The Instant Pot burn error is a common problem that many Instant Pot users come across, so you’re not alone! Find out why you’re getting the Instant Pot burn message, how to avoid the problem in the future, and what to do when the Instant Pot says Burn, and in the process, save dinner. See special instructions at the bottom to find out how to deglaze your inner pot and clean the burnt food easily.
What You Will Learn in This Article
What to do When the Instant Pot says Burn – How to Save Your Meal
If you’re getting the burn message i.e. your Instant Pot display says ‘burn’ or ‘food burn’, this section will tell you what you need to do to save your meal.
I strongly urge you to read the entire article because there are many reasons for the burn error and you’ll need this information to successfully use the Instant Pot in the future.
Sometimes the Instant Pot says ‘burn’ or ‘food burn’ and then changes to ‘On’. If this happens to you, just say ‘thank you’ 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.
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 get the burn error.
How to Correct the Instant Pot Burn Error
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.
Open the Lid
- Once the pressure has completely released, 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 may 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. Find out more on how to deglaze your Instant Pot to clean it easily.
- 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 error.
- Just transfer all ingredients to a separate oven-proof dish that will fit in your inner pot and use PIP to finish pressure cooking.
What is the Burn Error?
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 these safety features is a burn-protection sensor that monitors the temperature.
The Instant Pot gets very hot under pressure and this heat needs to be regulated and controlled during the pressure cooking process.
According to the Instant Pot company, 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‘ (overheat) is displayed. This message has been changed to ‘burn‘ or ‘food burn’ on Instant Pot models produced around January 2018 and later.
Getting the burn alert doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with your Instant Pot. It just means that your Instant Pot works differently from previous models and so recipes written for older models may not work as written, and you’ll need to make a few modifications and follow some tried and tested pressure cooking techniques.
If you’re seeing the Instant Pot burn code, the following sections tell you why this may be happening, how to avoid it in the future, and how to fix it when it happens to you.
NOTE: Some Instant Pot users notice certain ‘hot spots’ on the bottom of the inner pot, where food tends to scorch. Although this is rare, if you encounter this, you should file a ticket with Instant Pot customer support.
[You Should Also Read: 16 Reasons Why your Instant Pot is not Sealing]
Why You’re Getting the Burn Error
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
If your steam release handle is in the Venting position or the steam release button is accidentally stuck in the down position (Ultra model), 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 Scorched on Bottom During Saute Mode
If you’re using the Saute function, food can get stuck on the bottom of the Instant Pot and get scorched. This can block the heat sensor and trigger the Instant Pot burn warning when you start pressure cooking.
5. Recipe Contains Tomato Products or 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 burn notice.
6. Recipe Contains Starch (Pasta, Rice)
Stirring in and incorporating pasta and rice with all the other ingredients may give you a burn code. This 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. Instant 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 Different Instant Pot Size
If the recipe was written for the 6-quart Instant Pot, and you are using an 8-quart, it’s possible that there may not be enough liquid for the 8-quart to come to pressure.
9. Recipe was Tested with an Older Instant Pot 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.
Back in the ‘old days’ of when the Instant Pot was first introduced, if there was an overheat condition, the Instant Pot would countdown as though it were pressure cooking even though the float valve wasn’t up and the Instant Pot hadn’t sealed.
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 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 the ‘Seal’ Position
The steam release handle or button (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
According to the Instant Pot company, your Instant Pot pressure cooker requires 2 cups of liquid. If you’re just starting out, you can prevent the burn notice by always using the minimum recommended quantity of liquid.
Through trial and error, I make recipes with less liquid, even as little as 1/2 cup. 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. Canned tomato products and thick sauces don’t count toward the 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 creates 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.
5. Layer Ingredients
One pressure cooker technique that’s commonly used to prevent the Instant Pot from burning food and having it stick to the bottom is to layer problem ingredients such as tomato-based and starchy ingredients.
- Add the dense and starchy ingredients last e.g. tomato sauce, tomato paste, pasta, rice.
- Don’t stir.
- Gently push pasta, rice, and other starchy ingredients so they are submerged in the liquid.
- Close lid and pressure cook as directed.
The layering technique described above can also be used for starchy ingredients. Instead of stirring them in, add them at the end, right on top.
The pasta or rice needs to be submerged in liquid, so push down on it with a large spoon or spatula to make sure it’s covered in liquid.
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 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.
Note: I find that allowing the Instant Pot to cool down after sauteing is one of the best ways to avoid the burn error.
8. Modify Recipes for the 8-Quart
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 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.
- Select Saute mode and allow the Instant Pot to get hot.
- Add 1/2 cup of water to deglaze.
- Scrape the bottom of the inner pot until the food gets unstuck, adding more water as needed.
- Turn off the Instant Pot.
- Empty out the inner pot, wash, and dry.
Nothing Works and You Keep Getting the Burn Warning 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 Burn, the first thing I suggest is you read the article on why your Instant Pot is not sealing.
How to do a Water Test
- 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 error, you might have a defective unit.
If the water test fails, you should file a support ticket with Instant Pot support.