Instant Pot

How to Use the Instant Pot 101

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Did you recently get a new Instant Pot or pressure cooker? Are you a little intimidated about using it? Or, maybe you just want to understand how pressure cooking works? Well, whatever the case, I’m here to help you learn the basics of pressure cooking. After this, you’ll know all about it and how to use an Instant Pot with ease. Welcome to How to Use the Instant Pot 101: Instant Pot Basics for beginners!

How to use the Instant Pot

Why You Want a Pressure Cooker

The Instant Pot can be a real game changer in the kitchen. It eliminates the need to defrost meats before cooking. Pasta dishes can be cooked together in one pot. And, it allows for sautéing and browning foods right in the pot before cooking.

Cooking in the Instant Pot is one of the easiest ways to prepare a meal! And not just one meal… I love using my pressure cooker to meal prep several dishes at once for the week.

Instant Pot Chicken Chile Verde

But before you start working on that meal plan, you need to know the basics of pressure cooking, and how it works. You’ll get it all here in Instant Pot 101.

What is a Pressure Cooker?

The Instant Pot is actually a brand of pressure cooker. Like the Crock Pot is a brand of slow cooker.

There are many brands of pressure cookers on the market. In order to fully appreciate pressure cooking, it’s good to know how it works.

A picture of the Instant Pot

But what is a pressure cooker?

A pressure cooker is a sealed pot with a valve that controls the steam pressure inside. As the pot heats up, the liquid inside forms steam, which raises the pressure in the pot. This high pressure steam has two major effects:

  1. Raises the boiling point of the water in the pot. When cooking something wet, like a stew or steamed vegetables, the heat of your cooking is limited to the boiling point of water (212°F). But with the steam’s pressure, the boiling point can get as high as 250°F. This higher heat helps the food to cook faster. 
  2. High pressure forces liquid into the food. The pressure also helps force moisture into the food, which not only helps cook foods faster, but certain foods, like tough meat, get really tender quickly. 

The extra-high heat of the pressure cooker also promotes caramelization and browning. Rarely is food caramelizing when it’s cooking in liquid.

But the flavors created in a pressure cooker can be really deep and complex — unlike regular steamed foods.

Foods cooked in a pressure cooker, especially meats, just taste better.

instructional warning label

So, now that you know the basics of pressure cooking, let’s see how it works.

Instant Pot Basics: Key Parts of a Pressure Cooker

No Instant Pot for Beginners lesson would be complete without an up-close introduction to the different pressure cooker device parts. Below you’ll get to know the IP from top to bottom!

The Lid:

  • Sealing lever: A lever at the top of the Instant Pot marked “sealed” and “venting.” It controls the sealing and venting of the pressure cooker. During pressure cooking, turn the lever to “sealed.” For quick release, move the lever to “venting.” IMPORTANT: protect yourself when turning the lever to “venting” and ensure the steam is facing away from you and others. I use a long handled spoon to turn the knob.
  • Floating valve: A metal pin, located on the top of the pressure cooker that gauges the amount of pressure within the pot. When the pin is up, then the pot is pressurized. When it is below the lid, there is not any pressure within the pot. Never open the Instant Pot unless the floating valve has completely dropped.
pressure cooking basics: the sealing lever and floating valve

Interior Parts:

  • Sealing ring: A silicone ring, located underneath the lid that allows the Instant Pot to seal. Check that your sealing ring is positioned correctly (see below) every time before operating your pressure cooker.
sealing ring view
  • Inner liner/pot: The inner pot in the Instant Pot is a stainless steel pot that sits on a burner. If you use your Instant Pot frequently, you might want to invest in an extra inner pot.
the instant pot liner

The Pressure Cooker Front:

  • Mode or function buttons: The Instant Pot is a digital pressure cooker. The buttons (or knob) on the front control the function. To go from one function to another, for example – from sautĂ© to pressure cooking – press cancel first. An IP can have up to 15 different functions, though most of them can be performed manually as well. An Instant Pot 101 tip is to use the present functions if the recipe calls for it, or choose whatever function is closest to the recipe type.
front function panel: basics of pressure cooking

How to Lock the Instant Pot Lid:

  • Lid – the lid twists and locks into place. Figuring out how to properly close and lock the lid is key for understanding the basics of pressure cooking. Securing the lid allows the pressure cooker to contain the pressure. The lid is placed on at an angle, with markings to reflect where it goes, then locks when twisted. You can see below where the arrows line up to show the lid is locked.
overhead view of the Instant Pot
how to lock the instant pot lid: basics of pressure cooking
How to lock the Instant Pot lid

Basics of Pressure Cooking: Intro to Instant Pot Terms for Beginners

Many pressure cooker recipes use a handful of terms that are particular to the Instant Pot. You want to be familiar with them and what they mean before you get cooking!

this photo illustrates the supplies used for basics of pressure cooking

Instant Pot Basics: Cooking Terms 101

  • Natural pressure release (NPR): After the cooking cycle, allow the Instant Pot to release the pressure on its own (let it sit) until the Floating Valve completely drops.
  • Quick pressure release (QR): After the cooking cycle finished, manually move the Venting Knob from “sealing” to “venting” to quickly release the pressure inside the pressure cooker. Wait until the Floating Valve completely drops before opening the lid.
  • SautĂ©: A function that allows for sautĂ©ing, browning, and simmering in the Instant Pot.
  • High pressure: High Pressure cooks at 10.2 – 11.6 psi.
  • Low pressure: Low Pressure cooks at 5.8 – 7.2 psi.
  • Pot or Pan in Pot: this method allows you to cook more than one dish separately in the same pot, at the same time. Place the ingredients in an oven-safe container on a rack inside the pressure cooker, separating it from the liquid and/or ingredients directly in the pot.
  • 5-5-5: High Pressure 5 minutes, Natural Release 5 minutes, Ice Bath 5 minutes. This is primarily used for making hard boiled eggs.
The top of the IP

How to Pick the Right Pressure Cooker

There are many different types of pressure cookers out there. If you are looking to purchase one, my recommendation is to go with the Instant Pot brand for a few reasons:

  • There are more accessories, such as tempered-glass lids, silicone lids, and the availability of replacement parts for the Instant Pot.
  • It uses a stainless steel inner pot which promotes better searing and browning.
  • And, most recipes are based on the functions of the Instant Pot.
  • The slight price difference might not be worth the easier learning curve that comes with the Instant Pot brand.

Which Kind of Pressure Cooker is Best for You?

Another Instant Pot for beginners recommendation is to go with the basic model. The exception is if you’ll be using special features like a yogurt setting.

I’ve found that I primarily use the pressure and sautĂ© modes on my pot. So, purchasing a 12-in-one pot might not be necessary.

Choosing the right size pressure cooker is very important. I recommend the 6 quart size for general use. However, the 3 quart size is a good option when cooking almost exclusively for 1-2 people. And, the 8 or 10 quart is good for those who are cooking for 6 or more.

See the Instant Pot Before Buying

Check out a few Instant Pot models in person before buying if you’ve never used one. I prefer going into a speciality kitchen store like Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table, so I can ask questions and see a demonstration of the appliance.

The IP (front view) to illustrate the basics of pressure cooking

Well, now you know the Instant Pot basics! How it works, the terms you need to know, and the key parts. After learning about the Instant Pot for beginners, you’ve graduated from Instant Pot 101. Congrats!

The next step is to become a Pressure Cooking Pro by reading my Top 10 Tips and Hacks.

So, let’s get cooking!

See the Pressure Cooking in Action:

Easy Shredded Chicken in the Instant Pot

Use shredded chicken to make Creamy Chicken Enchiladas!

TFN’s Favorite Pressure Cooking Recipes:

My Instant Pot Recommendations

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