If you’re the proud new owner of an Instant Pot model, then it’s no secret that you’re probably thrilled but overwhelmed with which button to use, where to begin, or how to start cooking. Furthermore, releasing the pressure can be immensely intimidating to anyone new to pressure cooking, particularly the quick release with steam jet and noise. Nonetheless, don’t let a little noise stand in the way of delighting in delicious meals from your pressure cooker.
We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about using your new Instant Pot, including the difference between quick release and natural release, safety features, a few recipes to try out, and much more. Read on!
WHAT IS AN INSTANT POT?
Soaring in popularity in recent years, Instant Pot is used as the generic name to refer to pressure cookers of any brand. By definition, it’s the brand name of a multi-cooker that serves as a yogurt maker, steamer, slow cooker, searing/sauté pan, pressure cooker, warming pot, and rice cooker, rolled into one.
The Instant Pot Company began with one product known as the Instant Pot multi-cooker before diversifying into a vast assortment of convenient appliances such as toaster ovens, air fryers, and blenders.
While this multi-cooker serves different purposes, the most popular is the Pressure Cook feature. It’s this function that paves the way for you to whip up various foods at a fraction of the time it would take in an oven or pan. If you’ve used a stovetop pressure cooker for decades, then you’ll undoubtedly gravitate more towards the Instant Pot for the following main reasons.
- It’s less noisy
- It doesn’t need babysitting
- It’s perfect for versatile cooking when you want to channel your inner Martha Stewart
HOW DOES INSTANT POT WORK?
It creates an airtight environment for steam to build up, thereby causing a significant rise in the internal pressure and temperature. Under high pressure, the fiber in the food you’re cooking is tenderized, and flavors infuse in a jiffy. Instead of evaporating, steam rich in nutrients condenses in the pot, and the nutritional value is retained as a result of the cooking speed.
INSTANT POT ACCESSORIES AND PARTS
Here’s a breakdown of the components of Instant Pot.
- Stainless Steel Inner Pot: It’s a snug fit in the base unit
- Lid: The look of the lid differs from one Instant Pot model to another
- Base Unit: It houses the heating element
- Trivet: Ensure you keep it, as it will frequently come in handy
- Power Cord: It’s removable in some Instant Pot units
- Utensils and Measuring Cup: These are included in the Instant Pot. However, you have free rein to use your measuring cups and food scale
- Condensation Collector: You’re supposed to attach it to your Instant Pot. Keep in mind that LUX units don’t come with a condensation collector
- Steam Release Valve: Also referred to as Steam Release Handle, it’s a snug fit at the top of the lid and may already come attached to the unit.
Upon unboxing your Instant Pot, the first thing you’ll want to do is wash the parts and accessories. The stainless steel inner pot and steam release valve are dishwasher-friendly. The base unit isn’t dishwasher-safe and will require you to wash it by hand and as you do so, avoid immersing it in water.
SAFETY FEATURES FOR YOUR INSTANT POT
While Instant Pot models come with a myriad of safety instructions, below are the most crucial ones to keep in mind.
- Don’t put your face near the float valve or steam release while the Instant Pot is on. Upon toggling the steam release valve, we recommend using a wooden spoon with a long handle to keep your hand and arm away from the valve opening. Any kitchen utensil with a long handle will get the job done. Alternatively, you have free rein to use oven mitts to carefully alter the steam release valve to ‘Venting’ every time you’re ready to expel the pressure from your Instant Pot.
- Avoid opening the lid of the Instant Pot until the pressure has been expelled from the steam release valve. The float pin (valve) facing down is your cue to know that all pressure has been released.
Depending on your Instant Pot model, the float valve is silver or red and typically pops up above the lid’s level when the unit is pressurized. Alternatively, it may pop up to be flush with the lid’s level. If you have a 6-quart LUX unit, for instance, you’ll notice that the silver float valve usually sits below the lid level and pops out to be flush with the level of the lid when it’s pressurized.
WHAT IS QUICK RELEASE?
It’s the process of manually forcing the pressure out of your Instant Pot by turning the steam release valve to the ‘venting’ position. You’ll need to proceed with caution as you turn the valve because piping hot steam will immediately be expelled.
We recommend using the handle of a long spoon to slowly turn the steam release valve to keep your hand at a safe distance. Furthermore, ensure your face is away from the valve. A Quick Release comes in handy when you want to stop the cooking process in a jiffy for tender cuts of meat or avoid overcooking your dish.
A STEP-BY-STEP PROCESS ON HOW TO QUICK RELEASE INSTANT POT
It’s a straightforward process that can be summed up in 2 easy steps.
Step 1: Once the cooking cycle is complete, carefully adjust the venting knob from the Sealing to the Venting position to expel the pressure inside the Pot, in a heartbeat.
Step 2: The pressure will be released within a few minutes. Wait for the metal pin (floating valve to completely drop before you open the lid. While the steam shooting out can be intimidating at first, you’ll get used to it. For an illustration on how to Quick Release Instant Pot, check out this video:
WHY USE QUICK RELEASE?
It’s an excellent way of bringing the cooking process to a halt in a jiffy to prevent your food from overcooking. Therefore, Quick Release is your Holy Grail for food such as fast-cooking veggies, ranging from corn and cauliflower to broccoli and delicate seafood such as lobster, salmon, and crab.
WHAT’S THE CATCH?
Despite the immense convenience it ushers in, below are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to Quick Release.
- It’s unsuitable for foods such as congee, porridge, and soup that have a large volume of liquid or high starch content. The food content may splatter from the Pressure Release Valve and make a mess in your kitchen.
- Foamy food may cause the Pressure Release Valve to get clogged.
- Foods such as beans may disintegrate as a result of the abrupt change in temperature or pressure.
- If the recipe is meant for a Natural Release, then the food may become undercooked.
IS QUICK RELEASE SAFE?
Yes! It’s completely safe, provided you take the right precautions. The steam that shoots out from the Instant Pot is extremely hot. Therefore, the manual that comes with the unit warns users against placing their hands or leaning their faces over the device as it releases steam.
It’s advisable to turn the valve with an object such as a wooden spoon or kitchen tongs to prevent the skin from coming into direct contact with the dangerous steam. Other Instant Pot users prefer wearing silicone oven mitts or using a kitchen towel to cover their hands.
HOW DOES QUICK RELEASE DIFFER FROM NATURAL RELEASE?
A natural release entails leaving the pressure release switch in the sealed position when the cooking time comes to a halt. As a result, the Instant Pot slowly releases the pressure with no input from you. When the pressure is completely released, the float valve will instantly drop, thereby unlocking and opening the lid.
A natural release is a tad bit anticlimactic compared to a quick release. Therefore, there’s no jet of steam when the natural pressure release begins. Moreover, there’s no clear way of knowing when the pressure is completely released and no signal or beep when the lid unlocks. At times, you may hear the float valve drop if you’re within earshot.
The time it takes for the pressure to be naturally released greatly depends on the amount of liquid in the Instant Pot and its ingredients. Keep in mind that a natural release can take anywhere between 5 and 30 minutes in the unit, depending on the amount of food.
A STEP-BY-STEP PROCESS ON HOW TO NATURAL RELEASE AN INSTANT POT
Step 1: After the cooking cycle, wait for the metal pin or floating valve to completely drop before opening the lid.
Step 2: Always adjust the venting knob from the Sealing to the Venting position to ensure that all pressure has been expelled before you open the lid. Here’s a video on how to Natural Release Instant Pot:
WHY USE A NATURAL RELEASE?
If you’re cooking food that’s rich in starch or has a large liquid volume, such as a sauce, then Natural Pressure Release is ideal for keeping your kitchen spick and span. You don’t have to resign yourself to a messy kitchen. Given that the pressure is gradually released, the pressure cooker is more stable as a result of less movement. Your soup and stock come out cleaner, and there’s a higher likelihood of your food staying intact.
WHAT’S THE CATCH?
Here’s a breakdown of a few things to bear in mind when it comes to Natural Release.
- A pot of soup or stock takes a while to naturally expel pressure
- If the recipe is meant for Quick Release, your food may overcook as the cooking process continues when the Natural Release is in progress
HOW TO INSPECT YOUR INSTANT POT BEFORE EACH USE
Inspecting the unit entails following the step-by-step instructions discussed below to the letter.
- Step 1: Remove the stainless steel inner pot, then look inside the base. You’ll notice the heating element that should always be dry and free of dirt and debris before using the pot. After cleaning the unit, ensure you dry the inner pot before returning it.
- Step 2: Confirm that the silicone ring is a snug fit onto the lid. It should also be free of tears and clean.
- Step 3: Remove the steam release valve from the lid of the pot by slowly pulling it straight up. Ensure it is spick and span. Some foods such as pasta, oatmeal, and applesauce may foam and froth as you’re cooking them, thereby clogging the release valve. Check the steam release valve before each use. If it’s dirty, use running water to clean it, then place it back on the Instant Pot lid.
- Step 4: Check the float valve to ensure it’s clean and free of dirt and debris. Use warm water to clean it as need be. You have free rein to place the lid in running water to wash it.
By ensuring all the accessories and parts of your Instant Pot are not only in tiptop shape but also clean, you elevate your chances of achieving the best possible outcome during a Quick Release and natural release.
HOW TO PERFORM AN INSTANT POT WATER TEST
Before using your appliance for the first time, we recommend performing a water test. It serves as an initial test run that will ensure that your Instant Pot is properly functioning. Furthermore, the test will familiarize you with the quick release and natural release features for a better outcome.
- Ensure that the power cord is securely linked to your Instant Pot, then plug it into one of the many power outlets of your home.
- Put the stainless steel inner pot in the base unit and add 3 cups of cool water to it.
- Confirm that the silicone sealing ring is well-fitted into the pot’s lid. Position the lid on the Instant Pot and rotate it clockwise until it’s in the closed position. You’ll notice the appliance chiming every time you open and close the lid. However, the Instant Pot must be plugged in.
- Turn the steam release valve to the Sealing position. If you have the Instant Pot Ultra, it’ll automatically set the steam release to ‘Sealing’ upon closing the lid.
- Press the ‘Pressure Cooker’ or ‘Manual’ button. While some units have a button that says ‘Pressure Cooker’ and others ‘Manual,’ keep in mind they serve the same purpose.
- Use the -/+ to set the timer to 5 minutes. After 10 seconds, the appliance will say ‘On,’ after which the cycle will kick-off.
- It takes the Instant Pot anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes to reach pressure. Upon reaching the pressure, the float valve will pop up, and the appliance will beep once. The cooking time will then start counting down from 5 minutes, during which you may notice steam escaping from the float valve hole or release valve along with hissing sounds due to the buildup of pressure. Don’t be alarmed as this is normal. Furthermore, you may notice a plastic smell with the first use of your appliance. While this is normal, the smell should go away after the first two times of using your Instant Pot.
- Once the 5-minute cooking time elapses, you’ll notice the Instant Pot beeping a few times. It’ll switch to maintain the ‘warm’ mode, after which the display will start counting up minutes as opposed to counting down. During this period, you’ll know that the cook cycle has come to a halt, and the numbers will begin counting up as there will be an ‘L’ shown before the numbers. The count-up timer is a lifesaver for users that want to set a specific amount of time (in minutes) of natural release.
- For the water test, you’ll do a Quick Release to expel the pressure from the Instant Pot. Therefore, you’ll carefully rotate the steam release valve to the ‘venting’ position and use the handle of a long spoon for toggling the valve to protect your hand from coming into contact with the hot steam as it escapes from the valve.
- The float valve dropping is your cue to remove the lid.
Keep in mind that if you’re using the Instant Pot Ultra, you’ll use the dial to alter the cooking time and choose cooking programs before pressing the Start button. As opposed to a steam release valve that you’ll turn, this appliance comes with a steam release valve that automatically locks on the Ultra. Contrarily, you’ll need to turn the valve between the Sealing and the ‘Venting’ position in other models.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW TO GET STARTED WITH INSTANT POT COOKING
Now that you know the ins and outs of Quick Release and Natural Release, we’ve rounded up a few fundamentals you should be aware of when using an Instant Pot. While they may be confusing at first, they’ll become second nature once you use your appliance a few times. Depending on your specific model, the controls may be labeled differently.
- Minimum Liquid: As a rule of thumb, you want to use at least 1 cup of liquid in your Instant Pot each time you cook with it. Given that it utilizes pressure and steam to cook food, the liquid is a necessity.
- Fill Level: Inside the Instant Pot, you’ll stumble upon a 2/3 and ½ line marked. Avoid exceeding the 2/3 marker with liquid or food before cooking. If you’re cooking meals such as beans, rice, or quinoa that expand, don’t fill the pot past the ½ marker.
- ‘Manual’ or ‘Pressure Cook’ Button: Based on the Instant Pot model you’re using, the ‘Manual’ button may be labeled ‘Pressure Cook’ and vice versa. It’s this button that you’ll press to kick-off a cycle of pressure cooking.
- -/+ Buttons: These come in handy for altering the cooking time to suit your preferences.
- ‘Cancel/ Keep Warm’ Button: You’ll use it to activate or deactivate the keep warm feature or bring a cooking program to a halt. Once a cooking cycle ends, the Instant Pot automatically switches to warm.
- ‘Sauté’ Button: It allows you to sauté foods in your appliance, which adds a layer of convenience as it saves you the hassle of using another pot on the stovetop. You can brown and sauté foods right in your Instant Pot. Don’t place your inner pot or the base of your Instant Pot on the stovetop. Moreover, you have free rein to use the sauté feature to thicken sauces after pressure cooking. However, avoid sautéing with the lid on. Upon pressing the sauté button, you’ll notice that the default time is set to 30 minutes, but you can deactivate it as you deem fit by pressing the ‘cancel’ button.
- Using the Trivet: As one of the accessories that come with your Instant Pot, the metal trivet comes in handy for raising your food to prevent it from coming into direct contact with the bottom of the pot. For instance, if you baked potatoes or boiled eggs, you can set them on the trivet.
Below are a few simple Quick Release recipes that you can try out.
- Buttery Corn on the Cob: With this recipe, you can say goodbye to waiting for a large pot of water to boil.
- Smoked Sausage and Peppers: It’s unarguably one of the most delicious recipes to try out when time is of the essence.
Regardless of the recipe you choose to try out first, we advise following it to the letter for the first few times without substituting ingredients or altering the quantities until you get comfortable with the Quick Release and other handy features of your Instant Pot.
Armed with the nitty-gritty details of using an Instant Pot, including how to do a quick release, you can now use it with unwavering confidence, knowing that your meals will turn out to be delicious. The more you use it for cooking food, the more you hone your skills. After all, as with everything else in life, practice makes perfect.