I was pretty late in the game when it came to Instant Pots. Just the word “pressure cooker” can send us jumpy people into a tizzy! I understood where busy people who were out of the house all-day might find these contraptions useful, but as a homeschool-stay-at-home-mom, I felt my slow cooker was good enough for low effort yummy meals. So, I surprised even myself back in December when I walked out of a store with my very pretty Pioneer Woman floral instant pot. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure I was going to use it as an instant pot. I figured even if I never got the courage to use it for that, it DID have slow cooker and saute functions on it, so I knew it wouldn’t sit in the box until the end of time collecting dust while I cowered in the closet too afraid to even set foot in the kitchen again… (<<this sentence has been a dramatization…). Now I use my instant pot (for pressure cooking) a few times a week at the very least! I love this thing!
But as with most new and different cooking methods and appliances, I had many questions along the way. I also got a good feel for the most asked questions that all of the newbies were asking on Facebook groups since so many of us got these for the holidays. So I’ve been keeping track, answering my questions and working on putting together an all-inclusive post to walk you through some of the questions you’ll have along the way, and hopefully, give you the confidence to get one and open that box up and utilize this neat device!
10 Most Asked Questions
- What should I start with?! First and foremost start with the water test. This helps you make sure everything works, while you still hopefully have the receipt and you can exchange it if there IS a problem. Simply assemble your instant pot according to the directions (basically the stainless steel pan goes in the pot and make sure the seal in the lid is intact and wrapped around the skinny metal ring on the inside of the lid) then pour three cups of water into the pot, seal (make sure the lid is set to sealing and not venting) and set the pot to manual (or pressure cook depending on the model) for 3 minutes. It will take 15 minutes or so for the cooker to pressurize and then it will start counting down from the 3 minutes. You will hear some hissing and other noises while the IP is pressurizing. When the instant pot is finished counting down the three minutes it will beep and you can set the lid to “venting.” After the water test, the next good thing to start with would be steaming veggies, cooking plain chicken breast or making an easy mac and cheese. Pinterest has NO shortage of different recipes, so I’ll be leaving those out for this post.
- Steam comes out while it’s pressurizing, is that normal? Yes! I think it’s just part of the process of pressurizing, but usually a minute or two before it’s fully pressurized and starts counting down the cooking time, I notice steam comes out of the vent. As long as it’s not doing this during the cooking time and you have the lid set to sealing NOT venting, it’s fine, and I look forward to it as it tells me I’m that much closer to my food being done!
- Pops and clicks while cooking is that okay?! Yes! When you first start using the IP and you’re nervous, it can be scary to hear these weird noises. Most people comment they think it’s getting ready to explode when they first hear that, but it’s okay! It’s not really loud, I think it just surprises people. It’s a metal pan inside a metal contraption, some noise is to be expected and it’s just the cooker working and pressurizing like it’s supposed to.
- I’m SO intimidated by these! I know this isn’t a question but this is probably the number 1 thing I see in the groups. The best thing to do is to start small, start easy and start simple. Go up to number 1 on this list and just start with the water test. Once you realize that you will survive using this thing you’ll be more likely to expand from there and try new things. Or try things you already know you love and see how much easier it can be in the instant pot.
- What do the letters in the recipes mean? While going through the different recipes you’ll likely run into different acronyms. Ip means instant pot, of course. NPR means natural pressure release- once the cooking time is done and the IP beeps at you, you just let it sit for whatever amount of time that the recipe tells you. Once the pot stops cooking you’ll see something like L0:00 and then the pot will count up by the minute, this tells you how long the IP has been sitting and the pressure will release naturally during this time. QR means quick release, when the pot beeps at you, just push the venting valve either left or right so that the steam will quickly release. If you’re scared of being burned by this you can use a spoon handle to help you push the valve, but this isn’t really necessary. This can take a couple minutes depending on how much food or liquid is in the pot. Once the steam is done, the lid should easily turn and lift, and you’re done.
- Not pressurizing. This one is hard to really figure out without troubleshooting, as there are many reasons why this can happen. Sometimes not enough liquid was added to the pot, most pots require at least 1 cup of liquid in order to pressurize. Sometimes too much food is in the cooker. However, usually, this isn’t actually happening. What’s really happening is that you might not be patient enough. I’ve had a few recipes that have taken upwards of 20 minutes to pressurize (a huge batch of mashed potatoes on Christmas took about 25 minutes just to pressurize). If after 20-30 minutes your pot still hasn’t pressurized then you can start troubleshooting where it’s going wrong. Is your seal on the lid correctly? Did the amount of food go past the max fill line on the pot? Double-check that there is enough water in the pot, and make sure that lid is set to sealing NOT venting.
- Not de-pressurizing (can’t open the lid). I don’t see this question nearly as often as the pressurizing problem, but this has happened to me. What usually causes this is some food (in my case some tiny broccoli pieces) covered the lid vent from the inside and air wasn’t escaping. What I did was wait around 15 minutes for it to try to naturally release and then I ended up taking the vent seal off (just pull up on the vent, it does no harm to the lid) and that seemed to help me get more of the steam out. The great thing about these cookers is that if there’s pressure on the inside of the pot you can’t pull the lid off, it locks in place. This ends up being a great safety measure. Just maybe don’t cook broccoli using the pot in pot method.
- What size should I get? I have a 6 quart and honestly, that’s ALWAYS enough for my family of 5. However, if you think you might use this to cook for potlucks, parties, or larger groups of people an 8 quart is the way to go. You can always cook smaller amounts of food in a larger pot, but you can’t cook larger amounts of food in a smaller pot… if that makes sense? If you’re on the fence, it wouldn’t be a waste to get the larger pot.
- Why do I have a burn message on my pot? This can happen if you don’t have at least one cup of liquid in the pot for it to pressurize, or if you sauteed meat or veggies and didn’t de-glaze the pot beforehand. So always make sure you have the right amount of liquid (with no thickening agents, add a thickening agent after the instant pot has worked it’s magic) and always scrape your pot to get any cooked-on food off before going on to the next step of pressure cooking.
- How do I get rid of stinky ring?! As you try new recipes and use more pungent ingredients like onions, you may find that your lid starts to have a funny smell. Firstly, this smell won’t impact the taste of the next food you make, so if you really are not bothered by it, you’re going to be fine. But if the smell really bothers you, there are a few options to help you out. An Amazon search will show you plenty of extra rings that you can buy. These rings are usually color-coded so you can do one color for sweets and one for savory foods. Your ring, lid and inner pot are all dishwasher safe, so a good way to easily clean all of these would be to stick them in the dishwasher shortly after cooking with them, this refreshes the lid before the smells have much time to really set in. If you don’t have a dishwasher I still recommend washing at least the ring as soon as possible after cooking, remove the ring and give it a good scrub with some Dawn and let it fully dry before putting it back into the lid. If you have a little extra time and prefer to go a more natural route, you can use equal parts vinegar and water and run the pot just as you did with the water test. If you’re starting fresh with a new ring and lid you can skip this whole mess by storing your lid upside down so that it’s able to air out any smells in the first place, just about everyone who stores their lid this way has no complaints about a smelly ring!
Okay, now you know the answers to the very first things you’ll run into when you finally open up that instant pot box and get to work! The instant pot really is fairly easy to troubleshoot, and has a lot of safety measures built right in! There really isn’t much to be afraid of. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get cooking! If you have any other questions about the pot, feel free to ask in the comments below this post and let’s learn together!
Until next time friends,