The electric pressure cooker or in many cases, the Instant Pot is a very popular kitchen tool right now. Many of my friends received Instant Pots for Christmas or they saw their friends cooking with them and hit the after holiday sale. So, with the number of questions I receive daily on Instant Pot Cooking, I decided to create the beginners guide. I know my anxiety level went up as I learned about this kitchen appliance. I also learned some things that weren’t in the manual. Note: that even if you don’t own the Instant Brand electric pressure cooker, these tips are probably still relevant.
Instant Pot Cooking- A Beginners Guide
Do not worry. There are a lot of safety mechanisms built in making it pretty impossible to have the kind of explosions associated with the stove top pressure cookers from years ago. I know I got a tinge of anxiety the first time I used mine. The fact is the lid will absolutely not open unless the pressure is released fully and the button is down. There’s also an internal valve that makes it shut off if it overheats. Truly, it’s probably riskier to use the stove.
Manual, high pressure or Low Pressure? Instant Pot has a couple of different models. The main differences being that the LUX model has one mode for pressure cooking which is manual. It’s high pressure. I realized after writing my recipes for the model I have (LUX) that the DUO has a high and low pressure setting. Know that MANUAL is the same as HIGH PRESSURE.
So when would I use high versus low? We could get really sciencey here, but basically you’ll always use high pressure. Low pressure only cooks at around 4-7 PSI (pounds per square inch) which is about half the normal 10-12 PSI (high pressure). This effectively means your food will cook slower. There is guidance out there about cooking fish or eggs at low pressure. Two things on that. One, I’ve had great luck with hard boiled eggs cooked for 5 minutes at high pressure with a 5 minute natural release. Two, I’ve never felt the need to cook fish in my Instant Pot. I truly feel it’s functions are best used for larger pieces of meat that would otherwise take a long time. Low pressure really negates the wonder that is cooking a roast in about 35 minutes.
Natural Release or Quick Release?
I get asked this one a lot. For meat I always allow a 5-10 minute natural release and then I quick release the rest of the steam by turning the valve to vent (Always use a pot holder or kitchen towel when doing this. Steam burns.). I never natural release on grains. Rice, oatmeal and quinoa will stick to the bottom if you leave them sit too long. I always quick release with these. Note that the amount of time the release takes to happen depends on the amount of liquid you use. A large pot of soup is going to release more steam than a large piece of beef cooked in only a little liquid. Laying a cold wet towel over the top of the pot will cool it down faster and release things faster. So, to recap, natural means to let it cool down and release on it’s own. Quick means to turn the valve and release it yourself.
Instant Pot Recipes- Where to Begin?
Recently I saw a ranting Instagram story from someone who said she hated her Instant Pot. In shock, I continued watching and learned that she tried a roast recipe which told her to cook the roast for over an hour on high pressure. The meat was inedible. One thing you should be aware of is that the Instant Pot specifically got it’s traction from a sort of grass roots movement. Bloggers with a wide following were sent Instant Pots to play around with and of course they developed recipes. There are a lot of poorly written recipes out there.
My first piece of advice is to keep the cooking manual that came with your Instant Pot handy and work from it for a while. It’s designed and tested by the creators so the cook times and liquid ratios are correct. If you lost yours, you can access a copy right here—> Instant Pot Cooking Guide.
I have an Instant Pot section on my site. I can assure you these cooking times were developed using the manufacturers cooking time tables. Other sites I recommend are Skinnytaste, Table for Two, and Life is But a Dish. I have tried recipes from all three of these blogs and had a 100% success rate.
As you cook more and more with tried and true recipes, you’ll start to intuitively know how long something should take. You’ll set the timer on your Instant Pot for anywhere from 30-40% less than you would set it if you were cooking in oven or on the stove top.
Cooking Time- Why does this say 4 minutes, but the timer doesn’t begin right away?
You will see a lot of recipes touting a low cook time. Those headlines are not necessarily untrue, but it’s nearly impossible to allow for the time it takes your pot to build pressure. Depending on the conditions, this takes anywhere from 5-15 minutes. When the timer starts showing a number versus just “ON” the pot has pressurized and essentially this is when cook time begins.
The true beauty of this appliance is the results. You can put everything in there and step away knowing it won’t boil over or burn before you get back to it. Additionally, you get slow cooked flavor without taking all day. So, don’t be disappointed and remind yourself how long your slow cooker would take to produce the same result.
Instant Pot Cooking- A Beginners Guide- Cleaning Tips
Why do I smell the last thing I cooked? Of all the things I love about my Instant Pot, this one grossed me out a bit. I opened the lid one night only to smell the chili I made 2 days before. I got a little nervous thinking it may affect the flavor of the dish I was about to cook. It did not, but what I learned here is to store the lid off of the pot. Do not lock it back into place. I store the lid upside down on top of the pot.
Sanitize to remove smells- Every few weeks I run a 3 minute steam cycle with 2 cups of water and 3 cut up lemons. Lemons neutralize smells and disinfect. Just pour 2 cups of water in, cut the lemons in half and lock the lid to sealing. Press the Steam button and let it go for 3 minutes. Allow it to natural release, wash everything and dry thoroughly.
Remove the sealing ring and wash it every time. There’s a rubber ring that runs around the top of the lid. It’s easily removed. Wash it often, dry thoroughly and put it back on. It holds a lot of the smell and keeping it clean ensures things seal and function well.
I hope you found this guide helpful. Much of this information is in the many pamphlets and books you’ll receive with your new electric pressure cooker. Some of it is not available or isn’t as clear which is why I think I get a lot of questions. Comment below and let me know about your Instant pot experience or tips you’ve learned from cooking with this amazing kitchen appliance.