Instant Pot Guide: A Beginner’s Guide to Using Your Pressure Cooker
Wondering how to use your new Instant Pot? In this Instant Pot Guide, I’ll walk you through what you need to know to start cooking with your Instant Pot today. Safety features, how to do an Instant Pot water test, what’s the difference between a natural pressure release and a quick release, and what will happen step by step through the cooking process.
I’ll be honest – the first time I used my Instant Pot, I was overwhelmed and a bit scared. An Instant Pot can be intimidating for a new user. There are so many buttons and safety warnings.
However, I guarantee that once you get started, you’ll wonder what you ever did without your Instant Pot. I love mine so much that I now own two Instant Pots!
I’m going to help you get started with all of the tips and tricks that I have learned through trial, error and research. This Instant Pot manual will tell you everything you need to know to use your Instant Pot for the first time.
What is an Instant Pot?
An Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker. It is a multi-use appliance that can cook foods quickly at high pressure. Steam pressure builds up inside the pot, which creates a higher temperature environment that cooks foods faster. Unlike old fashioned pressure cookers, the Instant Pot has many safety features that make it safe and easy to use.
An Instant Pot is a pressure cooker, sauté pot, slow cooker, steamer, rice cooker, yogurt maker and warmer all in one. I’ve been amazed at the versatility of my Instant Pot and the flavor and texture of the foods that I am able to cook in it. The high pressure inside the Instant Pot can tenderize even tough cuts of meat. It creates rich, complex flavors – seriously, I’ve never had better chili than Instant Pot chili!
If you are not sure which Instant Pot to buy, check out my guide to the Best Instant Pots. I’ve also tested out many Instant Pot accessories so that I can share my favorites with you.
Unpacking your Instant Pot box
If you haven’t taken your Instant Pot out of the box, now would be a good time to do so. To open your Instant Pot, turn the lid counter clockwise and lift. To close turn clockwise. Remove any plastic wrap from the inner pot and the accessories.
Instant Pot Parts and Accessories
- Base Unit – this contains the heating element.
- Stainless Steel Inner Pot – fits into the base unit.
- Lid – the look of the lid varies between Instant Pot models.
- Steam Release Valve (also called Steam Release Handle) – this fits on the top of the lid and may already be attached.
- Condensation Collector – attach this to the back of your Instant Pot. (LUX models do not have a condensation collector.)
- Trivet – be sure to keep this, as you will use it often.
- Power Cord – removable in some Instant Pot models.
- Measuring Cup & Utensils – These come with the Instant Pot. I use my own measuring cups and utensils instead of these.
The first thing you’ll want to do is wash the parts of your Instant Pot. The Instant Pot lid, steam release valve and stainless steel inner pot are dishwasher safe; however, I wash mine by hand. The base unit is not dishwasher safe – never immerse the base unit in water.
The TWO most important safety instructions for your Instant Pot
The Instant Pot manual is filled with safety instructions, but these two are the critical ones to remember:
First, never put your face near the steam release valve or float valve while the Instant Pot is on. When I toggle the steam release valve, I use a long handled wooden spoon so my hand and arm are not near the valve opening. Any kitchen utensil with a long handle will do. Alternatively, you can use an oven mitt to carefully turn the steam release valve to the “venting” position when you are ready to release the pressure in your Instant Pot.
Second, never open the Instant Pot lid until the pressure has been released through the steam release valve. You will know that all the pressure has been released when the float valve (pin) drops down.
Depending on which Instant Pot model you have, the float valve may be red or silver. It may pop up above the level of the lid when the pot is pressurized, or it may pop up to be flush with the level of the lid. In my 6 quart LUX, the silver float valve is below lid level normally and pops up to be flush with the level of the lid when pressurized. You will get to know how your Instant Pot model works.
These photos show my 8 quart DUO and you see that the float valve is above the lid level in the left photo, which shows a pressurized pot.
If a recipe calls for a natural release, wait for the natural release time specified in the recipe and then move the steam release valve to the “venting” position to make sure all of the steam and pressure have released. Make sure the float valve has dropped down and then it is safe to open the Instant Pot lid. Open the lid slowly, tilting it so any hot steam will not blow towards your face.
Never attempt to open the lid of your Instant Pot while it is pressurized.
Inspecting your Instant Pot before each use
1. Remove the stainless steel inner pot and look inside the instant pot base. You will see the heating element. The heating element should always be free of debris and dry before you use you the Instant Pot. After washing, I always dry my stainless steel inner pot thoroughly before returning it to the base unit.
2. Check that the silicone sealing ring is fitted properly onto the lid and is clean and free of tears.
3. Remove the steam release valve from the Instant Pot lid by gently pulling it straight up. Make sure it is clean and free of debris. Some foods, such as applesauce, pasta and oatmeal may froth and foam when you cook them and can clog the steam release valve. Check the steam release valve each time you use your Instant Pot. If it is dirty clean it under running water and then put it back on the Instant Pot lid.
4. Check the float valve to ensure it is clean and free of debris. Clean it with warm water as needed. You may place the lid under running water as needed to wash it.
Making sure that all parts of your Instant Pot are clean and in good working condition can help you to have the best success with pressure cooking. My post about the Instant Pot burn message tells you both how to prevent getting this warning and what to do if you do get a burn message.
Instant Pot Water Test
Before you use your Instant Pot for the first time, you should perform a water test. The Instant Pot water test is like an initial test run for your Instant Pot.
The water test will both ensure that your Instant Pot is working properly and will familiarize you with using your Instant Pot.
One of the Instant Pots that I purchased was defective. A water test helped me to determine that the Instant Pot wasn’t working properly. I was able to contact Instant Pot support and get a replacement.
Note: If you have the Instant Pot Ultra, you will use the dial to select cooking programs and change the cook time and then press “start.” Instead of a steam release valve that you turn, the Instant Pot Ultra has a steam release button that you will press if you want to manually release the pressure. The steam release valve will seal automatically on the Ultra, whereas on other models you turn the valve between a venting and a sealing position.
How to do an Instant Pot water test
- Make sure that the power cord is firmly connected to your Instant Pot. Plug it into a power outlet in your wall.
- Place the stainless steel inner pot in the base unit. Add 3 cups of cool water to the inner pot.
- Check that the silicone sealing ring is fitted properly into the Instant Pot lid. Place the lid on the Instant Pot and turn it clockwise until it is in the closed position. Your Instant Pot will chime each time you close and open the lid (if the Instant Pot is plugged in).
- Turn the steam release valve to the “sealing” position. (If you have an Instant Pot Ultra it will automatically set the steam release to “sealing” when you close the lid.)
- Press the “Manual” or “Pressure Cook” button. (Some Instant Pot models have a button that says “Manual” and others have a “Pressure Cook” button. They do exactly the same thing.)
- Use the +/- buttons to set the time to 5 minutes. Wait for 10 seconds and the Instant Pot display will say “On” and the cycle will begin.
- The Instant Pot will take anywhere from 5-15 minutes to reach pressure. Once it reaches pressure the float valve will pop up, the Instant Pot will beep once, and the cook time will begin to count down from 5 minutes. You might notice hissing sounds and some steam escaping from the steam release valve or float valve hole while the pressure builds – this is normal. You may also notice a plastic smell the first time you use your Instant Pot. This is also normal and shouldn’t happen again.
- Once the 5 minute cook time ends, the Instant Pot will beep a few times. It will switch to the keep warm mode and the display will begin to count up minutes instead of down. During this time, you will know that the cook cycle has ended and the numbers are now counting up because there will be an “L” displayed before the numbers. The count-up timer is handy if you want to do a certain number of minutes of natural release.
- For the water test, you will do a quick release (QR) to release the pressure in the Instant Pot. I will tell you more about a quick release vs. a natural pressure release (NPR) below. To do a quick release, carefully turn the steam release valve to the “venting” position. Use the handle of a long spoon to toggle the valve to keep your hand safe from the hot steam that will escape from the valve.
- When the float valve drops down remove the Instant Pot lid.
If the water test does not go as planned (and your Instant Pot does not reach pressure), be sure that you turned the steam release valve to the “sealing” position during the test. Also check that the sealing ring is fitted properly onto the lid. If neither of these was the problem, you may want to contact Instant Pot customer service for further assistance.
Now that you have completed the water test, you are ready to cook in your Instant Pot!
How to use an Instant Pot: What you need to know to get started with Instant Pot cooking
There are a few basic things that you need to know when using an Instant Pot electric pressure cooker. Once you use yours a few times, these will be like second nature. Depending on which Instant Pot model you own, the buttons may be labeled slightly differently. Consult the manual that came with your Instant Pot.
Minimum Liquid Required: As a general rule, you want to use at least 1 cup of liquid in your Instant Pot every time you cook with it. The Instant Pot uses steam and pressure to cook food, and you need liquid to create the steam and pressure. Some recipes may call for more or less liquid. I recommend following recipes from a trusted source while you are learning to use your Instant Pot.
Fill Level: Inside the Instant Pot inner pot, you will see a 1/2 and a 2/3 line marked. Never fill the Instant Pot higher than the 2/3 line with food or liquid (before cooking). If you are cooking food that will expand during the cook time such as rice, quinoa or beans, do not fill the Instant Pot higher than the 1/2 line.
“Pressure Cook” or “Manual” Button: Depending on which Instant Pot model you own, the Pressure Cook button is sometimes labeled “Manual” and sometimes “Pressure Cook.” This is the button that you will press to start a pressure cooking cycle. It’s your basic pressure cooking button.
+/- Buttons: Use these buttons to adjust the cook time.
“Keep Warm/Cancel” Button: Use this button to end a cooking program or turn on/off the keep warm function. (After a cooking cycle ends the Instant Pot automatically switches to keep warm.)
“Sauté” Button: Pressing this button allows you to sauté foods in your Instant Pot. This is convenient because you don’t have to use another pot on the stove. You can sauté and brown foods right in your Instant Pot. (Never place your Instant Pot base unit or inner pot on the stove top.) You can also use sauté mode to thicken sauces after pressure cooking. Never sauté with the lid on. When you press the sauté button the time will default to 30 minutes, but you can turn it off at any time by pressing the cancel button.
“Adjust” Button: The Adjust key switches between Less, Normal and More cooking modes. These are useful if you are using sauté mode, as they control the amount of heat.
“Pressure” Button: The Pressure (sometimes labeled “Pressure Level”) button toggles between high and low pressure settings. Pretty much every Instant Pot recipe you will find will direct you to cook at high pressure. If you own the LUX series, you will not have this button since the Instant Pot LUX only has a high pressure setting.
Program Buttons: Depending on your Instant Pot model, the program options might include Soup/Broth, Bean/Chili, Meat/Stew, Cake, Egg, Rice, Multigrain, Porridge, Yogurt, Steam and Slow Cook. These programs have pre-set cook times. Honestly, I never use these buttons because I prefer to control the cook times myself.
Using the Trivet: Use the metal trivet that came with your Instant Pot when you want to raise food up so that it does not come in contact with the bottom of the pot. You might use the trivet if you want to keep certain foods out of the liquid in the base of the pot, or away from the direct heat on the bottom of the pot. If you cook hard boiled eggs or baked potatoes, for example, you will set them on the trivet.
Closing the Lid: You will see a track on the back upper edge of your Instant Pot base. Hold the lid handle and fit the lid on using the track as a guide, turning the lid clockwise to close it. The arrow on the front of the Instant Pot lid should line up with the arrow next to a locked symbol on the base unit. If your Instant Pot is plugged in, you will hear a chime when the lid closes.
Sealing the Instant Pot: Turn the steam release valve to the “sealing” position to seal the Instant Pot. The steam release valve is meant to be a bit wobbly and will fit loosely. You will need to turn the valve to the sealing position every time you pressure cook in your Instant Pot.
Cooking Time vs. Total Time: The cooking cycle will take longer than the actual cook time of a recipe. Before the cook time starts, your Instant Pot will take some time to reach cooking pressure. This usually takes about 10 minutes and varies with the size of your Instant Pot, type and amount of food, and the temperature of the food and liquid in the pot. You also need to account for the time needed to release the pressure after the cooking cycle.
Natural Pressure Release (NPR): A natural pressure release is when you let the pressure release naturally by letting the Instant Pot sit after the cook cycle ends. This usually takes between 10 and 20 minutes. Use a natural release for foamy foods or when your Instant Pot is full to avoid hot foam coming out of the steam release valve or float valve.
Quick Release (QR): A quick release is when you manually force the pressure to begin releasing from the Instant Pot by turning the steam release valve to the “venting” position. You need to be careful when you turn the valve as hot steam will immediately begin to escape. I use the handle of a long spoon to slowly move the steam release valve so that my hand is not near the valve. You also want to keep your face away from the valve. Use a quick release when you want to stop the cooking process quickly to avoid over-cooked food, and for tender cuts of meat.
Safely Removing the Lid: Never attempt to remove the Instant Pot lid while the pot is pressurized. Wait until the float valve (pin) on the lid drops down to let you know that all of the pressure has been released. Then, hold the lid handle, turn the lid counterclockwise and carefully lift.
Do you need to double the cook time for a double recipe?
If you would like to double an Instant Pot recipe, you may double the ingredients (so long as you don’t exceed the max fill line). You do not need to double the cook time.
However, you may need to adjust the cook time based on the size/width of meat and vegetables. For example, a small 8 ounce chicken breast will cook faster than a large 12 ounce chicken breast and a small sweet potato will cook faster than a large sweet potato. Read all recipes and directions carefully to determine how long to cook your food.
Instant Pot Recipes for Beginners
- For your first time cooking in your Instant Pot, I recommend making some Instant Pot hard boiled eggs.
- This Instant Pot Shredded Chicken is a recipe that I make often for meal prep. You can also cook frozen chicken in an Instant Pot.
- Instant Pot Brown Rice is a hands-off, easy recipe.
- Try out the sauté setting on your pot with my Instant Pot chicken noodle soup.
- These Honey Garlic Instant Pot Chicken Breasts are one of my most popular pressure cooker recipes. Also try my delicious Instant Pot Orange Chicken.
- Instant Pot Beef Stew is a quicker way to make this classic comfort food meal.
- Find new family favorites with these 29 Healthy Instant Pot Recipes.
- 20+ Vegetarian Instant Pot Recipes
- More Instant Pot Recipes
If you have questions about how to use an Instant Pot that were not answered in this Instant Pot guide, leave them in the comments below.
If the 6 quart requires a minimum of 1 cup of liquid how much does the 8 quart require as a minimum?? Thanks
The 8 quart requires 1.5 cups of liquid for most recipes.
I’m confused over when and why to use the trivet. I want to make country ribs, that I plan on re-saucing and crisping up under the broiler. So I’m assuming I would use it, to keep it up out of the cooking liquid. ????♀️
Thanking you in advance, thanks for the great recipes and all the IP info!
You are exactly right. You use the trivet if you want to keep the food out of the cooking liquid. Here is my Instant Pot Ribs recipe, for more information. Good luck!
Thank you for creating such an easy guide. Honestly, after reading the manual I was ready to send mine back. Im going to try it out today.
I am so glad I found you! I have just bought a used Instant Pot and had no idea how to treat it to see if it was working correctly. Thanks to you, I now know how. Thank you!
I just ordered the duo from your amazon link. Thank you for the step by step how to use! I never would’ve tried one without your how to! But cooking frozen chicken without defrosting first does sound awesome.
Thank you for all the info. I will use my instant more often now. At first it was a ornament in my kitchen and scared me to bits every time I wanted to use it.
Here is what I’m concerned about. How do you go about knowing the time for different foods if you’re not using an exact recipe? Being that you are pressurizing the food, you can’t just take the lid off to see how the food is coming or to stick a fork in it.
Hi Elaine, That is exactly why Instant Pot recipes are some of the hardest to test. It often takes a number of tries to get a new Instant Pot recipe just right when I’m testing it in my kitchen. I recommend that you follow trusted recipes for a while until you feel comfortable experimenting. 🙂
You saved me from throwing out my instantpot! Thank you for this info!!
AFTER PRESSING THE “saute” button, do you have to press “start”?
Hi Stanley, It depends on your Instant Pot model. Some will automatically start a few seconds after you press the saute button. Others have a start button that you need to press in order for the cooking function to start. You can also consult the manual that came with your IP, or just try it out.
I have such a problem with setting the time. Not sure if anyone else does. What looks like 3 min to me is actually 3 hours!! I also want to thank you for your easy instructions. Like others, I was ready to toss mine until I came across one of your recipes. Thank you!!!!!
That’s funny Lisa – I thought the same!!
I’m having a problem setting the time on my instapot I’ve got the Starfrit 8quart model 024600 it just has the 16 different cooking buttons. I’ve tried to get the minutes to the right amount of time required can you help me please.
Hi Bonnie, I have not used that brand of pressure cooker so I can’t advise on how it works. You can check the manual for instructions on if it has a way to manually set the pressure cooking time. Good luck!
I’m trying to make plain egg bites. The recipe says to cook on high pressure for 7-8 minutes then manually release pressure. My eggs were still raw. I did not use the Keep Warm function. What did I do wrong?
That is disappointing! Without being there with you in the kitchen and without having tested the recipe myself, it’s difficult for me to troubleshoot. Since the eggs were undercooked, it sounds like the egg bites needed more cook time, or some natural release time before manually releasing the pressure. (This is assuming that your Instant Pot is working properly.)
Thanks. I cooked them longer and they’re perfect!
I’m cooking brisket for the first time. Do you have a trusted recipe and do I use the basket? I have the duo 6qt. Thank you.
Hi Keith, I do not have a recipe for brisket. You can try searching the web to find one. Good luck!
Love your directions and hints
I’ve only used my instant pot two times after getting it two years ago. I loved stuff green peppers in my moms old pressure cooker so thought I’d try my instant pot. It just finish cooking and I’m letting it cool down
But I never heard any hissing or steam sounds. Is it always so quiet? Just hope I set it correctly. I used beef stew settings .
Yes, the Instant Pot is usually pretty quiet. It’s normal to not hear sounds as it reaches pressure and cooks. 🙂
Can you use this the insta-pot to can vegetables ( beets and other food needing pressure canning) ?
Please use a specifically made pressure canning device to ensure safe temperatures for canning. I have not seen the Instant Pot marketed for pressure canning by the manufacturer nor that use recommended in any model manual so far.
I am wanting to pressure cook ham and beans but I can’t tell if it’s running or not. It’s counting down but the instant pot isn’t getting warm? What am I doing wrong?
The lid gets hot to touch if the pot is working correctly. If you suspect your pot is not heating properly, stop using it and contact customer support here.
I bought a 2017 Avalon Bay insta pot and I cannot find out anywhere on the top lid it has close in the middle and on the left and right both say open. I have looked at every utube video I could find and still no one tells me how to use it. Could you shed some light? Very much appreciated.
Sorry, I do not own an Avalon Bay pressure cooker but that information should be in the manual.
I cannot understand directions on how to use my ip. I did not receive a users manual. Please help
Contact Instant Brands support if you did not receive a manual, 1-800-828-7280.
Fantastic information! Thanks,
I have an Instant Pot 6 qt. When using one of the program buttons, ie meat/stew, do I need to press the “pressure Cook” button and then the Meat/Stew” program button?
If you are using a program button, you should not have to also press the pressure cook button, only the program button and then possibly the start button, depending on if that’s required for your instant pot model (they vary).
I read your article and am still contemplating buying an Instant Pot. I tried the Cuisinart Electric Pressure Cooker and liked it. We are renting a condo for 3 months now and I believe and Instant Pot will be useful here. You recommend the Instant Pot Duo Plus. This year I see that there’s an Instant Pot Duo Plus 6 qt Whisper Quiet model. Please advise.
I already enjoy your free recipe emails! Thank you!
Yes, those are great choices they will perform the same. If the price is similar and you don’t mind the grey color, the whisper quiet model is the newest model as of late 2022. The steam venting is redesigned and a little quieter. The more important choice is 6 quart vs. 8 quart. If you are feeding a crowd, 6+ people or big eaters, the 8 quart may be a better choice and allow you to 1.5x or 2x some recipes.
I just started using an instant pot I received from my daughter,I didn’t get the instruction book, so when you say to use the start button, which on is it? Is it the Pressure Cook button? Thank you for your guide on how to use an instant for the first time!
It depends on which Instant Pot model you have. Some models have a Pressure Cook or Manual button that you press and then you wait a few seconds and the pot starts (there is no start button to also press). On some newer models, you first press Pressure Cook (or whatever cooking function) and then press Start.
My husband and I are hay and argument about my IP that I have been using for the past two years. I think that the valve is sealed when moved over to that position but not stuck, he thinks it needs to be pushed so far it sticks. Who is right. He keeps making chili and it keeps saying BURN. I know there can be many other reasons for that but I think it’s because he is setting the valve too far past the sealed position.
There are different types of valves on different instant pots, so I’m not sure which type your pot has. I have two pots with two different types of valves, and I just gently move the valve into position. I’m not sure what you mean by “stuck,” since I didn’t know it was possible to push the valve past the sealed position. Chili is especially prone to the burn message due to the beans and tomato sauce in it. My post about the instant pot burn message may help.
Thank you so much for all this Instant Pot information. My daughter gifted me her Instant Pot and there’s no manual with it. Your information helps me so much.
Thank you for this information! Received an InstaPot as a gift from my son a few years ago and you’re right, it’s very intimidating which is the reason I haven’t used it yet. Getting out my old very familiar crock pot is so much easier and old habits are hard to break. Do you have a printable version of this information? Would help me immensely and I would like to keep it handy for future use as well. I’m not someone who can remember things like this without doing it over and over again. Appreciate your help and again thank you!
I’m glad this is helpful. I don’t have a printable version, but you can refer back to this post as needed. I hope you enjoy your Instant Pot!