When I first got my Instant Pot, I knew nothing about electric pressure cookers. I was familiar with pressure cooking since I’d been using a stove top pressure cooker for years, but the Instant Pot is different: it has so much functionality and all those buttons. To be honest, it was a bit intimidating!
I had lots of questions at the beginning and I found the answers through trial and error, or by asking questions on forums and blogs. I got some great information from Hip Pressure Cooking and Pressure Cooking Today. These days the tables are turned, and I get similar questions from new Instant Pot users. Here are some Instant Pot tips and FAQs that might help you whether you’re a brand new Instant Pot owner or if you’re still getting familiar with your Instant Pot.
1. I received my Instant Pot months ago, but it’s still in the box… It’s intimidating me and I worry about the safety! Can you help me get started?
The Instant Pot has so many built-in safety mechanisms that you don’t need to worry. This article from the Instant Pot company has a good explanation of the safety features. Even if you forget to put in liquid, the Instant Pot will just shut off and give you an error code!
It’s very natural to feel apprehensive about using your Instant Pot for the first time. If you’re not inclined to read the manual that came with your Instant Pot, at the very least, do read my Instant Pot Quick Start Guide for Beginners. It’ll get you comfortable with using the Instant Pot for the first time. It shows you the basics, and will walk you through the water test, which is the first thing you should do.
2. I keep seeing recipes that say to press Manual. My Instant Pot doesn’t have a Manual button!
Many Instant Pot recipes mention the Manual button. The Manual button is replaced by the Pressure Cook button or setting on newer models of the Instant Pot.
3. My Instant Pot is hissing and leaking steam when it’s coming to pressure. Is this normal?
While the Instant Pot is coming to pressure, it may make some hissing sounds and you may see some steam coming out of the pressure release (steam release) handle or float valve. So long as you’ve put the pressure release handle in the Sealing position and you have enough liquid in the inner pot, your Instant Pot float valve will rise up in due course and your Instant Pot will be pressurized. Just be patient. The more liquid you have or the colder the ingredients in the Instant Pot (e.g. frozen meat), the longer it takes to come to pressure.
Once the float valve pops up, you should see little to no steam coming out of either the float valve or the pressure release handle. If you find steam leaking from the sides of the lid (where the sealing ring sits), the sealing ring has probably been installed incorrectly. If the hissing continues, you can troubleshoot the problem with my post 16 Reasons Why Your Instant Pot Is Not Sealing. If you still can’t find the problem, it’s possible you have a defective unit and you might need to contact the Instant Pot company.
4. Why is my Instant Pot taking a long time to come to pressure? The recipe I’m using says to cook on Manual for 10 minutes, but it’s already been 20 minutes and it’s not even come to pressure (the float valve is not going up and the Instant Pot is not counting down). Where’s the time savings I keep hearing about?
With the Instant Pot, 10 minutes pressure cooking time is not just 10 minutes: it can be 20 to 30 minutes. The time that you enter on the Instant Pot control panel (e.g. Manual or Pressure Cook for 10 minutes) is not the time it takes to cook the dish. The Instant Pot needs to come to pressure before the 10-minute countdown begins. Think of it like an oven needing to preheat. The quantity of liquid and temperature of the contents of the Instant Pot will determine the amount of time required for the Instant Pot to build pressure. After pressure cooking is complete, if the recipe calls for natural pressure release (NPR), that can also take from 5 to 30 minutes, depending on the quantity of liquid in the Instant Pot.
But the great thing about the Instant Pot is that while your food is cooking, you don’t have to be right there next to it; you can let the Instant Pot do the cooking while you take care of something else. In my opinion, this is where the time savings comes into play.
5. The Instant Pot has so many buttons! What do they mean, and why do most recipes just use Manual?
You’ll most likely use only a handful of buttons/settings: Saute, Manual (Pressure Cook on some models), Keep Warm/Cancel and + or -. The Instant Pot has many more buttons/settings like Rice, Meat, Multigrain, etc. Most of these buttons are just preset buttons (like on your microwave) with recommended cooking times and pressure levels. * They’re convenient if you use the same cooking settings every time you cook a particular type of food. For example, if you cook bone-in chicken thighs every time you make chicken, the Poultry setting might work for you. But if you’re cooking diced chicken or boneless thighs, you’d have to adjust the preset cooking times.
You’ll find that most of the recipes call for the Manual or Pressure Cook button to be used. I like to use the Manual or Pressure Cook setting because I feel I have more control over the times and pressure levels, and because people who own another brand of pressure cooker or multi-cooker can adapt my recipes easily.
* Some buttons (e.g. Rice and Multigrain) are exceptions: these buttons have some special functionality that is pre-programmed. For example, in the Multigrain function, the More setting (or High on some models) will soak the grain for 60 minutes before pressure cooking begins. The Rice function cooks rice on low pressure.
6. My Instant Pot recently started making clicking noises while it’s cooking. Do I need to worry?
There are two reasons for clicking sounds while the Instant Pot is operational. One is that the inner pot is wet on the outside. Make sure the Instant Pot inner pot is dry before you put it in the Instant Pot unit. The second reason for the clicking sounds is that the Instant Pot is internally regulating power through power switching. This is perfectly normal and you don’t need to worry.
7. What is the minimum amount of liquid I need to have in the Instant Pot?
The Instant Pot requires steam, and therefore liquid, to come to pressure. The official word from the Instant Pot company has been 1 ½ to 2 cups. I usually add a minimum of ½ cup of liquid and that has worked well for me. I’ve also found that some ingredients (e.g. some vegetables) release enough liquid that you need to add little to no additional liquid. See my Instant Pot Aloo Gobi recipe or Instant Pot Peach Crisp recipe for examples. With experience, and by making recipes again, you’ll figure out the right amount of liquid you need to add for each recipe. As you start out, I recommend following the recipe. I test my recipes over and over before posting them, and so you know that they work well as written.
8. If I want to double a recipe, do I need to double the cooking time?
Doubling a recipe doesn’t require changing the cooking time. Cooking times are more dependent on the density and thickness of the ingredients rather than the weight. So, if you’re cooking 8 chicken thighs instead of the 4 thighs that a recipe calls for, you won’t need to change the cooking time in the recipe (so long as you’re not overcrowding the pot and the liquid has room to circulate). Keep in mind that even though you are not increasing the cooking time, the Instant Pot will take longer to build pressure due to the increased quantity of ingredients.
On the other hand, if your recipe calls for 2-inch thick pieces of meat and you’re cooking 3-inch thick pieces, or if you’ve cut your vegetable into larger pieces than a recipe recommends, you might have to increase the cooking time.
9. I’d like to double a recipe. Should I double all the ingredients?
Changing the quantity of a recipe is not always straightforward. Some recipes call for ½ cup of liquid, but when you double the recipe, you may not need to double the liquid because that ½ cup is the minimum amount of liquid required to pressure cook the dish. Doubling the liquid could make the dish less tasty because it’s too watery and insipid. So, depending on the recipe, you may not need to add more liquid if there’s enough space in the Instant Pot for the liquid to circulate.
Conversely, if you’re reducing the quantity, you need to make sure you have the minimum quantity of liquid for the Instant Pot to reach pressure. For example, if the recipe calls for ½ cup of broth, but you’re halving the recipe, don’t make the quantity of broth ¼ cup, because your Instant Pot may not come to pressure.
10. My Instant Pot is not reaching pressure and my float valve is not sealing. How can I troubleshoot this problem?
Two of the most common reasons why your float valve is not popping up: the sealing ring is installed improperly or there isn’t enough liquid to bring the Instant Pot to pressure. There are many more reasons an Instant Pot won’t pressurize. I’ve written a blog post that describes the most common reasons: 16 Reasons Why Your Instant Pot is Not Sealing.
11. I am using the Slow Cooker function, but after 8 hours, my dish is still not cooked and the meat is raw! Why is this happening?
Actually this question didn’t come from a reader, it’s mine through experience! Needless to say, because my undercooked meat was sitting in the Instant Pot for 8 hours, I had to throw away dinner, and start over. If you’re using the Slow Cooker setting, be aware that Less (or Low on some models) setting is too low to slow cook anything; it’s more like the Warm setting on a slow cooker or Crock Pot.
|Slow Cooker/Crock Pot||Instant Pot|
|Warm||Less (or Low on some models)|
|Low||Normal (or Medium)|
|High||More (or High)|
12. I’ve done the water test and am ready to cook my first dish. What recipe do you suggest I try first?
I would cook Instant Pot Hard Boiled Eggs or Instant Pot Pot-in-Pot Rice first. After that, some of the easier recipes on my site are Instant Pot Pork Carnitas or Instant Pot Pasta with Sausage in a Tomato Cream Sauce. Try and choose a dish that has great reviews and doesn’t have a lot of negative comments about sealing problems. Soups are a great option for a first Instant Pot dish because they have plenty of liquid and less chance of burn errors or sealing issues.
13. The pressure release (steam release) handle is wobbly and loose. Is it supposed to be loose?
The pressure release handle is a safety feature that allows pressure to be released manually and yes, it is supposed to be loose.
14. How can I switch between High and Low pressure?
Not all Instant Pots have the Low setting. The Instant Pot Lux model only has the High pressure setting. For most other models, use either the Pressure or Pressure Level button to switch between Low and High. For the Instant Pot Ultra model, you’ll use the knob to change the Pressure setting.
15. Which size Instant Pot should I buy? Should I purchase the 3-quart, 6-quart or 8-quart Instant Pot?
I don’t own a 3-quart Instant Pot (Instant Pot Mini), but from what I’ve heard, it’s a great size for one or two people, or for those with limited space, like college students. I think it would also make a great second Instant Pot, for side dishes. Two Sleevers blog has done a thorough review of the 3-quart Instant Pot Mini.
However, if you’re getting ready to buy your first Instant Pot and you’re cooking for a family, the 6-quart or 8-quart would be the better option. If you think you’ll be cooking for guests and/or you like to have leftovers, I would recommend the 8-quart Instant Pot. I own a 6-quart Instant Pot and it works great from my family of 5. However, sometimes I like to double my recipes and don’t want to overcrowd the pot and could really use an 8-quart Instant Pot.
16. I cooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts for 10 minutes using natural pressure release (NPR). They came out dry and rubbery. What did I do wrong?
The Instant Pot is particularly good at cooking tough, cheaper cuts of beef and pork, and chicken legs or thighs. Lean meats like chicken breasts, pork tenderloin, or beef sirloin don’t fare as well in the Instant Pot. Meats that are roasted in the oven or simmered on the stove top for hours can be cooked in a fraction of the time in the Instant Pot, usually within an hour, and come out tender and juicy.
I try to use chicken thighs (bone-in or boneless) and drumsticks for my recipes. They are just more flavorful and come out amazingly tender and tasty in the Instant Pot. The only time I use chicken breasts is if I dice them up for a soup or curry – they turn out fine. If you really want to cook whole (unfrozen) boneless skinless chicken breasts, try to cook them in chicken broth instead of water for 8 minutes. I let them rest before cutting; they can easily dry out and overcook.
17. Keep an Instant Pot recipe journal.
Keeping an Instant Pot journal is something I do because I blog, and I always need to refer back to how I actually made a dish, because I’m always experimenting. But I think this tip is something I would recommend for anyone. Because the Instant Pot requires a completely different way of thinking about cooking, it really helps to take notes and write down what works and doesn’t work for you. Instant Pots recipes have to be adapted based on altitude, thickness of food, cut of meat, etc. It’s particularly useful for when you want to convert one of your favorite recipes to the Instant Pot; you can use tips and techniques from your Instant Pot recipe journal. Try it out!
18. I keep reading about using a trivet in the Instant Pot. What is a trivet?
A trivet is a rack and usually, this is a reference to the rack that was shipped with the Instant Pot. The trivet is particularly useful when using the Pot in Pot (PIP) cooking technique.
19. My oatmeal stinks of pot roast! The sealing ring always smells of whatever I cooked last. How do I remove the smell?
The sealing ring is made of silicone. Silicone retains odors, and these odors are hard to remove. I solve this problem by having two sealing rings: one for savory dishes and one for mild dishes and desserts. Some people have different colored sealing rings so they can keep them straight.
Here are some ways to reduce odors in your sealing ring:
- Wash lid and sealing ring in the top rack of the dishwasher.
- Put the sealing ring out in full sun for a few hours.
- Pressure cook water and lemon juice or vinegar for a few minutes and let the pressure release naturally.
- Soak the sealing ring in hot water dissolved with a denture cleaner tablet.
20. There are so many different terms used in Instant Pot recipes! NPR, QR, NPR 10, IP…. What do they mean?
Yes, there are a lot of acronyms and you will become familiar with them over time. Here are some common ones:
- NPR, NR – Natural Pressure Release, Natural Release. Allow the pressure to go down on its own (float valve drops to the ‘down’ position; this takes 5 to 30 minutes or longer depending on quantity of liquid in the Instant Pot).
- QR – Quick Release. Release the pressure manually by turning the steam release handle to the ‘Venting’ position or pressing the steam release button (Ultra model).
- NPR 10 – Natural Release for 10 minutes (or any number of minutes). This is a combination of NPR and QR. You allow the pressure release on its own for 10 minutes and then release the remaining pressure manually using the QR method.
- IP – Instant Pot
- PIP – Pot in Pot Cooking. See my post Pot in Pot Cooking Method for more details.
21. The recipe I’m using tells me to use the Adjust button. My Instant Pot does not have an Adjust button.
On older models, the Adjust button is used to toggle between Less, Normal and More. On newer models, pressing the cooking program (e.g. meat, soup, porridge, etc.) multiple times allows you to toggle through the Less, Normal and More settings for that program/function.
I hope these Instant Pot tips and FAQs have answered some of the questions you may have about the Instant Pot. If you have further questions, feel free to comment below, contact me through my Contact Page or through social media. I’m always happy to answer your questions and help you get comfortable with the Instant Pot. And if you’re an experienced Instant Pot owner and would like to share an Instant Pot tip, please do comment below!