What's the Difference Between Quick Release and Natural Release?
Knowing which pressure release to choose will change your Instant Pot game.
Most people don’t use stovetop pressure cookers because they can be intimidating. They rattle loudly, and the old ones like you'd find at your grandparents' house probably don’t have the now common safety mechanism that prevents you from opening the lid before the pressure is fully released. Today, thankfully, we have a whole new generation of electric pressure cookers and multicookers like the Instant Pot, that make the process safer, easier and more customizable.
But let’s talk about what a pressure cooker is for a second.
Pressure cookers are old — like 17th century old. And the science behind them hasn’t changed all that much since then. The basic idea being that if you trap steam inside a pot, you can increase the pressure, which, in turn, raises the boiling temperature of the water inside the pot. In a pressure cooker, you can boil water at 20 to 30 degrees F above the normal 212 degrees F, and thereby cook your food faster.
But now that you’ve built up all that pressure, you also need to safely release it. The Instant Pot offers two solutions: quick release and natural release.
Quick release lets you expel all the steam at once by manually twisting the steam release valve to venting (use a towel to protect your hand).
Natural release is the slow, gentle reduction of pressure that occurs once the cooking has stopped (you don't have to do anything). You will know the pressure is fully released once the float valve (the silver or red pressure pin on the top of the lid) drops back down.
Partial Natural Release
You can also use a combination of releases, letting the float valve (pressure pin) be your guide. If you have something like grits or a rice dish that could use some carry over cook time, allow it to naturally release for a few minutes — you’ll see the valve drop slightly — and then use the quick release method to stop the cooking quickly as needed.
Which Should You Use?
Which release method you choose depends on what kind of food you’re cooking. Rick Martinez, host of Food Network’s Pressure Point and resident Instant Pot expert follows this simple rule, "Generally, foods that are cooked to a specific temperature, like meat, fish and poultry should be quick released so they don't continue to cook. Foods like rice, grains and dried beans should be naturally released because they benefit from continued hydration in a warm, humid environment with a gently falling temperature." (Turn off the "keep warm" setting for foods like rice during natural release or else the heating element in the bottom of the pot will stay on and cause burning.) Natural release — or a partial natural release (see below) — is also your best choice for soups, mac and cheese and runny braises where you are dealing with a lot of hot liquid; a quick release could cause it to spew out of the valve everywhere.