How to Use an Instant Pot


Electric pressure cookers are fantastic appliances that have quickly turned into staples in many home cooks’ kitchen arsenals. The Instant Pot, in particular, has revolutionized cooking methods worldwide thanks to its ease of use,  multi-functionality, and ability to cut down cooking time significantly.

The Instant Pot sets itself apart from most pressure cookers for many reasons, and it’s definitely nothing like your grandparents’ pressure cooker. Probably the most popular model out there today, the Instant Pot is one of the best kitchen tools you can invest in for everything from pressure cooking to using it as a slow cooker or yogurt maker.

Looking at your new Instant Pot box and wondering what Instant Pot recipes you can make and how to use it to its full potential? Here are some of the ways and tips on how to use an Instant Pot.

How To Use an Instant Pot Pressure Cooker

While the stovetop pressure cooker is still a useful tool, it used to be the only option available on the market. Today, the electric pressure cooker like the Instant Pot pressure cooker has helped make cooking most recipes easier and faster through its pressure cooking functions, slow cooking functions, multifunctions, and ability to cut cooking time significantly while still providing the same quality you’d get out of traditional cooking methods and cooking times.

The Instant Pot is an all-in-one electric pressure cooker. It was one of the first electric pressure cookers to come on the market and, while there are now many similar pressure cookers out there today, the Instant Pot has remained the most popular, and for good reason.

Pressure cooking allows the Instant Pot to cook food quickly, as it locks in steam created by liquids, building all the pressure and causing steam to be released back into the food. However, the Instant Pot is significantly safer than most pressure cookers that came before it thanks to its locking mechanism and quick release method that steadies and accommodates the natural release of pressure.

As An Electric Pressure Cooker

The electric pressure cooker option of an Instant Pot is its main function. There is usually a manual pressure-cooking and manual pressure release option, but most of the specialized modes on an Instant Pot are also just pressure-cooking modes with preset times and pressure levels.

Pressure cookers reach higher temperatures because their lids lock into place without steam escaping, which is how the Instant Pot builds pressure. ​​This is 70% faster than other ways of cooking, and it only takes less than an hour for the food inside to cook completely. 

Because Instant Pots build pressure so quickly during their cook time, you can use either natural release or quick release methods to get rid of it after cooking. Natural pressure release simply means releasing the pressure by leaving the Instant Pot lid’s valve in the sealing position and allowing the pressure to dissipate naturally over time.

The quick release method on the other hand releases the pressure manually. You’ll carefully move the valve into the venting position here, and steam will shoot out of the vent until all the pressure is released. The quick release method is much faster, but it will still take time to release the steam through the vent, especially for very high-liquid meals like soup.

As a Slow Cooker

The Instant Pot can easily go from high or low pressure, and the slow cook function on an Instant Pot allows for longer, gentle cooking just like a crock pot. You can use the slow cook option if you want to start cooking a meal at an earlier hour or have a longer cook time without constantly keeping an eye on it as it cooks.

As a Sautéer and Steamer

The built-in heat source at the base of the Instant Pot allows for cooking food through searing and sautéing. This is perfect for meats and vegetables, and simmering liquid for steaming.

As a Rice Cooker

The Instant Pot has a very similar shape and function as your typical rice cooker. You can use it to cook different grains from brown rice to risotto to quinoa.

As a Yogurt Maker

Aside from high pressure and low-pressure options, the Instant Pot also has the ability to hold very low temperatures and so, along with acting as a slow cooker, it can also be used to incubate yogurt.

Parts and Accessories

Outer Body

This contains the brain and the heating element of the Instant Pot. It has a control panel and various buttons for setting the functions, including the pressure cook button that is most commonly used. Depending on your model, the control panel will also have different features like making porridge or soup, and will automatically set its cooking cycle with just a press of a button.

Instant Pot Lid

The Instant Pot lid covers the pot, trapping in the hot steam. Some multicookers have detachable lids, and others have lids that are secured to the body of the Instant Pot on a hinge, and this lid always needs to be locked into place before the pressure cooking function can be turned on. 

Pressure Valve

This metal valve indicates when the cooker is pressurized and when it is not. It will pop up when the cooker reaches pressure, and drop down when the pressure is released. You may not be able to see the valve pop up or down if it’s hidden under a plastic cover, which is sometimes the case depending on the model of your Instant Pot.

Steam Release Valve

Found on the lid of the Instant Pot, the steam valve allows the pot to build to high pressure and also have a natural pressure release. The steam valve features a sealing or locked position and a venting or open position. 

When using the pressure cooking function, the valve must be in the sealing position, or the pressure won’t build, but when using the slow cooking function, it must be in the venting position for natural pressure release. Most Instant Pots have a steam release valve to release the pressure, but remember to never put your hand or arm over the steam valve.

Float Valve

The float valve is the part of the Instant Pot that shows when it’s under pressure. If the float valve is up, this means it’s not safe to open the Instant Pot. The vent is set to sealing, so if you open the vent, the hot pressurized steam will blow out the top of the machine. It’s this steam that can burn your arm, particularly if you open the valve with your hand in the way.

Condensation Collector

This plastic cup clips onto the outer body of the Instant Pot, catching any condensation released during slow cooking. You don’t need to use it during pressure cooking as the steam is contained in the machine, but this is an important piece to use for the natural release of condensation for easier cleanup and so you don’t have to worry about damaging the heating element of the Instant Pot.

Inner Pot

This is the stainless steel inner pot is where the food cooks. This can easily be removed from the body of the Instant Pot for easy and regular cleaning. 

Sealing Ring

This silicone gasket surrounds the lid and helps seal steam and keep the high pressure within the Instant Pot. Sealing rings also absorb the odor of strongly scented Instant Pot recipes during the cooking process. 

Steamer Rack or Basket

This sits in the inner pot and keeps food raised above the liquid when you use an Instant Pot to steam meats and vegetables and don’t want them submerged during the cooking time.

Are You Supposed to Put Water in an Instant Pot?

Follow this Instant Pot step-by-step guide for how to do the water test before you begin using your Instant Pot for the first time.

How To Do An Instant Pot Water Test

  1. Plug the power cord into a power outlet on your wall. (Remember to always unplug the power cord after use.)
  2. Place the stainless steel inner pot in the base unit. Use a measuring cup and add 3 cups of water to the stainless steel pot. Make sure it doesn’t go up to the max fill line. 
  3. Ensure that the silicone sealing ring is properly fitted into the Instant Pot lid. Put the lid on the Instant Pot and turn it clockwise until it is in the closed position. When you open and close the lid, the Instant Pot will play a sound.
  4. Set the steam release valve to the “sealing” position. If you have an Instant Pot Ultra, the steam release will automatically be set to “sealing” when the lid is closed.
  5. To start this initial test run, press the “Manual Cook” or “Pressure Cook” buttons. (Some Instant Pot models have a “Manual” button and others have a “Pressure Cook” button. Both function exactly the same way.)
  6. Set the time to 5 minutes by pressing the +/- buttons. After 10 seconds, the Instant Pot display will say “On” and the cycle will begin.
  7. Building pressure in the Instant Pot takes about 10 minutes. When the float valve will pop up, there will be a single beep letting you know the cooking time has started. It will count down until completed and then beep 10 times to let you know it’s finished.
  8. The Instant Pot will release the remaining pressure and switch to “Keep Warm” mode and the time will count up the minutes since the end of cooking. For the purposes of the water test, you will perform a quick release to manually release the pressure from the pot quickly. To do this, turn the valve to the venting position with a spatula, keeping your hands away from the top of the valve where the steam will shoot out.
  9. After the pressure is fully released, the float valve will click down and that’s when you know it’s safe to open the lid. Open the pressure cooker from the sealing position and away from your face. Allow the water to drop from the lid before setting it aside.

Final Note

Instant Pots are some of the most innovative kitchen appliances available to us today, allowing us to create easy Instant pot meals that take just a few minutes to cook. This all-in-one pressure cooker is a fantastic investment to make if you’re someone who loves convenience as much as cooking, and learning how to use an Instant Pot is as easy as can be.