Instant Pot 101 for Beginners Guide
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Instant Pot® 101 for Beginners Guide

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Did you just get an Instant Pot and have no clue how to use it? If so, you aren’t the only one in this boat. You probably saw the magnificent Instant Pot product in all of your newsfeeds with tons of delicious Instant Pot recipes you wanted to try. Now that you have the unit, you are a little afraid you might blow up the house. No worries, this Instant Pot 101 for beginners guide is all you need to start making delicious food in no time. 

Instant Pot® 101 for Beginners Guide

I wrote this post about 7 years ago knowing people may need some help on how to use it. If you get one of these for the holidays or a birthday, I hope this post helps get you started. They save so much time in the kitchen and help make meal prep a breeze.

Please note, my favorite pressure cooker is the Zavor, (formerly Fagor). That’s the one I learned from classes taught by Chef Brad in Southern Utah. Zavor Pressure Cooker. My entire family uses a pressure cooker almost every day. It’s not uncommon to have two going at the same time. Yes, they are worth the cost.

My goal was to purchase a couple of different sizes of the “Instant Pot” so I could learn how to use them, and then pass that knowledge on to family members and my readers. I found them to be a little more complicated than my Zavor, but either way, you can buy the cheapest cuts of meat and make them tender enough to cut with a spoon after using the cooking cycle. I did end up giving both of them to some families who could use them.

Instant Pot/Zavor Pressure Cooker Accessories

These Instant Pot accessories come in handy:

Instant Pot® 101 for Beginners

This is a comprehensive guide to get you started right with your Instant Pot. Here’s what you will learn:

What is an Instant Pot®

In addition to being new and improved, it is a faster, healthier, and more eco-friendly way to cook. Whether you are really busy, have family responsibilities, work stress, or just want to eat healthier, the Instant Pot is the way to go. 3-Quart Instant Pot or 6-Quart Instant Pot or 8-Quart Instant Pot

Simply put, today’s instant pot is yesterday’s old slow cooker! However, it’s faster and better than its older version. Basically, it’s an electric pressure cooker, kind of like the one your mom or grandmother used to use, but it’s been improved. 

One of their most popular models, particularly for those new to pressure cooking, is the Instant Pot Duo. It’s referred to as a 7-in-1 unit since it is a slow cooker, steamer, warmer, saute unit, yogurt maker, pressure cooker, and rice cooker. It has 14 built-in smart programs that include program settings like bean-chili, soup, meat-stew, rice, porridge, poultry, multigrain, slow cook, saute-simmer, warmer, yogurt, pressure, steam, and manual control.

It also has 10 ULC Certified safety features you’ll love:

  • Leaky lid detection
  • Steam release
  • Thermal fuse
  • Anti-block shield
  • Electrical fuse
  • Safety lid lock
  • Automatic pressure control
  • Lid position detection
  • Overheat protection – won’t burn
  • Automatic temperature control

Parts of an Instant Pot®

There are several parts to your Instant Pot, and you may feel confused looking at all of them. Below you will learn about the different parts of the Instant Pot and how they work:

Read More of My Articles  20 Instant Pot® Bean Recipes

Inner Pot

The stainless steel pot that fits inside the Instant Pot is called the inner pot. It is removable so you can wash it between uses. This part is essential to using your Instant Pot. DO NOT operate your Instant Pot without the inner pot!

Inner Ring

The inner ring is the silicone ring that seals the lid to your Instant Pot. It must be removed for cleaning and replaced when wear and tear are visible. 

Floating Valve and Shield

Found inside your pot, the shield prevents food from getting trapped in the pressure release valve. The float valve is made to automatically be pushed up when there is enough pressure inside the cooker. 

Condensation Cup

The plastic cup on the outside of the cooker collects any moisture that leaks out during the cooking process. It is usually used when cooking stew, broth, or stock. 

Stainless Steel Rack

The steel rack can be placed inside the Instant Pot. It is used for food that you don’t want to be submerged in liquid. An example would be baked potatoes.

You can also put another pan or pot inside the rack and utilize what they call the pot-in-pot cooking method. This approach uses the cup of liquid in the bottom of the Instant Pot to cook foods that don’t have much natural moisture, like casseroles, desserts, and more. What ingredients are to be cooked influences whether you use this method or not.

The Buttons

There are quite a few buttons on your Instant Pot which can make you feel a little uneasy about using it. However, once you start, the buttons will become very easy for you to understand and use. 

Your pressure cooker has preset buttons that allow you to cook most things with just the push of a button. There is a button for soup, rice, multigrain, porridge, poultry, as well as beans, and chili as mentioned above. These functions are set on the average cooking time and are just a good starting point. 
For other buttons, you would simply follow the recipe. If the recipe is leaving you stranded, check out our 3-quart Instant Pot Cooking Times or our 6-quart Instant Pot Cooking Times and now I have the Instant Pot 8-quart Cooking Times

How Does the Instant Pot® Work

An Instant Pot works like a pressure cooker, only better. It uses water or other cooking liquid in a sealed stainless steel pot to create steam that causes pressure to build up inside the pot. 

This pressure raises the temperature in the Instant Pot quickly. This means it cooks your meals faster while sealing in the nutrients, vitamins, and juices lost using slower cooking methods.

Do a Water Test

One of the first things you want to do when you get your new Instant Pot is a water test. You do this to get acquainted with the machine and ensure it works correctly. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. First, pour 3 cups of water into the inner pot of your Instant Pot. 
  2. Then, put the lid on your cooker and turn your valve to sealed. This seam release valve is a very important part of the machine. Make sure the lid is turned to lock properly.
  3. Once it is sealed, set it to high pressure for 3 minutes. To do this hit the cooking time or manual button and then plus or minus until the screen reads 3. Make sure it’s not in the low-pressure setting.
  4. Once the pressure cooker has reached pressure 3, it will begin to count down from 3 minutes to zero. 
  5. When the time is up, the Instant Pot will beep. When it beeps, you’ll turn the pot to the “keep warm” function. 
  6. Then, you’ll turn your Instant Pot off. To do this, hit the off button. 
  7. Allow the pressure to release. Remove the lid and dump out the water. 
  8. Now you’re ready to start cooking some great recipes! 

When doing a water test, here are some other tips you may want to keep in mind:

  • The cooker will hiss as the water begins to come under pressure. 
  • After it has hissed for a short amount of time, the float valve will float up and the pressure will be reached.
  • You have the choice to allow the pressure to release naturally or you can do a quick release. 

Natural Pressure Release Vs Quick Release

Most recipes will tell you whether or not to use a natural release or the quick release on your Instant Pot. However, if it doesn’t, here is how you can know the approach to take:

Read More of My Articles  Instant Pot® Beef Recipes: More than Beef Stew

Natural Release: This type of release is for tougher cuts of meat, recipes with high starch like rice or grains, or recipes that require a lot of liquid. 

Quick Release: You will use the quick release for delicate cuts of meat, vegetables, seafood, chicken breasts, and steaming. 

If you’re using the quick release on your Instant Pot, you’ll want to place a towel over the valve and use a wooden spoon to manually turn the valve from seal to vent. The towel will help prevent you from getting steam on your face, arms, and hands. 

How to Clean It

It’s important to keep your Instant Pot clean. Not only because it needs to be sanitary, but if you don’t it will stink…bad! 

To begin cleaning your Instant Pot, make sure the appliance is off and unplugged. DO NOT submerge the appliance in water. Use a damp cloth to wipe the pot’s exterior and remove residue. Use a Q-tip or a small brush to clean hard-to-reach spots. 

Next, wash the lid and the inner pot in warm, soapy water. This is removable, so you can put it in the sink and wash it. 

If you find burnt-on food after cooking, or you are getting a burn notice, you will need to clean your Instant Pot with a mixture of baking soda, dish soap, and water. To do this, you’ll bring the pot to pressure, release the steam, and pour out the water. Wipe the gunk with a paper towel. 

For discoloration, use white vinegar to clean it. 

Quick Cooking Tips for the Instant Pot®

Of course, knowing how to use your pressure cooker isn’t the only thing you should learn in our Instant Pot 101 for Beginners. Along the way, I’ve found some quick tips to help make your Instant Pot experience easier:

  1. Once you remove the lid on your Instant Pot, you can rest it on the handle. Then, it won’t be in your way. 
  2. When you’re using a recipe that calls for a thickening agent, such as cornstarch or flour, you’ll want to add it AFTER cooking. 
  3. If you don’t want hot steam blown into your face, use a long spoon to vent the pressure cooker. 
  4. Don’t put your pressure cooker under your cabinets. The steam travels up, and you don’t want to possibly ruin your cupboards from all the moisture generated over extended uses. 
  5. To brown veggies or large chunks of meat, you’ll use the saute feature with the lid off before cooking. 
  6. DO NOT overfill the Instant Pot. There is a max fill line for a reason. Trust me, you don’t want to find out that reason.
  7. If the Instant Pot doesn’t come under pressure, check to see if the inner ring is inserted properly on the lid. Also, check to see that the valve is sealed.
  8. Use cold water in your pressure cooker. Warm water will change the cooking time.
  9. Check the unit’s plug from time to time for wear and tear. Also, don’t override the three-pronged plug, always use a three-pronged outlet.

3-Quart Instant Pot® Cooking Times

6-Quart Instant Pot® Cooking Times

6-Quart Instant Pot® Cooking Times

8-Quart Instant Pot® Cooking Times

Can I cook rice in a pressure cooker like a rice cooker?

Yes, you can if you use the “Rice” button, your pressure cooker can cook rice with rice-to-water ratios as required.

Is it possible to sauté meat or vegetables before I pressure cook them?

Yes, indeed. I love to sauté different cuts of meat before I add the water to pressure cook them. It seals in the flavor.

Can I use my pressure cooker to slow-cook some recipes?

If your pressure cooker has a slow cook button you can use it like a slow cooker. Just remember to follow the instructions in your brand’s instruction book.

Can I make yogurt in my pressure cooker?

I know people who make yogurt all the time in their pressure cookers. I haven’t, so please follow the instructions in your brand’s manual.

What can’t be cooked in a pressure cooker?

  • Cookies (no one wants steamy-cooked cookies)
  • Burgers or Fried Chicken (it’s not designed to fry meat-use your oven or stove instead)
  • Pies (this would be too soupy)
  • Dairy recipes typically will curdle, except cheesecake and yogurt
  • DO NOT “can” food in your pressure cooker, you need a pressure canner
  • Light-colored lentils will turn to mush, so be prepared (red and yellow lentils-don’t do it)
  • Pasta will tend to be gummy after cooking, so be aware and cook it on the stove instead

Final Word

Now that you have learned the basics of your Instant Pot® with our Instant Pot® 101 for Beginners, check out these 20 Instant Pot Beef Recipes or these Award Winning Instant Pot Chili Recipes. Happy cooking! 

Do you have any other questions about how to use your Instant Pot®? If so, share them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer every one of them.

Thanks again for being prepared for the unexpected. May God bless this world, Linda

Copyright Images: Pressure Cooker Depositphotos_241271036_S

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  1. Great article. I have a different brand of this critter, but love it. I like to use my big silicone oven mitts to deal with moving the pressure release valve. You can also then safely fan away steam if need be. It’s a snap to do perfect hardboiled eggs in one of these, too.

  2. I used my instant pot because I have a lot of medical problems & some days it’s difficult just to my fingers, let alone the rest of me. It wasn’t as fancy as yours, but it allowed me to prepare food & freeze it for my bad days. I was under welled with mine. I don’t remember who I gave it to. After seeing all your recipes I might give it another try. (Anything to keep the Grandchildren coming.)
    It was quite difficult to respond to you request. Have you seen your page? There are pop up ads every second. I couldn’t figure out the pattern. They pop up top, middle, bottom, side of page & many times more that one at a time. Concentration is difficult.
    I will have my Grandson take me to Bed, Bath & Beyond to see if they have a better model. Thanks for the class. I wish I has seen it before. You written explanations were Great when the pop ups allowed you to see the instrumental information.
    Keep up the good work!

    1. Hi Deidre, I bought the cheapest model of the Instant Pot. Please use my PRINT button (green) to print out anything you need. I’m sorry about the ads, it covers my $1200.00 a month expenses just to run the blog, it’s not free to run the blog. Ask your grandkids to block the pop-ups on your computer. Having our grandkids come is such a blessing. My favorite pressure cooker is a Fagor. They cost about the same. Let me know if I can help you. Linda

  3. Linda, you rock!! I love your site, thank you for all of your hard fun work!!!
    I have your site bookmarked for easy access.

    I am thinking of getting an insta pot… son loves his…..they use it for so many things including often making hard boiled eggs and cooking rice. So I saw a smaller insta pot on Amazon, a 3 quart……I’m pondering buying it. I do have a large cuisinart electric pressure cooker that I used a LOT when cooking for family, but not using it much anymore now that nest is mostly empty.

    1. Hi Janet, I bought the 3-quart Instant Pot for the two of us. I still prefer my Fagor, but I needed to learn to like the Instant Pot. I guess I’m like a an old dog. I took classes with a Fagor pressure cooker, so I’m used to using it. It seems silly to drag the larger pressure cooker out when cooking for two. You are so kind with your words, I thank you from the bottom of my heart! Linda

  4. hi I have an 6 quart instant pot lux and I am trying to find the maximum PSI for it.
    Can you help?
    thx Cindy

  5. Linda,
    FYI: Fagor (also my fav) went out of business. Some of their former employees are making equally high quality pressure cookers under the name Zavor. They too come out #1 in pressure cooker reviews.

    1. Hi Lori, yes, I knew that about Fagor, thank you for the reminder. It’s interesting when the Instant Pot became so popular, I thought to myself, what’s the big deal? LOL! I’ve been using an electric pressure cooker for years. Even my mom had one she used on the stove. I have two Fagors, and 2 different sizes on the IP. I took classes from Chef Brad in Utah to learn the ins and outs of the Fagor way before the IP became popular. So, I decided to buy an Instant Pot. I bought two, the 3-1/2 quart and the 6-quart. They do not compare to the Fagor or now Savor. Fagor/Savor now, are made better, stronger and so much easier to use. But I want to be able to show people how to use an IP. I’m hoping more people will eat at home, of course with COVID, they probably are. Thanks again, Linda

  6. I recommend running a 1.5hr slow cooker high setting food safety check. My 3qrt IP never gets to a high enough temperature to be a food-safe slow cooker.

    1. HI Lori, thank you for letting us know. I’m nervous when I use my slow cooker and I use my thermometer throughout the cooking time. Everyone needs to be aware that IP slow cookers are not always safe and may not have stable temperatures. Thank you!!! Linda

  7. We love our Instant Pot enough that we take it camping with us! We probably use it 2-3 times a week, more than any other appliance, including our stove/oven. One of my favorite things to make in it is bone broth. I use the basket that you have listed above and put my chicken bones, veggies and spices in the basket. When finished, just pull out the basket and you can use a fine sieve to get out any other particles. Fast and easy.

    I also use the Instant Pot to make elderberry syrup to help with supporting the immune system in the winter.

    Last night we made Beef and Broccoli in the Instant Pot and the meat was so tender. We use the same recipe that you do. Hubby’s favorite recipe to cook in the Instant Pot is a Beef Stroganoff that puts anything I have ever cooked to shame.

    My daughter used her Instant Pot to make baby food for her daughter.

    1. HI Topaz, I know the meat is so tender, I can never go back to cooking a roast in the oven. Oh, I need to make some beef stroganoff, I haven’t made that in years. Yummy!! I like your make broth idea with the basket! I love hearing your daughter made her baby food for her daughter in the IP!!! Linda

  8. Hi, Linda, My daughter-in-Law bought an “elbow” fitting from Home Depot to slip over the the valve where you vent steam. Easier than getting a towel wet. If you need more info, let me know.

  9. I have a 3-quart IP. But, I am lax in actually using it. I “boil” eggs and make my “baked” potatoes as well as cook rice in mine. I have a couple of mexican recipes for beans and rice that I like cooking in the IP. Other than that, I am not a very adventurous cook!! I always get a burn notice when I tried stew! So, I go back to my 1938 Revere Ware pressure cooker that makes stew so so easily! Oh and I only paid $3.50 for my 1938 RW cooker about 40 years ago! Love that little thing.

    I really should try out some other recipes but again, I have never been an adventurous cook.

    1. HI Leanne, oh my gosh, I think that may be the one my mom had a was a Revere Ware pressure cooker for the stove. That was the best deal ever $3.50 for that gem! I only have a Zavor electric pressure cooker and I do eggs, potatoes, beans, and meats. I don’t make meals in it really. Linda

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