This is everything you need to know before using an Instant Pot

Tips, tricks, and recipes to help you start your multicooker journey

Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar
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Another holiday season has come and gone, and hopefully you got that thoughtful gift or two that you actually wanted. If you’re one of the many, many people who received an Instant Pot—or other fancy multicooker—you're probably wondering: now what?

For our roundup of the best multicookers I put all the top models through their paces in my own kitchen, and I learned a lot quickly. And once you understand what all the settings do and get a few basic recipes under your belt, you’ll be on your way to quick cooking bliss.

How do I use it? Where's the "on" button?

How to start using your Instant Pot - intro
Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

At first glance, Instant Pots are hopelessly confusing. There’s about 15 different presets on the front panel, the lid makes a weird beeping noise when you take it off, and there isn’t actually an “on” button anywhere. There are also 26 different models of Instant Pots for sale right now, so it's not like there's one set of controls to explain. If you’re not sure which product you own or what it can do, check out my explainer on the differences between all the types of Instant Pots.

Reading the manual isn’t optional.

This is a product where reading the manual isn’t optional—don’t be like me and toss it aside thinking you can just figure it out, because it will go a lot smoother (and safer) if you follow directions. Make sure to clean everything fully and assemble it correctly before you attempt to use it, too.

Earlier models like the Duo 7-in-1 and Duo Plus 9-in-1 will be the most intuitive for home chefs who are brand-new to pressure cooking, but other popular models like the Instant Pot Smart and Ultra come with handy features (i.e. internet connectivity, custom programming) that take some practice. It’s also helpful to know more about the actual mechanics of your multicooker, in case anything ever seems like it’s not working.

Instant Pot buttons
Credit: Pressure Cooking Recipes

One common question I’ve heard: How do you know if your Instant Pot is actually on? On every model, it's essentially the same: when you select a function and set a time on your device, the program will automatically begin after three seconds.

Cooking can take longer than expected for something with “instant" right in the name. Be patient.

The pre-heating and pressurizing stages can take longer than expected for something with “instant" right in the name, so be patient and remain in the same room as your device the first few times you use it, to ensure you hear or see when it’s entered another cooking stage (or needs your attention). Essentially, if your Instant Pot is plugged in, it will be “on” as soon as you press any button.

What are simple Instant Pot recipes to start with?

How to start using your Instant Pot - risotto
Credit: Kitchen Confidante

When you’re first getting acquainted with your Instant Pot, try out simple recipes with few ingredients that still utilize the multicooker’s key features. Risotto—a typically finicky dish that requires lots of time and stirring on the stovetop—is incredibly straightforward when you add pressure to the mix.

We love using this simple saffron risotto recipe when testing multicookers in our own kitchen because it involves sautéing, pressure cooking, and quick-releasing pressure—all good practice for other recipes you'll try later. Many multicookers will have a rice/risotto pre-set, but if yours doesn’t, you can manually cook the rice under high pressure for six minutes and get perfect results.

If you’re looking for a vegetarian risotto, my coworker swears by this butternut squash risotto that she makes weekly in the colder months—one of many great vegetarian recipes designed for the Instant Pot.

What are some of the best Instant Pot dinners?

How to start using your Instant Pot - dinner 2
Credit: Valerie's Kitchen

Once you get simple side dishes and appetizers down, you can venture into the reason you probably got an Instant Pot in the first place—to make dinner faster and better. If you’re a meat-eater, try recipes like hearty pot roast, succulent turkey breast, and French dip sandwiches that take tougher and less expensive cuts of meat and transforms them into tender perfection.

Pressure cooking is ideal for these dishes because it would typically take a very long time to cook them well otherwise, and their protein structure is more forgiving to overcooking. With time, you can master more delicate dishes—but delicate precision is more of a sous vide thing.

Many of the most popular Instant Pot recipes on Pinterest also center on everyone’s favorite grain—pasta. Try this Panera-imitation mac and cheese, classic spaghetti, or pasta e fagioli soup if you’re craving comfort food. If you’re in the mood for something lighter, try out this Vietnamese pho. All of these recipes can easily be adapted for vegetarians, too.

Can I make dessert in an Instant Pot?

How to start using your Instant Pot - dessert
Credit: Ang Sarap

Yep—Instant Pots can handle the sweet stuff. Chocolate mousse, stuffed peaches, lemon custard, and apple crisp are all easy desserts to make in any pressure multicooker.

If your device has a “Cake” function, the possibilities are endless.

If your device has a “Cake” function, the possibilities are endless. Most Instant Pots that have nine or more functions feature this preset, which will become your best friend if you’re too lazy, overheated, or busy to turn on your oven and bake something. Try this three-ingredient Japanese cheesecake or banana bread to get you started.

Don’t have the Cake preset? You can still “bake” with your Instant Pot—you just need to follow the recipe’s directions for manual cooking instead.

What about meal prepping?

How to start using your Instant Pot - meal prep
Credit: The Toasted Pine Nut

Maybe you're not the experimenting type—you just want to make cooking less of a hassle. But your Instant Pot can help here, too. Our guide on using your multicooker to meal prep includes some great recipes for weeknight dinners (and lunches) like 10-minute salmon and honey bourbon chicken.

With these recipes you can knock out a week's worth of meals in a few hours. Before you start cooking, just make sure you have the best resealable freezer bags and our favorite spill-proof food storage containers at the ready.

How do I clean my Instant Pot?

How to start using your Instant Pot - clean
Credit: Instant Pot

Multicookers are convenient, but they can also be kind of a pain to clean. While the inner pot, sealing lid, and most accessories are dishwasher safe, it’s important to be diligent about cleaning the rest of it, too, for your own safety if nothing else. To give you a head start, we've also got a guide for cleaning your Instant Pot inside and out.

If elbow grease and standard household cleaners don’t seem to get the discoloration and smell out of more porous materials (like the silicone sealing ring), try soaking them in a vinegar bath for a few hours, rinsing, and drying them so they’re as good as new. Just make sure you stay on top of this, or flavors can transfer from one dish to the next—and nobody gets excited about risotto-flavored yogurt.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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