This is the final article of series of 4 posts about how to use your Instant Pot.
- Part 1 – A Simple Way to Get Started
- Part 2 – Pot in Pot Cooking
- And Part 3 – Which Instant Pot to Buy, Features, Accessories and Cleaning Tips.
We hope our Instant Pot series has taken most of the mystery out of this handy small appliance. If you still have a few lingering questions, we’ve compiled a list of FAQ’s to help.
What is the difference between an Instant Pot and a Pressure Cooker?
First of all, let’s define what a pressure cooker is. Simply put, a pressure cooker is an airtight vessel that cooks food quickly through steam pressure. An Instant Pot is a pressure cooker, but it’s also so much more. In addition to pressure cooking, the Instant Pot can also be used as a slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker and steamer.
Most Instant Pots range from $80 – $150. Each model offers different features, some of which you may or may not need. In an earlier post, we broke down the various settings included in each model. Start by examining each model and evaluate how likely you are to use each of the features.
What size Instant Pot should I buy?
Instant Pots come in three sizes – 3-quart, 6-quart, and 8-quart. The six-quart size is the most popular and available in every model. Three and eight-quart sizes are available in select models. Consider how you plan to use your Instant Pot and the number of people you plan to feed.
- Three-quart models feed up to 2 people.
- Six-quart models feed up to four people.
- Eight-quart models are ideal for families of four or more or for feeding large crowds.
What Instant Pot accessories do I need to buy?
Every Instant Pot comes with a steam rack, soup spoon, rice paddle, measuring cup and recipe booklet. Higher end models also come with a lid holder and silicon mitts.
While you don’t need to buy any additional accessories, there are some items that will take your Instant Pot game to a whole new level. Check out our list of Seven Instant Pot Essentials.
Why should I water test my Instant Pot?
Before you use an Instant Pot for the first time, it is recommended that you perform what’s called a “water test.” Instructions for how to perform a basic water test will be included in your user’s manual.
Basically, you run through the various cycles using water instead of actual food. This allows you to familiarize yourself with the different functions of the Instant Pot, such as sealing and steam release, as well as ensure that everything is working properly.
What is the difference between natural and quick pressure release?
When pressure cooking, you must release the pressure inside before opening the lid. There are two ways to do this – quick release and natural release.
During quick pressure release (QPR or QR), you simply move the pressure valve to vent to release the pressure immediately. Use caution when doing quick release, as hot steam can burn.
For natural pressure release (NPR or NR), instead of venting the Instant Pot manually, you simply leave the Instant Pot alone after cooking is complete and allow the pressure to dissipate on its own. This can take up to 30 minutes depending on what’s cooking inside.
It is recommended that you use natural release for foods that foam, such as rice, grains, beans or pasta, because they can spew hot liquid if the pressure is released too soon.
Why does my Instant Pot say “Burn”?
One of the many safety features built in to every Instant Pot is the burn-protection sensor that monitors temperature and shuts down the heating element if the Instant Pot gets too hot. If this happens, you will notice a message that reads “burn.” Older models may say “ovrht.”
There are a few reasons why you may get a “burn” notice on your Instant Pot:
- Not enough liquid. This isone of the most common user errors. An Instant Pot needs at least one cup of liquid to create enough steam to build pressure. Less than one cup can cause the bottom of the metal insert to become too hot.
- The sealing ring is not inserted into the lid or it’s not inserted properly.The sealing ring prevents steam from escaping. If you forgot to replace the sealing ring after cleaning or it’s not aligned properly, too much liquid can escape.
- The pressure release valve is set to venting.The pressure release valve on the back of the Instant Pot has two settings — sealing and venting. Sealing prevents steam from escaping and allows pressure to build, while venting releases the steam and the pressure. If you forget move the valve back to sealing, too much liquid can escape.
- Food is stuck to the bottom of the steel insert.Starchy items such as rice or pasta can stick to the bottom of the pan during cooking. Bits of food can also stick to the bottom of the pan when using the sauté function.
- Pressure cooking tomato or cream-based products.These items run the risk of scorching and can cause the bottom of the pan to overheat.
What do I do if I get a burn warning?
First of all, don’t panic. A burn warning doesn’t mean you ruined your Instant Pot or the meal. With some quick thinking, you might just be able to save dinner.
Step one.Release the pressure either through quick release or natural release.
Step two.Open the lid and check the contents. If food is in fact stuck to the bottom of the pan, transfer the unburnt food to a separate bowl and remove the burnt food. You may need to let the metal insert soak in some warm soapy water to loosen it up.
Step three.Check the heating element. Remove any bits of food or debris that may have gotten stuck between the element and the pan.
Step four.Double check the sealing ring and valves.
Step five.Replenish any lost liquid to make at least one cup.
Step six.Once you’ve walked through all these steps, add your food back to the clean metal insert and restart the cooking process. You may need to adjust your cooking time accordingly.
PIP stands for “pot in pot” cooking. It’s a technique that allows the user to cook using an oven safe bowl placed on a steam rack inside the Instant Pot. This method is great for steaming, for cooking foods that have a tendency to scorch, or cooking multiple items in the Instant Pot at the same time. You can learn more about PIP cooking in this post.
Can I cook frozen food in an Instant Pot?
Yes! One of the many great advantages of an Instant Pot is that food can be cooked straight from the freezer. No more thawing! You will need to adjust the cooking time because it will take the Instant Pot longer to come up to pressure. Also, be mindful when heating cream-based dishes or meals with thickeners such as flour or cornstarch, as these can scorch. Consider using the PIP method mentioned above for these items.
Can I use an Instant Pot for canning?
The Instant Pot can be used for steam canning high acid items that could be processed using the water bath canning method. Unfortunately, the FDA has not approved the Instant Pot for pressure canning.
This article was written by Lisa Bynum for Busy Cooks.