Getting started with the Instant Pot

When you first get an Instant Pot it might be difficult to know where to begin. This guide will take you step-by-step through getting started with the Instant Pot.

Contents:

Instant Pot settings

The Instant Pot can be used for pressure cooking, slow cooking, steaming, and making yogurt – among other things. But to start with you’ll probably be most interested in the pressure cooking setting. We will add guides to the other settings soon!

A brief guide to pressure cooking

Most people buy an Instant Pot to save time. We certainly did! One of the easiest ways to do this is by pressure cooking.

So how does pressure cooking work? A pressure cooker works by trapping the steam inside the cooker. Trapping the steam increases the pressure within the pot (hence the name) and the maximum temperature. The increased pressure pushes the hot steam into whatever you are cooking. Increased pressure and temperature combine to increase the cooking speed.

Pressure cooker pressure boiling points chart
Pressure and temperature in a pressure cooker compared to cooking in an open bowl. CC BY-SA 3.0 – Arkrishna

The combination of temperature and pressure significantly speeds up the cooking time. The pressure inside a pressure cooker is usually measured in pounds per square inch (PSI).

Different pressure cookers operate with different amounts of pressure; that’s why you may need to adapt recipe timings slightly for different types of pressure cooker. The Instant Pot has two pressure settings: high and low. The low setting runs between 5.8 and 7.2 PSI, the high setting runs between 10.2 – 11.6 PSI. This is a little lower than most stove top pressure cookers, but this trade off means the Instant Pot can be more affordable to manufacture.

Instant Pot cooking times

One of the things that can be confusing about using the Instant Pot is the timing. When you set the time on the Instant Pot either manually or using one of the presets, you’ll notice that it takes longer than this time before you hear the beeping that tells you that the food is ready. This is because the time refers to the time the food is under pressure (for the pressure setting) rather than the total time. Before the countdown begins the food needs to heat up and the instant pot needs to build up the pressure. Once the correct pressure has been reached the countdown begins. After the cooker has been under pressure for the correct amount of time, the Instant Pot will beep and switch to keep warm mode. At this point, you may still have a little wait depending on the type of release you are using…

Quick Release vs. Natural Release

Once the Instant Pot has finished cooking your food you need to let out the pressure. There are two ways to do this; quick release or natural release.

Natural release – basically involves doing nothing and letting the pressure subside by itself as the instant pot cools down. You will see when the pressure has disappeared when the floating valve on the lid of your Instant Pot drops down.

Quick release – involves letting out the pressure using the pressure valve. To do this you should make sure that the pressure cooker has finished cooking and slowly push the release valve forward. Be careful of the steam that is released from the pressure cooker! It’s usually a good idea to let the pressure go down a bit first so there is less pressure to release – but it’s still safe to release the pressure straight away if you’re in a hurry.

Which to use?

Quick release is usually best for delicate foods that will suffer from being overcooked. Or, for people who are hungry and in a hurry to get to their food!

Natural release is good for foamy foods, foods with high water content or high starch content. It’s important to include time for the pressure to go down if you are using natural release or you’ll be left hungry waiting for the pressure to go down.

Altitude adjustments

Altitude can make a difference to how long things will take to cook. The higher your altitude, the longer it will take for things to cook. If you have a newer Instant Pot Ultra then you can set your altitude so your cooking times are automatically adjusted. For other models, you just need to adjust the time slightly. You might need to experiment a little bit to work out how much extra time to add but our altitude adjustments table will give you a good starting point for knowing how much time to add.

Working out cooking times

As you will have figured out, you need to account for the time it takes for the Instant Pot to come to pressure and some extra time for the pressure to release. The recipes you’ll find for the instant pot on this site will usually show you the actual cooking time – so make sure you account for the extra time if you’re super hungry or you have guests coming!

If you’re experimenting with your own recipes the best approach is usually to set the time based on your longest cooking ingredient. On this site you can find our suggested pressure cooking times for beans and legumes, grains, rice, and vegetables. These are perfect to use as a starting point for cooking most things – but remember it might take some trial and error to perfect a recipe.

Liquid

When you’re using the pressure cooker setting on the Instant Pot, you need some liquid to ensure the Instant Pot can build up enough pressure. Getting the right amount of liquid is usually fairly straightforward but can be a bit tricky when you are making things without much liquid. So, if you’re experimenting with your own recipes you need to ensure there is enough liquid. The Instant Pot manual suggests a minimum of 1 1/2 cups (375ml) of water. This could be reduced for foods with a higher liquid volume. To start with you might be best to stick with existing recipes until you get a sense for how much liquid you will need.

Beginner Instant Pot recipes using the pressure cooking setting

These recipes will help you get started with the Instant Pot – they’re quick, don’t need complicated ingredients, and are hard to mess up.

Soups

Soups are a great for taking your first steps with the Instant Pot. All the liquid involved makes them difficult to burn, and the pressure cooking makes preparing a soup quick and easy with minimal mess. It is also easy to make extra so you have leftovers – perfect to freeze for days when you have a cold and can’t face cooking. The recipes below are some great starting places for making soup in the Instant Pot.

Lentil Spinach Soup

Lentil and Spinach soup
kitchentreaty | kitchentreaty.com

Lentils and the Instant Pot are a match made in heaven. This soup is really quick and a great recipe to get started with. Get the recipe from Kitchen Treaty here

Vegan Potato Soup

Potato Soup
thefoodieeats | thefoodieeats.com

Potato, in soup form. SOUPer comforting. Need we say more? Get the recipe here

Daals

Daal can sometimes take a long time to cook, but the Instant Pot makes the process much quicker.

Coconut Daal

coconut dal
everynookandcranny | everynookandcranny.net

This simple Daal recipe makes a quick and filling meal or side. Get the recipe here.

Currys

Who doesn’t love curry!? Pressure cooking a curry replicates the taste of cooking one for much longer on a hob, and with such a wide variety of options, you’ll never be bored.

Potato & Chickpea Curry

Instant Pot Potato Chickpea Curry
cookwithmanali | cookwithmanali.com/

This recipe might look a bit more complicated but it’s pretty straightforward once you’ve sorted out the spices. It’s also great reheated, so consider making extra. Get the recipe here.

More recipes

We’ll keep updating this site with tried and tested vegan Instant Pot recipes, as well as some of our own. You should also check out our recommended websites and books.