So you’ve just gotten a new Instant Pot (or similar electric pressure cooker/multi-cooker) and want to get started making great recipes. But what do you do? Where do you start? What does it all mean? RecipeTeacher is here to help!
What is an Instant Pot?
An Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker. Stovetop pressure cookers have been around forever, but the simplicity, ease and safety of the new electric pressure cookers have renewed interest in pressure cooking.
How does pressure cooking work?
The simple answer is: Pressure cooking works by cooking the food in a sealed pot which contains water or broth, usually at least 1 cup. With the lid locked in place so no steam can escape, the liquid will boil at a higher temperature, building up pressure, which cooks the food much faster.
How Does Cooking Time Work with Pressure Cooking?
Most recipes will indicate the amount of time to “pressure cook” the recipe, usually given in minutes. However, there will be additional time factors involved. The Instant Pot will take time to come to pressure before the actual cooking time begins. For example, if you’re making our Best Easy Instant Pot Pot Roast, the cook time indicated is 40 minutes. When you hit Start, the cooker has to build pressure, which usually takes anywhere from 10-20 minutes, depending on the recipe. Once the appliance comes to pressure, the actual cooking time will then begin.
After the cooking time is complete, a recipe will indicate to do a quick release (which can take a minute or two), or natural release, which is usually 10-15 minutes for the indicator pin to drop. See below for more details on quick release and natural release.
What is Quick Release?
On the lid of the pot is a valve which is used to release the pressure after the cooking cycle is complete. If a recipe calls for “quick release”, that means to turn the valve to “venting” or “open”, immediately after the cooking cycle is complete. When the pressure pin drops, the lid can then be safely removed.
What is Natural Release (NPR)?
When the cooking cycle is complete, leave the valve on the lid in the “sealing” or closed position. As the pot cools, the pressure will naturally release. This usually takes about 10-15 minutes, but can take longer, depending on the particular recipe. When the pressure has fully released, the pin will drop and the lid can be safely removed. When the Instant Pot is in natural release mode, you’ll notice a timer counts elapsed time. This is particularly handy if you have recipe instructions that call for a specific natural release time.
Can recipes be cut in half?
Most recipes can indeed be cut in half to make less. Usually, the pressure cooking time will NOT change. The amount of liquid will often not change for meat recipes. For pasta, soup and chili recipes, the amount of liquid may indeed change. Liquid should never be less than ½ cup.
Can recipes be doubled?
In most cases, yes, depending on the size of the appliance. The common sizes are 3qt, 6qt, and 8qt. The 6qt is size, by far, the most commonly owned. When doubling a recipe it is often very important to NOT stack meats on top of each other. For meat recipes, the amount of liquid and cooking time will usually remain the same. Refer to the specific recipe for details.
Do I Use High or Low Pressure?
99% of Instant Pot recipes that use the pressure cook cycle use high pressure. Always use high pressure unless the recipe specifically says to use low pressure.
Understanding Cooking Meat in an Instant Pot
Pressure cooking meats is a fun and wondrous journey. There are so many wonderful dishes you can create for which pressure cooking is ideal. And while pressure cooking meats has many advantages, there are certain instances where it might not be ideal, or, requires special attention. Let’s take a look at some Instant Pot Meat Mastery 101...
Pressure cookers use steam to cook – not direct dry heat. A standard Instant Pot has a sauté feature which is awesome for browning/searing meats prior to the pressure cooking. However, this will not provide a crispness to the outside of the meats. For recipes such as our Instant Pot Chicken and Brown Rice, we recommend placing the chicken in an air fryer or under a broiler for 5 minutes afterwards to crisp up the skin.
- Use natural release for meats. Almost all meat recipes will require a natural pressure release after the pressure cooking time is complete. For some recipes, it may not require a “full natural release”, but rather “let the pressure naturally release for 10 minutes”, then quick release the remaining pressure. Always check the specific recipe for details.
- Avoid steaks. Look, I totally get it, you want this magical device to cook everything and have it come out amazing! But there are a few foods that don’t get the magic the Instant Pot provides and steaks are one of those foods. When it comes to preparing a steak such as a filet mignon, ribeye, New York Strip or other, best stick to the traditional methods for cooking. If you’re using a steak as an ingredient for something such as a stew or pot roast or beef and broccoli, where the meat is cut up, then the Instant Pot can be used.
- Get robust flavors from broth or stock. If you want to get the most flavor from your meat recipes, use a broth or stock as the liquid. Chicken broth has been flying off supermarket shelves ever since the Instant Pots became a phenomenon.
- Don’t overcrowd. When it comes to meat recipes such as Best Damn Instant Pot Pork Tenderloin, Best Damn Instant Pot Boneless Pork Chops, or Best Damn Instant Pot Pulled Pork, you’ll want to avoid overcrowding the pot if you’re increasing the amounts to make. You don’t want to stack large pieces of meat on top of each other and you’ll always get best results if the meat isn’t packed together.
- Deglaze after sautéing meat! This is an essential step when preparing meat that will be seared or browned with the sauté mode. The cooked on bits on the bottom of the pot will need to be scraped away before for the pressure cooking step. So after making any recipe that sautés the meat, when it’s done being sautéed pour in a little broth or liquid and scrape those bits off the bottom. That will help to prevent “burn” notices.
Once you get used to having an Instant Pot, you’ll never think of ‘weeknight meals’ the same way again. The Best Damn Pulled Pork in just over an hour of blissful hands-off cooking time? That can be your Monday night meal! Tuesday, you can have an amazing Best Damn Chicken and Brown Rice in about 45 minutes. And have we mentioned our Best Damn Instant Pot Lasagna clocks in at 40 minutes? Visit our Instant Pot Recipes for Beginners page for six easy, proven recipes to help get you started. Congratulations, Instant Pot buyers, you just earned yourself a whole lot of free time from Monday-Friday!