Instant Pot food burn is a common message that many Instant Pot owners come across, especially new users, so if you’re seeing the burn message you’re not alone! Find out why you’re getting the food burn message, how to avoid the problem in the future, and what to do when the Instant Pot says burn. See special instructions at the bottom to find out how to deglaze your inner pot and clean the burnt bottom of the inner pot easily.
What does Food Burn Mean?
The Instant Pot has over a dozen safety features to protect you and the food you’re cooking. These safety mechanisms also protect the Instant Pot from being damaged. One of them is the burn-protection sensor that monitors the temperature.
Under pressure, the Instant Pot can reach temperatures well above the boiling point of water, but it’s important that things don’t get too hot.
When a high temperature is detected at the bottom of the inner pot, the burn-protection sensor suspends heating. On older Instant Pot models, the warning ovHt or ouHt (overheat) was displayed. This message was changed to the burn message on subsequent models and more recent Instant Pots say food burn.
Whe you get the food burn message, most likely the Instant Pot will have no pressure i.e. the float valve will be in the down position. All the buttons light up, there will be multiple beeps and the display will alternate between the words ‘burn’ and ‘food’.
Sometimes the Instant Pot says food burn and then changes to On. If this happens to you, you can just ignore the message and let it keep cooking. You’ll probably have some food stuck on the bottom, but you should be able to salvage most of it.
Some Instant Pot owners insist that they never encounter the food burn message. That’s probably because they own an older model that doesn’t have the burn message feature. The sensors on those older models are also less sensitive. If you’re following a recipe that was tested on an older model, the recipe developer may never have encountered the problem you’re having.
I test my Instant Pot recipes on multiple models of Instant Pot and you can be assured that they have instructions that will help you avoid the food burn message. You might also want to read my article on the reasons why your Instant Pot is not sealing.
[If you’re interested in learning more about the inner workings of pressure cookers, the Instant Pot website has more information about how electric pressure cookers work.]
Why Does My Instant Pot Say Burn?
To begin troubleshooting the food burn message, let’s look at the numerous reasons why the Instant Pot can get the burn message. In this section, I detail the most common reasons. The next section will tell you how to avoid the food burn message.
1. Sealing ring issues
If your sealing ring is not installed properly or if it’s missing, your Instant Pot will leak steam, and that will cause the food at the bottom to scorch and your Instant Pot display will say burn.
2. Steam release is venting
Different models have different mechanisms for steam release. If your steam release handle is in the Venting position, the steam release button is accidentally stuck in the down position or the steam release switch is in the Vent position, your Instant Pot will leak steam, and that will cause the contents to burn.
3. Not enough liquid
Pressure cookers work by building pressure from steam generated in the pot, which in turn cooks food at high temperatures. This steam cannot be created if there isn’t enough liquid in the Instant Pot.
4. Food is stuck on the bottom of the inner pot during Saute mode
If you use the Saute function before you use the Pressure Cook function, food can get caramelized and stick to the bottom of the inner pot. When you begin pressure cooking, that food can get further scorched. This can block the heat sensor and may trigger the burn warning on the Instant Pot.
5. Recipe contains tomato products and prepared sauces
Recipes containing products like tomato paste, tomato puree, tomato sauce, cream of chicken, cream of mushroom, and alfredo sauce tend to scorch on the bottom while the Instant Pot is coming to pressure.
These ingredients are not thin enough to build steam and some contain fillers like corn starch, flour, or cheese which tend to scorch. I see lots of complaints about chili recipes and pasta sauces causing the Instant Pot burn notice.
Other possibilities include some blended ingredients such as nuts or dried chiles, like those used in mole recipes. Cheese and cream can also cause the food burn message
6. Recipe contains starch
Stirring in and incorporating starchy ingredients such as pasta, rice, or flour with all the other ingredients may give you a burn code. This method may have worked for some older models of the Instant Pot and that’s possibly why the recipe you’re following directs you to do that.
7. Inner pot is too hot after sauteing
If you use the Saute function immediately before pressure cooking, especially if you’re using high heat, it can lead to a burn error during pressure cooking.
8. Recipe was tested with a different size of Instant Pot
9. Recipe was tested with older model
If you’re following a recipe you’ve found in a cookbook or on the internet, you could be getting the burn message because that recipe was developed using an older Instant Pot model (before January 2018) which didn’t have the burn error as a safety feature and the OvHt (overheat) sensor was less sensitive.
10. Instant Pot has a hot spot
Some Instant Pot users notice that their Instant Pot burns at certain ‘hot spots’ on the bottom of the inner pot. Although this is rare, if you encounter this, you should file a ticket with Instant Pot customer support.
How to Avoid Getting the Burn Warning
1. Install sealing ring properly
You need to make sure that the sealing ring is pushed into the sealing ring rack all the way in and all around. Clean the sealing ring after every use and don’t forget to put it back in place when you begin pressure cooking. Sealing rings can also get worn out or stretched out over time, requiring replacement.
2. Steam release should be in Sealing position
The steam release handle, button, or switch (depending on the model) needs to be in the Sealing or Seal position. If it’s venting, steam will escape and there won’t be enough liquid to pressurize the Instant Pot.
3. Add sufficient liquid
- 3 quart: 1 cup
- 6 quart: 1 1/2 cups
- 8 quart: 2 cups
- 10 quart: 2 1/2 cups
If you’re a newbie, you can prevent the food burn message by always using the minimum recommended quantity of liquid.
Through trial and error, I make recipes with much less liquid, even as little as 1/2 cup in my 6 quart. To figure out what your minimum quantity of liquid is, you can experiment by doing the water test or initial test run with different quantities of water.
According to Jill Nussinow of The Veggie Queen, and author of Vegan Under Pressure cookbook, start with 1/4 to 1/2 cup, and increase the quantity with each subsequent test until you’re able to get the Instant Pot to come to pressure and stay under pressure for 5 minutes.
Keep in mind that many foods (e.g. vegetables, meats) release liquid and that counts toward the minimum liquid requirement. My Asian pulled pork recipe and chorizo and potato recipe are good examples. They have less than the minimum required liquid but come to pressure with no issue.
Canned tomato products and thick sauces DO NOT count toward the minimum quantity of liquid because they are too dense.
Note: When you’re adding liquid, make sure it gets underneath any food that’s already in the inner pot. This prevents the food from scorching and helps create steam.
4. Deglaze inner pot after sauteing
After sauteing and before pressure cooking you need to deglaze the inner pot. Deglazing involves adding a thin liquid like wine, water, or broth to the hot surface and scraping the bottom with a silicone scraper or wooden spatula to remove the caramelized and brown bits that are stuck.
Deglazing adds wonderful flavor to your dish, but more importantly, it cleans the inner pot. So any liquid that you add will make full contact with the bottom of the inner pot and that allows the sensor in the Instant Pot to properly register temperature and pressure.
Deglazing is a very useful cooking technique and if you’re not familiar with it, it’s worthwhile to learn more about deglazing.
5. Layer ingredients
One pressure cooker technique that’s commonly used to prevent the Instant Pot burn food message and having food stick to the bottom is to layer ingredients such as tomato-based and starchy ingredients.
To avoid the burn error when pressure cooking tricky ingredients, here is the order in which to layer the foods:
- First, add vegetables and meats.
- Next, add thin liquid such as water or broth. Lift up the lower layer gently to allow the liquid to reach the bottom.
- Next, add any pasta, rice or other starchy ingredient, and push down gently with a large spatula so they’re covered by the liquid but DON’T stir!
- Finally, add any dense ingredients on top e.g. tomato sauce, tomato paste and DON’T stir.
- Close lid and pressure cook as directed.
One way to add noodle-type pasta, such as spaghetti, is to do it in batches, where you add the noodles in a criss-cross pattern, pushing the pasta down into the liquid after each batch.
6. Use pot in pot (PIP) cooking method
Another option is to use the Pot-in-Pot (PIP) cooking method to cook dishes that have thick sauces. You cook the food in a container that’s placed on a rack in some water. You don’t ever have to worry about the burn message when you use the PIP technique.
7. Control Saute temperature
Use medium temperature for sauteing and turn off and cool down the Instant Pot after sauteing and deglazing. You can cool it down quicker if you remove the inner pot from the unit and set it on a hot pad or cooling rack. Be sure to use gloves.
Alternately, you can saute on the stovetop and transfer the sauteed food to the Instant Pot to pressure cook.
8. Modify recipes for larger size Instant Pots
If you have an 8-quart Instant Pot but you’re using a recipe developed for the 6-quart Instant Pot and the quantity of liquid is below the manufacturer-recommended quantity, either double the recipe or add an extra 1/2 to 1 cup of liquid. Keep the cooking time the same.
9. Raise the food using a trivet
- I frequently put the food I’m pressure cooking (especially meat) on a trivet to raise it up a bit so that the liquid can cover the bottom of the inner pot. This is especially useful when the recipe has the minimum quantity of liquid.
- This works really well when the quantity of liquid in my recipe is minimal.
[Read all about the Instant Pot trivet types and how to use them.]
10. Grease the inner pot
- Use a cooking spray or oil to grease the inner pot before you begin pressure cooking. This can help prevent food from sticking to the bottom of the inner pot.
If you’re new to the Instant Pot and aren’t familiar with how to use it, here are my guides on how to use some popular Instant Pot models:
What to do if Instant Pot says Burn – How to Save Your Meal
If you’re getting the Instant Pot food burn message i.e. the display says burn, food burn, or burn food, this section will tell you what to do to save your meal.
If you’ve skipped to this section directly, I strongly urge you to read the entire article when you have the time because there are many reasons for the burn message and you’ll need this information to avoid the problem in the future.
In some rare cases, the scorched/burnt taste may penetrate the entire dish and you may need to start over. But in most cases, it’s possible to salvage your meal when you see food burn on the Instant Pot display.
What to do if you get the Food burn Instant Pot message
Turn off the Instant Pot
- Press Cancel to turn off the Instant Pot.
Do a Quick Release of Pressure
- If the float valve is up and the Instant Pot has sealed, move the steam release handle, button or switch (depending on your model) to the Vent position. Note: In most cases, the float valve will be in the down position when you get the Food burn message.
Open the Lid
- Once the float valve is down, turn the lid counter-clockwise to open the lid. Lift the lid and remove it.
Remove the Inner Pot from the Base Unit
- Lift the inner pot out of the base unit and place it on a heat-resistant surface.
If there’s Nothing Stuck to the Bottom, Add More Liquid
- Let the Instant Pot cool down.
- Most likely, the original liquid will have partially evaporated.
- Add enough liquid to replace the original liquid that evaporated, plus an additional 1/2 to 1 cup.
- Lift the food with a spatula to allow the liquid to reach the bottom of the inner pot.
If Food is Stuck on the Bottom, Clean Inner Pot
- Transfer contents that are not stuck to the bottom to a separate bowl.
- Scrape and clean out the inner pot so there’s nothing stuck on the bottom. The best way to clean out burnt on food is to use very hot water and scrape out the burnt bits. See the section below on how to use the deglazing technique to clean the inner pot.
- Allow the Instant Pot unit to cool down.
- Most likely, the original liquid may have fully or partially evaporated. Add enough liquid to replace the original liquid that evaporated, plus an additional 1/2 to 1 cup.
Continue Pressure Cooking
- Resume pressure cooking the recipe. You might be able to reduce the original pressure cooking time since the food might have already partially cooked.
Reduce the Liquid
- If there’s too much liquid left after pressure cooking has completed, reduce the liquid by cooking on Saute mode.
Option: Use the Pot-in-Pot (PIP) Method to Finish Cooking the Dish
- Check out my comprehensive guide to using the Pot-in-Pot (PIP) pressure cooking method.
- This is a great alternative if you want to avoid any further hassles with the Instant Pot burn food message.
- Just transfer all ingredients to a separate oven-proof dish that will fit in your inner pot and use PIP to finish pressure cooking.
How to Use the Deglaze Technique to Clean the Inner Pot
When you get the food burn message on the Instant Pot and you open the lid, you’ll most likely find that the bottom of the inner pot is covered in a burnt layer of food. It can be difficult to remove this layer even by forcefully scrubbing the inner pot. I’ve found a pretty easy way to clean the inner pot when this happens:
- Select Saute mode and allow the Instant Pot to get hot.
- Pour 1/2 cup of hot water all over the surface.
- Scrape the bottom of the inner pot until the food gets unstuck, adding more hot water as needed.
- Press Cancel.
- Empty out the inner pot, wash, and dry.
Instant Pot Keeps Saying Burn No Matter What You Do!
If you are not cooking with problematic (e.g. tomato-based or starchy) ingredients, you have enough liquid, and you’re not making any of the mistakes detailed above and your Instant Pot keeps saying food burn, the first thing I suggest is you read the article on why your Instant Pot is not sealing.
If you’re not making any of the mistakes detailed in that article, the next thing to do is a water test.
How to do a Water Test
A water test allows you to test out the Instant Pot by ruling out user error or ingredient-specific problems.
- Add 2 cups of water to the inner pot.
- Close the lid.
- Pressure cook on high pressure for 2 minutes.
- Do a quick release of pressure.
- If the Instant Pot does not seal or you get the burn message, you might have a defective unit.
If the water test fails, you should file a support ticket with Instant Pot support.
No, once the sensors detect the high temperature and trigger the food burn message, the Instant Pot will stop the cooking process. However, the inside will be very hot. If you’re cooking something that has a very short pressure cooking time, it’s possible that your food might get cooked if you leave it in there for the duration of the intended cooking time.
Since the burn message is a safety mechanism, there is no way to override the burn message. You will need to open the Instant Pot, clean out the inner pot, add more liquid and resume the pressure cooking process.
Sometimes the Instant Pot says food burn, but then the message disappears. If this happens, you can probably ignore the message. However, if the message is persistent, all lights are on, and it’s beeping frantically, it’s kind of hard to ignore! If the intended pressure cooking time is short (around 2 to 5 minutes), you could just let it sit and the Instant Pot will turn off automatically after a few minutes. Open the lid and see if your food is cooked. If it is, great. If not, go through the steps outlined in the what to do section above to fix the issue.
I frequently pressure cook recipes with milk and yogurt such as rogan josh, or cashew butter chicken. Because they are thin liquids (yogurt thins out upon heating), I’ve never had issues. However, I avoid pressure cooking cream, cheese, and thick dairy products.