Instant Pot Frequently Asked Questions
Because of my Instant Pot Duo pressure cooker recommendation, I get email with questions about how to use Instant Pot cookers. This post is to put them in one place, so I can refer everyone to it. So, here we go: Instant Pot Questions and Answers.
If you have a question I didn’t cover, leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to answer.
Q: All your recipes say “cook at high pressure for X minutes.” The Instant Pot does not have a high pressure button. How do I get high pressure on the Instant Pot?
A: Use the Manual button. On the instant pot, the “Manual” button means manual pressure cooking, and the default temperature is High. Press the manual button, use the plus and minus buttons to adjust the cooking time, then leave the cooker alone for ten seconds; it will start cooking automatically. (Hit cancel if you need to change something.) Manual means “manually timed pressure cooking”, as opposed to using a program mode for automatic pressure cooking. The program modes are the other buttons: Soup, Poultry, Meat/Stew, etc… Personally, I never bother with the program modes – I always use manual.
Q: Okay, so, How do I get Low pressure on the Instant Pot?
A: It depends. Which Instant Pot do you own? On the IP-DUO or IP-SMART, there is a “pressure” button to adjust the pressure level. Push the Manual button, then the Pressure button until the display says “Low”, then adjust the cooking time with the plus/minus buttons.
The older IP-LUX model does not do low pressure – it’s high pressure or nothing. That said – I never use low pressure. I owned an IP-LUX for years and didn’t realize it was missing until someone asked about it last month.
Q: What about natural pressure release? When the Instant Pot finishes cooking, it switches to Keep Warm mode – is that OK with a natural pressure release? Or should I cancel it?
A: Keep Warm mode does not affect Natural Pressure Release [Updated 2016-01-18] I used to tell everyone to turn off warming mode to speed up natural pressure release, but…I was wrong. (See here for details of my testing.) Keep Warm mode does not slow down natural pressure release. It does not turn the heat back on until it reaches the warming range of 145°F to 172°F, which is well below the temperature where the pressure will release.
Q: When using the Saute button, can you adjust the heat setting? (Related: How do I bring recipes to a boil before locking the lid on the pot, as some recipes reccomend?)
A: Use the Saute button, then the Adjust button. The heat level of Saute mode is controlled by the “Adjust” button. From the Instant Pot website: “3 levels of temperature can be chosen with the “Adjust” key for best results:”
- “Normal”: ~160°C (320°F) for regular browning,
- “More”: ~170°C (338°F) for darker browning, and
- “Less”: ~105°C (221°F) for light browning.
I tend to use “Saute – Normal” for most things, including browning. (Shame on me – I forget about the Adjust button.) For things like boiling, use the Adjust button to switch to “Saute – More”.
Q: When I put my electric pressure cooker in slow cooker mode, what is the equivalent slow cooker temperature? Is it the same as a slow cooker on High, or on Low?
A: For an Instant Pot? It depends. Similar to Saute mode, in Slow Cook mode, the Instant Pot is controlled by the “Adjust” button. Press Slow Cook, and then Adjust between High (about 210°F), Medium (about 200°F), and Low (about 190°F). Finally, use the plus/minus buttons to set the slow cooking time. (If you have another type of electric pressure cooker, I can’t say for sure. You’ll have to look it up in the manual.)
Q: What about the other buttons? Soup? Rice? Steam? Multigrain?
A: I don’t know – I never use them. I just use Manual mode for my pressure cooking. I don’t know what they’re doing in those other modes, so I’d rather use manual mode and control it myself.
Q: How do you adjust the cooking time in recipes designed for a traditional 15 psi stove top cooker?
A: I add 20% to the cooking time. The Instant Pot operates at 11.5 psi, so to make up for the difference, I add an extra 20% of time for electric pressure cooking. That means 10 minutes stove top is 12 minutes electric; 20 minutes stove top is 24 minutes electric; 30 minutes stove top is 36 minutes electric. (And so on).
The good thing about most pressure cooking recipes is they are not very precise – a little overcooking won’t hurt, and probably helps. If you’re cooking something that needs precise temperatures, you shouldn’t be cooking in a sealed pressure vessel.
Q: Why does my pressure cooker come with a max fill line? I can only use 2/3rds of the 6 quarts?
A: Pressure cookers need headspace to build pressure – don’t fill them past 2/3rds full. Pressure cookers are measured by total volume of the pot – how much it can hold if you fill it to the brim. But you can only use 2/3rds of that.
Why can you only use 2/3rds? Because pressure cookers need headspace to come up to pressure. The cooker needs space for the steam to build up, which is what pressurizes the pot. Also, this is a safety feature – if the bubbling ingredients in the pot get into the pressure valve, it can clog, and that’s when your pressure cooker can get into trouble with over-pressurizing.
Why don’t they measure the pressure cooker as 2/3rds of the pot volume? I don’t know, but every pressure cooker I’ve seen measures their size this way. I know it can be frustrating to find out your brand new 6 quart cooker can only cook 4 quarts of food. I’ve got the angry comments to prove it. If anything, I think the Instant Pot, and other modern, electric multi-cookers have a better argument for using the total volume – if they can also work as a slow cooker or a normal, electric powered pot, then you actually can use the entire pot.
Q: What is the minimum liquid amount for the Instant Pot?
2-3 cups, according to Instant Pot support About 1 cup, according to Instant Pot’s Facebook page.
[Updated 2015-08-06 with answer from Instant Pot’s Facebook Page]
1 cup is the minimum liquid amount, unless you’re cooking something that will absorb water. From a back and forth on Instant Pot’s Facebook page:
The short answer is “about a cup”.
The general point is to have enough liquid to reach and maintain pressure. When cooking absorbent foods, think rice, this will require enough for the food to absorb, plus some to bring the pot to pressure. When cooking moisture containing foods, say mushrooms which release moisture when cooked, this can be achieved with less added liquid. So, as is often the case in life, “it depends”. The Instant Pot is so well sealed that even a small amount of moisture can be sufficient, depending on the foods being cooked. [2015-08-06: Instant Pot Community Facebook Page]
I would NEVER suggest that you can go as low as 1/2 a cup of water, like I do all the time…um…I mean…nope, not me, not going to suggest it.
Q: Can I use the Instant Pot for pressure canning?
A: No. The Instant Pot, and all other electric pressure cookers, are not suitable for home canning, according to the USDA and the NCHFP (National Center for Home Food Preservation.) The NCHFP says that they don’t believe the processes recommended by the USDA are transferable to electric pressure cookers – you can’t trust them to hold high enough temperatures for the length of time needed to ensure safe canning. For more information, see this post on the NCHFP website: Can I Can in a Multi-Cooker?
Q: How do you know all of this?
A: I read manuals. And contact support when I have questions. (Yes, I read manuals, all the way through. I can’t help myself.) Instant Pot makes this easy; their manuals are online. Go to InstantPot.com/benefits/specifications-and-manuals/, click on the link to your Instant Pot cooker type, then scroll to the bottom and pick the User Manual you want (in English, French, Chinese, or Spanish).
Also, Instant Pot support is good at responding if you have questions. Drop them a line if you have a burning pressure cooker question you need answered.
Q: Which Instant Pot should I buy?
Why? See my post: Which Pressure Cooker Should I Buy?.
Q: What recipes should a beginner use in the instant pot?
A: Soup, Stew, Beans, Chili, and…Mac and Cheese?
…from there, go to the Pressure Cooker recipe index on the bar at the top of the page, and look for recipes that catch your fancy.
Q: I think my Instant Pot is broken. It’s not coming up to pressure/steam is escaping from the lid/nothing happens when I push a button…
A: I’m sorry to hear that! You should probably contact Instant Pot Support for help. Instant pot has a great support department. If you think your cooker is broken or malfunctioning, contact them at InstantPot.com/support
What do you think?
Other questions? Leave them in the comments section below.
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