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A Beginner's Guide to Instant Pot Cooking

Welcome to the wonderful, slightly wild world of Instant Pots, the multi-tasking devices that are designed to make your life a whole lot easier. The most popular brand, simply called Instant Pot, is an electric pressure cooker, steamer, rice cooker, yogurt maker, a saute pan that has a whole bunch of pre-programmed settings (14 in all) meant for the cooks who want to set it and forget it.

Instant Pot Pressure Cooker

Instant Pot electric pressure cooker loaded with features | Photo by Meredith

Sound too good to be true? Well, it's a little bit more complicated than all that. In fact, the biggest complaint about this popular piece of kitchen equipment is that the manual is a tough read, which is one reason loads of community forums have popped up, offering great advice about how to approach this helpful tool instead of letting it gather dust in the cupboard. Here's what we've learned from poring over user's suggestions, hints, tips and advice.

1. Start Slowly

Because so many cooks feel right at home with a slow cooker, head that direction as way to become familiar with the various buttons and settings. The beauty of this high-functioning device is that it has the ability to saute, so braising is super easy. Press the saute button and wait for the display to read "hot" before adding food. Then, after the food has browned, hit the slow cooker button and set the timer, according to the recipe instructions. After cooking, the Instant Pot keeps the food warm for up to six hours.

Try testing your braising/slow cooker skills with this winner from Chef John:

2. Under Pressure

According to the recipe booklet included with each Instant Pot, cooking under pressure involves four simple steps: Add ingredients, select cooking program, "continue your daily life until it beeps" and, finally, release pressure and serve. However, cooking under pressure is a bit more nuanced. Skip the pre-programmed settings because they don't quite fit the recipe, and you'll be asked to choose between high or low settings. Most stove top pressure cookers hit 15 psi, or above. (psi stands for pressure per square inch). The Instant Pot tops out at 11.6 psi on high and 7.2 psi on low. Cooking food under pressure means soup's ready in 10 minutes, quinoa's finished in 60 seconds and rice is ready in four short minutes. Hard-cooked egg's are ready to peel in six minutes cooking time. No wonder the Instant Pot's so hot.

Give this method a spin by making pork carnitas, or one of the more than 100 pressure cooking recipes on our site.

Midwest Living-Out and About-Ethnic Food/Neighborhoods-CMR#

Photo via Meredith Publishing

3. Which Way to Go: Quick vs. Regular Release

The Instant Pot takes a while to build up to the pressure setting called for in each recipe, and, it also needs time to release that pressure. For the QR (quick release), turn the vent counter clockwise, using a tea towel or an oven mitt to avoid getting splattered by hot liquid. If time isn't an issue, the Natural Pressure Release (NPR) will happen on its own, most often in 10 to 15 minutes.

4. ALWAYS Pre-soak

Dried beans are a popular ingredient to pressure cook, and, for best results, pre-soak the beans. That step makes for a creamier texture. If you forget, or want to skip that step, pre-cook 1 cup of dried beans and one teaspoon salt in four cups of water for four minutes. (All timed cooking starts once the proper pressure has been reached.) Drain those beans and they're recipe ready.

Southern Ham and Brown Beans

Photo by Haysley

5. When in Doubt, Check the Display

The bright red display on the front of the Instant Pot helps cooks keep track of progress. When preheating, it reads "on" and then, when a cook time is set, it lights up and counts down on the display. A "keep warm" time is displayed with capital "L" in front of it. Same goes for the slow cooker function, though there's no L on the display. If "Lid" flashes, that means the top is not properly set. Give it a twist and try again.

6. Practice Makes Perfection

The more you use the Instant Pot, the better you're going to feel about it. While the makers repeatedly emphasize the proven safety features, remember this: Avoid touching the top while the Instant Pot is in use. It's HOT! But it's really no different than a boiling pot of pasta or a sizzling skillet full of fried chicken. Be aware, and you'll be fine.

Pressure cooker valve release

The pressure valve release in action | Photo by Meredith

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About Leslie Kelly

Always hungry to learn, never had my fill of oysters, Memphis dry rub ribs, wild salmon, chocolate chip cookies or a well-rolled lumpia. Washington state wine lover, bourbon fan. Totally obsessed with brunch!