Instant Pot Quick-Start Guide

About 20 years ago there was a pressure cooker renaissance in America. Our grandmothers knew that day would come, that we would return to her favorite kitchen tool—a pressure cooker—to make fast braises, stews, soups, and casseroles. They just didn’t know how we’d get there.

If you, like me, are a Nervous Nellie who grew up hearing stories about a great aunt who shellacked her ceiling with country stew when the thing nearly blew her to Oz and back, relax. I’ve powered through the fear and discovered modern pressure cookers have amazing safety features to put all fear to rest. Now it’s time for you to start exploring as well, especially if you’re busy, hate spending hours in the kitchen but hate even more having to go out and spend a fortune on a marginally edible restaurant meal.

Perhaps you impulse bought an Instant Pot—on a whim and now it sits unopened in the garage, nearly forgotten. Or it’s been on the countertop for months and truth be told, you don’t have a clue what to do with it.

Or it’s possible you have used Instant Pot, tried it once and it turned out to be a complete disaster. The pot roast turned out dry and tough as shoe leather. The pasta came out a frothy, sloppy mess. Disappointment, thy name is Instant Pot.

Whatever your situation—even if you’ve never heard of a pressure cooker let alone how or why you need to—today’s the day. It’s time to put away all preconceived notions, rumors, and failures and start over on the right foot.

IT’S DIFFERENT. Pressure cooking is a completely different kind of cooking. You can’t just throw stuff in willy-nilly and expect perfection five minutes later. There are rules, which when followed, pay off in spades. But you have to know them, learn them and follow them. It’s not hard, but it is completely different than what you might be used to.

TAKE A TOUR. Since I got into this pressure cooker thing, I have had no fewer than four pressure cookers—two stovetop and two electric. I’ve given away the first two, the third disappeared in our big move two years ago and I am in love with number four: 7-in-1 Instant Pot Duo, (about $99 as I write). It is my pick for the Best Inexpensive Pressure Cooker (actually it’s 7 different appliances, all rolled into one). Whether you have another model of Instant Pot or a completely different pressure cooker altogether, take a few minutes to walk through this helpful step-by-step tour with pictures over at Paint the Kitchen Red.

JOIN A GROUP. One of the most helpful things I did the day I got my Instant Pot was to join Instant Pot Community, a Facebook group. It’s free and so helpful. With nearly a three-quarters of a million Instant Pot fans and fanatics in the group, this is the place to learn anything and everything there is to know about how to use your Instant Pot successfully.

GET A COOKBOOK. You need specific recipes for pressure cooking, at least in the beginning. It’s not the same as slow cooking or traditional stove top cooking, trust me on that!

I have reviewed so many cookbooks written specifically for Instant Pot and related types of pressure cookers and all of them have something to add. But the best and most complete—the one I refer to constantly and laugh a lot because the authors are so much fun—is The Great Big Pressure Cooker Book, by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, about $12.

Not only is this cookbook the best tutorial on the art of pressure cooking, it has 500 recipes for everything you can imagine from breakfast to dessert with hundreds of fabulous dinner meals and dishes in between. Each recipe is specific for pressure cooking and instructions are given for both stove top and electric pressure cookers. I have not had a bad experience yet using recipes from this book. Did I say it’s a big book? Yep, more than 500 pages and worth its weight in gold.

I suggest that you follow recipes for a while until you begin to understand the specifics of pressure cooking and how to experience success every time. Soon you’ll be able to adapt your own recipes, but for now—lean on recipes specifically created for pressure cooking.

BOOKMARK A SITE. If you Google Instant Pot or pressure cooking websites, you’ll be overwhelmed in no time flat. Let me help. There is one site that is all-around helpful, which I suggest you bookmark: HipPressureCooking.com. This is not my go-to for recipes (I love my The Great Big Pressure Cooker cookbook for that), but when I have a question on how stuff works or what to do, Hip Pressure Cooking is great.

BOIL WATER. You’re going to learn quickly that your first experience with Instant Pot should be to boil water. Do it. See how this thing works. Follow the steps HERE.

COOK EGGS. One of the most remarkable things I do with Instant Pot is boil eggs. Seriously. From soft boiled to full-on hard boiled, they come out perfect every time, provided I follow the rules. Easy peasy! Pour 1 cup water into the pot and position the trivet over the water. Place 1 to 7 eggs (whatever you need, as many as want) on top of the trivet. Close lid and set the steam valve to “sealing.”  Press “Steam” setting, and adjust time down to 4 minutes for medium, 5-6 minutes for hard boiled. At end of cycle, place a cool cloth on the lid and quick release the steam valve. Use tongs to transfer eggs to a cold water bath for 1-2 minutes. Peel and enjoy! Here’s a helpful video.

MAKE MAC N CHEESE. Here’s a quick and easy recipe specifically for Instant Pot. It is fabulous.

  • 2 1/2 cups elbow macaroni (you can use other types but cooking time may need to be adjusted), uncooked
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese

Instructions: Place the macaroni, chicken stock, cream, salt, and pepper into the pressure cooker. Set to High Pressure and timer to 7 minutes. (I think this time is perfect but you may want to adjust it depending on how “done” you like your macaroni and according to your altitude if you live above 2,000 ft.). Once the timer goes off, let the steam out of the pressure cooker manually, according to your machine’s instructions. Add the butter, milk, and cheeses to the pot and stir. That’s it. Best Mac n Cheese ever.

CRANBERRY MAPLE-GLAZED CHICKEN. Here’s a favorite recipe from The Federalist, that has autumn written all over it. It is so good, so easy and so Instant Pot friendly. I think you should make this for dinner tonight.

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil
  • 4 skin-on, bone-in chicken leg and thigh quarters
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup canned whole-berry cranberry sauce
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons loosely packed fresh sage leaves, minced

Instructions: Set Instant Pot to “Saute.” Melt the butter or heat up the oil. Season chicken with the salt and pepper and brown the quarters two at a time. Brown well, turning once, about six minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside. While still set to saute, stir in the cranberry sauce, maple syrup, broth, and sage until well combined. Slip the chicken legs back into the pot and ladle some of the sauce over the chicken leg quarters. Lock the lid on the top, set the valve to sealing, and press the “Poultry” and the time to 18 minutes.

Use the natural release method (instead of the quick-release above, which is best for soups, stews, and non-meat dishes) to release the pressure. Turn the machine off and allow the pot to come back to pressure by itself, which can take between 10-20 minutes. When the silver button next to the valve falls, the pressure is released and the lid is unlocked. Enjoy!

NO EXACT SCIENCE. One last thing. Pressure cooking is not an exact science. Once you get into this, you are going to see that. However, there are some exact rules. For example, boneless skinless chicken breasts are NOT pressure cooker friendly. They will turn out bland, tough and dry even if they’re cooked in liquid. Ditto for lean cuts of beef and pork. See? That’s not an exact science, but an underlying principle or rule for pressure cooking. There are many, which you will learn quickly once you get into this. The boys do a great job of teaching in their The Great Big Pressure Cooker cookbook.

So, there you go—a quick-start guide to becoming acquainted with your Instant Pot. Take the plunge, get started and take it easy. You’ll be pressure cooking like a rock star in no time at all!

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  • Laura Rickelman

    I love my InstantPot! Had it for over 3 years & have made many, many favorful things with this nearly magic machine! I did let it set in the box when I first got it. I think I was a little intimidated, but no longer. Got hooked pretty quickly. I use it every week & quite often several times a week. My all time favorite thing to make is yogurt. So easy & so much better than store bought stuff. A few of the the things I have made include spaghetti, pulled pork, whole chicken (went in frozen & less than an hour later came out tender & ready to eat!), hard boiled eggs, beef stew, refried beans (yum!), all types of beans from the dry state to eating in less than an hour with no soaking, soups, rice, steel cut oatmeal, bone broth & stock, many potatoes (hubby likes this best, says let them cool a bit & eat without any butter or sour cream. He loves the texture!). Such a wide variety of foods can be cooked in a much shorter time than conventional methods. This multi-tasker is a staple in my kitchen & will be for a long time to come.

  • yourfaceislikethesunshine

    Hi Mary, what are your (and your readers thoughts) on air fryers?

  • Estelle Stone

    Hello there. I am a little confused. IS an Instant Pot a pressure cooker? What is the exact difference? Thank you!

    • Kimberley Hunter

      It’s an electric pressure cooker. It can also be used as a slow cooker. It has other functions, but I don’t have one, and those are the only two that I know about.

  • Bill Shirley

    In the cranberry/chicken recipe, you state ladle SOME of the mixture over the chicken quarters …
    Do you mean ALL? If not, where does the rest go?
    I am a widowed, still cautious cook, Very concrete sequential. Please be specific.

    • Paul Achan

      You will put all of the cranberry sauce, syrup, broth, and sage in the pot right after you remove the chicken to mix them together. After you stir the liquids together, add the chicken back in and use a spoon to ladle some of that sauce from underneath the chicken to on top of it.
      Hope that helps clear things up.

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