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Instant Pot Cooking

The Ultimate Guide

This is a complete guide to Instant Pot cooking. If your Instant Pot has been sitting in its box since the holidays, nows your chance to arm yourself with everything you need to know at a glance. This guide will help you choose the best Instant Pot to buy and how to cook with your Instant Pot.

What Is an Instant Pot?

An Instant Pot surrounded by food.

An Instant Pot is a pressure multicooker made by Instant Brands, combining the functions of a pressure-cooker, sauté pan, steamer, slow cooker, rice cooker, food warmer, and yogurt maker in a cute little pot that lives on your kitchen counter. Some new models have added functions, such as egg maker, cake maker, and sterilizer. As well as a variety of different Instant Pots, Instant Brands make a whole range of kitchen appliances including air fryers, blenders and more.

Types of Instant Pot

Instant Pots come in a range of sizes (from 3 quart to 10 quart) with a range of functions. The most popular current model is the 6 Quart Instant Pot Duo, which is perfect for families of 4-6 people (or two that like to batch cook) and has all the functions most people need to make quick and healthy meals at home.

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Which Instant Pot Should You Buy?

There are currently 9 Instant Pot models available on the market, with a range of 6-11 functions.

Getting into the world of pressure cooking and wondering which Instant Pot to buy? Read our full comparison guide on The Best Instant Pots in 2020 [A Buyer’s Guide] to finally demystify the wide range of Instant Pots available, and pick one that you’ll love using for years to come. If you just want the quick version, skip ahead to the Best Budget Instant Pot, Best Instant Pot for Families, or Most Feature-Packed Instant Pot.

Go to The Best Instant Pots in 2020 [A Buyer’s Guide]

Best Budget Instant Pot

An Instant Pot Lux.

Instant Pot Lux

The most basic Instant Pot available on the market, this pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, sauté machine, steamer, and warmer is available in 3, 6 and 8 quart versions. It can handle most basic recipes, and is a great budget option. The main downside is that the Instant Pot Lux doesn’t have a yoghurt function or a low-pressure setting (mainly used for cooking eggs.)

Best Instant Pot for Families

An Instant Pot Duo Nova 6 Quart

Instant Pot Duo Nova

The 6 Quart Instant Pot Duo Nova has all the functions of the Instant Pot lux and the added benefit of yoghurt making and a low-pressure option. The updated lid automatically seals the pressure valve, meaning you don’t have to worry about forgetting it. It also features a quick-release button to let the pressure out, which is fast, safe and very simple to use.

Most Feature-Packed Instant Pot

An Instant Pot Duo Crisp surrounded by food.

Instant Pot Duo Crisp

The Instant Pot Duo Crisp can handle the previous functions with the original lid (pressure cook, sauté, steam, slow cook, sous vide and warm) and uses the game-changing air fryer lid to roast, bake, broil and dehydrate.

How to Use an Instant Pot

How you use your Instant Pot depends on what you’re cooking — some recipes need to be sautéed with the lid off, before sealing the lid to finish the meal with pressure cooking, and some can jump straight into pressure cooking. Following guided recipes is a great way to master your Instant Pot, as they’ll take you through what needs to be done with your appliance every step of the way.

Here’s How You Cook with the Sauté and Pressure Cooking Function on your Instant Pot


  • Add oil/butter to the inner pot of your Instant Pot and press Sauté. This will heat the base of the inner pot, and will only work while the lid of the Instant Pot is off. Use this setting to brown meats, or sauté garlic and onions before the next steps. If you aren’t sautéing anything, skip this step entirely.
  • Press Cancel to finish this step.

Manual/Pressure Cook

  •  Add your remaining ingredients to the Instant Pot, ensuring that there is enough liquid (generally 1/2 – 1 cup of water or broth) for the recipe to pressure cook.
  • Select Manual/Pressure Cook (this will vary depending on your model), and press it multiple times to change it from low to high pressure. Most recipes require it to be used on high pressure.
  • Use the +/- buttons to increase/decrease the time it will be cooking
  • Place the lid on your Instant Pot and turn it clockwise to seal it, with the valve in the lid turned to the sealing position.
  • That’s it! The process has started, and you don’t need to push any more buttons. The Instant Pot will beep once, and you’ll see the Instant Pot coming to pressure, and depending on what you’re cooking it may release a little steam while it does so.
  • When the Instant Pot has reached enough pressure, the button to the right of the valve will pop up, and you’ll see the time you have chosen to cook for appear on your Instant Pot. This will then count down as the Instant Pot pressure cooks for that time.

Pressure Release

  •  When the timer is complete, the Instant Pot will beep 10 times. The Keep Warm setting will automatically come on when the Instant Pot is finished cooking, and you can turn this off by pressing Cancel again.
  • The Instant Pot will automatically, gradually release the pressure that has been built up over 10-30 minutes. This is called Natural Release. You can also use a Quick Release, where you flip the valve from Sealing to Venting — stand well back, and perhaps use the end of a wooden spoon to flip the valve around until you’re used to the process.

Note: How long the Instant Pot takes to come to pressure depends on the size, and what’s being cooked. Generally you can account for 10-20 minutes extra time as it reaches the right pressure.

When to Use Natural Release on the Instant Pot, and When to Use Quick Release?

Natural Release is best for foods with a lot of liquid (like soups or stews) to prevent the splatter that can come with the Quick Release of these foods.

Quick Release is best for food that would be ruined with the extra time in the Instant Pot, like soft-boiled eggs, or fish.

What do The Pre-Set Buttons Mean on The Instant Pot?

These can vary depending on your Instant Pot model, but each button simply relates to a pre-set length of time, temperature and pressure setting depending on what you’re cooking.

Find the full set of Instant Pot pre-sets, and what they all mean, on the official Instant Pot website.

What does BURN mean?

This is a safety mechanism put in place to prevent it from getting too hot, and may also appear on the Instant Pot display as “BURN”, “OvHt”, or “Food Burn”.

It’s often caused by the bottom layer of food getting too hot, or too dry.

Follow this guide from Amy and Jacky of Pressure Cook Today to get the solutions to the most common causes of the BURN notice.

Make the Most of Your Instant Pot

All the buttons, pre-sets, pressure-settings and warnings can make Instant Pots seem daunting at first, but once you get the hang of it it will save you so much time. Maybe you got one for the holidays and it’s been living in a closet ever since, or tried a few recipes and were frustrated with the results. Get to grips with all the settings by following guided recipes at first, and you’ll have mastered your Instant Pot in no time (leaving plenty of room in the closet for that home-brewing kit you’ll eventually get around to.) For more quick and easy Instant Pot recipes, download the free Drop Recipes app now.

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