What is an Instant Pot and how do you use it? Get answers to your IP questions and 10 of our most popular recipes in this introduction to the Instant Pot!
If you received an Instant Pot over the holidays (lucky you!) but aren’t sure how to get started using it, we’ve got you covered! In this introduction to the Instant Pot, we’re teaching you about:
- The functions and components of your new multicooker
- The types of recipes that work best in it
- The tips that will help you avoid high-pressure pitfalls down the road
At the end, we’re giving away 10 of our popular meal plan recipes that, with the help of Cook Smarts Instant Pot enthusiasts, have been converted for use in the Instant Pot — you’ll be amazed at how much flavor you can get in minimal time!
What is an Instant Pot?
First things first, what’s an Instant Pot?
An Instant Pot is a multicooker. Although it’s perhaps best known as a pressure cooker or a slow cooker, it’s also a rice cooker and a yogurt maker, it sautés and steams, and it has specific functions for cooking foods like chili and porridge. Yep, it’s a one-stop cooking wonder pot and a kitchen essential if you’re short on time to cook.
Why do People Love Their Instant Pots?
With so much to offer, it’s no wonder why the Instant Pot has such a huge following (the Instant Pot Facebook community has over 1 million members by the way). And there seems to be no end in sight to the following. But what is it exactly about the Instant Pot that people love so much? We asked Cook Smarts Instant Pot community members to find out!
“I love my instant pot because it quickly cooks traditionally long cooking meals — leaves the meats moist and the pasta al dente. It also creates a nice depth of flavor in a short period of time.”
— Jessica J.
“We all know we are supposed to eat more beans and pulses but who remembers to take them out and soak them overnight? 5 p.m., dried beans in cupboard. 6 p.m., chili on table. What’s not to love?”
— Susan R.
“I use mine to make my own yogurt, flawlessly hard-boil eggs, and cook meat tender. It’s not scary like the old ones.”
— Renée M.
“When I forget to thaw something out for dinner, I can STILL have dinner on the table in under an hour. Also, if I used my Instant Pot for nothing but making hard-boiled eggs, it would be worth it!”
— Diane C.
“I have kids, and I love the ease of throwing everything in there (maybe sautéing right in the pot first), sealing the lid and walking away. I don’t have to hover over the stove to stir and mind the food with a baby on my hip.”
— Hallie G.
What Can an Instant Pot Do?
But how is an Instant Pot different than a pressure cooker? And can you really sauté in the Instant Pot? For everyday cooking, here are the Instant Pot functions you need to know:
- Sautéing. Unlike a classic pressure cooker or slow cooker, the Instant Pot has a sauté function that turns the bottom of the pot into a surface for searing and sautéing. This means you can use the pot for multiple steps throughout the cooking process, i.e. searing meat and then pressure cooking it.
- Steaming is a great way to cook an ingredient that you don’t want to put in actual liquid to keep it from getting soggy. In the Instant Pot, the steam function requires the use of a rack (included with some models) to elevate your food above the liquid in the bottom of the pot. If you plan on steaming a lot, you might want to upgrade to steaming shelf like this one.
- Pressure Cooking uses built-up steam (pressure) inside a sealed pot to cook food faster by raising the boiling point of water. Foods that usually require lots of time for the flavors to develop (soups and broths) or for the ingredients to become tender (roasts) are cooked in significantly less time using the high pressure (~11.6 psi) of the Instant Pot.
- Slow Cooking is primarily used to cook foods like tough cuts of meat that need time for the collagen and muscle fibers to break down. In the Instant Pot, slow cooking works much in the same way it does in a Crock Pot — just remember to move the valve to “venting” on the Instant Pot when slow cooking (we’ll get into the valve later).
Instant Pot Setup
Now that you have a sense of how the Instant Pot cooks, let’s take a look at its components so you know what goes where and how it works — you’ll really want to pay attention to the valve sections! Each model offers a different mix of functions but generally have the components below. For more information about your specific model, you can find the Instant Pot user manual on the company’s website.
- The outer body is the control center of the Instant Pot. It’s where you find the buttons and timer, and is where the inner pot is placed during cooking.
- The inner pot is the stainless steel pot where you cook your food. It’s placed inside the outer body during cooking.
- The lid is the top of the pot that locks into place and forms an airtight seal. Pressure cooking in the Instant Pot won’t start unless the lid is properly locked in place. Look for the arrow guides to line up when putting on and locking the lid.
- The pressure release is located on the lid and allows you to seal in steam (“sealing”) or release it (“venting”). When a cooking cycle ends, the pot automatically begins depressurizing in a process known as “natural release” (NR or NPR), which usually takes between 10 to 30 minutes to complete. However, you can depressurize the pot yourself and do a “quick release,” (QR or QPR) which is to move the valve from the sealed position to the venting position to release steam. (More on release instructions later)
- The float valve is a metal valve located on the lid that pops up when the pot is pressurized and lowers when it’s not. The float valve gives you a visual cue about whether the pot is pressurized and when it’s safe to open it.
- The condensation collector is a plastic cup that hooks to the back of the Instant Pot to collect condensation. Usually you don’t need to use the condensation collector unless you’re slow cooking.
- There are different accessories that come with your Instant Pot depending on the model, most commonly a steamer rack, plastic spoons and a plastic measuring cup.
Instant Pot Before First Use: The Water Test
Now that you know how the Instant Pot cooks and its main components, it’s time for a test. Don’t worry, we won’t grade you on it! This is the Instant Pot Water Test and it has two benefits. First, it’s a good indicator of whether your machine is defective or not. And secondly, it’s a chance to work up your Instant Pot confidence before you cook in it. If you’re afraid of the Instant Pot blowing its lid, this test is for you!
Here’s what to do:
- Plug in your Instant Pot and add the stainless steel inner pot to the outer body.
- Measure 3 cups of water and pour into the inner pot.
- Check under the lid to confirm the sealing ring is snuggly in place.
- Place the lid on the pot and rotate to close. You’ll hear three beeps when it’s closed correctly.
- Set the pressure release to “sealing.”
- Select the “Steam” button and use the “+” button to set the timer for 2 minutes. (It takes an additional few minutes for the pot to reach pressure)
- When cooking is complete, the pot will switch to “Keep Warm.” Let the pressure naturally release or do a Quick Release to release the steam.
Success! You just completed your first go with the Instant Pot. Simple, right? Now, it’s time to get into the fun part — cooking in your Instant Pot!
What Can I Cook in the Instant Pot?
Like with any cooking method, there are certain types of food that work better in the Instant Pot than others, including:
- Anything that you would normally cook in liquid — soups, stews, rice, beans, risottos, broths are all excellent candidates for the Instant Pot.
- Meats that don’t need to be crispy — no crispy chicken skins here!
- Quick-cooking vegetables that can be steamed or sautéed (bok choy, spinach, mushrooms) and long-cooking vegetables that hold up under high pressure (carrots, onions, potatoes).
How to Cook in the Instant Pot: A Basic Formula
We have had a lot of members get Instant Pots recently (and are sure more will!). While we don’t offer Instant Pot conversions for our weekly meal plans, there’s a Cook Smarts member-run Instant Pot Facebook group where you can get Instant Pot recipe conversion advice and connect with other homecooks who love their Instant Pots!
Over time, you’ll start to intuitively recognize which recipes and ingredients work best in your Instant Pot. But until then, use this basic formula from Cook Smarts’ Instant Pot Member-Run Facebook Moderator, Rachel D., as a guide when working out the steps in your recipes:
- Brown the meat on “Sauté” and set aside.
- Add veggies to the pot and sauté. (If the veggies are quick to cook, she sets them aside after sautéing and then adds them to the pot at the end; but veggies like onions, carrots, potatoes and celery hold up during the cooking process.)
- Add the meat back to the pot and then add seasonings and liquids.
How long she cooks the meat depends on its size. “A big beef roast takes about 45 minutes, cut into pieces it takes 20 minutes,” says Rachel, “I almost always base the cook time on the meat, but beans can be a factor as well.”
Instant Pot Safety 101
Are pressure cookers safe to use? The answer is yes, but there are a few safety considerations you’ll want to be mindful of — always.
“The release instructions are really important and they exist for a reason. Any recipe that is thick or oily (think soup, pasta, chili, beans, stew or bone broth) can form little bubbles that get trapped and do not immediately rise to the surface, and when you open they can rise to the surface and ‘erupt,’” says Rachel.
Here are Rachel’s suggested safety guidelines:
- Never fill the insert more than half full with any bean or grain recipe or 2/3rds full for other recipes.
- No thickening agents before pressure cooking — these should be added after and they include flour, cornstarch and condensed soups.
- No hard alcohol in the pressure cooker.
- Always follow release instructions. And know release guidelines. Any recipe that is thick or oily, or uses a fatty cut of meat (e.g. beef chuck, pork shoulder ) should have at the very least, a 10 minute natural release before opening. Generally big cuts of meat require a full natural release.
- Do not add more than 1/4th cup of fat.
- Never force the lid off.
- And as a precaution when cooking the foods that qualify as thick or oily, give the Instant Pot a little shake after pressure is released or tap on the counter to help any air bubbles “erupt” while the cover is still on.
- Lastly, if you see others using the Instant Pot incorrectly, say something.
Quick Tips for Instant Pot Success
We’re getting close to the end of our introduction to the Instant Pot, but before we get into the recipes, there are a few tips we want to share that will help you when you’re first starting out:
- Always Check Your Valve. Before you start a cooking cycle on your Instant Pot always check your pressure release to make sure it’s in the “sealing” position. If you’re using the Slow Cooking function, make sure the valve is set to “venting.”
- Don’t Mind the Steam. When your Instant Pot first begins to pressurize, steam will release out of the value. This is totally normal! Eventually, the lid will completely seal and stop releasing steam.
- Do Mind Your Cabinets. Based on personal experience, be mindful of the position of your Instant Pot when you release the steam. Why? Because the hot steam can cause water damage on your cabinets if released too closely.
- You Can Can, Kinda. You can’t use the Instant Pot for pressure canning because it uses a pressure sensor rather than a thermometer, which means the temperature in the pot may vary depending on your elevation. However, you can use the Instant Pot for water bath canning foods like jellies and pickles.
- Get an Extra Inner Pot. If you plan on using your Instant Pot a lot, you might want to get a second stainless steel inner pot to use when your first one is in the dishwater or when you want to cook multiple dishes in rapid succession.
- Find Support. When you’re just getting started with your Instant Pot, you’ll probably have lots of questions. Luckily, we have a community of Instant Pot enthusiasts who are excited to share their smarts! Join the Cook Smarts Instant Pot Enthusiasts here!
Our Top 10 Instant Pot Recipes
You’re all set with the foundational knowledge you need to successfully and confidently cook in your Instant Pot. All that’s left is . . . the recipes!
Below are 10 of our popular meal plan recipes that have been purposefully converted for use in the Instant Pot. You’ll be blown away at how easy and time-efficient these super flavorful meals are to make!
In our Instant Pot Recipe Guide, you’ll learn how to cook:
- Risotto with Roasted Mushrooms
- “Almost” Texas Chili
- Hot & Sour Soup with Tofu with Fried Rice
- Adobo Chicken
- Braised Beef with Creamy Polenta
- Turkey Bolognese with Pasta
- Beef & Barley Soup
- Japanese Beef Curry
- Carnitas Pork Tacos
- Spring Pork Ramen
Free Instant Pot Recipe Book
Learn all about the Instant Pot and enjoy 10 delicious Instant Pot recipes with our free, downloadable recipe book!
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Although we don’t offer Instant Pot conversions for our meal plans (we do offer gluten-free, vegetarian and paleo meal plan options by the way), the member-run Cook Smarts Instant Pot Facebook group is a great place to go for recipe conversion advice and to connect with other homecooks who love their Instant Pot. Join them on Facebook here!
What are your favorite Instant Pot recipes? Any Instant Pot tips you want to add? Let us know in the comments!
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