushed the “rice” button and poof – done. Didn’t have to even read them. You gotta start using it, you’ll love it!
Because I did.
And it really is easy.
Disclaimer and DUH important note: This was not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. One should always read directions, especially with potentially dangerous appliances! It’s part of my story, so it remains here, but now that I know more I wish I had taken a little more time back then. Please – read your instruction manual. It’s not that long. 🙂
Let’s Start at the Beginning: What’s an Instant Pot?
In case you are in the dark on this, it’s an electric pressure cooker with a stainless steel pot. It will cook the same as a stovetop pressure cooker but with less guessing and babysitting (but you can’t pressure can with one).
All my Instant Pot tips and recipes apply to any electric pressure cooker (there are other brands) and most stovetop cookers should be the same (or perhaps about 5 minutes faster). You can get an Instant Pot on Amazon << that’s the one I have, and there are fancier models too.
So now the kicker: what about the mental effort and time it takes to find all-new recipes for your new toy?
I have great news.
You don’t have to.
It’s so easy to transform your old favorite slow cooker recipes into Instant Pot quickies.
I discovered this on accident one day when I was having a rushed morning and thought, “Eh, no problem, I can start the slow cooker meal I planned for dinner at lunchtime and just do 4 hours on high instead of 8 hours on low.”
When the kids came home from school at 3:30, I remembered my plan.
Wayyyyy too late.
It struck me that perhaps the Instant Pot could handle it, and lo and behold, dinner was saved!
As I’ve experimented more, I’ve discovered that slow cooker recipes work (almost) every time in the Instant Pot – more on the “almost” later.
Make your Instant Pot work for you!
The Instant Pot has gotten a lot of hype over the last couple years – for good reason. It really can do just about anything.
Although it can seem a bit daunting to use at first, it really becomes quite simple once you give it a try.
Use the techniques, tips and simple recipes from the Instant Pot Guidebook to get started, and before you know it, your Instant Pot will become indispensable!
How to Convert Slow Cooker Recipes for the Instant Pot
First, before you start messing with recipes, you need to understand pressure cooker timing. For the Instant Pot, a 30-minute timer means about 20 minutes to get to pressure (could be less depending on how full it is, but if you’re making a whole main dish, expect 20 minutes), plus the 30 minutes at pressure, plus typically a natural release which may take up to 15 minutes.
So yeah…30 minutes actually means an hour, but once it’s all in the pot you don’t have to touch it, and that’s much shorter than 4 hours in a slow cooker!
There are just a few rules of thumb to follow to make sure your slow cooker recipe will be successful in an Instant Pot:
- If it’s a meat-based dish that can be cooked 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high in a slow cooker, it’s almost guaranteed that it will be done to perfection in 25-30 minutes in a pressure cooker. You can use the Meat/Stew button (30-35 minutes) on red meats, and it’s totally worth trying the Poultry button if it’s chicken (15 minutes)! Super important note: Always always triple check that the vent is set to “sealing” and not “venting” or you’ll be sorely disappointed with undercooked food – not to mention late with the meal, worst of all.
- Check your liquid level. The pressure cooker needs at least a cup of liquid to get up to pressure. Many meats will create juices as they cook, but you still should start with a cup of liquid in the bottom to be safe. That may be an adjustment from a slow cooker recipe – for things like roasts, whole chickens, or shredded chicken dishes, they often only require you to add 1/4 cup for slow cooking. You can add water or broth to make it work for the pressure cooker. Very important safety note: “cream of” soups do NOT count as the liquid. They’re too thick to properly make steam in a pressure cooker. More on that.
- If adding liquid would ruin your recipe, you may still have a few options – (a) put the meat up on the trivet and the liquid below, or (b) boil off the liquid with the “Saute” button after the meat is done.
- Go with a natural release for meats if you have the time. A natural release simply means that when the machine beeps that the time is up, you let it sit for 10-20 minutes until no steam spurts out when you turn the valve from “sealing” to “venting.” This typically will help the meat be more fall-apart tender or easier to shred.
- In a hurry? You can push the limits a little bit. If you have non-frozen chicken for example, and your cooker is half full or less, there’s a good chance the meal with be done with the 15-minute Poultry setting and a quick release. (That’s about 35 minutes total cook time.) A quick release, by the way, means you open the valve and let the steam shoot out – keep your hands out of the way! Try using a wooden spoon to open the valve.
Once the steam has subsided, if you open the cooker and the meat isn’t done (any pink at all in the case of chicken), you only wasted about 5 minutes. Just lock the lid back on, set the valve to “Sealing,” and set a manual pressure timer for 5-10 minutes (make sure there’s still liquid in the bottom!). It won’t take as long to get back to pressure because everything is already so hot. Then you play the game: How close was it to done? If it was just a breath away, be bold and open the lid right away (after letting the steam come out by carefully turning the valve to “Venting!”). If it seemed only halfway done, you may want to give it 10 minutes for a natural release before you check. The good news is that once you figure out the timing once, write it down and you’re golden next time.
- Remember safety rules: Don’t fill a pressure cooker more than 2/3 with food (it needs head space for the steam to build up) and no more than 1/2 if you’re cooking with legumes or grains. Add a Tbs. of oil to any dry beans. Never quick release with thicker foods like beans, grains, etc. Never add a thickener or “cream of” soup before pressure cooking – do that at the end.
Oh – and don’t forget that the Instant Pot ALSO has a slow cooker functionality, so if you need to “set it and forget it” earlier in the day, the IP is still your friend, which is particularly nice if you worry about the safety of the material in your crock (more on that in the fall!). It will automatically switch to “keep warm” too so you can be an hour or two later than the timer and it all works out. Love.
We’ve successfully transformed quite a few of these “meat-centric” slow cooker meals into Instant Pot favorites:
- Curried Lemon Coconut Chicken
- Whole roasted chicken (like I described here or here)
- Homemade chicken stock
- Live Simply’s Crockpot Pulled Chicken Taco Meat, photo above, which we modified here (no. 7)
- The freezer-to-slow cooker spicy chicken curry that we enjoy so much, modified here (no. 9)
- Our family’s total stand-by, barbecued chicken from Stacy Myers’ Crock On! cookbook (recipe also found in my eBook, The Healthy Lunch Box)
And…I feel like there have been more, but I don’t always write them down in the same place. We’ve had enough successes that I’m very confident in saying that a pound or two of meat with some spices and some veggies will absolutely transition from the slow cooker to the Instant Pot.
If you forget to start the slow cooker, it may save dinner!
What About Other Kinds of Slow Cooker Recipes?
I hear you.
Not all slow cooker recipes are for shredded meat.
Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes are another category, and I’m also pretty confident about those, having easily transformed my slow cooker lentil brown rice casserole in one try to a great Instant Pot recipe (and Mexican version) that is actually ready in about a half an hour, 40 minutes tops! Wow-ee!
Because lentils are small and cook quickly anyway, I decided to try only 15 minutes at high pressure (which is plenty of time to cook the rice properly). Quick release, and it worked! I was thrilled.
Larger beans never take more than 30 minutes, often only 10-15 if you soak them, according to the Instant Pot timing chart. We’ve made our homemade refried beans in the Instant Pot and another favorite, ham and beans from Crock On! and both worked marvelously, and I managed to transform taco quinoa chili to a pressure cooker meal as well (from the stovetop).
Ground Meat and Veggies
Here’s my #fail.
I don’t know how many slow cooker recipes use ground meat, which creates almost no juices as it cooks, plus a ton of veggies. My slow cooker cabbage rolls cook to perfection in the slow cooker, but there’s almost no liquid to speak of. We’ve made the dish a few times in the Instant Pot, and there were always problems.
The cooker kept NOT getting pressure at all, meaning when we released the valve for quick release it wouldn’t let any steam out, even after we added a full cup of water! It burned the bottom. I can’t figure it out yet, but my troubleshooting brainstorms include:
- Do we need to use a steamer insert too?
- Did we have random user error? Every time, we ended up getting it cooked by trying again. So. Weird.
- Does the cabbage get too close to the valve and block it? It’s very full. I could cut the cabbage up smaller so it would compress more. See how full it gets even in a crock:
So I need to make this dish again. (And again?) I’ll report back when I figure it out, but I still have about a 97% success rate on the slow cooker adaptations to an Instant Pot, so I think you’re pretty safe trying your family’s favorites!
For the record, now that I’ve learned more about my IP, that cabbage WAS way too close to the top, so I need to try this in my 8-quart and/or cut the recipe in half.
Don’t Forget It! Pin It!
Don’t forget about Traditional Cooking School’s new pressure cooking class (no. 11 on the list!), which is especially helpful if, you know, you’re like my reader from the beginning of the post who was too nervous to open the box because she thought she’d blow something up! The TCS team gives a TON of support, and their Facebook group is super active with helpful members.
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.
Watch Instant Pot prices on Amazon as they do change quite often!
Click for All my Instant Pot Recipes!