Instant Pot For Beginners: The Official How-To

Instant Pot For Beginners: The Official How-To

If you just bought or received an Instant Pot, you’re going to need to learn how to use one. Let’s go over what you need to do to get started cooking delicious meals in your Instant Pot. Today’s guide is the ultimate Instant Pot how-to for beginners.  

It’s overwhelming for everybody when they first get started. I was even nervous about doing the water test when I first got mine. From safety features to testing, to beginning to cook in your Pot, let’s go through step-by-step. In no time, you will get the hang of the Instant Pot. Think of this as your Instant Pot manual. Let’s get started!

Instant Pot For Beginners What Is An Instant Pot?

It’s easiest to explain that an Instant Pot is a multi-use electric pressure cooker. Some may even call the Pot a multi-cooker. The Pot builds high pressure to cook any food quickly. 

What Happens When You Use An Instant Pot? 

First, the pressure of the steam builds up inside the appliance.  A high-temperature environment is what cooks foods fast. The standard pressure cooker your grandma used is not the safest or most straightforward to use. The Instant Pot takes away the ‘pressure’ involved with cooking a delicious meal fast. 

Instant Pot For Beginners: What Else Can An Instant Pot Do?

Your Instant Pot is not just a pressure cooker. It is a slow cooker, a steamer, a rice cooker, a warmer, a yogurt maker, and sautees all in one. Instant Pot does the job of about ten different appliances. It’s surprising to many how versatile the Instant Pot is for cooking. The flavors that come from using this one appliance are so unexpected and delicious. 

Tough meats are a breeze in the Instant Pot. The high pressure inside the Pot will surprise amateur and pro chefs alike. You’ll find your soups, chilis, and roasts have never tasted better after using your Pot. 

Step 1: How to Unpack Your Instant Pot

It’s time to unbox your Instant Pot. You’re going to turn your Instant Pot’s lid counterclockwise. Then, lift. There will be some plastic wrap and possibly some styrofoam inside and outside the Pot. Just remove that and take your Pot out of the box. Then unwrap whatever accessories come with your Instant Pot model. 

A Beginner’s Guide to Instant Pot Parts And Accessories

Here are the simple basics to the components that come with your Instant Pot:

Base Unit

The base unit of your Instant Pot contains the heating element that cooks your food at high temperatures. 

Stainless Steel Inner Pot

This goes inside your base unit and is the vessel to cook your food in. 


Your lid (which will differ in looks depending on the model) will snap shut so your food can cook at high pressure. 

Steam Release Valve

This component will go on the top of your lid. It may come attached. See the manual for any additional instructions. 

Sealing Ring

This is an important part to your Instant Pot for safety on the inside of the lid.

Condensation Collector

Most base Instant Pot models (minus LUX models) will have you attach this plastic cup to the back of your Instant Pot. 


This helps make meats and other dishes so the liquid can fall to the bottom of the Pot.

Power Cord

This cord will most likely come removable. You can store it in your Pot when not in use. 

Measuring Cup/Utensils

You can use your measuring cups and utensils in replace of these (I do). As a bonus, your Instant Pot will include these tools. 

Make sure you wash the parts that come with your Instant Pot:

The Instant Pot lid, Steam Release Valve, and the stainless steel inner pot. They are dishwasher safe, or you can wash by hand. DO NOT immerse your base unit appliance in water.

Instant Pot for Beginners: Safety Instructions For the Instant Pot

Please see your Instant Pot manual for all the safety instructions. However, note that you must follow these important safety instructions: 

NEVER move your face in front of the steam release valve or float valve while your Instant Pot is on. To make the steam release valve easy and safe to use, use a long spoon like a wooden spoon, your arm far away from the valve, and turn the steam release valve. It is OKAY to use an oven mitt to turn the valve, too. I just prefer a long kitchen utensil to avoid any kitchen accidents. Always carefully turn your steam release valve to “venting” when ready.

You should NEVER open your Instant Pot lid until the steam release valve has released all the pressure. The float valve (pin) will drop down when all the pressure inside has been released. 

Note: your float valve should be either red or silver, depending on the model you have. You might see it pop up when the Pot is pressurized. Figure how your model works first.

Instant Pot for Beginners: Natural Release

Your recipe might call for “natural release.” What this means is you should wait for the amount of time the method specified. After, move the steam release valve to the “venting” position to get the rest of the steam and pressure out. Also, always make sure your float valve is DOWN. Then you will know that it is safe to open your Instant Pot lid. Always open the cover slowly, tilting it away, so you do not get hot steam in your face. NOTE: NEVER TRY TO OPEN THE LID IF YOUR INSTANT POT IS STILL PRESSURIZED.

Instant Pot For Beginners: How To Inspect Your Instant Pot Before Using

Inspect your instant pot base. You will want to have your inner Pot out while doing this. Always make sure the heating element inside the support is free of debris and dry before using your Instant Pot. Always thoroughly dry your stainless steel inner pot before returning it to the bottom of your appliance.

Check your silicone sealing ring to make sure it is appropriately fitted to the lid and does not have a tear.

Make sure your steam release valve is free of debris and clean by removing the valve from the Instant Pot lid. You can do this by pulling gently straight up. Many foods froth and foam, causing the valve to clog. If the steam release valve is dirty, just run it under water and put it back on the lid. 

Make sure your float valve is free of debris and clean. You can clean it with warm water. Place the lid underwater while it is running to wash it.

Instant Pot For Beginners: Water Test For Instant Pot Beginners

It’s helpful to perform a water test when using your Instant Pot for the first time. Think of it as a test run. This test is needed to make sure your appliance is working correctly and get you acquainted with your new Instant Pot. Also, it will help you tell if your Instant Pot is defective, which will save you a lot of pain. You can quickly get support and a replacement if it does not function correctly or if something is faulty.

While using the Instant Pot Ultra, use the dial to select cooking programs. Change the cook time and press “start.” Use the steam release button. You will want to press it to release the pressure manually. Manually lets the steam release valve seal automatically on the Ultra. On the other models, you do it manually.

How You Can Do An Instant Pot Water Test

  1. Ensure that your power cord is connected to the Pot. Plug it into a power outlet. Note: Make sure that you have the Pot away from walls and overhead counters as to not get the steam all over them.
  2. Put your inner Pot in the base unit.
  3. Add 3 cups of water (cold) to the Inner Pot. 
  4. Make sure the sealing ring is on correctly, fitting the Instant Pot lid. If something looks wrong, contact Instant Pot customer service.
  5. Place the lid on the Instant Pot, turning clockwise until closed. Your Instant Pot will make a noise to tell you when it is closed and open, as long as it is plugged in.
  6. Have your steam release valve at the “sealing” position. You may need to turn it. Unless you have an Ultra, then you can press a button.
  7. Press the time buttons (+/-) to set the time to five minutes. After ten seconds, the Instant Pot will say “On” and start heating up to begin.
  8. The Instant Pot generally takes five to fifteen minutes to reach pressure. The float valve will pop up when it has reached pressure. That is when the countdown from five minutes will begin. You will hear sounds like a hiss. This is to be expected because the pressure is building. If you notice a plastic smell on your first try, that is normal, too. It should go away after a couple of uses.
  9. After the five minute cook time is over, you will hear the Instant Pot beep. Then, the Pot will switch into “keep warm” mode, and the minutes on display will count up. That is how you know how the cook cycle is over. There will also be an “L” on display. Use the count up feature for when you decide to do a natural release.
  10. Your water test is almost over! You will do a “quick release” of the pressure. Turn the release valve to “venting” using a long wooden spoon or some kind of long kitchen tool. Using a kitchen tool will keep your body safe from the hot steam coming from the valve.
  11. Your float valve will naturally dop down. Then, you can remove your Instant Pot’s lid. Your test is done. If all does not go as planned, either try again or contact Instant Pot’s customer service.


How To Get Started Cooking With Your Instant Pot

Using your Instant Pot will take a few times before you are comfortable with all that the pressure cooker can do. After some time, you will be a natural at the Instant Pot. Please note that the buttons on your Instant Pot may differ from mine, as far as labeling goes. Before you use any of my advice, look at your user manual so we can be on the same page.

Liquid Requirements

Always use at least 1 cup of liquid every time you cook using your Instant Pot. Because the Instant Pot cooks food with steam and pressure, having liquid in your Instant Pot is critical to creating the steam. Be sure to check your recipe for the amount of liquid required. Never make anything without some liquid in your Pot. 

Fill Level Requirements

As a general rule of thumb, I NEVER fill my Instant Pot up past the ⅔ line as indicated on the inner Pot. You should see the ½ and ⅔ lines marked in your pod. When cooking foods that naturally expand while cooking, such as rice, I try not to go past the ½ line.

Pressure Cook/Manual Buttons

Sometimes the “Pressure Cook” button is labeled “Manual” on some Instant Pot models and vice versa. This is the button you will use to start a cycle when pressing start to pressure cook in your Instant Pot. 

+/- Buttons

You will use the +/- buttons to change cooking time after you have selected the type of cycle you would like (ex, pressure cooking, slow cooking, etc.).

“Keep Warm”/”Cancel” Button

 When you would like to end cooking and keep your food warm, press this button. Though, it will automatically go to this once your timer is done cooking either way. Unplug your Instant Pot to turn off your Pot completely.

“Sauté” Button

The “Sauté” button on your Instant Pot will trigger the Pot to heat up so you can sauté in seconds. It’s a convenient way to prepare and brown foods with one appliance. Use sauté mode to thicken sauces and soups after you pressure cook them. Do not use this function with the lid on. Press the cancel button to turn off sauté once done.

“Adjust” Button

Control the amount of heat while sauteeing food by pressing this button. You can choose between “less,” “normal,” and “more.” 

“Pressure” or “Pressure Level” Button

The Pressure button helps you switch between high and low-pressure settings. About every recipe on here will be at high pressure. So, you won’t be using this button very often. Instant Pot LUX models do not have this function.

Program Buttons

These buttons are the variety of buttons your Instant Pot comes with. Choose between: Soup/Broth, Bean/Chili, Meat/Stew, Cake, Egg, Rice, Multigrain, Porridge, Yogurt, Steam, and Slow Cook. They are all pre-set. You may want to just do your own controls based on the recipe you’re using. Also, note that you may have some of these buttons or all of them, depending on the model you own.

Instant Pot For Beginners: How To Use the Instant Pot Trivet

When you do not want your food to come into contact with the pt, use the trivet at the bottom of the Instant Pot. The trivet helps cook hard-boiled eggs and baked potatoes. Recipes you do not want to have direct contact with the heat.

How To Close the Instant Pot Lid

Closing your Instant Pot lid is secure. Simply get your cover on the track of the upper edge of your Instant Pot base. You will hold the handle and fit the lid on the track. Turn the lid clockwise. The arrow on the lid will line up with the arrow on the base unit. You will hear a sound when your lid has appropriately closed.

Instant Pot For Beginners: Sealing

To seal the Instant Pot, turn the steam release valve to “sealing” as labeled on your Instant Pot. It will seem wobbly, but that is fine. Every time you pressure cook using your Instant Pot, make sure you have your steam release valve on the sealing position. 

Instant Pot For Beginners: Cooking Time and Total Time

The cooking cycle and the actual cook time of a recipe differ. The cooking cycle is longer. That is because your Instant Pot needs to reach optimal cooking pressure. To reach cooking pressure, your Instant Pot may take about ten minutes, depending on the size of your appliance as well as the temperature of the ingredients in the Pot. Accounting for the time also includes the time to release pressure. See your recipe instructions for the cooking time and total time.

Instant Pot For Beginners: Natural Pressure Release (NPR)

When you let the pressure release naturally, you are making the Instant Pot sit still after the cooking time on your device ends. That is a natural pressure release. Most recipes will call for anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes. Natural release is perfect for foamy foods or when your Pot is full. This helps you avoid hot foam coming out of the steam release or float valve.

Instant Pot For Beginners: Quick Release (QR)

Manually forcing the pressure to release from the steam release valve is called “quick release.” You are going to manually turn the steam release valve to the “venting” position this way. To avoid the hot steam from burning you, use a wooden spoon or a long kitchen utensil to help you do this. Move the valve slowly and carefully. Be sure to keep your face away. This function is perfect for when you want your food to stop cooking quickly to not over-cook food. Tender cuts of meat may need this technique as well. 

Instant Pot For Beginners: Removing the Lid

DO NOT try to take off the Instant Pot lid while the Instant Pot is full of pressure or before your float valve (pin) drops. The dropping of the float valve will indicate that the pressure in your Pot has been released. Hold the handle, turn it counterclockwise, and lift carefully. 

Cook Time

You do not need to double the cooking time for a doubled recipe. Make sure that it does not go over your max fill lines before you cook. Though, if you have larger vegetable and meat sizes, Higher cook time may be necessary. Make sure you read recipe instructions carefully before deciding the best cook time.

Instant Pot For Beginners: Recipes To Get Started

Check out the collection of recipes on the blog. Looking for your next Instant Pot? Check out the Instant Pot product reviews too.  


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