Everything You Need To Know About The Instant Pot

Intro to the Instant Pot

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, then you’re probably already familiar with my obsession with the Instant Pot! I’ve written quite a few posts about the Instant Pot over the past few years, and I even centered my very first video course around it. (Learn more about out Instant Success with Jillee here!)

While I can’t say enough about this magical kitchen appliance, I do know that it can be a little intimidating at first for new users, and even a little confusing at times (even for experienced users!) But the purpose of today’s post it to clear up any confusion or apprehension you may feel by answering all of the most important questions about the Instant Pot.

We’re going to cover a lot of ground in this post, but don’t worry! I’ll explain everything as simply as I can, so that you leave this post with all the information you could possibly need about what the Instant Pot is, what it does, and how to get started cooking delicious meals of your own!

Intro to the Instant Pot

What Is The Instant Pot?

The Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker that can also fill the role of several other appliances, including a slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, steamer, warmer, and even a sauté pan, just to name a few. (It’s no wonder why the Instant Pot is often advertised as a “multi-cooker!”)

Much like electric kettles provide a convenient alternative to stovetop kettles, the electric pressure cooker has become a convenient (and not to mention safer) alternative to stovetop pressure cookers. And with all of the other additional features it offers, it’s easy to see why the Instant Pot has become such a popular kitchen gadget for home cooks!

Intro to the Instant Pot

How Does The Instant Pot Work? / What Does The Instant Pot Do?

The Instant Pot consists of three basic parts: the base unit, the inner pot, and the lid. When using the basic “Pressure Cook” program (which was labeled “Manual” on older models), you start by locking the lid onto the base unit to form an airtight seal.

The heating element in the base unit warms the inner pot, creating steam and building pressure inside the pot. (This is why almost every Instant Pot recipe calls for at least 1 cup of liquid. You can’t get steam without liquid, and you can’t pressure cook anything without steam!)

In the Instant Pot’s heated and pressurized environment, foods cook faster than they would otherwise. Foods are also less likely to dry out because of the presence of all that steam. Neat, right? :-)

But other Instant Pot programs are designed to be used without the locking lid, or with a different lid that won’t form an airtight seal. Using these sorts of programs (including “Slow Cook” and “Sauté”), the base unit heats the food inside the inner pot, but the steam is allowed to escape and pressure never builds.

(For a more detailed explanation of the differences between an Instant Pot and a slow cooker, read this post.)

Intro to the Instant Pot

Getting Started

The user manual encourages you to perform an Initial Test Run before cooking anything in your Instant Pot, and I heartily agree! This simple test helps familiarize you with the basics of using the Instant Pot, and it’s an easy way to ensure that the machine is functioning correctly.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Pour 1 cup of water into the pot, and lock the lid into place.
  2. Select the “Steam” button, then set the timer for 2 minutes.
  3. The screen will display “ON” until the pot reaches pressure, when it will switch to “2” to count down the cooking time. When it’s done, the screen will read “L0:00,” which means that the cooking process is done and the warming function has started.
  4. Release the pressure from the pot, either by allowing it to depressurize naturally (until the pressure indicator on the lid drops down), or by twisting the Quick Release handle.

You might notice steam, strange sounds, or a weird smell while performing the Initial Test Run, but never fear—it’s all perfectly normal! Following these simple steps is a great way to get started with your new Instant Pot.

Intro to the Instant Pot

Is The Instant Pot Safe?

In terms of safety mechanisms, electric pressure cookers are lightyears ahead of those old rickety stovetop pressure cookers. You can rest assured that the Instant Pot is very safe to use!

The older and more basic Instant Pot models feature 10 different safety mechanisms, while newer and more advanced models have either 11 or 13. Each safety mechanism provides a layer of protection that helps eliminate user error and prevents pressure from building to unsafe levels.

You can read more about the safety mechanisms built into each Instant Pot model at InstantPot.com.

Intro to the Instant Pot

Where Can I Find Instant Pot Recipes?

I recommend starting by checking out this post, which features an extensive list of delicious Instant Pot recipes that I handpicked myself! This should give you more than enough inspiration and delicious meal ideas to keep you occupied for the foreseeable future.

And if you’re looking for a more obscure type of recipe that isn’t included in that post, try doing a search for “Instant Pot recipes” on Pinterest. That should put you on the right track!

Intro to the Instant Pot

What Should I Make First?

For your Instant Pot’s maiden cooking voyage, I recommend keeping it simple by choosing one of these five basic and beginner-friendly pressure cooker recipes. Cooking something basic like pasta or potatoes will help you get a feel for how it all works, without the added risk of potentially messing up a whole meal.

Intro to the Instant Pot

How Do I Clean The Instant Pot?

As far as care and maintenance go, the best way to keep your electric pressure cooker working correctly is to keep it clean. I recommend giving it a light cleaning after each use by washing the inner pot and sealing ring, and wiping down the lid and base unit.

You should also aim to deep-clean your pressure cooker around once a month to remove food bits and residues that can build up over time. For step-by-step instructions for both everyday cleaning and monthly deep-cleaning routines, make sure to check out this post.

Here’s another helpful Instant Pot cleaning tip:

YouTube video

More Instant Pot FAQs

Intro to the Instant Pot

How Long Do I Cook _________?

Whenever you cook something using the “Pressure Cook” or “Manual” setting, you’ll be prompted to set a timer for the food you’re cooking. Different types of foods take a different amount of cook time, and factors like temperature (is it frozen or thawed?) and size (is it whole or is it cut into pieces?) will affect the time as well.

But don’t worry, you don’t have to memorize dozens of cooking times or experiment blindly to find the right one. Just download my handy Instant Pot Cooking Times Cheat Sheet and use it to quickly look up common cooking times whenever you need them!

Intro to the Instant Pot

What Accessories Should I Buy?

While you can already do a lot with just your Instant Pot and the tools that come with it, there’s a whole world of useful Instant Pot accessories out there too! Some are helpful for making a specific type of food (like a small springform pan for making Instant Pot cheesecake), while others can be used in a variety of different ways (like stackable steamer baskets.)

Check out this post to learn about all of my favorite Instant Pot accessories!

Intro to the Instant Pot

Should I Use Quick Release Or Natural Release?

After cooking something in your pressure cooker, there are two basic ways to safely release the pressure from the pot:

  • Quick Release: The Quick Release method involves turning the steam release handle on top of the lid to “Venting.” This opens a valve and allows steam to escape rapidly out of the holes in the release handle.
  • Natural Release: The Natural Release method is simple—just leave the pot alone! The pressure inside the pot will drop over time as the steam and liquid cool. This take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes (or longer) for the pot to depressurize naturally, depending on how full the pot is.

Which method you should use depends entirely on what you’re making. Quick Release is a good choice when cooking vegetables, seafood, and other foods that are likely to overcook, while Natural Release is good for red meats, stews, and other foods that benefit from a “rest period.”

Whenever I’m not sure which method to use, I like to split the difference by using a combination of both! I’ll do Natural Release for 10 minutes, then Quick Release the remaining pressure.

To learn more about the different pressure release methods, and which one to use when, check out this post.

Intro to the Instant Pot

Which Instant Pot Is Right For Me?

There are plenty of options to choose from in the Instant Pot lineup! But which multi-cooker is the right for you? These brief summaries of all the major Instant Pot models will tell you everything you need to know!

Intro to the Instant Pot

Instant Pot Lux

Price: $79, 6-quart (also available in 3-quart and 8-quart capacities)

This is the baseline Instant Pot model, featuring six primary functions and 12 built-in programs. It doesn’t offer the same number of bells and whistles as the higher-end models, but its a solid choice for anyone looking to save money (or who mainly wants to use it for pressure cooking and won’t miss the extra features.)

Intro to the Instant Pot

Instant Pot Duo

Price: $79-99, 6-quart (also available in 3-quart and 8-quart capacities)

The Duo is the most popular Instant Pot model, and it’s one of our favorites! The major difference between the Duo and the more basic Lux model is that the Duo is a 7-in-1 cooker (thanks to the added yogurt maker function), setting it one notch above the 6-in-1 Lux for the same price.

Intro to the Instant Pot

Instant Pot Duo Nova

Price: $99, 6-quart (also available in 3-quart, 8-quart, and 10-quart capacities)

The Duo Nova debuted in 2019 as an upgrade to Instant Pot’s massively popular Duo model. It offers the same 7-in-1 cooking features as the Duo, but has an upgraded LCD display as well as an upgraded lid design. The new EasySeal lid seals automatically when you start cooking (which is a highly useful feature for those of us who frequently forget to set the steam release handle to “Sealing!”)

Intro to the Instant Pot

Instant Pot Duo Plus

Price: $119-129, 6-quart (also available in 3-quart and 8-quart capacities)

The Duo Plus is the next step up from the Duo and Duo Nova, with a jump in price to match. This one gets a “9-in-1” moniker for its egg cooking and a sterilizing functions, and it has an upgraded LCD screen that’s brighter and easier to read.

(Is the Duo Plus worth the extra $20? In my humble opinion, if you’re okay with the $119 price tag, the new Duo Evo Plus is likely the better buy at that price point. More on that below!)

Intro to the Instant Pot

Instant Pot Duo Evo Plus

Price: $119, 6-quart (also available in 8-quart capacity)

The Instant Pot Duo Evo Plus is the latest addition to the Duo family. With the addition of Sous Vide technology (learn what sous vide cooking is all about here), this 10-in-1 cooker seeks to combine many of the innovative features from other models into this latest iteration. Among its notable features are the upgraded EasySeal lid design, as well as a newly designed inner pot that you can use right on your stovetop.

Intro to the Instant Pot

Instant Pot Ultra

Price: $150, 6-quart (also available in 3-quart and 8-quart capacities)

The Instant Pot Ultra is a 10-in-1 cooker with a new “Ultra” mode, allowing users to customize parameters like altitude, temperature, and time for recipes that require a high degree of precision. The display has a dial selector for customizing settings, and the Ultra also features the new EasySeal lid design with push-button steam release.

Intro to the Instant Pot

Instant Pot Max

Price: $150, 6-quart

If you are looking for an Instant Pot that can help you with home canning, look no further! The Instant Pot Max can sustain high pressure up to 15 psi, making it the first model that can be used for home pressure canning. It also features a touch-screen display (with on-screen pressure release options), as well as a brand new “Sous Vide” function for temperature-controlled water bath cooking.

Intro to the Instant Pot

Instant Pot Duo Crisp

Price: $180, 8-quart

Can’t decide between getting an Instant Pot or an air fryer? With the Instant Pot Duo Crisp, you don’t have to choose! This model combines the classic pressure cooker capabilities of the popular Duo models with new convection cooking options like Air Fry, Roast, Broil, and even Dehydrate. While you do have to juggle two separate lids for pressure cooking and air frying, having one machine that can do it all should save you some valuable counter space!

Do you currently have an Instant Pot at home?

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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Food & Recipes

  • I am trying to make potato soup in my Instant Pot. The recipe says to cook on high using the manual button for 15 minutes. When I push the manual button I can’t set the temp to high. I can set the time. How do I set the temp?

    Thanks in advance.

    Debbie

    • Did you pressure valve ever rise? If it just stayed where it was, then your instant pot never came to pressure. Check your sealing ring and make sure the lid is on correctly. Then try again!

  • You guessed right! My Instant Pot has been out of the box but on my counter (I haven’t even opened the lid yet) since New Years. I will try the 5 every day items this week.

  • After seeing so many sites, and especially seeing all the posts on your site (my favorite & 1st go to always) I asked for one for Christmas. My family bought me a Gourmia Electric Pressure Cooker and I love it! I was asked if I’d actually use it or would it collect dust like other kitchen stuff I’ve asked for over the years. I’m happy to report I’ve used it at least a few times a week since Christmas and my recipe collection is growing daily, so… I haven’t had any problems translating the Instant Pot posts/recipes to work in my Gourmia. I am struggling to find accessories like you suggested here: https://www.onegoodthingbyjillee.com/instant-pot-accessories
    to fit my 8qt cooker. Any suggestions?

  • Thanks for the great tips! I received an Instant Pot for Christmas this year and am about to embark on using it. I’m confused/concerned about the whole “release” part of it. If the whole idea is to save time, how does having to “release” save time? For example with white rice: if the pressure cooker makes white rice in 12 min, but I have to a release for 10, wouldn’t it be just as easy to cook the rice for 20 min in a regular pan? Am I missing the point? :-)

    • Yes, it’s not quite as “instant” as we’re led to believe. Rice isn’t the best example – you’ll save more time with dry beans or a roast over conventional methods. I cook my rice in the instant pot because it’s easy and turns out perfectly every time! :-)

  • I have bought and worn out two “instant pots” back when they were just called electric pressure cookers. I loved them both, but got tire of having to switch to my old trusty pressure cooker when the electric one stopped working (after 2 or 3 years of hard working). So I didn’t buy another one and just use the old cookers, of which I had 3 different sizes. I even bought my DIL an old style, but saw it in my garage sale (unused) so I grabbed it back.

    Thanks for all the great tips you give us.

  • What about those of us that received the knock off version? Is anybody familiar with the Aroma brand? Can I use the same recipes as those that have been printed for the Instant Pot brand?

    • You can use the same recipes, but you might have to do the “sauteing” part on the stovetop, and then transfer to your pressure cooker. Unless it has a saute function, of course :-)

  • Jillee, I wanted the oblong insta pot because a chicken or a roast would fit in it better. When I researched this I was told by the manufacturer that the oblong one doesn’t have the pressure cooker feature. It is only a slow cooker. This is very disappointing. I did not buy either one. Maybe they will eventually make an oblong one that will serve as a pressure cooker and a slow cooker. I’m just going to wait. What do you think of this???

  • I have never used a pressure cooker before. I bought one about a month ago and I’m afraid to use. I saw a stove top pressure cooker blow up with a friend of mine a long time ago. I’m praying now I build up the nerve. I will go step by step. Thanks for your help.

    • Rosemary, give it a shot and use your electric pressure cooker. I have a 6 qt. instant pot and I absolutely love it. I could use it as a slow cooker, but I love how quick even tough cuts of meat are fork tender using it as a pressure cooker. Next, i’m going to cook hard boiled eggs in it………………………..Best of luck to you although you’re not going to need it. My instant pot is very user friendly and if it wasn’t for Jillee recommending it, I probably wouldn’t have purchased it. Check all the blogs that she’s written about instant pots, you will be inspired to use it !!

      • I also have the 6 quart instant pot.Like you, thanks to Jillee for recommending it. Thanks again for you’all help.

    • The safety features on these new electric ones almost guarantee that it won’t explode. I have had a stove top pressure cooker blowup on me back in the early 90’s. I went out and got a new one. I also have a huge one for pressure canning food in Mason jars. Get the electric one and enjoy. I love mine. I made bean and ham soup in it after Thanksgiving. Popped in the frozen bone that had a little meat left, cooked it about 30 min. Then added the beans and spices removed the bone cooked a bit longer. I think it was 20 min. Had delicious soup.

  • What size pot do you own Jillee? I cook double batches of everything so I’m thinking that I might need to purchase the 8 qt pot? I would also think that it would fit a whole chicken better. Please advise. Thank you!

    • You just need to be very careful not to overfill the Instant Pot – but if it fits, it will work just the same! You don’t want to fill it more than 2/3 of the way full, or 1/2 way if you’re cooking dry beans or rice :-)

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