Instant Pot Basics

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Instant Pot Basics

I think I was the last person alive to break down and purchase an Instant Pot, but when Amazon Prime day featured them at the lowest price ever, I couldn’t resist. An Instant Pot is a 7-in-1 appliance that functions as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, steamer, warmer, saute pan and even as a deep fryer. A lot of the recipes I had seen posted were meat-based, so since I am a vegetarian I reasoned that I wouldn’t use it that often. But, with my stepsons here this summer, I was cooking meat almost every day, and time was a precious commodity I was running short on.

I bit the bullet and ordered the Instant Pot, and I have had it for almost a week now. I was able to make frozen chicken drumsticks into BBQ chicken in less than 30 minutes, I made PERFECT baked potatoes (also in 30 minutes, start to finish), and I have even cooked tofu in it! I’m completely sold, and I wish I would have purchased one a long time ago!

I was a little bit afraid of the pressure cooker aspect because I have always heard that they can explode. Friends have reassured me that there is no danger with the Instant Pot, but I still pored over the instruction booklet to make sure I was using it correctly. The instruction booklet that comes with the Instant Pot leaves a lot to be desired, and I had to Google to figure several features out. I am still a complete newbie at using the machine, but I am hoping that some of my trial and error will help someone else figure their machine out right out of the box.

Quick Release vs. Natural Release

Pressure cookers work by using pressure and boiling water to cook the food quickly. When it is done, the pressure has to be released before you can open the lid. Many Instant Pot recipes call for a quick release, which is manually opening the valve and letting the steam escape quickly. If you want to scare the crap out of your dogs and/or small children, quick release is the way to go. But others call for using natural release. What the heck is that? Where is the button?

Natural release means letting the steam escape slowly on its own. Once the cooking function is done, the display will read L0:01, and count up from there. That means the pot is on the warm function (the number denotes how many minutes it has been warming) and the pot is naturally releasing the steam. You can usually hear a little hiss as it releases. Some recipes will call for a specific time to natural release, and then when that time is up you can turn the valve to quick release. 

What is the rack thing that comes with it and how do I use it?

Your new Instant pot includes a stainless steel steam rack with handle, rice paddle, soup spoon, and measuring cup. The steam rack was confusing to me. I wasn’t sure how it fir into the Instant Pot or what it’s purpose was because of it’s awkward design. This is essentially a trivet designed to keep food out of the water. It inserts with the “handles” sticking up. I used this when I made baked potatoes. You can also purchase taller racks, steam baskets, etc to use in your Instant Pot.

Instant Pot

What are all of these buttons for?

Obviously the Instant Pot will do 7 different things, but it can be a little confusing to use. The slow cooker function works like any other slow cooker, but less = warm, normal = low, and more = high. It will default to normal after 4 hours.

When you use the saute feature, always have the lid off. Press more for higher heat to brown and sear, or less for more of a simmer.

The manual button means that you can easily input the number of minutes you want to cook for. The other buttons, like poultry, cook in the same way, but the time is pre-set.

The keep warm/cancel button will cancel any other feature on the Instant Pot. You can keep things warm at 167° by pressing more, or at 133° by pressing less.

The soup button will cook with high pressure for 30 minutes, or can be adjusted to 40 by pressing more, or less for 20 minutes. You can also adjust the time in this manner with the meat/stew, bean/chili, porridge and poultry buttons. 

The rice button is fully automatic, and you will want to add 1:2 rice to liquid.

For the steam button you will want to use the rack so the food does not come in direct contact with the bottom of the pot.

There are tons of Facebook groups and blog posts out there that can help you navigate your new Instant Pot and try some new recipes, but I hope this cleared up a few of the things that confused me right out of the box!

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Hi! I'm Melissa!

Melissa is a former hairstylist of 20 years who has a passion for living a simply creative life. She loves inspiring others to pick up a planner and get their lives organized, to clean out a closet and minimize their clutter, and to clean up their physical and mental space to lead their most fulfilled life. She is newly single, a mom, soon to be grandma and crazy dog lady who constantly rewatches The Office.

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