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Confession: I’m not one for instruction manuals. So I have an Instant Pot, and I don’t know what I’m doing with it. There are so many settings, buttons and knobs. I’m worried I’m using it wrong. Help!
Instant Pot Perturbed
Dear Instant Pot Perturbed,
I’ll confess, I also hate to read an instruction manual. “Learn by doing,” as they say. Even when you read the manual, you can still wind up with more than a few questions, not to mention several “Uh, am I doing this right?!” moments. Here, seven Instant Pot mistakes you might be making—and how to fix ’em—so you can master the art of the 15-minute meal.
Mistake #1: You add ingredients without any liquid
A common trend among pressure-cooker recipes? They all call for some sort of cooking liquid. You already know the “slow cook” setting needs it for braising to tender perfection. But the “pressure” setting needs about 1 cup of broth or water, too. Here’s why: When steam builds up, it forces moisture into the food—causing it to cook and tenderize very quickly. Pretty nifty.
Mistake #2: You’re filling the pot to the “max” line
Yep, there’s a fill line inside, but that only applies to the “slow cook” setting. If you’re pressure-cooking, don’t fill up the bowl more than halfway—especially if you’re whipping up something that’ll expand, like grains or beans. The liquid could easily seep through and clog the venting knob, leading to too much pressure or a huge mess—yikes.
Mistake #3: You don’t factor in “preheating” time
Mac and cheese in 20 minutes? Chicken enchiladas in 15? It all sounds so magical (and it is). But when you’re planning out your evening, make sure to add about 15 extra minutes to the recipe. It’ll take your pot this long to build up pressure (aka “preheat”).
Mistake #4: You open the quick-release valve too slowly
When your masterpiece is finished pressure cooking, open that valve immediately—and quickly. Every extra second steam is trapped inside can mean the difference between perfectly tender veggies and sad, mushy ones. (One important exception: if the recipe specifically calls for a “slow” or “natural” release.)
Mistake #5: You’re using a recipe that was written for a manual pressure cooker
The Instant Pot’s older sister, the manual pressure cooker, reaches even higher pressures, so recipes created for it will have slightly shorter cook times. Unless you want to do a good deal of pre-cooking arithmetic, we recommend sticking to recipes created specifically for your swanky new appliance.
Mistake #6: You’re not using the “sauté” function first
FYI, that beautiful brisket isn’t going to form a delicious outer crust from pressure cooking alone. You’ll have to sear it first—the “sauté” function on your Instant Pot will make quick work of the task. It’s also handy for softening aromatics and crisping up chicken skin, and generally building flavor before the big steam.
Mistake #7: You’re giving the inside too good a scrub
You always thoroughly wash your Instant Pot after you use it, but maybe you’ve noticed that rainbow streaks have appeared on the inner pot. Resist the urge to scrub it down with your trusty brush or Brillo to avoid any unsightly marks. (But per company, the streaks are normal and don’t affect the way your food tastes.)
These are just a few common mistakes I’ve seen (and made myself). But honestly, practice makes perfect, and the best thing you can do is use your Instant Pot often to learn what works.
Food Editor, PureWow