12 tips to know when you’re cooking on an Instant Pot for the first time

You’re either on Team Instant Pot or you’ve thought about it.

Instant Pot is the best-known brand of what’s called an electric multicooker, which allows you to steam, saute and slow cook countless foods. I make this chicken curry during my early attempts to figure out if I was on “Team Instant Pot.” Not everybody loves these multicookers, but it seems everyone has an opinion about them. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

 

In months of thinking and talking about multicookers, I’ve realized that if you don’t already have one, you have an opinion about it. Earlier this week, I published my “Confessions of an Instant Pot skeptic-turned-convert,” and with that story, I compiled 12 tips to get you started.

If you’re on the fence about getting one, hopefully these stories will help you decide if it’s right for you. If you already have one, maybe you’ll learn something you didn’t know. If you’re already an Instant Pot pro, I’d love to hear your tips and insight to help me get to know the 8-in-1 appliance sitting on my kitchen counter. Shoot me an email at abroyles@statesman.com if you have favorite IP recipes and insights to share.

  • Check out from the library (or buy or borrow from a friend) two or three multicooker cookbooks. With several books to consult, you can compare recipes for common dishes – risotto, ribs, beans, for instance – to find out the different ratios, cooking times and techniques the various authors use. Melissa Clark’s “Dinner in an Instant” and America’s Test Kitchen’s “Multicooker Perfection” are the most “foodie” of the multicooker books I used, but Laurel Randolph’s books “The Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook” and “The Instant Pot No-Pressure Cookbook” feature the easiest and most interesting everyday recipes.
  • Start off using the saute and manual functions. Many multicookers have a bevy of buttons — sometimes, too many, in fact. Mine has more than half a dozen presets for cake, eggs, porridge, rice, stew and meat, but none for beans. I haven’t used the dish-specific functions enough to know if they work better than using the manual function to program a specific cooking time, which is what most recipes call for. I have used the “steam” button to steam vegetables — broccoli steams in the time it takes for the pressure cooker to come up to temperature — but the result would be similar if you used the manual button.
  • Pressure cooking is for dishes that are usually boiled, braised, stewed or steamed, and you do generally need to follow a recipe, but that doesn’t mean there’s not room for improvisation, according to Randolph. “You can’t just throw random things in and adjust as you go, like you can on the stovetop,” she writes in “The Instant Pot No-Pressure Cookbook,” “but as you progress in your pressure cooking journey, you’ll learn what does and doesn’t work and come up with plenty of your own signature dishes.”
  • Natural and quick release are the two options for releasing steam in the Instant Pot. Natural release is when you leave the valve on “sealed” and let the pressure naturally release from the pot, usually in about 10 and 15 minutes. Many recipes call for quick release, when you’ll manually turn the valve to release the steam quickly. Use a hand towel or oven mitt when touching the valve so the hot steam doesn’t burn your hand.

Tayama is another brand of multicooker that you can find online. I gave away my brand name Instant Pot to my mom and bought another one to see if the cooking techniques vary by brand. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

  • If you don’t have a multicooker but are curious about them, ask to borrow a friend’s or hang out with them while they use it, and if you decide to buy one, don’t feel obligated to buy the official Instant Pot. The multicookers from the brand that launched this craze — and whose name has become a genericized term, like Kleenex or Q-tips — have what’s called a lower power availability, the measure that America’s Test Kitchen uses in its multicooker ranking. This could be why many of my first dishes took longer to finish than the recipes estimated. Compared to other brands, America’s Test Kitchen also noted that the Instant Pot struggled to maintain consistent heat while on the slow cooker function.
  • Don’t secure the lid on a multicooker unless you have at least a cup of water in the pot, and don’t use the lid when you’re using the saute function.
  • Don’t pressure cook milk or cheese, which can foam and scorch. Add those to the dish after you’ve finished cooking it under pressure. The same is true with roux and other thickeners, which can be added after the soup or stew has cooked under pressure.
  • You can double or halve recipes, often without adjusting the cooking time, but make sure there’s at least a cup of liquid, and don’t fill the pressure cooker more than halfway, which can lead to a clogged pressure release valve.

  • Cut large pork and beef roasts into quarters to help them cook faster. To make pulled pork, I left a 4-pound pork butt whole, which took more than 50 minutes to cook under pressure, which is still less than the 2 or 3 hours it would have taken in an oven but not as fast as I’d hoped.
  • Many multicookers, including the basic Instant Pot models, continue to keep the contents of the pot warm even after the pressure cooking has finished. If you don’t want any more heat on the food, especially in the case of polenta, quinoa or other grains, make sure to use the “cancel” button after the pressure cooker timer has beeped to turn it off.
  • Buy extra food storage containers. In the first few weeks of using the Instant Pot, I had more leftovers than I could eat, so I bought extra plastic containers to give the food away and store it in the freezer.
  • Multicooker not pressurizing correctly? Check the silicone gasket ring that fits inside the lid. If the flexible ring is loose, the cooker won’t heat properly.

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