5 Easy Ways to Mess Up Instant Pot Pasta (and How to Avoid Them)

updated Sep 6, 2019
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This year I’ve fallen hard for cooking pasta in the Instant Pot. It started with a classic meat sauce spaghetti, which lead to a handful of weeknight pastas that then inspired a whole bunch of Instant Pot mac and cheese dinners.

Cooking pasta in the Instant Pot is a different experience than cooking it on the stove — and not just because it’s faster. Since all the ingredients go in at the same time, you’re cooking the pasta’s starch into the sauce, making for luxuriously creamy dishes. Sure the minimal effort, elimination of multiple dirty pots, and shorter cooking times are great, but I keep making Instant Pot pasta because the results are so delicious.

The only downside is, because it’s really a whole different method, there are a few easy ways to accidentally mess up the dish. It’ll still be edible (usually) but won’t be quite as good. If you’re new to cooking pasta under pressure, here are a few of the most common mistakes you can make, plus what to do instead.

You stir the pasta too much before cooking.

If you open your Instant Pot to discover your pasta has turned into a giant sticky ball, you likely mixed your pasta too much before cooking. Because of the way the pasta releases starch under pressure, it is best to avoid stirring the pasta before you put the lid on.

Instead: Build your sauce in the Instant Pot first, then add the pasta and cover with water or additional sauce. Then, simply do not stir the pot once the pasta is added. After cooking and releasing the pressure, you can stir as much as you need to.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

You don’t use enough cooking liquid.

Instant Pot pasta soaks up all the liquid it is cooked in, so you might think you need less water than boiling requires. But if you don’t add enough liquid — if your pasta isn’t completely covered — you’ll end up with crunchy noodles, or get a BURN error from the Instant Pot.

Instead: Use at least four cups of liquid for every pound of pasta and make sure your pasta is completely covered! The type of liquid isn’t important. It can include pasta sauce or dairy or even be all water. But it will affect the flavor, so make sure your liquid is well-seasoned.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

You overcooked the pasta.

This is a tricky one, I know, because you have to account for the time it takes for the pasta to come to pressure, the time under pressure, and the time it takes for the Instant Pot to release pressure too. And when the heck does the water even start to boil when you can’t see inside the pot?

Instead: As a general rule, pressure-cook for half of the cooking time suggested on the back of the box. For example. if dry spaghetti calls for 10 minutes of cooking time, try cooking it for five minutes under pressure. When in doubt, use a recipe formulated for the type of pasta you’re using.

You added the cheese too soon.

Did your attempt at creamy Instant Pot mac and cheese turn into a grainy mess? You probably cooked the cheese in the pot, and the pressure ruined the texture.

What to do instead: Creamy cheeses like ricotta and cream cheese can be cooked with the pasta, but every other cheese should be added after the pressure cooking is done. Just open the lid, stir it in, and leave it to melt for a few minutes.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

You left it on “warm” too long.

One of the most common mistakes made when it comes to Instant Pot pastas is not accounting for the carry-over cooking of the Instant Pot — especially when the pot automatically switches to “warm” after the pressure releases.

Instead: Make sure you turn the Instant Pot off after the pressure is released and you’ve removed the lid. For extra assurance, remove the Instant Pot’s insert from the machine for serving.