Become an Instant Pot Expert

If we had to pick a favorite kitchen appliance, it definitely would be the Instant Pot. The Instant Pot is great for cooking roasts, getting starches like rice and potatoes done perfectly (no crunchy or uncooked pieces!) and much more!

The Instant Pot also shines in saving you time, taking precious minutes off your meal preparation. We featured it in our 20 Meals You Can Make in 20 Minutes blog post specifically for this reason.

If you haven’t felt comfortable using your Instant Pot, we are here for you. Go through the primer below and then sign-up for our Instant Pot Challenge and we’ll send you a series of four emails with recipes and step-by-step directions that will turn you into an Instant Pot Expert!

Finding an Instant Pot

If you don’t have an Instant Pot, they can be easily found at most larger retail stores and online. There are a number of models in the range of $100 to $200. The best reviewed and most common models are the Instant Pot Duo and Instant Pot Pro.

The Pro has a few more features that may add a little more convenience, but for getting things pressure cooked, the Duo has plenty of functionality and is the one we use. For a more in depth comparison, check out this article.

These models also come in 6 and 8 quart sizes. The 6 quart model has enough capacity for most everything you would like to do. If you have a larger family or make a lot of broth/stock, the 8 quart size will be worth the extra cost. Note that the pressure cooker requires air space to pressurize, so you can only fill the pot with liquid up to the 2/3 level, so there is only 4 and 5 quarts of actual capacity in the two sizes.

If you would like to find a cheaper Instant Pot, lightly used ones are often available on Facebook Marketplace and other online listings from people who have not found this blog post and decided to become an Instant Pot expert like yourself!

Getting Familiar with the Instant Pot

Pressure cooking involves adding heat to a liquid in a sealed container to generate steam; that then creates a pressurized environment. This moisture-rich environment can cook faster at a lower temperature due to the increased pressure.

This is great for foods that you want to have soft, tender, and moist. But on the other hand, this is not good for foods you want firm and crispy.

Let’s go through the components of the Instant Pot that create the pressurized cooking environment. We’ll start with the heat source, an electrical heating element.

If you take the lid off and take the metal pot out, you will see the gray metal heating element in the bottom of the Instant Pot that works in a similar manner to an electric stovetop burner. In the center of heating element is a silver button that is a safety switch to make sure the pot is in place before heating.

Power is supplied from the electrical cord. The cord is made to detach from the Instant Pot in the case it accidentally gets knocked off the counter. It is a good idea to check that the cord is firmly inserted into the Instant Pot when you get ready to use it in case it has been dislodged when moving it around.

The stainless steel metal pot is removeable for transferring food and cleaning. It is not recommended to use the pot on the stove as it is designed specifically for the heating element in the Instant Pot and can be damaged by the higher heat of the stove.

Some of the newer models have handles on the pot to assist in handling and to keep the pot from spinning around while stirring. For the non-handle models, holding the edge of the pot with a pot holder is necessary while you stir.

The lid is the part that creates the seal and locks in and releases the steam. There are four features of the lid to be aware of: the locking rim, the gasket, the automatic pressure valve, and the manual pressure release.

The locking rim matches to the body of the Instant Pot to securely hold the lid in place while under pressure. To firmly lock the lid in place, place the lid on top with the release valves away from you to the back of the Instant Pot. There is a square piece on the lid that fits into a tray area on the back of the pot. Start with the lid to the left part of the tray area, let it settle down and then turn to the right (clockwise) to lock the lid in place. If the Instant Pot is plugged in, you will hear a satisfying set of beeps when the lid is moved in place. When the pot comes under pressure, the lid will be pushed up and locked from turning, preventing the lid from being removed while under pressure.

The gasket sits on a wire frame on the inside of the lid and is what creates the pressure-tight seal between the lid and pot. It is possible for this to become dislodged. This will prevent the Instant Pot from coming up to pressure and you will see steam escaping from somewhere around the lid. This is fixed by releasing the pressure and taking the lid off and making sure the gasket is seated evenly on the wire frame. The gasket should be removed occasionally and washed with soap and water.

The automatic pressure valve and manual pressure release sit on the back of the lid. The manual pressure valve is the larger black circular vent piece.

When the valve is seated down, it holds in the pressure. Depending on your model, there is either a switch or handle that can tip the valve open to release pressure at the end of the cooking time.

Some care is needed as steam will come out the top to release pressure when the valve is opened. The valve body can be removed from the lid and occasional cleaning is a good idea, especially if cooking a lot of starchy foods that can gum up the openings.

The automatic pressure valve is the little stainless steel piece next to the manual pressure release valve. This valve will pop up when enough steam pressure has been created and then drop down when the pressure has been released from the pot, allowing you to remove the lid.

When opening and closing the lid, use the plastic handle to turn and lift. After cooking, be careful of touching the metal parts as they will be hot and may burn.

In the process of researching for this guide, I did discover that the tabs on the side of the lid fit into the handle on the top of the Instant Pot that will hold it upright while you add ingredients. I don’t find this feature that useful and usually set the lid off to the side so it doesn’t get in the way, but if you want to show off your Instant Pot prowess, this is a cool little thing that most people probably aren’t aware of!

The Control Panel

There are three areas to be aware of on the control panel: the display area, the buttons below the display area, and the buttons to the sides of the display area.

Note that the control panels vary some from model to model. We are going over the control panel on the Instant Pot Duo. All of the features covered will be part of your Instant Pot, but may have some slightly different button and display configurations.

The display area has an LCD readout for cooking time. When the Instant Pot is first plugged in, it will display ‘OFF’. When you select a cooking option, the display will show the amount of time that the pressure cooker will cook at pressure. The left two digits show hours and the right two show minutes.

After the cooking option is selected, the display will switch to ‘ON’, indicating that the pressure cooker is being heated to come up to pressure. When the automatic pressure release valve pops up into position and the pot comes up to pressure, the display will switch to the cooking time you selected and count down to zeroes.

When the timer finishes, the panel will beep and start counting the minutes up from zero. The left side of the display will show an ‘L’ to indicate lowering pressure. Some recipes call for a natural release or low pressure release for a certain amount of time. This display allows you to release and remove the lid at a specific time following the ending of heated pressure cooking.

The display panel has ‘+’ and ‘-‘ buttons at the bottom of the area that allow you to increase or decrease the cooking time.

There is also a ‘Less/Normal/More’ indicator in the display area. This is primarily for the sauté and slow cook functions and indicates a low/medium/high temperature range for that function.

The buttons below the display area allow you to select specific cooking modes and options. The primary buttons to know in this area are the ‘Pressure Cook’ and ‘Sauté’ buttons.

The ‘Sauté’ button allows you to cook something in the Instant Pot like you would on the stovetop, whether it be browning a roast before you braise it or sweating some onions for a rice pilaf. This saves the hassle of dirtying multiple pans and lets you keep the flavorful caramelized bits (called Fond in fancy cooking terms) all in the same pot.

Pressing the button multiple times will adjust the cooking temperature as shown in the table below and indicated by the ‘Less/Normal/More’ light in the display area. Using the ‘More’ setting is recommended for browning meat and the ‘Normal’ will work well for sweating vegetables.

Temperature Ranges for Sauté and Slow Cook Cooking Modes

Slow Cook180–190°F
Keep Warm

The ‘Pressure Cook’ button is the workhorse button and our go-to for cooking starches such as potatoes, rice, and pasta. This button will start the pressure cooking process. The time is adjustable and will save the time you last used to cook with.

For us, we keep this at 4 minutes as that is what we standardly use for cooking starches. This can easily be adjusted up or down as needed with the ‘+’ and ‘-‘ buttons in the display area.

The buttons on the sides of the display area are labeled with foods and are useful for setting pressure cooking times for different foods. For instance, we use the ‘Meat/Stew’ button to set the pressure cook time to 1 hour for cooking beef and pork roasts.

This saves time from having to adjust the pressure cook time up and down based on what you are cooking. All of the buttons will save the last cooking time you used from that function. There are also 3 saved times per button. If you press the button multiple time it will cycle through three preset times.

To be honest, there are way more options than you really need. We use the pressure cook button for cooking times in the 4 to 8 minute range, the ‘Meat/Stew’ button for 1 hour, and the ‘Poultry’ button for 20 minutes, and then adjust up or down with the ‘+’ and ‘-‘ button if needed.

These side buttons will all start the pressure cooking process. There are several other buttons below the display area that allow you to accomplish other functions.

The ‘Slow Cook’ button will allow you to use your Instant Pot as a slow cooker. For a deep-dive on this method, check out this article.

The ‘Yogurt’ function will keep the interior at temperatures suitable for culturing yogurt.

The ‘Keep Warm’ is automatically on for most cooking functions and can be shut off by hitting the button. This function will continue to heat the pot after pressure release. This can dry out or scorch food so we are in the habit of unplugging the Instant Pot when we are done cooking to prevent this.

There are two pressure levels, high and low, that can be set with the ‘Pressure Level’ button. For 99% of recipes, the high setting is preferred and is the default for most pressure cooking functions.

The ‘Cancel’ button will exit out of whatever setting you are on and allow you to select another function.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Now that we are familiar with the Instant Pot’s features, let’s walk through the cooking process to make some rice.

What you will need:

  • Instant Pot
  • Glass Measuring Cup (2 or 4 cup)
  • Large wood or plastic spoon for serving
  • Hot pad
  • 1 1/2 Cups Rice
  • 3 Cups Water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  1. Get out your Instant Pot, make sure the electrical cord is firmly seated in the back and then plug in.
  2. Remove the lid and set off to the side (or be fancy and park it upright in the side handle of the Instant Pot)
  3. Measure out the rice in the measuring cup and add to Instant Pot. Sprinkle the salt over the rice. Measure out the water and add to the Instant Pot.

Note: If you are a stickler for not having sticky and gummy rice, prior to putting the rice in the Instant Pot, put it into a wire mesh strainer and rinse with water. This washes off starches from the surface of the rice that can glue the rice kernels together.

  1. Gently shake the pot to even out the rice and then replace lid and lock into place. (Extra stirring is counter-productive and will lead to stickier rice. The rice will cook well as long as it is fairly evenly distributed and submerged in the pot.)
  2. Press the ‘Pressure Cook’ button and use the ‘+’ and ‘-‘ buttons to adjust the time to 4 minutes. After a few seconds, the Instant Pot will beep and the display will show ‘ON’. This begins the heating and bringing the pot up to pressure.
  3. Within 5 to 10 minutes, steam will start to hiss out of the automatic pressure valve. After a few seconds, the automatic pressure valve should pop up into place. If it doesn’t, gently push down on the lid to get it to pop up.
  4. Shortly after the automatic pressure valve moves up into place, the Instant Pot will reach the cooking pressure and the display will switch to the time and indicate it has reached pressure with a beep. The time will then count down to 0.
  5. When the time has reached zero, the Instant Pot will beep again. The clock will switch to having an L on the first digit and start counting up.
  6. At this point, pressure can be released from the pot (usually referred to as a Manual or Quick Release). Making sure there is nothing important above the manual release valve (like your face and hands), move the switch or handle on the Manual Release valve. This will result in steam spraying up.

Note: Starchy foods can create a foam inside of the pressure cooker. This foam can be drawn up and come out of the release valve as a liquid. If this occurs, the easiest thing to do is shut the manual pressure valve and give it a minute or two to let the foam subside prior to releasing pressure again. If this still gives trouble, a towel can be carefully placed over the release valve to catch the liquid while still allowing the steam to escape. In our experience, this is generally only a problem when cooking pasta and can take a little management to avoid creating a mess.

  1. After a minute or two of pressure releasing, the amount of steam escaping will reduce and the automatic pressure valve will fall down. This indicates that the pressure has been released and the lid can be removed. Press down and turn the lid to remove. Lift the lid straight up and flip over. This will keep condensation on the lid from falling on your counter and floor. I usually then move the lid to the sink to let the condensation drain off and let the lid cool down. The plastic handle remains cool and easy to handle, but be careful as the metal parts of the lid will be hot enough to burn.
  2. At this point, your rice is ready to serve. Unplug the Instant Pot to turn it off and prevent the ‘Keep Warm’ function from burning or drying out the rice. Then, with one hand using a hot pad to hold the rim of the Instant Pot, use a large spoon, gently stir and fluff the rice and serve.
  3. Starchy foods leave gluey residues, so it is recommended that you move any leftover rice to a container shortly after eating and then rinse and wash the pot. If you are in a hurry and don’t have time to wash thoroughly, at least run water into the pot to the level of the starchy residue. This will make cleaning the pot much easier when you get back to it.
  4. After washing cleaning and drying, move your Instant Pot back into a convenient storage place. We keep ours on our counter so it is easy to put to use!

Things That Can Go Wrong

While the Instant Pot makes pressure cooking safe and convenient, there are few things that can go wrong and prevent the Instant Pot from working effectively. Most of these can be easily checked and corrected.

The main issue we have had is the seal being dislodged so the pot does not come up to pressure. This will be evident by the steam coming out somewhere around the lid.

To fix this, release the pressure and take off the lid and check the seal. Be careful as everything will be hot at this point. If needed, run the lid under cold water to cool off and then reposition the seal and retry.

If the seal is seated and things are still not coming up to pressure, double check that the manual release valve is seated firmly.

The automatic pressure valve sometimes does not like to pop up. If there has been steam leaking up through it for more than thirty seconds, press down on the lid and see if it pops up.

If this does not work, you may need to remove the lid, cool it off and then take off the gasket on the bottom of the automatic pressure valve which will allow the metal piece to come out the top. Wash these components in soap and water to remove any residue that may be hampering operation. Dry, replace, and try bringing the pot up to pressure again.

Another thing to be aware of is the ‘Burn’ or ‘Hot’ warning that may come up on the display. The pressure cooker requires liquid to form into steam, so if liquid runs low or there are a lot of solids at the bottom of the pot, there is the potential for the pot to get too hot and this warning to trigger. To avoid this, make sure you have adequate liquid in the pressure cooker. 1 cup or a 1/2 inch depth in the bottom of the pot is the minimum recommended amount of liquid. Foods like beans and rice that absorb lots of liquid will require extra water to make sure the pot does not dry out.

We have had good luck with the Instant Pot brand. But, like other consumer products, they do wear out, especially if you use it as often as we do. We are on our third electric pressure cooker. The previous two eventually had control issues with heating and pressure that prevented them from working properly. So if the above steps do not allow the pot to come up to pressure properly, there is likely another control issue that may spell the end of your Instant Pot. Repairs can be made, but to be cost effective, they likely will need to be done by yourself or covered by warranty.

Take the Challenge and Become an Instant Pot Expert!

We hope this guide brings you the knowledge and confidence to start putting your Instant Pot to use. It truly is great for both saving time and improving the quality of your meals.

If you would like to practice using the Instant Pot and expand your recipe repertoire, sign up below and take on our Instant Pot Challenge.

When you sign up, we will send you an email each of the next four weeks with a recipe to try in your Instant Pot. Each email will contain a detailed recipe and instructions you can use to expand your pressure cooking skills.

From great mashed potatoes to the easiest and cheesiest pasta, this challenge will both increase your cooking abilities and share recipes that can become a staple of your family’s meals for years to come!

Sign up below and take on the challenge to become an Instant Pot expert! And if you ever have questions or need help, we are always a message away and happy to help.

All the best to your pressure cooking adventures!

John and Sarah Gilbert farm with their family in North Central Iowa. They care for pigs, cows, and the land to bring you beef and pork you can love. They have a passion for cooking and helping others develop the skills they need to put healthy and delicious home-cooked meals on the table. They can be contacted by email and through Facebook and Instagram.