Beginner’s Guide to Instant Pot: How to Use an Instant Pot

Using an Instant Pot is a great way to put nutritious and healthy food on the table in very little time. This Beginner’s Guide to the Instant Pot will teach you all about the convenient and awesome Instant Pot, plus I’ll show you how to use it, and provide tips on making delicious instant pot meals!

Bowl of butternut squash instant pot chili from overhead, which is topped with fresh cilantro and sliced jalapeno pepper.

Fast, nutritious, and delicious.

In my books, these are three words synonymous with the PERFECT recipe. 

When you’re short on time but still want to put a yummy, balanced meal on the table every night, you’ve got to come up with a plan. Part of that plan can be the instant pot.

Yes! Just like it sounds – savory and scrumptious meals in minutes. It can be done with the Instant Pot!

Eating clean has been an awesome change in my life and despite the busyness of having four kids underfoot and a husband who is super-involved with a lot of things, I’ve been able to make tasty meals every day while still following a clean-eating regimen. And provide  delicious nutrition. All with the instant pot.

Using an Instant Pot is easy peasy, but it can feel somewhat intimidating at first. Read on, and I’ll tell you how to use it and give you some of my favorite recipes!

Side view of the Instant Pot that will be used for making recipes like pulled pork, with a close up view of the function buttons.
WHAT IS AN INSTANT POT?

An instant pot is similar to a pressure cooker. The pre-set functions in today’s instant pot (as opposed to the early pressure cookers, and if buy more than the basic model) can sauté, steam, cook rice, make yogurt, function as a slow cooker, and more.

A highly pressurized environment cooks food quickly with a combination of steam and heat. An airtight seal on the instant pot allows for pressure and heat to build up, cooking all components of the meal evenly and in no time.

WHAT SIZE INSTANT POT DO I NEED?

Base the size of instant pot you buy on the average number of meals you think you will prepare the most.

For example, if you have a large family and host big Sunday dinners, go for the 10-quart instant pot.  This is the Instant Pot I use.

Meals for 4-6 people can be made in an instant pot that is 6 quarts in size.

On the medium size scale, you will need an 8-quart pot for families with 6-8 people.

Overhead view of tongs removing a piece of cooked pork for Carolina Pulled Pork in the Instant Pot.

BEST TYPES OF MEALS TO MAKE IN AN INSTANT POT

Although the instant pot is really versatile and an awesome tool to have in the kitchen, not every recipe suits it. These are simple rules I follow when using my instant pot:

  • Try recipes with beans (they cook really nicely!); see my video: Instant Pot Black Beans
  • Use recipes that have liquid in them, like beef stew and  Butternut Squash Instant Pot Chili
  • Use moist heat to cook, such as with cheesecake
  • Inexpensive cuts of meat can turn out super well
  • Don’t use ultra-tender cuts of meat
  • Don’t use a breaded recipe

Overhead view of Instant Pot Black Beans in a glass meal prep dish, topped with chilies and onions.

TIPS FOR USING AN INSTANT POT

To make every meal a success when using an instant pot, remember these tips:

  • The amount of liquid used is important: For a 6-quart instant pot you’ll need at least one cup of liquid (water, broth, etc.), and for an 8-quart pot, 1.5 cups of liquid are required. On the other end of the scale, too much liquid doesn’t work either. You want the liquid to evaporate most of the time.
  • Do not overfill the instant pot: When making beans or rice, fill the pot half way as a maximum. When using a liquid, two-thirds of the way full is the max.
  • Don’t add thickeners at the beginning of the recipe: Adding a thickener such as arrowroot starch should be done at the end of the cooking time. Add the thickener and use the sauté function for a few minutes. The same goes for dairy products and flour.
  • Don’t panic: As you learn to use the instant pot, don’t look at it as a scary device with no flexibility. If, for instance, your dish is not quite cooked when you open the lid, put the lid back on, and simply add a bit more cook time. 
  • Keep your instant pot on the counter: I’m thinking out of sight, out of mind. If you keep your pot where you can see it, you will remember to use it more often.
    View of a hand touching the function buttons to manually set the instant pot to cook the black beans.

HOW TO USE AN INSTANT POT

When learning how to use an instant pot, there are a 3 key things to remember, which I’ve outlined below:

  1. Pressure setting: The pressure setting is going to be either low or high. Typically, I use high, except for when I am doing a light steaming of vegetables or using the instant pot for cooking seafood.
  2. Cook time: This is determined by the recipe and whether you are converting a stovetop or slow cooker recipe to an instant pot recipe (yes, it can be done!). As well, if you are using frozen chicken breasts, for instance, you will need to add extra time.
  3. Release time: Certain recipes call for quick release (usually delicate meat cuts and veggies), while others will need what is called natural pressure release (tougher cuts of meat and starchy vegetables).

View of the butternut squash instant pot chili which has been cooked and is ready to serve.
INSTANT POT SAFETY TIPS

The instant pot is a safe appliance, but there are a few things to remember:

  • Lock the lid carefully: Make sure the sealing ring is placed correctly and that the lid is closed as it should be. The lid will turn clockwise and align in a locked position. Typically, the display will flash a warning if it’s not closed just right.
  • Remember the rules about filling the pot: Never fill over the two-thirds line, especially when cooking foods that expand such as rice, pasta, and beans.
  • No peeking: Be patient and let the instant pot do its work. Resist peeking – this is dangerous! Opening it before it depressurizes may result in an explosion of sorts, a big mess all over the kitchen, and risk of injury. Wait until the pressure valve has dropped down, and you know it’s safe to open the lid.
  • Keep kids and other family members away from the pot: Kids may be curious about the steam. There is a risk of burn, so let the kiddos know to maintain a distance.
  • Clean the pot thoroughly after use: Food items like applesauce, cranberries, and oatmeal can clog the steam release valve because they sputter and froth up when cooking. For the appliance to work correctly, all pieces need to be clean.
  • Read the manual: Buttons like “pressure,” “sauté,” and other programming buttons have specific functions that you need to understand. Keep it simple and read the manual!

Overhead view of 4 types of shredded chicken in glass containers, ready to be used in meal prep.

HOW TO USE AN INSTANT POT TO COOK CHICKEN

My family loves chicken. We enjoy it a few times a week. So, I am always trying to come up with different ways to cook it. One of my favorite methods is in the instant pot. This healthy and versatile protein cooks up perfectly and comes out juicy and tender. We love, love the Instant Pot Chicken Quinoa Bowl. It’s a colorful dish that we look forward to having – and it’s company-worthy, as well!

It’s a excellent way to cook chicken for meal prep, and that’s double-duty for saving time. Bonus!

This method of cooking chicken is also good for making chicken to top salads, too.

  • Remember to include the time needed to get your instant pot up to temperature (around 10 minutes)
  • For firm chicken that you may want to dice, cook for 10 minutes and include a quick release time
  • For chicken that you can shred, cook for 15 minutes with a natural release time of 5 minutes
  • For 4 chicken breasts, you will want to add a cup of water or low-sodium chicken broth as your liquid

Instant Pot Barbacoa Tacos, topped with shredded barbacoa beef, red onion, salsa verde, cotija cheese, and lime juice, ready to eat.

DOES USING AN INSTANT POT AFFECT THE NUTRIENTS IN YOUR FOOD?

Some people may wonder if the high heat and quick cooking time of the instant pot affects the nutrients in your food. There have been studies done on the topic, and here are some of the findings:

  • Pressure cooked meals may be easier to digest than food cooked in the microwave for example, and this means your body can absorb more nutrients
  • Pressure boiling and steaming of legumes increases the antioxidant activity
  • Foods like broccoli, when cooked in the instant pot, retain more Vitamin C than when steamed or boiled
  • Remember that wholesome, home-cooked food done in the instant pot is always better than packaged and processed foods

Overhead view of the Instant Pot Quinoa Chicken Bowl, including quinoa, chicken, bell peppers, and spinach.

MY FAVORITE INSTANT POT RECIPES

Once you get used to using your instant pot, I’m sure you’ll love it and will want to use it often. Here are a few recipes to start with!

This post contains affiliate links for products I use regularly and highly recommend.

Lacey Baier

Hey y’all, I’m Lacey Baier and I’m so glad you’re here! I’m a healthy lifestyle influencer and the creator of this clean-eating blog and YouTube channel, A Sweet Pea Chef. My recipes have been published on Food Network, Good Morning America, FoxNews, Tastemade, Fitness Magazine, and much more. I live in Dallas, Texas with my husband and four kiddos. Let’s get started!

One thought on “Beginner’s Guide to Instant Pot: How to Use an Instant Pot

  1. I am going to try the chicken spring rolls! These look so easy and I’m always looking for healthy recipes for my family.

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