A beginner’s guide on how to use an Instant Pot

Photo of author

| Updated:

Is your Instant Pot collecting dust on the counter? Learn how to use an Instant Pot, and don’t let all its buttons intimidate you. It is a versatile kitchen appliance that combines the functions of a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, steamer and more into one convenient device.

An Instant Pot on a kitchen counter displaying a digital clock with the time 8:28.
Photo credit: YayImages.

The core function of an Instant Pot is pressure cooking, which produces tender and flavorful results with significantly faster cooking times. Electric pressure cookers like the Instant Pot use modern technology to make pressure cooking convenient and safe.

This guide will break down the process of using your Instant Pot as a pressure cooker into easy-to-follow steps. By the end, you’ll feel confident and be ready to create delicious meals in record time.

Getting to know your Instant Pot

The Instant Pot has a learning curve because it is a different way of cooking. Once you understand the parts, you will be cooking in no time.

  • Base: Contains the heating element that cooks the food. It also has slots for the inner pot to rest in.
  • Inner pot: This is the removable pot where you place your ingredients. It’s usually stainless steel and dishwasher-safe. The Instant Pot should only be operated with the inner pot in place.
  • Lid: Seals the pot containing heat and pressure inside.
  • Sealing ring: A removable silicone ring that fits inside the lid and allows the pot to reach pressure.
  • Steam release valve: Allows you to manually release pressure from the pot.
  • Float valve: Indicates the pressure level inside the pot. When up, the pot is pressurized.
  • Control panel: An LCD display that shows the cooking time, pressure levels and other settings. Many models include preprogrammed pressure modes that allow simple push-button cooking for everyday Instant Pot meals such as stews, rice and more.
Image of an Instant Pot with labeled parts: inner pot, sealing ring, float valve, steam release valve, lid, base, and control panel. The device is placed on a kitchen countertop.
Photo credit: Upstate Ramblings.

“The instant pot is a game changer for so many reasons. The best tip I can give for cooking with one is to not be afraid to use it for the simplest of things. Boil eggs and potatoes in a snap. Make rice in half the time! Using it in the simplest of ways makes it a great investment.”

— Brooke Burks, The Buttered Home
Subscription Form

Save this article and we'll send it to your inbox. Plus we'll send you more great article links every week.

How to use an Instant Pot

The beauty of the Instant Pot is that it tackles a variety of dishes. Whether you’re crafting a melt-in-your-mouth pork roast or a vibrant jambalaya, the basic steps remain similar. Here are the steps to navigate most Instant Pot main course recipes. Understanding the basic process will make Instant Pot recipes more manageable.

  1. Set the Instant Pot to sauté mode. Let it heat for a few minutes, then add some oil. Brown any meat, along with aromatics like onions and garlic. This seals in the flavor and makes an excellent base for the dish.
  2. Hit cancel and add the liquid to the Instant Pot. Use a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the inner pot and ensure no bits of meat or vegetables are stuck to the bottom. This deglazing step helps the Instant Pot heat evenly.
  3. Add any remaining ingredients. Then, put the lid on after making sure the sealing ring is in place. Lock the lid and check that the pressure valve is in the sealing position.
  4. Tap the appropriate pressure mode button on the control panel for your recipe, such as stew, rice or manual. Then, use the plus and minus buttons to set the cook time.
  5. Wait. The Instant Pot will take 10 to 15 minutes to reach pressure. The cooking time starts when pressure is reached. The Instant Pot will beep once the cooking time is done. 
  6. Release pressure. Some recipes call for a natural pressure release, in which the Instant Pot depressurizes slowly over 10 to 30 minutes. Other recipes suggest a quick release. For this, turn the steam release valve to the venting position, and the steam will be released. Stay back from the hot steam as it releases.
  7. Take the lid off and enjoy your food. If you don’t want to eat immediately, the Instant Pot will automatically go into a mode that keeps the food warm.
A plate of mixed rice with shrimp and sausage is placed in front of an Instant Pot with a digital display reading "ON".
Photo credit: Upstate Ramblings.

“Even though it’s called an Instant Pot, whatever you are cooking may not finish as quickly as you hoped. The pot takes time to come to pressure; for some recipes, you may need to wait for it to come down from pressure, which will also take some time. The Instant Pot’s main convenience is that you can set it and forget it. There’s no coming back to stir every few minutes; once the lid is on, that’s it.”

— Gwen Leron, Delightful Adventures

Tips for Instant Pot success

Learning how to use an Instant Pot is about setting yourself up for success. Review these tips to avoid common pitfalls and ensure a smooth Instant Pot experience.

  • Always make sure the sealing ring is intact, free of tears and securely positioned in the lid. Most cooking mistakes with an Instant Pot are due to the sealing ring not being secure or forgetting to put it in the lid.
  • An Instant Pot needs liquid to build pressure. Verify that your recipe includes at least half a cup of liquid, such as water or chicken stock.
  • Only fill your Instant Pot up to two-thirds full and only half full for foods that expand, like grains, rice or beans.
  • Lean on tried-and-true Instant Pot recipes from experienced cooks. Their expertise ensures predictable and delicious results as you learn to use your Instant Pot. 
Top view of an open electric pressure cooker on a countertop, revealing the inner lid and sealing ring. Nearby are wooden bowls and a fabric napkin.
Instant Pot lid with sealing ring. Photo credit: Upstate Ramblings.

Summing up

The Instant Pot may seem intimidating initially, but with some understanding of its parts and a few key steps, you’ll cook impressive dishes quickly and confidently. This guide has equipped you with the foundation for how to use an Instant Pot.

As you gain experience, experiment with different recipes and functions, such as using it as a steamer, slow cooker or yogurt maker. The Instant Pot offers a broader range of functionalities with programmable settings that can streamline the cooking process.

Anne Jolly is the creator of the food blog Upstate Ramblings. She loves to cook with gadgets like an air fryer, sous vide or pressure cooker. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, reading, and spending time with her three kids.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.