Instant Pot: A Guide to Help You Get Started!
I think we can all agree that the Instant Pot can be a little overwhelming when you first start using it! As a new mom and living in a house that is constantly under construction this has been a staple in my kitchen for healthy and comforting stews, shredded chicken to add to quick salads or soups, and cooking sweet potatoes, spaghetti squash, and other various squashes in less than half the time. I am in no way sponsored by Instant Pot, just here to help a mama and busy individuals out so you can spend your time cuddling and playing with your babes (human or fur). As a working mom, this has become even more important to me. I didn't really get all the hype in the beginning, but it's kind of like having a sous chef to help you out in the kitchen. When I saw more and more people using it, I finally decided to pull the trigger when Amazon Prime deals were happening and got it for half the price. At this point, I think prices have gone down and it's fairly affordable.
The Instant Pot can also be overwhelming, there are lots of parts and buttons which can make it feel intimidating, so I wanted to create an easy to follow guide to help take out the intimidation factor and make it easy for you to get started! I will not go over EVERY detail, that's what the manual is for, but rather give you the information you need to make it easy for you to get started as well as 8 staple recipes to make your meal prep life easier.
If you want a quick hit list of what you need to know before getting started, just scroll past this part!
What is an Instant Pot?
If you already have one and just haven't used it yet then you probably know what it is, but if you stumbled upon this blog post and are still in the market and determining if you want one, then simply put an Instant Pot is a relatively compact counter appliance, the same size as a slow cooker. What's so great about it? Well, it's a slow cooker, pressure cooker, and rice cooker all in one. It also has a saute feature, which saves you an extra pot and step when cooking any type of stew. There are a few other features I haven't used yet... such as a yogurt maker, I would like to try this feature some day!
There are a few different versions of the Instant Pot, here is a comparison chart. I have the Duo Classic 6 quart (cheapest version), but it looks like the Duo Nova is best for beginners. The main differences are the easy to read LED display on the front, a cooking progress indicator, and an easy steam release option. I can't speak to these differences in detail, because I haven't used the Nova, but if I were to guess it's just a little more user friendly. For a price difference of $30 (a 6 quart in the Duo Nova currently isn't available, so the $30 price difference is for an 8 quart ), it may be worth it! If you want to save a little money, then the classic works great from my experience.
There are also a number of inserts you can purchase, including an Air Fryer Lid and a silicon egg rack to make eggs bites. We are going to keep it pretty simple for this post, to help you get started, but if you are interested in all of the inserts available, check out a list I found here.
Identifying the most important parts and pieces
1. Steam release and float valve- The steam release will allow you to quick release. In addition, before you pressure cook anything (press start), if you have the duo classic then the valve should always be placed in the "sealed" position, see second picture to the right. More about the valve and steam release below in the quick hit list (#2).
2. Stainless steel inner pot- It should always placed inside the Instant Pot cooker and it's dishwasher safe! I almost didn't include this one because it's pretty self explanatory, but it's what will house all your yummy ingredients.
3. Sealing ring- it should always be placed on the inside of the lid and should be replaced every 18-24 months. In order for pressure to seal it has to be in place.
5. Stainless steel steam rack with handle- Used to elevate food. It goes back to making sure nothing burns. If you are making a stew or soup, it isn't needed. If you are slow roasting meat or have minimal liquid, then us it. It's also designed for easy transfer in and out of the pot. You simply place it in the stainless steel pot, just the way it looks in teh picture to the right.
6. Button functionality- Once it is plugged in, I typically just press the button for whatever I am making (poultry, rice, etc.) and it will automatically begin the process. The time will automatically set, but you can also adjust the time manually if you need to. Here is full button manual if you want to get into more detail.
These are the most important functions and parts to understand from my point of view to simply get you started! If you want more details, you can find the full manual here.
Quick hit list of what you NEED to know before you get started:
- You'll want to do an initial test run with water, before you ever use your Instant Pot. It's a nice way to get to know how your pressure cooker functions. Full details and a video here.
- The difference between quick release and natural pressure release/slow release. A quick release on the duo classic is when you physically bring the valve to the "venting" position immediately after the cook time has lapsed. On the other models, it looks like it's a simple button you press, much more user friendly as I mentioned above! A natural pressure release is when you do not release the steam right away, but rather wait for it to release naturally. Time will vary, but it will usually take between 10-20 minutes. You will know it has released once your metal or red valve floats down (see picture above of vavlue). I usually let the Instant Pot naturally release (unless I am in a time crunch or think the food will overcook, because I think it gives it more time for the flavors to marinade). Each recipe should tell you which method to do.
- Don't put your face over the steam release valve or float valve (see chart above for picture). When you quick release the steam after cooking something, which means you turn the steam valve towards you into the "venting position", make sure you use an oven mitt. It will be HOT and the steam will be forceful, AKA dangerous and could burn you if you don't use an oven mitt and/or a long wooden spoon
- Never open the lid until the float valve has floated fully down, indicating that the pressure has fully released.
- Most recipes will need at least 1 cup of water/liquid, you can burn food if the food at the bottom of the pot doesn't have enough moisture. There are sensors that will tell you if it is burning, but simply make sure you stir thoroughly before using the pressure cooker and have enough liquid.
- The timer. It may throw you off, because when you set the timer there is also a "warm up" and "pressure ramp up" time period before your timer begins. When pressure has built, the pot will beep and the cook timer will start. Also, once your food is cooked, your pot will beep again and this is when you either "quick release" the pressure or "slow release" the pressure as noted above
8 staple foods to make in the Instant Pot to make food prep throughout the week a breeze:
- Sweet potatoes (Great for mashed sweet potatoes or when you need a quick side)
- Spaghetti squash (to eat with pasta or add grass fed butter and/or olive oil + feta for an easy and healthy side dish)
- Butternut squash (for butternut squash soup or to add to salads/bowls)
- Shredded chicken (I usually use half breast + half thigh for more flavor)
- Stews and soups (Split pea, lentil, and chili are my go-tos, but any soup you normally make in the crockpot can be made in the Instant Pot)
- Brown Rice (for sides, salads, and bowls)
- Black beans (for sides, salads, and bowls)
- Marinara Sauce (to top over brown rice, chickpea, or lentil noodles)
I hope this helps you get started! Feel free to leave any comments or questions below.