Your Top 10 Instant Pot Questions, Answered

updated Oct 18, 2019
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(Image credit: Bonnie Eichelberger)

The Instant Pot is a master of speedy cooking. It saves dinner when you forgot to thaw that pack of chicken from the freezer, and even makes a luxe, super-creamy cheesecake. The Instant Pot has a lot going for it, and after using it for a few years I can attest that it’s one of the most helpful appliances in the kitchen. But there’s one thing it’s not: intuitive. After first taking it out of the box, all those buttons have a way of feeling intimidating and overwhelming. After reading through the instruction manual it still feels confusing. And even after you’ve been at it for a while, there are still so many questions that crop up about how to use it or troubleshoot errors.

Here are some of the most common and pressing questions (and more importantly, the answers!) about using your Instant Pot.

1. What’s the minimum amount of liquid needed to cook in the Instant Pot?

First, you must add liquid to the Instant Pot before cooking. Without sufficient liquid, pressure won’t build — and you’ll likely get the dreaded “burn” error. Unless otherwise specified in the recipe, you’ll need just enough liquid (usually water or broth) to bring the cooker to pressure. The Instant Pot manual suggests 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups, depending on the size of the cooker.

2. Does the cook time include the time for the Instant Pot to come to pressure?

No, the cook time indicates just the necessary amount of time for a recipe to cook, and doesn’t account for the time needed for the Instant Pot to come to pressure. Additional time is needed for the appliance to first come to pressure, before the cook time countdown can begin. Some recipes will indicate the approximate amount of time it will take to come to pressure.

3. Why does my Instant Pot take so long to come to pressure?

Here’s the thing about your Instant Pot: In addition to the cook time, there’s also the time the appliance requires to come to pressure — plus extra time to release that pressure at the end of cooking. The time required for the Instant Pot to come to pressure, before cooking can begin, can vary greatly and sometimes seems like it takes forever. The time it takes to come to pressure depends on the volume of ingredients in the pot; the more that’s in there, the longer it will take to build pressure. You’ll also want to be sure you’ve remembered to seal the lid (it’s easy to forget!), and that the venting knob is moved to “sealing,” otherwise steam will escape rather than build in the cooker.

4. If I double a recipe do I need to double the cook time?

Nope! There’s no need to change the cook time when doubling a recipe. What will change, however, is the amount of time it takes for the Instant Pot to come to pressure before cooking. The volume of the additional ingredients does mean it will take more time for the Instant Pot to come to pressure.

5. The recipe says to press the “Manual” button, but my Instant Pot doesn’t have one. What do I do?

When using the pressure cooker function, most Instant Pot recipes instruct you to press the “Manual” button, but there’s just one catch with this — some models (like the Instant Pot Ultra) don’t have this button. Talk about confusion! Don’t worry, because there’s an easy solution: If your Instant Pot doesn’t have a “Manual” button, start by pressing the “Pressure Cook” button and select high or low pressure based on what the recipe indicates.

6. What does it mean when I get a “burn” message?

Step one: Don’t worry. This is actually a common problem and there’s a simple solution. This message is an indicator that your dish is burning, and occurs because there’s not enough liquid in the pot. Here’s what to do: After pressing the “cancel” button and moving the pressure release knob to “venting,” you’ll want to scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to remove any burnt food, then stir in additional liquid (a half-cup will do) and be sure it reaches the bottom of the pot.

7. Should I use natural release or quick release?

At the end of cooking, you need to release the built-up pressure inside the Instant Pot, and you’ve got two options: natural release or quick release. Most recipes will include instructions on which option to use, but if not, here’s a good rule of thumb to follow: Use natural release when cooking meat, dried beans and legumes, rice, soup, and other foods that are mostly liquid, and opt for quick release for things like eggs, vegetables, delicate foods, or ingredients that don’t benefit from additional cook time.

8. What is pot-in-pot (or PIP) cooking?

The pot-in-pot method is a simple way to cook in layers within your electric pressure cooker’s insert, by using a trivet (ideally the one that came with your Instant Pot) and an oven-safe dish or piece of bakeware, like a Pyrex dish or springform pan.

This method is especially useful when making foods that you don’t want to cook directly in liquid or that might otherwise stick or burn against the hot surface of the Instant Pot, like meatloaf, as well as cakes and cheesecakes, and when cooking multiple items.

9. How do I get the smell out of the sealing ring?

By now you might have noticed that the silicone sealing ring holds on to the smell of just about everything you cook in your Instant Pot. Sure, you can buy a new sealing ring, but it’s also pretty easy to clean it and get the smell out.

The quickest, easiest, and most foolproof way to get the smell out of the sealing ring is to add white vinegar or water and lemon rind to the Instant Pot, then run it for a few minutes on the “steam” setting. Running it through the dishwasher is another option, although if it’s been a while since you last cleaned it, it might not work as well to get the odor out.

10. Will the steam from the Instant Pot ruin my cabinets?

If your Instant Pot sits on a counter under your upper cabinets, this thought has likely crossed your mind any time the steam pours out at the end of cooking. The short answer is: maybe. Repeated steam exposure to your kitchen cabinets can soften the paint and warp the wood, but don’t stress about the occasional spurt of Instant Pot steam that can be immediately wiped away — it won’t do extensive damage.

If you use your Instant Pot weekly or even nightly (especially in the same area of your kitchen), it’s a good idea to take some precautions to prevent damage, like setting your Instant Pot in an unobstructed place, turning the pressure valve away from the cabinets, or using a steam diverter.

Not sure what to cook first? Try these recipes!