Instant Pot 101: Review, Setup & Guide!
What is an Instant Pot?
The Instant Pot is a multifunctional electric appliance most well-known for being a pressure cooker, but depending on the model, it can also function as an all-in-one yogurt maker, slow cooker, and more!
Is the Instant Pot Safe?
We were initially concerned about whether the Instant Pot was safe (there are horror stories out there about pressure cookers exploding). But after using it many times and learning that it has 10 built-in safety mechanisms, we can verify it feels very safe.
One of our biggest concerns was what happens if we forget to release the pressure before opening? Well, it turns out that’s not an issue because the lid has a safety lock that prevents it from being opened when pressurized.
The biggest safety precaution we would recommend is to always make sure no one is above or within 2 feet of the steam release valve when quick releasing the pressure. Also make sure to keep hands away because hot steam will spray out.
Instant Pot Pros & Cons
When making any big purchase, it’s helpful to consider the pros and cons! Here are our thoughts:
- Multi-functional — no need to have a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice maker, and yogurt maker
- Perfectly cooked grains, beans, and more in less than half the time (usually with no soaking required!)
- Pressure cooking improves the digestibility of beans and grains (more info here)
- Sauté function adds flavor before pressure cooking and slow cooking
- Hands off, no fuss
- Keep warm function is nice if you’re preparing multiple dishes that won’t finish simultaneously
- Doesn’t heat up the kitchen as much as the stove or oven, making it perfect for warmer climates and summertime heat
- Bulky/takes up space on the counter (so we like to store it in a cabinet and bring out as needed)
- If the cook time wasn’t long enough, you have to wait for it to re-pressurize (~5-10 minutes) to continue pressure cooking
- Sealing rings wear out over time and begin to smell like what you cooked — luckily they aren’t expensive (~$5-7 each) and only need replacing every 12-18 months
- Some of the programmed settings seem like more of a gimmicky sales pitch than actually helpful. For example, the rice button only works with parboiled or long-grain white rice, not brown, jasmine, basmati, or wild rice. And we’re skeptical of the chili and porridge buttons because different beans and grains need different cooking times.
Is it Worth It?
In our experience, the answer is mostly yes, but it depends!
If you already own a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, and yogurt maker, then it’s not worth the extra appliance. And if your kitchen is jam-packed and you can’t possibly clear a space that’s 13 x 13 x 13 inches, we’d say pass!
But, if that’s not you, we’d recommend it! Especially for those of you who:
- Want to reduce use of cans and/or cook more beans from scratch.
- Want to get food on the table fast!
- Tend to drift away from the kitchen while food is cooking on the stovetop — oops!
Which Instant Pot to Buy?
We prefer the Instant Pot Duo Nova – 6 Qt. It’s considered the best model for beginners and is the most popular size. And unlike the classic Duo, the Duo Nova seals automatically so you don’t have to remember to seal it each time.
In comparing the various models and sizes, here are the most important factors to consider:
Size of Family
1 person: The “mini” 3-quart size might work well for an individual only cooking beans/grains and small proportions. But if you plan to use the Instant Pot for more than that, we’d recommend a larger size.
1-4 people: The 6-quart size is most popular. It feeds up to 6 people, but we’d say more realistically, it’s ideal for a family of up to 4, especially if you want some leftovers. Since it’s a popular size, it will be compatible with the majority of recipes on our site and others.
5+ people: For larger families or those making large batches for freezing, the 8- or 10-quart sizes would be a better fit. Some models only come in these sizes.
The Duo Nova is the most basic in terms of features if you want to also have the easy seal lid (which we recommend). It has 7 functions: pressure cooker, sauté, steamer, slow cooker, rice cooker, food warmer, and yogurt maker.
There are also models that have 9, 10, and 11 functions. These additional features include:
- Sous vide
- Cake maker
- Pressure canner
- Air fryer
If these features interest you, check out the Duo Evo Plus (sous vide and cake), Duo Plus (sterilizer), Max (canning), or Duo Crisp (air fryer). You can compare their features here.
If you live at altitude, you may want to stick with the Ultra and Max models because they come with the ability to adjust pressure settings.
How to Use an Instant Pot
When we first got the Instant Pot, we wanted to get started using it as quickly and safely as possible. But we found so many videos that had unnecessary details and left us spending way more time than was needed. So we’ve condensed it down to the most important things you need to know to safely and effectively use the Instant Pot!
(For the following parts, look at the photo above, starting in the bottom left corner and moving clockwise)
Base: This is the main component of the Instant Pot. It’s the heating element and what gets plugged into the outlet. There is a removable cord that plugs into it. If you ever find that the Instant Pot isn’t turning on, make sure it is securely plugged in at the base.
Trivet: You can think of this removable stainless steel piece as a steamer basket of sorts. When it’s used, water is placed underneath. It’s used for cooking eggs, potatoes, and spaghetti squash, but not for beans or grains.
Lid: The lid goes over the base and inner pot. To secure the lid, place it on the base so that the release valve is at about the 11 o’clock position. Then turn clockwise until the lid locks into place.
Inner pot: This is where all the food preparation happens. Always make sure the outside of this pot is completely dry before placing in the base.
Assembly & Water Test Instructions
The manual recommends doing a water test before the first use with food. This is to make sure everything is functioning properly. It will also orient you to how the pressure cooker works.
- Remove all packaging.
- Plug in Instant Pot. Place removable stainless steel pot (always making sure the exterior is dry) into base.
- Pour 3 cups of water into the removable stainless steel pot (called the inner pot).
- Install silicone sealing ring into the lid, aligning its center crease with the metal ring rack. It should stay in place when pulled gently. If not, adjust until it does.
- Close the lid by placing it over the base slightly left of center and turning clockwise until it clicks into place.
- Make sure the steam release valve is in the sealing position. For the Duo Nova model, if the knob that says “PRESS” is down, gently turn it counterclockwise until it pops up. With some models (such as the Ultra), it will automatically seal.
- Select “Pressure Cook” or “Manual”, depending on the model. Adjust time to 5 minutes by using the +/- buttons. Note: 00:05 means 5 minutes, not 5 seconds- there is not a seconds indicator.
- After about 5-10 seconds, it will beep, begin building pressure, and say “ON”. The 5-minute countdown will not begin yet. It’s normal to see a small amount of steam come out when it’s almost done pressurizing.
- When it is fully pressurized, the float valve will rise up. The 5-minute countdown will begin at this time and you will not be able to remove the lid.
- Once the 5 minutes is up, the Instant Pot will beep again. The “P” on the display will go away and a thermometer symbol will be illuminated. And instead of counting down, the timer will start counting up.
- It’s time to release the pressure (with any of the methods described below). The natural release is the safest method.
Natural Release vs. Quick Release
Natural release is when you do not press any buttons after the Instant Pot has finished pressure cooking and the pressure slowly escapes naturally. The amount of time this takes (~5-20 minutes) will depend on what you are cooking and the amount of water. The float valve will drop and you will hear a slight click when the pressure has fully released. Use this method when in a small kitchen (to avoid too much steam), with foods that expand (such as beans/grains — it makes grains fluffier), for maximum safety, when foods need a bit more time to soften (such as potatoes), or whenever time allows.
Quick release is when you press the quick release button to release the pressure from the Instant Pot right after it has finished cooking. When this happens, (very hot!) steam will come out of the pressure release valve. This method is ideal when you are short on time but requires being careful not to burn yourself or anyone around you.
Partial release is a hybrid of the two methods outlined above. You can allow some of the pressure to release naturally by waiting ~5-10 minutes after it has finished cooking. Then release any remaining pressure by pressing the quick release button (still being careful of any remaining steam). This strategy takes advantage of some of the safety of the natural release and the speediness of the quick release.
Tips & Tricks
Burn message – usually means that spices or other ingredients got cooked too much when sautéing or there isn’t enough water.
Leftover water when cooking beans – you can drain it out, but to concentrate the flavors and evaporate the water, sauté for 5-15 minutes after pressure cooking. Stir occasionally to encourage evaporation and prevent burning.
Beans not softening – this can be caused by old beans, hard water, acidic ingredients, or beans that need to be soaked prior to cooking. If you soak beans in water and they still look shriveled after 6-12 hours, that means they are old and won’t cook fully.
Items falling through trivet – try a stainless steel steamer basket instead of a trivet.
Smaller servings – we don’t recommend cooking less than 1/2 cup (preferably not less than 1 cup) of beans or grains at a time because there is a slight sloping of the Instant Pot that prevents them from cooking evenly.
Do We Recommend?
In short, yes.
Overall it’s a very helpful tool to have in the kitchen. While initially hesitant as it seemed to be yet another kitchen gadget that took up space on the counter, we’re now Instant Pot converts.
As mentioned above, if you already own appliances like a pressure cooker, yogurt maker, and slow cooker, an Instant Pot wouldn’t be necessary or helpful. But for those looking to batch cook grains and beans quickly, get dinner on the table fast, and have a 2-in-1 pressure cooker and slow cooker, an Instant Pot would be a great investment.
Ready to Start Cooking?
Once you have the basics of the Instant Pot figured out, it’s so quick and easy to start cooking! Check out our guide to Instant Pot Cooking Times for perfectly cooked grains, beans, and more.