If you are brand new to the Instant Pot game (or if you have been living under some sort of culinary rock and haven’t even heard of one), then this is the article for you. Heck, even if you have had your Instant Pot for a while, all of those settings and buttons can seem a little intimidating. But not to fret. I’ll take you through exactly how to use your Instant Pot and show you what each and every button does. It really is easy to use and pretty self-explanatory!
What Is An Instant Pot?
First things first, what even is this thing? In short, it’s an electric, programmable pressure cooker. So, if it’s just a pressure cooker, why does it have all these buttons? Well, my friends, that is because it’s not just a pressure cooker. It also functions as a slow cooker and a yogurt maker and has pre-programmed settings for different types of ingredients to take the guess-work out of pressure cooking. And to make your life easy. Which it does. Time and time again. That’s why everyone loves them so much!
Some Things You Need To Know
1) Cooking Time Does Not Mean Finished Time.
When you see a cooking time listed on an Instant Pot recipe, keep in mind that it will actually take a bit more time than listed. The pot takes a few minutes to come up to pressure, and it also has to release pressure when it’s done cooking, so that 10-minute soup is really more like a 20-minute soup. (You can always manually release pressure to save time. More on that later.)
2) Always Cook with Liquid.
For pressure cooking settings, you should ALWAYS have at least 1 cup of liquid in the pot. That’s how the whole pressure cooking thing works! Keep in mind that if you have a recipe that calls for more liquid, it will take longer to come up to pressure. A soup with 6 cups of water can take 15 minutes or so to come up to pressure, for instance.
3) It’s Not Going to Explode.
Really it’s not. You don’t need to be scared of the Instant Pot. Just follow the instructions, don’t get TOO creative (as in please do not try to use it as a facial steamer or a fryer…) and you’ll be all good. It’s designed to safely release pressure, after all.
How to Use Each Instant Pot Button
The Instant Pot buttons are simply pre-sets for cooking times and pressure. All of the settings default to high pressure except for the rice setting, which defaults to low pressure. You can adjust the time on any of these settings by pressing the “Adjust” button and then using the “+/-” buttons.
When you press a button, it will give you 10 seconds and then automatically beep and turn on. But don’t panic, you can always press “Cancel” and choose a new setting.
Oh, and I have the DUO 6-quart 7-in-1 model. The LUX model is slightly different, but the buttons work the same, so most information here should still apply.
After the cooking time has completed, the pot will automatically switch to “Keep Warm” mode, and will stay that way up to 10 hours. The digital display will count up so you can keep track of how long the food has been warming. You can manually set the Instant Pot to “Keep Warm” mode for up to 99 hours and 50 minutes. (Why you would need to keep something warm for 99 hours is beyond me… but if you have the need, it’s possible!)
You press this button to cancel out of a program or to turn the Instant Pot off. If you accidentally select a mode or need to reset and start over, you just hit the “Keep Warm/Cancel” button.
Pressing this button allows you to switch from High Pressure to Low Pressure or vice versa. It doesn’t work in the slow cook, sauté, rice, or yogurt functions.
This button allows you to adjust cooking times on the preset pressure cooker functions to “Less” or “More.” (“Less” and “More” are still preset cooking times, you can change by the minute in Manual mode.) You also use this button to change the temperature for Slow Cook and Sauté.
The timer allows you to delay your cooking start time. Very handy. It works with pressure cooking modes OR the slow cook mode, but you must select one of those options first. Within 10 seconds, press “Timer” and use the “+” or “-” buttons to set the delayed hours. Press “Timer” again to change the minutes.
So, this is not a button, but it IS an important feature of your Instant Pot. This is where the pressure releases after cooking. There are only two things you can do here: toggle the valve to “Venting” or toggle the valve to “Sealing.” Before you start cooking anything, you want to make sure the valve is in the “Sealing” position, as shown in the picture. That allows the pressure to build up. When cooking is finished, the pressure needs to be released from the pot before you can open it. There are two ways for this to happen: natural release and quick release.
For natural release, you just leave the pot as is and don’t touch anything. The pressure will release on its own over time, usually about 10-20 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when the Floating Valve completely drops. (That’s the little silver circle to the right of the valve. You’ll hear a little click when it drops down.) Food continues cooking slowly during natural release, so keep that in mind when you’re adapting recipes.
For quick release, you just flip the valve to “Venting.” It’s a little alarming the first time you do it; the valve will immediately start hissing and releasing a cloud of steam, but that’s totally normal. You can use your bare hand to flip the valve (I always do), but if it makes you nervous, you can use an oven mitt or a wooden spoon or whatever you have lying around. It really only gets uncomfortably hot if you hold your hand directly over the steam though. This release only takes 1 to 2 minutes, and just as with the natural release, you’ll know it’s done when the Floating Valve drops down and the pot stops hissing. You want to use quick release for things like steamed vegetables or seafood that you want to be careful not to overcook.
I usually use a combo method, and let natural release work its magic for a few minutes before I flip it to quick release. If you’re making a recipe and know you want to use quick release to save time, you can always add a minute or two to the actual cooking time to be sure everything gets cooked completely.
“Other” Cooking Buttons
Honestly, this is the button you’re going to use the most. Unless you’re totally sure that one of the preset buttons is just right for what your recipe, it’s easiest to use the manual setting. Use the “Pressure” button to adjust the pressure to low, medium, or high and the “+” and “-” buttons to adjust the time to suit your needs.
This here is one of the most magical things about the Instant Pot. This setting allows it to function just as a slow cooker does. (So do you really need your slow cooker anymore? Maybe not.) You put all your ingredients in, close the lid, and adjust the time with the “+” and “-” buttons. You can also use the “Adjust” button to change the level of heat. I find myself using my Instant Pot to slow cook more often than I use my slow cooker now, all because of the next function.
This is – hands down – my favorite thing about the Instant Pot. I love my slow cooker, as most every cook does, but I have a tendency to avoid recipes that require you to sear or sauté things first because, well… dirtying another dish and taking the time to heat it up kind of defeats the purpose when it comes to the convenience of the slow cooker. (In my own personal opinion, anyway.) But with the Instant Pot, you just set it to the sauté function and cook your onions or brown your meat or what have you, and then set it to slow cook or pressure cook. All in the same pot. Hallelujah!
Press “Adjust” for a lower temperature (like if you need to simmer a soup after pressure cooking) or a higher temperature (like for searing meat). The digital display will show “On” when it’s heating up and “Hot” when it has come up to temp.
Yup, you can make yogurt in your Instant Pot! You can make it either in the inner pot itself or in glass bottles. I find it’s easier to make a big patch. Here’s how you do it:
Pour a 1/2 gallon of milk into the inner pot. Make sure the steam valve is set to “Sealing” and close the lid. Push the “Yogurt” button, and then “Adjust.” The word “boil” should appear on the digital display; after 10 seconds it will beep and start heating the milk to 180°F. (Boiling the milk helps ensure a firmer set on the yogurt.)
After the cooking time is up, remove the inner pot and set on the counter to cool. When the milk has cooled to 115°F, it’s time to add your starter culture. The easiest way is to use 2 tablespoons of store-bought/active yogurt. Mix this with 1/2 cup of the warm milk. Once smooth, stir the mixture back into the warm milk. Return the inner pot to the Instant Pot and close the lid. Push the “Yogurt” button again and use the “+” button to adjust time to 8 hours. Cooking cycle will automatically start after 10 seconds. When cooking time is up, voila: you have yogurt!
Preset Pressure Cooking Buttons
This setting is for making soups and broths. (Oh, really?) The benefit of the soup setting is that it cooks liquid at a steady temperature for a long period of time, which can be hard to maintain on your stove. The Instant Pot automatically adjusts the pressure and temperature in this setting so that the soup never gets into a “heavy boiling state.” The default setting is 30 minutes at High Pressure but you can use the “Adjust” button to change time to “less” or “more” or the “Pressure” button to change pressure to “Low Pressure.”
This setting is (if you can believe it) for cooking meat and stew. Think boeuf bourguignon and pot roast. You can use the “Adjust” button to cook for longer or shorter times. You would use the “More” setting if you want really tender, fall-off-the-bone meat, like pulled pork or fork-tender short ribs. The default setting is 30 minutes at High Pressure. (Some versions have the default at 35.)
Cooking dried beans in the Instant Pot saves SO MUCH time. And they turn out great. The default setting here is 30 minutes at High Pressure and that really does make a nice chili that’s comparable to one that’s slow-simmered on the stove. You can use the “Adjust” button for “More” (40 minutes) or “Less” (25 minutes) time. Different types of beans take different amounts of time, but you can always consult the manual or do a quick google to find what you need.
Most Instant Pot guides I’ve seen around the internet say that the Poultry setting defaults to 15 minutes at High Pressure. Mine does 20 minutes at High Pressure. In any case, you can always use the “Adjust” button for “More” (30 minutes) or “Less” (5 minutes) time. A 5-minute cooking time would be for something with smaller, cut-up pieces of boneless chicken and a 30-minute cooking time would be for something like cooking a whole chicken. (Yes, you can cook a whole chicken in your Instant Pot!)
This is the only fully automated program; you can’t adjust the pressure or the time because it automatically adjusts depending on the weight of the rice you put in. You can cook as little as one cup of rice in your Instant Pot. 2 cups of rice will take about 12 minutes. Most rice is cooked at a 1:1 ratio, but refer to your manual as some varieties differ. Rice is the only button that is preset to Low Pressure.
The multigrain setting is for things like wild rice and brown rice, which have longer cooking times than white rice. The default here is 40 minutes at High Pressure. The “More” setting has 45 minutes of warm water soaking time and 60 minutes of high-pressure cooking time and is for harder grains like dry split corn.
The default setting here (20 minutes at High Pressure) is for rice porridge (congee), but you can also use this setting for things like steel-cut oats. With this setting, you want to always use natural release for the steam valve. If you use quick release, the porridge can splatter out through the steam release vent. And we wouldn’t want to deal with that kind of mess!
This setting allows you to use the Instant Pot like you would a steamer on the stovetop. You can steam pretty much any vegetable or even seafood. You just put the wire rack into the bottom of pot, pour 1-2 cups of water in and place your ingredients in a metal steaming basket on top of the wire rack.
For this mode, you use the “+” or “-” buttons to adjust the time according to what you’re steaming. I love to steam artichokes in the Instant Pot, they take about 10 minutes, whereas broccoli only takes 2-3 minutes. In this mode, you want to use quick release; the natural release can make your veggies mushy and soggy since they keep cooking a bit as pressure releases.
Well, there you go folks! That’s all of the buttons on the Instant Pot. I sure hope this guide was helpful. It really is a pretty intuitive appliance; don’t be afraid to play around with it. Now go get cooking!