Your Ultimate Guide to Using the Instant Pot for Thanksgiving

updated Oct 8, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

By now we all know how great the Instant Pot is. The electric pressure-cooking feature alone makes it a staple for easy and convenient weeknight dinners (especially when you forget to defrost the chicken).

So it should come as no surprise that the handy appliance can be invaluable when it comes to preparing that dinner of all dinners: Thanksgiving. Whether you choose to use it to free up a range while making side dishes, cook an impossibly easy dessert, or just distract guests with a big batch of drinks, one thing is for sure: The Instant Pot shouldn’t be hiding out under the counter on the big day. It’s just too valuable. Here are an armful of Thanksgiving Instant Pot recipes and super helpful tips to show you how to make the most of your multi-cooker this holiday.

5 Tips for Using Your Instant Pot at Thanksgiving

Before we dive into all of the impossibly delicious holiday recipes you can be making in this handy appliance, here are the most helpful tips for getting the most out of your Instant Pot when preparing a holiday feast.

1. Take advantage of pot-in-pot recipes.

Pot-in-pot pressure cooking is a method that takes advantage of every inch of your Instant Pot by stacking a pot or pan (sometimes two!) on top of other foods inside the insert. This technique allows you to cook multiple components of a meal at the same time — like chicken and vegetables or meatloaf and mashed potatoes, for example.

2. Cook meat straight from the freezer.

Yes, it’s true – you can cook meat straight from the freezer in your Instant Pot. Unlike stovetop cooking or your slow cooker, the high temperatures achieved with a pressure cooker quickly take the meat past the “danger zone” (temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, where bacteria grow fastest).

The important thing to remember is that you’ll have to tack on some additional cook time. As a rule of thumb, increase your cook times by about 50 percent when starting with frozen meat. For example, bone-in chicken pieces that typically require 10 minutes of pressure cooking will need about 15 minutes of pressure cooking when frozen.

3. Reach for the steamer basket.

Many foods can be cooked directly in your Instant Pot insert, but some benefit from being placed in a steamer basket so they can sit above the water level. You don’t want vegetables (especially potatoes!) to absorb too much liquid. Meat (like a whole chicken or a turkey breast) and desserts (like cheesecake) can also get soggy from sitting in the water, and should be raised up.

4. Take advantage of the sauté function before and after cooking.

The beauty of the sauté function means you don’t have to dirty another pan to soften vegetables or brown meat before pressure cooking. But don’t forget this handy feature can also come in handy after pressure cooking. Once the food is removed, the sauté function can be used to reduce the remaining liquid into a sauce or gravy.

5. Keep big-batch drinks warm.

Did you know that your Instant Pot has a “Keep Warm” function? It does! Even if you don’t use it for cooking, it’s an ideal vessel for keeping drinks like spiced cidermulled winehot toddies, or red wine hot chocolate warm. Place it somewhere prominent and let guests help themselves throughout the day.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Essential Thanksgiving Instant Pot Recipes

Your Instant Pot can be put to work in a bunch of different ways to make Thanksgiving dinner run smoother. In addition to cooking up your favorite holiday recipes at lightning speed, it’ll help you free up precious oven space. And don’t forget — you can use the warming function to keep the mulled cider or mashed potatoes warm until it’s time to eat.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

The Side Dishes

Of all the ways to put an Instant Pot to work when readying Thanksgiving dinner, the sides are always my favorite. It’s a speedy solution to free up space on the stovetop or in the oven, and keeps food warm until it’s time to eat. And should you forget to get the mashed potatoes started on time, it’s got your back.

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Instant Pot Scalloped Potatoes
Cooking sliced potatoes under high pressure tenderizes them in a fraction of the time, meaning you can sit down to homemade scalloped potatoes in just 30 minutes.
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Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes
This isn’t a holiday shortcut just for the sake of taking a shortcut. Instant Pot mashed potatoes come out smoother and more flavorful. This method also frees up coveted space on the stovetop and keeps the potatoes warm until it's time to eat.
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Instant Pot Spaghetti Squash
Spaghetti squash in the electric pressure cooker requires zero prep and comes out perfectly tender. Just cut it open and remove the seeds.
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Instant Pot Sweet Potatoes
Instant Pot sweet potatoes cook up with irresistibly tender, creamy centers, and pressure cooking them takes half as much time as baking them in the oven. Here's everything you need to know about making them.
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Instant Pot "Baked Potatoes"
Use similarly sized potatoes so they cook evenly. That's the secret to making perfectly cooked potatoes with ultra-creamy, fluffy centers.
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Instant Pot Mac and Cheese
Just about any one of your favorite cheeses will work for this comforting side. Our recommendation is a combo of sharp cheddar for flavor and Monterey Jack for serious creaminess.
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Sweet and Spicy Braised Cabbage
This quick side uses the sauté function to first brown the cabbage wedges, before switching to the pressure-cooker function to braise and infuse them with flavor.
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Pressure Cooker Lentils
A hearty, seasonal lentil salad is one of my favorite things to bring to a holiday potluck and friendsgiving.
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Cubed Pressure Cooker Potatoes
These creamy bite-sized potatoes are a top pick for a last-minute addition to the table (like when someone forgets to bring the dish they made). The recipe works with any type of white-fleshed potato and cooks in eight minutes.
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Instant Pot Sweet Potato Soup
This comforting winter soup cooks in less than 20 minutes in the Instant Pot, but tastes like it's been simmering away all day on the stovetop.
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The Main Course

When it comes to the main course, the Instant Pot really excels when you’re looking for something a little less traditional, are cooking for a smaller crowd, or headed to a potluck where there will several main course options. If you’re hosting a smaller gathering you can certainly cook a turkey breast in there. (We don’t have a recipe yet, but Jo Cooks does.) And if you’re looking for an alternative to the traditional bird, you can try one of these hearty dishes.

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Instant Pot Chicken with Mushroom Sauce
You won't get the crispy skin that comes with an oven-roasted chicken, but the tender, ultra-juicy meat and rich gravy will totally win you over.
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Instant Pot Pork Tenderloin
The Instant Pot lets you sear, cook, and sauce not one but two tenderloins at once, and you don’t have to worry about overcooking it.
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Tender and Juicy Instant Pot Pork Chops
The thing I love most about pork chops is how easy they are to dress up into a fancy-ish main.
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Instant Pot Risotto
The Instant Pot is a game-changer when it comes to risotto. The creamy, cheesy dish requires almost no hands-on stirring, uses less broth, and cooks in even less time while still turning out equally delicious results.
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Instant Pot Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes
It might not be super fancy, but this homey meal is irresistibly comforting and delicious. The recipe calls for "pot-in-pot cooking," so you can get both the main and a side out in under an hour.
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Silky Beef and Porcini Mushroom Stew
Brimming with richness from red wine and thick-cut mushrooms, this meaty stew is a top pick for your holiday table when you crave something less traditional.
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Credit: Olive & Mango

The Appetizers and Dessert

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Instant Pot Cheesecake
This cheesecake is fast and easy, but most importantly, it's impossibly creamy and delicious. Top it with sautéed apples for a festive twist.
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Instant Pot Fudgy Chocolate Brownies
Instant Pot brownies are some of the fudgiest, moistest, deeply-chocolate-y brownies around, and they're practically impossible to over-bake.
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Instant Pot Bourbon Pecan Pie
Thanks to the Instant Pot's steamy pressure chamber, this pecan pie — flavored with bourbon, brown sugar, and molasses — cooks perfectly every time.
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Instant Pot Crème Brûlée
This simple Instant Pot recipe gives you impressive, restaurant-worthy results with minimal effort.
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Instant Pot Death by Chocolate Cheesecake
This over-the-top dessert features a buttery Oreo cookie crust, a double-chocolate filling made with both cocoa and melted chocolate, and a crown of the most luscious and silky chocolate ganache.
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Instant Pot Hummus
Keep guests happy by letting them snack on a crudité platter partnered with a side of smooth hummus. You'll want to make the dish a few days ahead (the beans alone need to soak overnight), but the recipe is a breeze to pull off, and hummus keeps just fine in a sealed container in the fridge.
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7 / 7
Instant Pot Pumpkin Purée
If there was ever a time to skip the canned stuff and make your own pumpkin purée, it's Thanksgiving. Use the purée to make a five-ingredient pie (or mini pies!), three-ingredient bars, or a quick bread.
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The Leftovers

Arguably the best part of Thanksgiving dinner is the leftovers. And there’s nothing I love more than turning the turkey carcass into a rich-tasting stock or bone broth. I like to chop extra vegetables when I’m prepping dinner so I can toss everything into the Instant Pot once the table is cleared.

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Pressure Cooker Chicken Stock
The same goes for this stock. Toss everything in the Instant Pot after the table is cleared and let it cook for two hours.
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Instant Pot Bone Broth
This recipe technically calls for chicken or beef bones, but it works just the same with turkey.
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