12 Things No One Tells You About Using an Instant Pot

Obsession is all but guaranteed. But first, there are a few key facts to know before you get cooking.

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June 28, 2019
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Photo By: Matt Armendariz

Photo By: Armando Rafael

Photo By: Armando Rafael

Photo By: Matt Armendariz

Photo By: Matt Armendariz

Photo By: Matt Armendariz

Photo By: Heather Ramsdell

Photo By: Matt Armendariz

Photo By: Matt Armendariz

Photo By: rez-art/iStock

Photo By: Matt Armendariz

Photo By: Matt Armendariz

Everything You Need to Know About Instant Pot Cooking

The Instant Pot is the shiny new apple of our eye. We just can't get enough, and we'll shout it from the rooftops if you ask. But that doesn't mean it was all smooth sailing from the start. Whether you're considering the purchase of an Instant Pot or have one but still feel like a newbie, these important truths will make your cooking experience easier.

Buy It: Amazon, $69.99

Cooking in an Instant Pot Takes Longer Than You Think

You may have heard an IP can poach chicken breasts in 8 minutes and make steel-cut oatmeal in 3 minutes — mind blowing, right? Well, the reality is that the minutes you enter on the control panel indicate cooking time. And that clock doesn't start until pressure has built up inside the cooker (kind of like preheating). And it doesn't end until the pressure is released. How long that takes depends on the quantity of food and temperature — colder foods will take longer to come to pressure. Anticipate 5 to 20 minutes for a machine to come to pressure and up to 30 minutes to release it naturally. So, the more accurate cook time for that chicken is 28 minutes and 23 minutes for those oats.

Get the Recipe: Instant Pot Chicken Noodle Soup

The Sauté Feature Is Everything

This is what sets the Instant Pot apart from other pressure cookers and slow cookers. With the sauté option, you can do things like caramelize onions or toast spices without pulling out another pan. It can also be used at the end of cooking to reduce soups and sauces at a brisk simmer, something that can be a drag in a slow cooker.

Get the Recipe: Instant Pot Barbecue Pulled Pork Sandwiches

The More Presets the Better? Wrong.

The Instant Pot has So. Many. Buttons. Do you really need them all? No. You'll find most IP recipes simply call for the manual or pressure cook setting because they allow more control. Cooking is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. The pre-sets for, say, beans or rice, won't work for every recipe, for the same reason not all cakes cook at the same time and chicken thighs take longer than chicken breasts.

Get the Recipe: Instant Pot Black Bean Soup

It's Not Just a Pressure Cooker

The size of an Instant Pot is probably one of the biggest reasons people hedge on buying one. Who needs another space-hogging appliance? But an IP does much more than pressure cook. It's a slow cooker, rice cooker and yogurt-maker too. Eliminate one of those from your pantry and you'll have room for your new friend.

Get the Recipe: Instant Pot Yogurt

The Recipes Need Liquid to Work

You must have liquid (broth, water or juices) in your recipe to build up pressure for cooking. You'll need around 1 1/2 cups of liquid for the 8-quart, 1 cup for the 6-quart and 3/4 cup for the 3-quart Instant Pot. Pro tip: To speed up the time it takes for the pot to come to pressure, warm the liquid on the saute setting first. This could save you up to 10 minutes.

You Can't Smell- or Sight-Check Your Food

You'll need to get used to dumping ingredients in the pot, then sealing it up out of sight and smells for the duration of the cooking (no peeking under the lid here). It's a weird one for cooks to comprehend, but the time saved on long braises is totally worth it.

You Can Start with Frozen Meat

Unlike slow cookers, which are unsafe for cooking frozen meat because of major food safety concerns like bacteria growth, the Instant Pot cooks quickly and at a high temperature, making it possible to put frozen chicken legs in the pot and sit down to a chicken adobo dinner 1 1/2 hours later. The drawbacks: You will need to add about 50 percent more cooking time to the recipe, during which time the other ingredients may overcook. And it'll take longer for the pot to come to pressure (the warmer the ingredients, the faster it goes).

Get the Recipe: Instant Pot Chicken Adobo

You Need to Buy an Extra Sealing Ring

Two words: garlic cheesecake. That's what you could end up with if you cook a pungent braised pork one night and a dessert the next day because silicone rings are great flavor absorbers. Keep two rings on hand, reserving one for savory cooking and the other for sweet, and replace them every 6 to 12 months depending on how often you use them.

Buy It: Amazon, $7.95

You'll Want to Spring for a Few Accessories

Accessories are key to making many of our favorite Instant Pot recipes, like this super silky cheesecake, which requires a 7-inch springform pan and a lifting contraption to get the pan out (either silicon or a homemade foil sling will do). There are egg racks for making lots of jammy, soft-boiled eggs, steamer baskets for cooking healthy vegetable dinners and glass lids for when you just want to use your Instant Pot as a slow cooker.

Not Everything Is Better in an Instant Pot

You wouldn't cook everything in a slow cooker or on the grill, so you can't expect the same of your Instant Pot. There are some obvious things, like fried foods, which won't stay crisp in the moist environment of the pot. But the number one item to avoid is steak. A nice New York strip steak will emerge from your IP steamed, gray and rubbery. For anything best served medium-rare with a good sear, stick to the grill or a smoking hot pan.

Ignore the Max Fill Line

The max fill line on your Instant Pot insert isn't designed for pressure cooking. It's designed for the slow cook setting (so follow it then). When you use the pressure cook setting, fill the pot no more than two-thirds full. And if you're cooking foods like beans, rice or any other dehydrated food that will expand while cooking, only fill halfway. Any more and you'll clog the valves and have leaky seals.

One Size Doesn't Fit All

If you cook for your whole family nightly, opt for a 6- or 8-quart model, which can hold a whole chicken. Smaller tasks, like making rice and beans, or preparing dinners for one are perfect for a 3-quart pot. Though most Instant Pot recipes are designed for larger pots, you can scale down almost any recipe to a 3-quart pot if you keep in mind that once the IP it comes to pressure, the cook times will remain the same.

Get the Recipe: Instant Pot Carnitas