by Olena

Instant Pot Guide for Beginners

This post contains affiliate links. Please see our disclosure policy.

Olena's image
Olena Osipov
5 from 7 votes

Wondering how to use an Instant Pot? This real life Instant Pot Guide is for all of you who still have their pressure cookers in the box. Today I will explain what is an Instant Pot, how it works, share 15 tips and tricks for easy Instant Pot cooking, and share easy recipes perfect for beginners.

By doing so, you can learn how to eat healthy using an Instant Pot!

instant pot guide main photo

I have to say I was very sceptical about buying Instant Pot back in 2018, I even wondered how it was different than a slow cooker. I was super against it but it grew on me so quickly, I now own 2 Instant Pots – 6 quart Instant Pot Lux and 8 quart Instant Pot Duo, and 6 quart Cosori electric pressure cooker which is basically the same thing as Instant Pot, just different buttons.

I also was super scared to use it the first time thinking it will explode on me. It did not! The days of exploding pressure cookers are gone. We all heard the horror stories. The difference is that pressure cookers back then were designed for the stovetop. Modern pressure cookers, have many safety features to control the pressure. 99% it will not explode on you.

More than that, I can guarantee you once you start using Instant Pot, you will wonder how did you live without it. The fact that you can wake up to Instant Pot steel cut oats or cook Instant Pot frozen chicken for dinner with 5 mins prep and no babysitting, I am sure will make you fall in love over the heels with this magical appliance of 21st century.

I have put together this Instant Pot guide in hopes to help you get started with all of the tips and tricks that I have learned through the last 3 years of testing hundreds of Instant Pot recipes on my family. All tried, tested and true through trial, error and research. This Instant Pot manual will tell you everything you need to know to use your Instant Pot for the first time. It is life changing!

What Is an Instant Pot?

Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker. It is a small kitchen appliance that cooks food fast under pressure unlike slow cooker cooks food slow on low heat setting. In Instant Pot, steam from water you add builds up pressure and cooks food in sealed environment super fast. An Instant Pot is a pressure cooker, slow cooker, sauté pot, slow cooker, steamer, rice cooker, yogurt maker and warmer all in one appliance.

The end result is tasty and tender food in fraction of the time and with minimal effort. Foods like dried beans do not have to be soaked. Tough cuts of meat come out tender. Food is more flavorful than cooked on a stovetop. I have never tasted better roast than Instant Pot pot roast. It’s a magic pot!

If you don’t have an Instant Pot yet but are thinking about buying one, I explain which Instant Pot to buy in my humble opinion.

Instant Pot Parts and Accessories

instant pot base unit, trivet, inner pot and lid
  • Base unit – the actual appliance with the heating element. Don’t submerge in water!
  • Inner pot – Stainless steel pot that fits into the base unit. Can also be used for reheating leftovers on the stove.
  • Lid – Contains silicone ring, steam release valve and float valve.
silicone ring inside the lid of pressure cooker

Silicone ring does wear out with use and time causing Instant Pot not to pressurize. You can buy a replacement. To give you an idea, I use my Instant Pot 2-3 times/week and replace silicone ring about once a year.

  • Steam release valve – Fits on top of the lid and can be removed.
  • Condensation collector – Duo models have it but not Lux. Attach it to the back to collect condensation dripping when you open the lid.
instant pot with steam collector cup attached

If your condensation collector is broken or missing, you can buy replacement online.

  • Trivet – Used to keep foods like meats and eggs being submerged in water.
  • Measuring cups and utensils – These come with Instant Pot, they do not have the same measurements as regular ones so I don’t use these.

How to Use an Instant Pot

  • Before cooking always inspect your Instant Pot to make sure:
    • Cord is plugged in both in electric outlet and in the base unit (some models can unplug).
    • Base unit under the inner stainless steel pot has no debris and is dry.
    • Sealing ring is in and fitted properly onto the lid (even smallest gap will make Instant Pot not come to pressure).
instant pot lid inside
  • Add water and ingredients.
pouring water into instant pot
  • Close the lid and set valve to Sealing position. This will ensure pressure will be sealed inside the pot when it comes to pressure.
pressure release valve turned to sealing position

If you leave the valve on Venting, steam will keep shooting from it eventually running out of water, Instant Pot not pressurizing and causing Burn. Make a habit to turn it to Sealing right after closing the lid.

  • Start Instant Pot by selecting Pressure Cook or Manual button. Name of the button will depend on the model of your Instant Pot. Regardless the model, display should say On. Not the set time you selected for the recipe – that’s next step.
instant pot displays duo and lux
  • Water gets heated and pressure builds up. During this time it is OK to see some steam coming out of a steam release valve.
  • Instant Pot comes to pressure, seals itself and food is being cooked. You will see countdown from set cook time begin now.
float valve up and down on instant pot lid

Float valve on Duo models is pink and protruding. On Lux model it is stainless steel color and is more set in.

  • Now you have to release the pressure. There are 2 ways to do so: Natural Release or Quick Release. Usually the recipe will indicate which one to use.
  • Dinner is ready!

For detailed video demonstration, check out our Youtube video on How to Use an Instant Pot + unboxing and water test.

15 Tips and Tricks for Easy Instant Pot Cooking

1. Always Add Water

In order for pressure to build up inside the pot, it has to be created. From what? From steam. From an ythin like liquid like water or broth. There is a minimum amount of liquid that has to be added even when “roasting” a whole chicken. Rule of thumb is 1 cup.

Tomato sauce or juice don’t count because their sugars will start caramelize and “burn” warning will go off.

2. Don’t Fill Past 2/3 PC Max Mark

Inside the Instant Pot inner pot, you will see a 1/2 and a 2/3 line marks. Never fill the Instant Pot higher than the 2/3 mark with food or liquid (before cooking). In order for pressure cooking method to work, the pot of your electric pressure cooker should never be more than 2/3 full when making soup, stew, chili etc., or 1/2 full for expanding foods like rice. Pressure needs room to build up.

If your inner pot doesn’t have 2/3 full marking (characteristic of older Instant Pot models and other brands), do your math and calculate your own 2/3 mark. Ignore the cups, L and near the edge Max ticks – they actually are quite inaccurate. Read more.

Instant Pot filled with water, chicken and veggies

3. Instant Pot Manual Setting Is the Most Used

There are many pre-programmed buttons on Instant Pot like “Porridge”, “Stew”, “Bean”, “Rice” etc. but you will find yourself using “Pressure Cook” or “Manual”, depending on a model, with customizable time for the most part. This is the button to press to start pressure cooking process.

4. Other Useful Buttons to Know

instant pot displays on duo and lux models
  • +/- Button – To adjust cook time.
  • Saute Button – Used for sauteing and browning ingredients before pressure cooking. And simmering, thickening and reducing liquids after.

Never have the lid on when sauteing (making yogurt as well). It will cause the pot to pressurize eventually and is not necessary for sauteing.

  • Adjust Button – Switches between Less, Normal and More to control the amount of heat during Saute mode.
  • Keep Warm/Cancel Button – Once a cooking program is selected, the Auto Keep Warm function is on by default but it can be turned off by pressing this button again before you begin pressure cooking. Cancel button ends cooking program at any time.

Even if you don’t need to keep food warm, it is handy to leave this function on when you are not around during cooking. So, when you come back to the kitchen you know exactly when Instant Pot has finished cooking. Display will say L and number of minutes.

display says L and minutes
  • Pressure Level Button – This button switches between Low and High pressure levels that is available on all Instant Pot models except Lux.

High pressure vs low pressure: 99.9% recipes you find online and in cookbooks call for cooking under High pressure. Instant Pots’ high pressure setting reaches a maximum of 12.5 psi at which point the fibers in produce and meat break down and dinner is cooked fast. A low pressure setting cooks at 4 – 7 psi. The lower the psi, the lower the temperature, the longer cook time which is not the goal of using a pressure cooker. Only recipe I like to cook on low pressure are Instant Pot egg bites.

  • Delay Start Button – Set the delayed time before a cooking program starts.

1. Press Delay Start button.
2. Use the +/- buttons to set the hours.
3. Press Delay Start again.
4. Use the +/- buttons to set the minutes.

5. You Don’t Need to Pre-Brown Most Foods

Before you rush to convert all your favourite recipes to electric pressure cooker versions, know many won’t turn out the same. The best part with Instant Pot is that you don’t need to brown or sauté ingredients for majority of stovetop recipes because flavors in food cooked under pressure are locked in the pot. I tested to saute and not saute veggies for Instant Pot chicken and rice and Instant Pot lentil soup recipes, and noticed no difference.

6. Avoid the Dreaded “Burn”

Oh, the dreaded burn. There are quite a few reasons why it happens. For example, one of the most common ones is when canned tomato products are stirred with other ingredients. To solve this issue, always add tomatoes on top and do not stir. Because Instant Pot’s heating element is located at the bottom and may.more likely will cause sugars caramelize and “burn”.

I have compiled a list with 10 tips on how to avoid Burn forever.

burn message on display

7. Best Order of Ingredients to Add to Instant Pot

The order in which you add ingredients to an Instant Pot does matter, to a certain degree. First of all, it helps to avoid Burn. Secondly, it cooks foods like rice properly.

Here is recommended by manufacturer, and tried and tested by me order of ingredients:

  1. Liquids (except tomato products)
  2. Veggies
  3. Grains (if any)
  4. Meat
  5. Canned tomato products

Use the steam rack to lift foods like meat out of the cooking liquid. This prevents Burn and helps to retain your food’s natural vitamins and minerals.

8. No Need to Stir before Cooking

With Instant Pot recipes, you don’t have to stir before cooking. Again, to avoid the dreaded “Burn” but more than that – it’s not necessary. The pot is often too full already, you will create unnecessary step for yourself and dirty an extra spoon. Instead, stir cooked food after.

Stirred ingredients will not come out more flavorful than unstirred.

9. Cooking Time Is Not the Same as Total Time

If you think you will have brown rice cooked in 22 minutes, it’s not the case. Cooking time is not the same as entire cooking cycle time. Once you add all ingredients and close the lid, Instant Pot will begin to boil the water, then build up pressure and only after countdown of actual cooking time will start. Usually pressure build up time is anywhere between 10-45 minutes and varies based on the type of ingredients, amount of liquid inside, fresh or frozen food and size of your Instant Pot. That is why soup takes the longest.Afterwards, food is done cooking, Instant Pot might need to bring pressure down using Natural Release – more time.

So, despite its name Instant Pot is not nearly as instant. However, it is convenient for throwing everything together and walking away. I would say not hovering over food waiting for it to boil, stir or turn off is the best feature of an electric pressure cooker. Completely hands off method is life changing.

10. Add Hot Water to Speed Things Up

To make Instant Pot come to pressure faster, turn on kettle at same time you start getting recipe’s ingredients ready. Use boiled water when recipe calls for water. This step will cut back time it takes Instant Pot to build up pressure.

I mostly use this trick to speed up Instant Pot soup recipes’ cook time. I wouldn’t use it with pot roast or frozen meat, because food starts cooking during pressure build up and if it’s horter, it may come out undercooked.

11. Turn Sound On or Off

Does Instant Pot beeping sound wake up your baby or bothers your furry friend? Press and hold the “-” key for 3 seconds to turn sound Off. Press and hold the “+” key for 3 seconds to turn sound On.

12. Store with Lid Upside Down

Silicone material absorbs taste and smell of food quickly which is hard to get rid off. Silicone ring inside the lid will smell even if you wash it with a dish soap, run through dishwasher or even after soaking in water with vinegar overnight (it helps a bit but not much and is a hassle). Instead, I recommend to store clean lid upside down which helps to air out the pot and the lid, thus making Instant Pot less smelly.

instant pot and lid on top

I tuck cord inside the inner pot so it creates a barrier and therefore an opening for air to circulate.

13. Keep It Away from Kitchen Cabinets

Steam coming out of a release valve during pressure build-up and quick release can (will) damage your kitchen cabinet doors. Even when cooking and not releasing pressure, keep electric pressure cooker distance away from cabinets because there is enough steam coming out during pressure build-up to do the damage.

Or get Henry or Ruby – steam divirters. Just make sure to attach them before cooking to avoid skin burns.

14. Most Models Have a Lid Holder

Models like Instant Pot Duo, Ultra (but not Lux) have built in lid holders on both, right and left, handles. Just stick in lid on the side convenient for you, and condensation will collect in a condensation cup without making the countertops messy.

instant pot with lid in a lid holder

15. Best Cleaner for Instant Pot

You can cleaning inner stainless steel pot with dish soap and baking soda. Some tough spots and build-up will need a stronger cleaner. I found, the best cleaner to make Instant Pot shiny again is bar keeper’s friend. Find out more in depth cleaning for the Instant Pot.

More Instant Pot Tips and Troubleshooting

  • Never place your hand or face over releasing pressure from a steam release valve – it will cause burn.
  • Do not force lid open while float valve is up – release pressure first.
  • Occasional ticking or light cracking sound is OK – it means power switching and expanding pressure board when changing temperature.

FAQs

Is an Instant Pot a pressure cooker?

Yes. Instant Pot is brand name of an electric pressure cooker. Ninja Foodi, Cosori, Crockpot (not to be confused with slow cooker), Power Pressure Xl are all electric pressure cookers and do exactly the same what Instant Pot does – cook food under pressure.

Is Instant Pot the same as a slow cooker?

No, it is not. Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker that cooks food under sealed pressure and fast. Slow cooker is just a pot with a lid that cooks food slow on low heat setting.

Instant Pot does have Slow Cook function and you can use it with a regular lid, however its heat setting is lower than traditional stand alone slow cooker appliance, therefore taking longer time to cook.

How do I know my Instant Pot is cooking?

If the float valve is up and display says On or counting down time, your Instant Pot has pressurized and is cooking.

How to know when Instant Pot is done?

When timer has finished counting down from the time set indicated in the recipe. You will have to release the pressure, using quick or natural release. From here on, if the float valve is down it means Instant Pot has completed its cooking cycle and it’s safe to open the lid. Note: Lid will not open if pot is still under pressure – it’s a safety feature.

Can I double Instant Pot recipes?

You can only if there is enough room for double ingredients not exceeding PC max line. In most recipes online and especially my recipes, soups can’t be doubled because pot is already filled to the brim. But dished like Instant Pot butter chicken, Instant Pot BBQ chicken or Instant Pot potato salad can be doubled.

Also, you have better chances to double the recipe with 8 quart or 10 quart Instant Pot rather than with 6 quart.

Do I have to double the cook time if I double the recipe?

No. Keep the cook time the same. With Instant Pot cooking it is the thickness of food rather than its amount that matters.

Easy Instant Pot Recipes for Beginners

I chose these 6 easy “dump and go” Instant Pot recipes for you to try first.

Did you know we have entire Youtube channel dedicated to healthy Instant Pot recipes and tips? My goal is to help you become confident with your Instant Pot by demonstrating each delicious foolproof recipe in step-by-step videos.

I hope you enjoyed this Instant Pot guide! What is your favorite meal to cook in Instant Pot?

Instant Pot Guide for Beginners
Print
5 from 7 votes

Instant Pot Guide for Beginners + 15 Best Tips {Printable}

Wondering how to use an Instant Pot? This real life Instant Pot Guide is for all of you who still have their pressure cookers in the box. Today I will explain what is an Instant Pot, how it works and share 15 tips and tricks for easy Instant Pot cooking.
Course: Instant Pot
Author: Olena Osipov

Equipment

  • Instant Pot

Instructions

  • Before cooking always inspect your Instant Pot to make sure:
    Instant Pot Guide for Beginners
  • a) Cord is plugged in both in electric outlet and in the base unit (some models can unplug).
  • b) Base unit under the inner stainless steel pot has no debris and is dry.
  • c) Sealing ring is in and fitted properly onto the lid (even smallest gap will make Instant Pot not come to pressure).
  • Add water and ingredients.
    Instant Pot Guide for Beginners
  • Close the lid and set valve to Sealing position. This will ensure pressure will be sealed inside the pot when it comes to pressure.
    Instant Pot Guide for Beginners
  • Start Instant Pot by selecting Pressure Cook or Manual button. Name of the button will depend on the model of your Instant Pot. Regardless the model, display should say On. Not the set time you selected for the recipe – that’s next step.
    Instant Pot Guide for Beginners
  • Water gets heated and pressure builds up. During this time it is OK to see some steam coming out of a steam release valve.
    Instant Pot Guide for Beginners
  • Instant Pot comes to pressure, seals itself and food is being cooked. You will see countdown from set cook time begin now.
    Instant Pot Guide for Beginners
  • Now you have to release the pressure. There are 2 ways to do so: Natural Release or Quick Release. Usually the recipe will indicate which one to use.
    Instant Pot Guide for Beginners
  • Dinner is ready!
    Instant Pot Guide for Beginners

Video

Notes

15 Tips and Tricks for Easy Instant Pot Cooking
  1. Always Add Water: In order for pressure to build up inside the pot, it has to be created. From what? From steam. From an ythin like liquid like water or broth. There is a minimum amount of liquid that has to be added even when “roasting” a whole chicken. Rule of thumb is 1 cup.
  2. Don’t Fill Past 2/3 PC Max Mark: Inside the Instant Pot inner pot, you will see a 1/2 and a 2/3 line marks. Never fill the Instant Pot higher than the 2/3 mark with food or liquid (before cooking). In order for pressure cooking method to work, the pot of your electric pressure cooker should never be more than 2/3 full when making soup, stew, chili etc., or 1/2 full for expanding foods like rice. Pressure needs room to build up.
  3. Instant Pot Manual Setting Is the Most Used: There are many pre-programmed buttons on Instant Pot like “Porridge”, “Stew”, “Bean”, “Rice” etc. but you will find yourself using “Pressure Cook” or “Manual”, depending on a model, with customizable time for the most part. This is the button to press to start pressure cooking process.
  4. Other Useful Buttons to Know: +/- Button – To adjust cook time. Saute Button – Used for sauteing and browning ingredients before pressure cooking. And simmering, thickening and reducing liquids after. Adjust Button – Switches between Less, Normal and More to control the amount of heat during Saute mode. Keep Warm/Cancel Button – Once a cooking program is selected, the Auto Keep Warm function is on by default but it can be turned off by pressing this button again before you begin pressure cooking. Cancel button ends cooking program at any time. Pressure Level Button – This button switches between Low and High pressure levels that is available on all Instant Pot models except Lux. Delay Start Button – Set the delayed time before a cooking program starts.
  5. You Don’t Need to Pre-Brown Most Foods: Before you rush to convert all your favourite recipes to electric pressure cooker versions, know many won’t turn out the same. The best part with Instant Pot is that you don’t need to brown or sauté ingredients for majority of stovetop recipes because flavors in food cooked under pressure are locked in the pot. I tested to saute and not saute veggies for Instant Pot chicken and rice and Instant Pot lentil soup recipes, and noticed no difference.
  6. Avoid the Dreaded “Burn”: Oh, the dreaded burn. There are quite a few reasons why it happens. For example, one of the most common ones is when canned tomato products are stirred with other ingredients. To solve this issue, always add tomatoes on top and do not stir. Because Instant Pot’s heating element is located at the bottom and may.more likely will cause sugars caramelize and “burn”.
  7. Best Order of Ingredients to Add to Instant Pot: The order in which you add ingredients to an Instant Pot does matter, to a certain degree. First of all, it helps to avoid Burn. Secondly, it cooks foods like rice properly. Here is recommended by manufacturer, and tried and tested by me order of ingredients:
    • Liquids (except tomato products)
    • Veggies Grains (if any)
    • Meat
    • Canned tomato products.
  8. No Need to Stir before Cooking: With Instant Pot recipes, you don’t have to stir before cooking. Again, to avoid the dreaded “Burn” but more than that – it’s not necessary. The pot is often too full already, you will create unnecessary step for yourself and dirty an extra spoon. Instead, stir cooked food after.
  9. Cooking Time Is Not the Same as Total Time: If you think you will have brown rice cooked in 22 minutes, it’s not the case. Cooking time is not the same as entire cooking cycle time. Once you add all ingredients and close the lid, Instant Pot will begin to boil the water, then build up pressure and only after countdown of actual cooking time will start. Usually pressure build up time is anywhere between 10-45 minutes and varies based on the type of ingredients, amount of liquid inside, fresh or frozen food and size of your Instant Pot.
  10. Add Hot Water to Speed Things Up: To make Instant Pot come to pressure faster, turn on kettle at same time you start getting recipe’s ingredients ready. Use boiled water when recipe calls for water. This step will cut back time it takes Instant Pot to build up pressure.
  11. Turn Sound On or Off: Does Instant Pot beeping sound wake up your baby or bothers your furry friend? Press and hold the “-” key for 3 seconds to turn sound Off. Press and hold the “+” key for 3 seconds to turn sound On.
  12. Store with Lid Upside Down: Silicone material absorbs taste and smell of food quickly which is hard to get rid off. Silicone ring inside the lid will smell even if you wash it with a dish soap, run through dishwasher or even after soaking in water with vinegar overnight (it helps a bit but not much and is a hassle). Instead, I recommend to store clean lid upside down which helps to air out the pot and the lid, thus making Instant Pot less smelly.
  13. Keep It Away from Kitchen Cabinets: Steam coming out of a release valve during pressure build-up and quick release can (will) damage your kitchen cabinet doors. Even when cooking and not releasing pressure, keep electric pressure cooker distance away from cabinets because there is enough steam coming out during pressure build-up to do the damage.
  14. Most Models Have a Lid Holder: Models like Instant Pot Duo, Ultra (but not Lux) have built in lid holders on both, right and left, handles. Just stick in lid on the side convenient for you, and condensation will collect in a condensation cup without making the countertops messy.
  15. Best Cleaner for Instant Pot: You can cleaning inner stainless steel pot with dish soap and baking soda. Some tough spots and build-up will need a stronger cleaner. I found, the best cleaner to make Instant Pot shiny again is bar keeper’s friend.

Did you try this recipe?

Follow @ifoodreal on Instagram, snap a photo, and tag it #ifoodreal. Show me what you are making!

olena osipov in the studio

Hello and welcome to iFOODreal.

My name is Olena Osipov. I'm a mom to 2 boys, a wife to Alex and we reside on magical Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. This is our healthy family recipes blog. Originally from Ukraine, I grew up on real food. As an adult, I struggled with diets for years because none worked long-term. Now for over 10 years, I cook easy healthy meals for my family. I can help you with “What’s for dinner?” too.

The information on this website is for educational purposes only. It has not been evaluated by the FDA and is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease. You assume full responsibility and liability for your own actions.

This page may contain affiliate links. Please see our disclosure policy. ifoodreal.com is a participant of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. If you make a purchase, we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. It helps keep iFOODreal recipes free. Thanks for your support!