There are two kinds of Instant Pot owners: those who quickly fall in love and feel like they have found a religious calling talking endlessly about the feasts they create in the time it takes to order pizza, and those that are afraid to take it out of the box.

In some ways, taking the plunge into Instant Pot cooking is a lot like bringing home a newborn from the hospital. Some people fall easily into parenting, while others have the rush of excitement replaced by a voice that says, “I’m not sure I know what to do with this!” 

If this describes you, rest assured you are not alone. We are here to give you a quick guide for getting started with the Instant Pot.

The Basics

The Instant Pot is a modern reinvention of the old-fashioned pressure cooker. It cooks using high-intensity moist heat that is trapped inside the device by gaskets that prevent any moisture from escaping. Because of this, food cooks faster, and the flavors and spices are intensified. In a short amount of time, it achieves what usually takes hours on the stove or in the oven. 

In general, pressure cookers reduce cooking time by 70% for most dishes. If you’ve taken a gander at online recipes, you will have noticed entire meals being made at breakneck speeds.

Dinner in Five Minutes?

As the word instant would imply, you can have fork-tender, fall-off-the-bone results in shocking rapidity. However, there is a little more to the story.

When the pot is set to cook for five minutes, that means it will cook under pressure for five minutes. What is not included in that cooking time is how long it takes the pot to come to pressure. There are many factors that influence this. A pot that is full will take longer to come to pressure than one that has a smaller volume of ingredients. If you are putting very cold items in the pot such as frozen chicken, they will take longer to cook than thawed items. This means that a five-minute recipe may take closer to 20 to 30 minutes after you include these variables. While that may be considerably longer than it takes to heat a frozen dinner in the microwave, the results are far superior to other fast meal options. 

What should I make?

While many people tout the Instant Pot as a miracle kitchen appliance, it is not for cooking everything. The Instant Pot really shines when it comes to preparing soups, stews, curries, beans, grains, large roasts, and even turkey. Anything that is braised (cooked in a flavorful liquid) will do excellent in the Instant Pot because it needs the liquid to come to pressure. Because the Instant Pot cooks so fast, vegetables and seafood can be tricky but they are completely doable once you understand how. 

Things that don’t do well are dishes that are typically seared like steaks and hamburgers. 

To be successful with the Instant Pot, expect a bit of a learning curve. You will need to rethink the process in some of your favorite recipes but once you learn the techniques, the options for dinners in record time are endless. See my tips below.

Five Tips for Getting Started

To make a success of Instant Pot cooking, there are five key things you should know.

  1. Never overfill the Instant Pot. While this is a very safe appliance, you do have to respect the guidelines. Over filling the pot can cause leaks, messes, and issues that could turn your Instant Pot into a food geyser. I personally prefer to see Old Faithful on a family vacation and not at family mealtime. 
  1. Do not ever pry the lid off—EVER. This isn’t something I have ever seen the need to do, but I have read accounts of people who forced off the lid and suffered severe burns. There is a tremendous amount of heat in this little pot. The locks and mechanisms are there for a reason. When your dish has finished cooking, releasing the pressure will automatically unlock the lid. 
  1. Don’t cook dairy under pressure. Ingredients like milk, cheese, and cream do not perform well pressure cooked. They can scorch, separate, cause the dish to burn, and clog the valve. Add these ingredients at the end of cooking to avoid such issues.

  1. Don’t add thickeners. Many braised meat dishes start off by dredging the meat in flour or cornstarch to create a thick, clingy sauce. This method does not work for Instant Pot Cooking. If you want to thicken your sauce while pressure cooking, do so by adding a slurry. A slurry is made when flour, a roux, or cornstarch is gradually added to the cooking liquid at the end of cooking. 

  1. Always cook with liquid. A pressure cooker cannot function without liquid being added to the pot. The six-quart Instant Pot requires at least 1 cup of liquid to come to pressure.

Have more Instant Pot questions? Get them all answered during a free live Instant Pot 101 virtual class on January 20, 2021. Space is limited so signup today.

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