I have a lot of tools and gadgets in my kitchen (I’m kind of addicted), but one of my absolute favorites — hands-down, no question — is my Instant Pot. If you’ve known me very long, I think you’ve probably figured that out by now. In fact, I love it so much… I have two! And I use them both on a regular basis.
Related Post: My Love Affair With the Insanely Versatile Instant Pot
For me, it was love at first use. But in talking with people, either before or after they take the plunge, I’ve found that some people don’t fall in love quite so quickly.
For some, the Instant Pot seems overwhelming, and they’re afraid of doing something wrong. For others, what they’ve attempted to make just hasn’t turned out the way they’d hoped.
Related Post: 10 Favorite Instant Pot Recipes
If either of those describes you, OR if you love your Instant Pot but you would like to learn more about it, then this is the post for you!
Because in this post, I’m going to share my best tips & tricks to make your Instant Pot experience a successful one!
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MY BEST TIPS FOR INSTANT POT SUCCESS
Make sure you have enough liquid
One of the very first things you need to know about the Instant Pot is that it needs some liquid to pressurize quickly. The absolute minimum is 1/2 cup, which works if you’re cooking foods that will release some of their own natural juices. But most recipes call for around 1 cup.
PRO TIP: The liquid you add doesn’t have to be water! I often use homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock to amp up the flavor factor in whatever I’m cooking.
However, you want to make sure that whatever liquid you’re adding isn’t too thick, or your IP won’t pressurize. So it’s a good idea not to add any thickeners until after the cooking is complete.
And, just like in Goldilocks and the Three Bears, you don’t want to have too little liquid (your food may stick or undercook), but you also don’t want to have too much, either.
Adding too much liquid can increase the total cook time (because it takes the IP longer to come up to pressure and release pressure), which can result in overcooked food. Plus, all the flavors of your food will seep into your cooking liquid, possibly resulting in food that is less tasty than you had hoped.
Plan for Total Cook Time
This is another common mistake I see, especially with beginner IP users. The advertisements and recipes tout the IP’s quick cook time (and in many cases, it really is faster), but they don’t include the time it takes to come up to pressure and the time it takes to release pressure. You’ll want to factor both of those in when planning your total cook time.
How long this takes depends on a few factors — the biggest one being how full your IP is — but it can take up to 20 minutes for your IP to come up to pressure and another 20-30 minutes or more to release the pressure on its own. (This is not always the case. There are some foods, like hard-boiled eggs, that are finished depressurizing almost immediately.)
Embrace the Natural Release
There are some foods that need a quick release. Delicate foods, quick-cooking foods, and foods that can easily become overcooked all work best with a quick release.
I know it’s tempting to use the quick release, especially when you’re pressed for time. But unless your food falls in one of those categories, I highly recommend using the natural release whenever possible. Allowing the pressure to come down on its own rather than releasing all the steam locks in juices and flavors and leads to more flavorful dishes.
This is never more true than when cooking meat. I can’t stress this enough — if you are cooking meat, USE THE NATURAL RELEASE! (More on this, and other reasons your meat might not be turning out right, below!)
Another good way to add depth of flavor to your dishes is to make use of the saute function first. When making soups, for example, saute your onions, garlic, and veggies first before you pressure cook.
When cooking meat, sear the meat on all sides to caramelize the surfaces and give it that deep, savory flavor. I’ll admit, I don’t always take the time to do this, but when I do… oh baby.
Got Foamy or Delicate Foods? Use a Gradual Release
Have you ever used a quick release on a foamy food and had it make a mess all over your counter? Next time, use a gradual quick release!
Rather than moving your valve all the way to “venting,” only move it a fraction of the way. This will give you control over how much steam gets released, allowing you to prevent the mess. You can play around with exactly how much to move the valve to find the sweet spot before it gets messy.
This also works well for foods that may fall apart easily. I use this when cooking dried beans to prevent the beans from splitting.
Save Dairy for the End
Just like in the slow cooker, dairy doesn’t really fare very well in the Instant Pot. That’s because the high heat and pressure separate the milk proteins, leading to curdled milk. (Yuck.) It’s best to save your dairy products (milk, sour cream, cheese, etc.) for the end and stir them in after the pressure cooking is complete.
Know When You Should (And Shouldn’t) Double the Cook Time
One of my favorite things about the Instant Pot is that you can easily double a recipe without adding a minute to your cook time. The Instant Pot’s pressure will cook everything evenly no matter how much you add.
HOWEVER… there are two things you need to know about this.
You won’t need to add to your cook time, but doubling the recipe may add to your overall time. That’s because a fuller IP takes longer to come to pressure and naturally release pressure.
Also — cook times don’t depend on the amount of a specific item you add, but they do depend on the thickness/density of that item. What does this mean for you? It means you can double the amount without changing the cook time, but not the size.
For example, If you double a recipe for pork roast that calls for a 2-lb roast, you don’t need to increase your cook time if you use two 2-lb roasts. If, however, you use one 4-lb roast (without cutting it), then you do.
Put Pasta on the Top
Another awesome thing about the Instant Pot is that you can cook an entire pasta dish (using dry pasta) all in the same pot! However, if assembled incorrectly, this can lead to all the pasta sticking to the bottom. Not ideal.
You can avoid this by putting the pasta on the top. I know, you feel like you need to submerge it in the sauce or liquid to make sure it cooks, but don’t. The pressure of the steam will actually force it all up to the pasta and cook it. Crazy, huh?
Use the Pot in Pot (PIP) Method
This method involves putting your food in a separate, oven-safe, container and cooking it in the Instant Pot (thus the “pot in a pot”). There are several times this method comes in handy:
- When cooking foods that don’t include liquid — one of my favorites is a sausage & egg frittata from this bestselling Instant Pot cookbook.
- When reheating leftovers — I LOVE reheating leftovers in the IP instead of the microwave. Not only does it preserve all those nutrients that a microwave sucks out, but it retains a lot more of the juices and flavors, too!
- When cooking delicate foods
- When cooking super sticky or messy foods — I love cooking oatmeal this way in mason jars! Not only does it save on clean-up, but then it’s ready for morning grab-and-go!
To use this method:
- Put food in an oven-safe container (these 7 cup Pyrex dishes are perfect!)
- Cover with aluminum foil (to prevent condensation from pooling on the food)
- Pour 1 cup of water into the bottom of the IP
- Place the container on a trivet in the IP (you may want to make a sling out of a piece of aluminum foil for easier removal)
Only use the rice function for basic white rice
The rice function is pretty handy, especially since it’s one of the very few pre-settings that actually automatically cook your food. (More on this in the “How to Pick Out the Right Instant Pot For You” section)
But it’s programmed to work with basic white rice. So if you’re cooking any other kind of rice — brown, basmati, jasmine, etc. — skip the presetting and set your time manually.
Help! My Meat Is Dry!
Of those who have told me that they just don’t love their Instant Pots, the #1 complaint has been dry or tough meat. So, I saved this category of tips for last because I have a few of them to give you!
I absolutely love meat in the Instant Pot. For many of our family’s favorite cuts of meat, the Instant Pot cooks circles around any other method.
But if you’ve tried it, and your meat has been dry or tough, here are a few possible reasons:
You’re adding too much liquid
This seems counterintuitive, but adding too much liquid can actually lead to overcooked meat (see above). You may also end up with bland meat, as all your seasonings, juices, and natural flavors of the meat will seep into the cooking liquid.
You’re cooking it too long… or not long enough
This is where it gets tricky. With some cuts of meat, such as ribs, brisket, and shoulder, you may want to cook it longer than the recipe states. You may not be cooking it long enough for the connective tissue to break down, which allows the meat to reach that fall-apart tender status.
With other cuts of meat, such as lean cuts of chicken, pork, or beef, however, you may need to back off the cook time a bit, as you may be overcooking it. It all depends on the type and cut of meat you’re using.
So how do you know if you’re undercooking or overcooking?
If your meat is not tender, but it’s flavorful, moist, and juicy — it’s undercooked.
If your meat is tough, lacking flavor, and dry — it’s overcooked.
Using this as your guide, play around with your cook times until you get meat that is tender, flavorful, moist, and juicy. When in doubt, start with a lower cook time. You can always cook your meat a little longer, but you can’t un-cook it once it’s cooked.
REMEMBER: Cook times don’t depend on the total amount of meat, but they do depend on the size or thickness of the meat. So keep that in mind!
Some meats are a better match for the Instant Pot than others
As much as I love the Instant Pot, it’s not perfect for every type of meat. It definitely works best for cooking tough, cheaper cuts of beef and pork and chicken legs or thighs. In fact, this is where it shines and is one reason I love it so much!
However, super lean meats like chicken breasts don’t do quite as well. So if you’ve tried the tips above and you still can’t get your lean meats to turn out the way you want, you might need to use another method for those cuts.
How are you doing so far? Has this been helpful?
Maybe you don’t actually have an Instant Pot yet. Maybe you’ve looked, but all the options overwhelm you. If that’s you, this final section is for you!
When it comes to picking out an Instant Pot, I have a few tips to offer.
Be wary of knock-off brands
Instant Pots can be a bit pricey, so it’s tempting to go with that off-brand cooker you saw at Walmart or a discount store. But I would warn you to be very careful.
I didn’t start out with an Instant Pot. My first electric pressure cooker was a Sam’s Club brand. And everything I made in it was a fail. After three very unsuccessful attempts (like seriously undercooked — almost raw — meat), I jumped ship and switched to the Instant Pot. And I haven’t had an issue since!
Of course, there are plenty of people out there who have had great luck with their off-brand pressure cookers and who saved some money in the process. And that’s great! I’m not saying Instant Pot is the ONLY good brand. I’m just saying… be careful and read lots and lots of reviews!
Don’t worry about the pre-settings!
Oh my goodness. When I was picking out my first IP, I spent wayyyyy too much time worrying about which functions I would use more. I thought those buttons meant that’s what you could/could not cook in that particular model.
And then I starting using my IP and discovered that they’re not even functions at all (with the exception of the rice and yogurt buttons) — they’re just pre-settings! All they do is make it a tad bit quicker to program your commonly-cooked foods by only having to hit one button.
But you can always use the manual button and adjust the cook time to cook whatever you want. (Which is what I do 99% of the time.)
Think about the size you need
If you live alone or with one other person, the 3 quart Instant Pots might be very convenient for you.
For small families, the 6-quart will be sufficient for most dishes you want to cook.
However, for larger families, or for people who like to cook extra, the 8-quart is probably the way to go.
That’s the long and short of it! Everything you need to pick out the right Instant Pot and make your first foray into the IP world a successful one!
Now it’s time to go try it out!
INSTANT POT ACCESSORIES
- My Love Affair With the Insanely Versatile Instant Pot
- 10 Favorite Instant Pot Recipes
- How to Make Beans in the Instant Pot
- How to Make Your Own Chicken Stock (or Bone Broth)