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 recipes you wanted to try, but now that you have it, 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

Instant Pot® 101 for Beginners Guide

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

Part of an Instant Pot

The Buttons

How does the Instant Pot Work

Do a Water Test

Natural Release Vs Quick Release

How To Clean It

Quick Tips

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 is faster and better than its older version. Basically, it is an electric pressure cooker. Kind of like the one your mom or grandmother used to use, but it’s been improved. 

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. 

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 needs to 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 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.

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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. 

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. 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 times cheat sheet or our 6-quart Instant Pot times cheat sheet 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 that are 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 to make sure it is working properly. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. First, you will 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. 
  3. Once it is sealed, set 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. 
  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 will turn the pot to the “keep warm” function. 
  6. Then, you will 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 to 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 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:

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. 

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If you are using the quick release on your Instant Pot, you will 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 in your face. 

How to Clean It

It is important to keep your Instant pot clean. Not only because it is 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 exterior of the pot 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 will 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. 

3-Quart Instant Pot® Cooking Times

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 have 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 are using a recipe that calls for a thickening agent, such as cornstarch or flour, you will 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. Do not 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. 
  5. To brown veggies or large chunks of meat, you will 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 does not come to 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.

6-Quart Instant Pot® Cooking Times

8-Quart Instant Pot® Cooking Times

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 will do my best to answer each and every one of them.

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

12 thoughts on “Instant Pot® 101 for Beginners Guide

  • August 25, 2019 at 1:08 pm

    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.

    • August 25, 2019 at 2:00 pm

      Hi Terry, it’s great for hard-boiled eggs! I like your tip on using silicone gloves, that’s awesome! Linda

  • August 25, 2019 at 2:25 pm

    Not only making the hard boiled eggs but the peeling is SO easy. The shells just slip off!

    • August 25, 2019 at 3:52 pm

      Hi Linda, I know, right?? Oh my gosh, and you can use fresh eggs! Love it! Linda

  • August 30, 2019 at 11:12 pm

    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!

    • August 31, 2019 at 7:26 am

      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

  • September 2, 2019 at 10:34 am

    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.

    • September 2, 2019 at 1:17 pm

      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

  • September 21, 2020 at 6:29 pm

    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

  • December 3, 2020 at 8:49 am

    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.

    • December 3, 2020 at 9:27 am

      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


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