This Instant Pot Guide for Beginners has 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 a water test is important, what 4 steps to follow each time and what to cook first.
- Why You Need This Guide
- What is an Instant Pot?
- How does the Instant Pot work?
- Extra Tip!
- What is the water test?
- What is Natural Pressure Release (NPR) and Quick Pressure Release (QPR)?
- Pressure valve:
- How to open the pressure cooker after cooking?
- Does Instant Pot cook faster?
- 4 things to always remember before cooking in the Instant Pot:
- What to cook first in your new Instant Pot?
- 5 EASY RECIPES FOR INSTANT POT BEGINNERS:
Why You Need This Guide
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 a 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 Multi-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 ½ 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 number "00:00" 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.
What is Natural Pressure Release (NPR) and Quick Pressure Release (QPR)?
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.
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.
How to open the pressure cooker after cooking?
In all of my Instant Pot recipes, I always mention to carefully open the lid (after the pressure has been released and 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 ¼ 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!
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:
- steamer basket: for cooking vegetables,
- glass lid: for the slow cooker setting or keeping food warm,
- extra sealing rings: one for desserts and one for savory meals as they tend to absorb the smell of cooked dish,
- 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 the 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 ½ 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!
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:
- Instant Pot Hard Boiled Eggs
- Instant Pot Pot Roast
- Instant Pot Applesauce
- Easy Instant Pot Chicken Breast
- The Best Instant Pot Spaghetti
- Instant Pot Baked Potatoes Recipe
- Instant Pot Chicken Thighs Recipe
- Instant Pot Turkey Breast Recipe
- Instant Pot Shredded Chicken
- Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes Recipe
- Instant Pot Chicken Noodle Soup
- Instant Pot Mac and Cheese
If you have any questions about cooking with Instant Pot, feel free to leave them below. I am always happy to help!
I love your site! I just got my first Insta pot 49 anniversary. I’ve used it several times absolutely love your recipes and videos. I was wondering why mine vented steam around the whole front of the pot. I’ve done some research and it says it sometimes when it was new it did that but I’ve used it approximately 10 times and it has not stopped steaming from the Side to side around the front. I’ve never had any problem with it coming up to steam as I’ve actually water bath my apple butter in it. I’d appreciate any kind of advice you could give me. Thanks
Hi Janet! Thank you so much! You are so kind! I am so glad my recipes are helpful. It's always my goal to make cooking easier. As far as the steam coming out around the front, do you mean around the lid? If so, it could be caused by the sealing ring not being in place properly but if the Instant Pot is coming up to pressure just fine, that would not be the seal. Sorry I am no help here. I will do some research to see what could be causing it. Stay tuned!
Hi, just got my pot for Christmas and used it for the first time and used your recipe for chicken thighs. My son and I loved it.
My question is, can I use a recipe I have for pot roast in a crock pot for the instant pot? And if so how do I calculate the time in cooking?
Hi Monica! I am so glad you are enjoying the Instant Pot! Thank you for trying my chicken thighs recipe! I actually have a recipe for Instant Pot Pot Roast that gets rave reviews. Here is the link: https://www.crunchycreamysweet.com/instant-pot-pot-roast/ Let me know if you try it!
Ronald Patrick says
How can I print out some of the recipes
I got my instant pot back in August I am new at pressure cooking I have always used a crockpot and rice cooker I was able to give away all of them my instant pot does it all. I was nervous at first and the steam release scared me but I now pot a cloth over it and use a wooden spoon handle to release steam safely. I didn't know about the kid great tip. I made our turkey in it this Christmas it worked great and very tender and juicy
I made some scratch Chicken soup turned out fantastic. Great for pot roast, stew, spaghetti, chicken fried rice I love how it is so fast 30 mins everything is done I always made spaghetti and stew in slow cooker all day cooking now it's done in 30 mins and just as expected saves time and electricity bett30 minutes than 10 hours.
Your site is very much appreciated! When I did the water test, I soaked some tea bags in the hot water, and had myself a pitcher sized volume of iced tea (after I let it cool down to room temp) which was delicious! I got my IP 8 qt. LUX at Fred Meyer during their Black Friday sale and it only cost $30 (I know it's an older model, but at this price I can't complain!), however, the accessories available at Amazon sell for $31.99, so they actually cost more than the IP did! Looking forward to many years of use of this great kitchen appliance (which replaced my old Aroma Housewares Professional, AND my old Crock Pot) in my now more spacious kitchen counter!
make sure you follow the steam instructions. with red meat like that you should let it naturally vent not quickly.
Karen Swan says
Having trouble with the meat not getting tender. Made Round Steak with Gravy. Instructions say meat setting and high pressure for 20 minutes. Thought I did that. What am I doing wrong?
Faye Collins says
I use my instant pot all the time, but I want to do a 4-5#turkey breast. I'm making for an event and don't have time to buy another one use
Thank you so much for this guide! I was afraid to begin using my IP but once I did I am now obsessed with it! Can’t find enough recipes!
Can you change from med to hi heat while it is cooking?
elaine jacoby says
I have used the ip receipies from the ip book that came with the pot, a recipes book that I bought, and the internet. I have all these extra buttons on the pot.i.e. poultry, rice , steam etc. No receipie even is it calls for rice etc tells me to use these buttons. When do I use them?
I've just purchased a crockpot Express I've had a couple of issues with food drying on the bottom so hopefully reading your blog will help with that!! I cant find many vegan crockpot recipes if you could recommend any love your blogs many thanks
I'm off to try your spaghetti minus the meat 😂✌
Do you need the insert for roasting a whole chicken?
Hi Barb! The insert is the stainless steel pot that you cook everything in while pressure cooking so it is definitely needed here. If you mean the trivet, then yes, you need it or the chicken will be cooking in liquid. I hope this helps!
Amy Hewitt says
The pot I have has steam escaping from the pot while it is cooking that’s what sent me on the internet search. Is this normal is something wrong with it? Or what am I doing wrong?
Hi Amy! If there is a lot of steam coming out, most likely the sealing ring is not placed properly. Always make sure it is placed in it's grove. Sometimes it can pop out, especially during cleaning. If there is just a little bit of steam (especially when cooking soups), it's normal, as long as the Instant Pot still builds up pressure and the pin pops up. I hope this helps!
This is very helpful. I’ve graduated from hard boiled eggs to baking potatoes! Thanks for the tips and recipes 😀
Thank you so much for sharing this guide! I am excited to take my new IP out of the box and start with the water test. Yay!
Yay! I am so excited for you! Thank you, Molly!
You have convinced me to get over my fear of the Instant Pot and get cooking! Thank you for all the tips. I will be making the eggs and chicken tacos today!
That's fantastic, Sylvie! Let me know how it goes!
Thank you so much for this guide! I am determined to make a meal in my new Instant Pot today! Just printed your 4 steps sheet and it's on the fridge!
Woohoo! I am so excited for you! Thank you, Amanda!
Lots of people are going to find this helpful cause I bet this was a big hit this Christmas for a gift!
Exactly! Thanks, Krista!
Brandy O'Neill says
This is so awesome! Definitely passing it on to my friends that just got an Instant Pot!
Melanie Bauer says
This is absolutely great! Such a wonderful tips and suggestions, love this!
Thank you, Melanie!
Taylor W. says
This is SO helpful! Love my instant pot, but it can definitely be a bit intimidating at first. Thanks!
You are very welcome, Taylor!
This guide is so easy to understand and use. Exactly what a beginner Instant Pot user needs to know!
This guide answers at all my questions about my new Instant Pot! Thanks!
You are welcome, Abeer!
This is so helpful! I just got my Instant Pot and need all the tips and suggestions I can get. Thank you!!
Awesome! I hope you love it!
This post isn't just for beginners....I've had my pot for over a year and never knew you could rest the lid like that! Genius!
Right? It's quite neat!
This is so helpful! I know so many of my friends are "afraid" to take it out of the box. Pinning and sharing!
Thank you so much for sharing, Sabrina!
This is great & so helpful!! Thank you for sharing this! Love instant pots!
Same here! I am obsessed with it! 😀
I’ve heard SO many amazing things about this - I think after baby #2 I need to buy one!
YES!! I hope you love it, Cailyn!
Jessica Burgess says
This is perfect timing! I know so many people that just got an Instant Pot for Christmas! Thank you.
You are very welcome, Jessica!
Andie Thueson says
I wish I would have had this guide when I first bought mine! It would have been so helpful.
Thank you, Andie!
Thank you for this post. I just got my Instant Pot for Christmas and the manual is not exactly straight foward. This post helped me out a lot!
That's wonderful, Diana! Thank you!