What Is an Instant Pot?

Here's a primer on the electric multicooker that's found a home in many people's kitchens over the past few years.

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October 06, 2021

Photo by: Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz

By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen

Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.

When the Instant Pot appeared on the scene a few years ago, it didn't take long for it to catch on — about 20% of homes in the US have one. Here's what to know if you're thinking of buying an Instant Pot or any other electric pressure cooker.

What Is an Instant Pot?

An Instant Pot, also called a multi-cooker or electric pressure cooker, is an appliance that can do the job of a rice cooker, a yogurt maker, a steamer, a pressure cooker, a saute pan and a slow cooker (some features vary depending on the model you buy — there are several).

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Pork meat preparing in the slow cooker

Photo by: igorbondarenko/Getty Images

igorbondarenko/Getty Images

The pressure cooker function is what allows the Instant Pot to quickly cook foods that typically take a long time in an oven or on the stove. If you’ve never used a pressure cooker, an Instant Pot is a good introduction to pressure cooking: it's easy to use and much less intimidating than a stove top pressure cooker. The rice cooker and slow cooker functions will be more familiar, and the steamer is also pretty simple. With a precise temperature control that can go much lower than a slow cooker, it’s possible to use some Instant Pot models as a yogurt maker. Some models also have a sous vide setting.

Slow Cooker Versus Instant Pot

A slow cooker does one thing: it heats up slowly if it’s on low and cooks food at one temperature. If you set it to high, it will reach the maximum temperature faster, but in the end, it will still cook the food at the same temperature. The method of cooking the food is braising: moist heat cooking. There are recipes that can be cooked in a slow cooker that aren’t braises, such as breads and cakes, but making a brisket or chuck roast is more common.

The Instant Pot can cook at a variety of temperatures, and one of its nice features is that it will get hot enough to saute in the insert; many slow cookers don't have this feature. Food that is braised is much more flavorful if the aromatics like onions and garlic are sauteed, and meat is seared on high heat to give it a brown crust before adding the rest of the ingredients and the liquid for the braise. The browning is where major meat flavor comes from.

The Instant Pot will also cook dishes (especially large cuts of meat) much faster than a slow cooker; the pressurized enviroment speeds up the cooking process. Got a slow cooker recipe you love that you want to try in an Instant Pot? Here's how to convert your recipe.

Instant Pot Versus Rice Cooker

A rice cooker cooks at one temperature, and cooking rice is it's main job — and it's good at it. Most now have a little steamer basket and so you can also steam, but it's less versatile than an Instant Pot overall since it doesn't pressure cook.

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1205651978

Risotto with pork and vegetables cooked in pressure cooker, close up on white background

Photo by: Nature, food, landscape, travel/Getty Images

Nature, food, landscape, travel/Getty Images

How to Use an Instant Pot

Whether you buy an Instant Pot or any of the other multicookers on the market, acquainting yourself with the manufacturers' instructions before you begin is helpful. The single most important thing you can do is the water test that Instant Pot recommends. This will take you through all the steps of using the pressure cooker function with water so you don’t need to worry about wasting food because you didn’t understand the venting instructions. For some really great tips, check out our article about the Facebook Instant Pot Community.

How to Pressure Cook in the Instant Pot

Cooking a batch of short ribs is a great way to learn all the steps needed to use the pressure cooker function. The saute mode will be your first step, because this is how you will saute onions and get a good sear on the ribs to develop the best flavor — without making a saute pan dirty (we love that!) Don’t cover with the lid for sauteing; you want the steam to escape. The heat setting can be "normal" for the onions but increase to the "more" option (high heat) to get the best browning on the meat. The saute function will shut off after 30 minutes, so you may have to turn it on again if you're really taking your time. Once you’ve sauteed and browned the onions and meat add the remaining ingredients to in the inner pot, up to the Max fill line.

Check to be sure the sealing ring is secure and then place the lid on the Instant Pot and lock it. If you didn’t get the proper seal with the lid you’ll get a flashing “Lid” light, and the built-in safety feature will prevent your Instant Pot from turning on. Check to be sure the pressure release handle is in the sealing position (if your lid has one — some don’t).

At this point you are ready to start the cooking program. Hit "pressure level" and follow the recipe you are using to select "high" or "low" pressure and set the cooking time. Not using a recipe? Choose the meat/stew mode and increase the time to more for fall-off-the-bone beef. Now your work is done and the Instant Pot takes over and does its thing.

It will take time for the temperature inside the pot to reach its maximum and for the pressure to build up. The actual cooking takes place once the maximum pressure is reached and that’s when the cook time will start to count down.

Your Instant Pot will let you know when it’s done cooking, and then you have a choice to immediately "quick release" the steam or let the pot sit and "naturally release" it. For meat, venting the steam immediately is the way to go. If you allow the pressure to come down on its own, the meat may overcook. This is where that water test is really important: learning how to vent is key and you don’t want to get a burn from the steam.

If the sauce in the liner is watery you can remove the ribs, keep them warm and start the saute mode again to reduce the sauce.

How to Slow Cook in the Instant Pot

You may already be familiar with how a slow cooker works (put the ingredients in, add liquid and then set it to low or high). The slow cooker setting on the lnstant Pot works the same way. After putting your ingredients in the inner pot, put it in the Instant Pot and cover, but leave the vent open. If you have the glass lid accessory, now is the time to use it. Next, set the timer and the cook mode: "less," "normal" and "more" are the settings that correspond to low, medium and high on a regular slow cooker. That’s it. Be sure the vent isn’t clogged from sputtering sauce and remember that every time you take the lid off to look at the food you're adding 15 minutes to the cook time because you lower the temperature.­

How to Cook Rice in the Instant Pot

The first step in cooking rice is rinsing it in a strainer to remove the extra starch that’s added during packaging to keep the rice from clumping. For white rice, an equal measure of rice and water work well. If you’re using brown rice or wild rice, add an extra 1/4 to 1/2 cup extra water to prevent scorching. The rice cooks using the pressure-cooking setting, so close and lock the lid ensuring that the steam-release handle is in the sealed position. When you select the rice cooking mode, the Instant Pot controls everything, and there are no adjustments needed. When the timer goes off, turn the warming function off and let the steam vent naturally. Keeping the lid on will keep the rice hot for at least an hour. Your rice may scorch if "keep warm" is on, and natural release will take a lot longer.

How to Clean an Instant Pot

It's important to clean your Instant Pot throughly after you use it, so the smells of a dish won't linger — there are several small parts that need to be cleaned regularly. Our article on How to Clean Every Part of Your Instant Pot will come in handy when you’re working on this chore. (Luckily, there are parts that are dishwasher safe.) The silicone gasket is particularly crucial to clean well, since it can absorb strong aromas from spices and herbs. Some homecooks will purchase multiple gaskets for this reason — they might use one gasket for sweet recipes and others for savor. You can even buy them in different colors, so you can keep track of which is which.

Instant Pot Recipes

We've spent tons of time developing satisfying Instant Pot recipes at Food Network -- here are some of the most popular dishes that are great for making in your multicooker.

Instant Pot Steamed Rice

No more wondering if the rice is going to burn on the bottom of the pot because you forgot to turn it down after it boiled. Take the guesswork out of rice and use your Instant Pot to make it foolproof.

Instant Pot Shrimp Risotto

No more standing over the stove constantly stirring risotto. With the help of an Instant Pot, you can achieve that creaminess with much less effort.

Instant Pot Chicken Noodle Soup

An Instant Pot can handle a whole chicken, which is perfect for this comforting soup.

Instant Pot Chicken Adobo

This streamlined version of a Filipino comfort favorite is speedy in your Instant Pot. Adobo in the Philippines has its origins in the Malay practice of preserving meat in vinegar and/or salt and differs from the Mexican sauce or Caribbean seasoning known by the same name.

Instant Pot Barbecue Pulled Pork Sandwiches

You can thank your Instant Pot for pulled pork in just under two hours. The recipe makes sauce for the pork, but you might want to have a bottle of your favorite on hand for the sandwiches.

Instant Pot Korean Style Short Ribs

No need to fire up the grill for this sticky, meaty dish. With the Instant Pot, finger-licking short ribs are ready in no time. If you miss that charred flavor, a quick trip under the broiler will satisfy.

Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes

These super creamy mashed potatoes could not be any easier — no dicing and no draining. This is a great make-ahead recipe any time of the year, but especially around the holidays.

Instant Pot Mashed Sweet Potatoes

These mashed sweet potatoes have all of the elements of a classic sweet potato casserole, but were cooked from start to finish in an Instant Pot. They're topped with crunchy pecans and an optional — but deliciously decadent — marshmallow swirl.

Instant Pot Beef Stew

This isn't your Grandma's beef stew: The Instant Pot makes this hearty dish a weeknight possibility.

Instant Pot Tex-Mex Beef Stew

This stew recipe tales full advantage of the Instant Pot saute function when you saute the vegetables with the spices. then you use the pressure cooker setting to cook everything in 30 minutes.

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