6 Things No One Tells You About Cooking with Your Instant Pot

The Instant Pot may seem like a simple appliance, but as you start using it, you may discover there are things you wish you had known. 

instant pot on designed background
Photo: Getty Images / onurdongel

The Instant Pot is a popular kitchen appliance that has become a favorite of some home cooks, making cooking more versatile and accessible. Meals are prepared in minutes—simply program the time and temperature. Or, use its preset features, which make this multipurpose cooker a timesaving solution for those who don't have time to spend in the kitchen.

Whether you own the original Instant Pot that was first introduced in November 2010 or the latest model, the Crisp, which also has air-frying capabilities, chances are you may not know all the ins and outs of the appliance. We've spoken to a culinary expert, and here are six things that no one tells you about cooking with an Instant Pot.

1. The pot requires a test run before use.

If you're the type who dives right in, immediately using new products after unboxing them, chances are you've run into a few roadblocks with your Instant Pot. You may be surprised that the appliance's manual recommends an initial trial run which requires filling the inner pot with 3 cups of water and closing and turning the lid into the sealed position. The test run is twofold: to ensure that your unit is working properly and to help you learn how to use the appliance.

2. The pot requires a preheating cycle.

When you first heard about Instant Pot, you may have assumed that whatever you're cooking will be ready in the blink of an eye. While an Instant Pot cooks food faster than the conventional stovetop or oven, its inner pot undergoes a preheating cycle of 10 to 15 minutes, allowing the unit to pressurize properly before food is added.

3. Manually releasing the pressure takes time.

The appliance switches to the "keep warm" mode when the digital screen beeps to let you know that food is ready. Before opening the lid, make sure the unit's valve is manually turned to release the pressurized steam. If you're in a rush to serve your meal, you may need a bit of patience—the pressure-releasing process could take a few minutes, depending on the amount of food you have placed in the inner pot.

4. You can also naturally release the pressure, but it will take much longer.

Have you ever noticed that when you leave your pot in the "keep warm" mode for a while and then turn the pressure valve to release the air, that it seems like nothing comes out? Maybe you've paused for a second and thought about whether it's still safe to open the lid, fearing that hot, pressurized food may come splashing out.

While manually releasing the pressure takes a few extra minutes when the cook time is up, letting your appliance sit in the "keep warm" mode will allow the temperature to cool (while remaining warm) and let the pressure dissipate naturally. The Instant Pot manual notes that you can let the pot "cool down naturally until the float valve drops down." This pressure-releasing process can vary from 10 to 40 minutes, depending on how much food is in the cooker.

5. The pot requires liquid to perform its "instant" magic.

Yes, you can sauté using the Instant Pot. But, when pressure cooking and steaming, which requires securing the lid, you'll need to include a liquid. The Instant Pot manual recommends, "Always add at least 18 fl. oz. [or] 500 ml of water [equivalent to 2 cups] or other liquids so enough steam can be generated to cook under pressure. These include cooking sauces, wine, beer, stocks, juices of fruits and vegetables."

Anna Silver, founder and CEO of CooksForFolks recommends using the multipurpose cooker to make dishes that have liquid built in, like chilis, rice, soup and stews. She says, "Beans always come out with the perfect texture in this device, which can be difficult using other cooking products." With rice dishes and risotto, she notes that you can get the same flavor as you would from a stovetop or an oven.

6. Some foods aren't suitable to cook in an Instant Pot.

While the Instant Pot may seem to be the solution for quick and easy homemade meals, it's not meant to replace a stovetop or oven. Using the stovetop and oven may be better suited to certain foods. For instance, steak is better off pan-seared or grilled than cooked in an Instant Pot, which can make the meat's texture mushy.

Silver also advises that the multipurpose cooker is not meant to make pastries, especially pies, since the appliance doesn't use dry heat like an oven. "The [original] Instant Pot can't give you the crispiness that you would get from an oven because it doesn't emanate the same type of heat. [Steam] causes the pastry to turn soggy," she says.

Bottom line

The Instant Pot seems like a simple appliance, but as you start using it, you may discover there are things that you wish you had known before jumping straight into cooking. Reading the manual first (in a perfect world) will likely help you learn how to give the appliance a test run, when to add water and how to release pressure. If you don't have a manual on hand, the brand will likely have a digital version online.

Once you get going, you'll realize (if you haven't already) that an Instant Pot can create countless delicious meals like our Instant Pot Brisket, Summer Corn & Crab Chowder and many more. Be sure to also check out our collection of Sunday dinners that you can make with an Instant Pot.

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