Instant Pot Guide for Beginners – everything you need to know to take your new Instant Pot pressure cooker out of the box and get cooking! Learn how it works, what is NPR and QPR, why water test is important, what 4 steps to follow each time and what to cook first.
Maybe you received the Instant Pot as a gift or maybe you wanted to join the craze and bought one yourself. Chances are you are looking at the box wondering how to start. I know there are IP owners who had it for months and the appliance is still in the box. Today, I am sharing everything I’ve learned about using the Instant Pot since I got it. I am obsessed with it and I hope to show you how it can make cooking easier, even fun!
First, forget about the old-fashioned pressure cookers. We all have stories from our mothers and grandmothers of them blowing up or making scary sounds. This appliance is smart and while the method is the same (cooking with pressure created by steam), this is safe if you follow the instructions.
This Instant Pot Guide for Beginners is created with all Instant Pot users in mind. Does not matter if you have not even pulled it out of the box or if you already cooked in it, I hope this guide will help you and show you that this appliance can be a huge help in the kitchen.
WHAT IS AN INSTANT POT?
The Instant Pot is a digital pressure cooker, a small countertop appliance that gained a huge following and popularity in the last two years. At first available mostly on Amazon, now you can purchase it in almost every retailer, like Target or Walmart. While the Instant Pot cooking method is the same as the stove-top pressure cookers, it is a safe and smart appliance that lets you do so much more than just pressure cook. You can saute (no need for stovetop), steam, cook rice, slow cook and even make yogurt! Since releasing the first model, the Instant Pot made many more, each one with new features. Do your research before buying to choose the one that will fit your cooking needs the best.
I have the Instant Pot DUO60 6qt 7-in-1 Mutli-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker. (affiliate link)
HOW DOES THE INSTANT POT WORK?
For the Instant Pot to pressure cook your food, it needs water and closed lid with the pressure valve set to sealing position. If you skip any of these steps, the IP will not come to pressure. Always make sure there is at least 1/2 cup of water (or other thin liquid) at the bottom of the stainless steel insert. Once you place the lid on the IP, turn it clockwise (it should play a little jingle) and turn the valve to sealing position (newer IP models do not require turning the valve, they lock it automatically). Use the desired setting to cook the food. The IP will beep after a few seconds to let you know it is ready to cook and it will begin coming to pressure. Eventually, you will see a little bit of steam coming from the valve and it will rattle. That’s normal. After a moment, the pin will pop up which means the Instant Pot build up the pressure and it will start the timer soon. Once the timer is done, the Instant Pot will beep and the word “off” will be displayed instead of the time. Press “cancel/off” button and let it release pressure naturally or switch the valve to a venting position, depends what the recipe says. Once the pressure is released, carefully open the lid away from your face. There will be leftover steam inside. Always keep your Instant Pot on a cutting board while it’s cooking and away from cupboards because the steam might damage their finish. I place it on a bamboo cutting board on my kitchen island when cooking and store it on top of my fridge while I am not using it.
WHAT IS THE WATER TEST?
This question comes up a lot from new owners of the Instant Pot. I believe that you should absolutely do the water test as soon as you pull the Instant Pot from the box. The water test will show you how the appliance works and what to expect from it. It will teach you that the pot needs to come to pressure before it starts the timer, it will show you how to release the pressure and what happens when you flick the valve to venting position. It is the best way to become more comfortable with this appliance. To do the water test, follow the steps in the instruction booklet. It will tell you to place the required amount of water in the IP insert (the big stainless steel pot), close the lid, switch the valve to sealing position, set the timer and watch the IP do its job. It can be scary since this is your first time using the appliance, so it’s helpful to watch YouTube videos for visual help. Search for the Instant Pot brand channel to see it in action.
PRESSURE VALVE ON THE INSTANT POT
The pressure valve is the black knob on top of the lid. It can be turned into two positions: venting and sealing. When you place the food in your Instant Pot and close the lid, you need to turn the valve into sealing position or your IP will never build up pressure. When the cooking time is up, the recipe will tell you to either let the pressure release naturally which means you do not need to switch the valve again or to manually quickly release the pressure which means you need to switch the valve to venting position. As soon as you do that, the pressure will blast out of the valve as steam. Be aware of that so it won’t startle you.
NATURAL PRESSURE RELEASE AND QUICK PRESSURE RELEASE:
Each recipe for the Instant Pot, will include the instruction on how to release the pressure after cooking the dish. You will see the shortcut NPR or QPR.
- Natural pressure release (or NPR) refers to letting the Instant Pot release the pressure by itself. After the timer is done, do not touch the pressure valve but wait for the little pin next to it to drop. The time it takes for the pressure to release naturally depends on the dish you just cooked. Soups and dishes that required a lot of liquid, will take longer, while hard-boiled eggs, quinoa or steamed vegetables will take only a few minutes. NPR is best for tough cuts of meat, rice and grains and soups. When cooking pasta, you may want to let the IP release pressure naturally for just a few minutes before switching the valve to venting, as there will be foamy steam in the pot.
- Quick pressure release (or QPR) refers to manual pressure release. After the timer is done, switch the pressure valve to the venting position. You can use the white ladle that came with your Instant Pot, as it has a little hole at the end of the handle, or you can use kitchen tongs. After a few times, you will become comfortable with this step and will not need a tool to do that. This is probably the scariest part of cooking in the Instant Pot, as the pressure cooker will make noise and there is a lot of steam coming out from the valve. I’ve seen photos of folks standing across the kitchen from the Instant Pot while the pressure releases. You should never place your hand or face above the steam that comes out of the valve during pressure release. QPR is best for vegetables, seafood and chicken.
HOW TO OPEN THE INSTANT POT AFTER COOKING?
In all of my Instant Pot recipes, I always mention to carefully open the lid (after the pressure has been released, NEVER before!) by turning it counterclockwise and opening the lid away from your face. It is natural for us to want to immediately see the dish inside, but there is remaining steam in the pot since the food is hot so you need to let it escape before you look and stir.
DOES INSTANT POT COOK FASTER?
It is one of the most common issues that Instant Pot beginners mention: the cooking time is not shorter because the pot takes a while to come to pressure. In my opinion, the IP still cooks faster. For example, my mashed potatoes cook faster than if I used a pot on the stove, not to mention the fact that I can cook the best, juicy turkey breast in 1/4 of the time it would take to roast it in the oven or cook perfect chicken breast from frozen. The fact that I don’t have to tend to the dish, stir or check on it as I would have to if I was using a stove or the oven, let’s me do something else like set the table or make a quick salad. I would suggest to try basic recipes first and see how easy it is to use the Instant Pot to make them. I was never able to cook hard-boild eggs perfectly AND have them peel easy until I got the Instant Pot. It is life changing!
INSTANT POT ACCESSORIES:
There is a ton of options when it comes to Instant Pot accessories. The IP comes with the basic ones you will need: the trivet, a measuring cup, and a white spoon. You can cook a lot of dishes with just a trivet (it helps to keep the food out of liquid) but the first accessory that I would recommend is a steamer basket. It makes it easy to place small foods, like Brussels sprouts or broccoli florets in the Instant Pot. Here are some items you can use in your Instant Pot: (affiliate links below)
- steamer basket for cooking vegetables
- glass lid, for the slow cooker setting or keeping food warm
- extra sealing rings
- springform pan (I recommend 7″ round pan for 6qt Instant Pot) to make cheesecakes and breakfast casseroles.
4 THINGS TO ALWAYS REMEMBER BEFORE COOKING IN INSTANT POT:
Each time you use your Instant Pot to cook, it’s helpful to remember these 4 steps:
- Make sure the inner pot (the stainless steel insert) is inside. If heard from people who poured water right on the cooking element because they forgot the inner pot is in the dishwasher.
- Use at least 1/2 cup of thin liquid (water, stock, etc.) or the IP will not have enough steam to create pressure and might burn the food.
- Once you place the lid on, switch the valve to “sealing” position or the IP will not be able to come to pressure. It will be escaping through the open valve.
- Make sure the Instant Pot is set to HIGH pressure, unless the recipe specifies otherwise. Most recipes are created for high pressure cooking and other setting will affect the cooking time and final result.
Pin or print the image below to keep on hand!
As you see in the photo below, you can rest the lid on the side handle while you are stirring the food inside the Instant Pot. Neat!
Seeing BURN message on your IP? Check out my Instant Pot Burn Message post to learn when you can see it on your IP display, how to fix the issue and prevent it in the first place.
WHAT TO COOK FIRST IN YOUR NEW INSTANT POT?
I recommend starting with an easy recipe as your first to cook in your new Instant Pot. Do not start with pot roast, ribs or whole chicken or turkey breast. You need to get comfortable with the appliance and learn how it works and behaves during the cooking cycle. Start with hard-boiled eggs because it is easy yet it will change your life! Check out my recipe linked below. Try mashed potatoes because it is awesome to make fluffy and creamy mashed taters without the stove and checking on them! More recipe ideas, linked below.
5 EASY RECIPES FOR INSTANT POT BEGINNERS:
If you have any questions about cooking with Instant Pot, feel free to leave them below. I am always happy to help!