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Let Go of the Fear: How to Use an Instant Pot

It’s time to take your Instant Pot out of the box. I know you’re scared. The feelings you have are completely normal. I’m going to teach you how to use an Instant Pot – it’s actually an amazing, life-changing kitchen appliance, and I want you to reap the benefits of it! I’m here to hold your hand – we’re in this together. Ready? Here we go!

I was there once, too – the big box, staring me in the face. The big pot, once removed from the box, staring at me with its hundreds of buttons and lights.

It can feel like there’s so much to know, it’s hard to even know how to get started. But here’s the thing I want to to tell you: your Instant Pot will change your life.

Yes, really.

The first thing I ever tried cooking in my Instant Pot was sweet potatoes. Seeing as how I use them for so many recipes, and always have them cooked on hand, it seemed like a no-brainer.

My previous method for cooking sweet potatoes was to poke them with a knife, wrap them in foil, line a baking sheet with foil, put the potatoes in the oven at 400°, bake for an hour to an hour and fifteen, take them out, let them cool, unwrap, then spend 20 minutes scrubbing the baking sheet that had sweet potato glue all over it.

Since then, I’ve perfected my technique, which you can find in my post about How to Cook Sweet Potatoes in the Instant Pot.

Here are my top recommendations on how to use an Instant Pot:

1. Start with something basic.

Don’t think that just because you want to use your IP, it has to be a show-stopping recipe. It shouldn’t be. You need to get comfortable with how the thing functions before you start trying to cook actual recipes.

Start with something small. For me it was sweet potatoes, for you it might be something else. My second go-to was chicken breasts. Google is your best friend here, there’s a world of bloggers posting how to cook various things in the Instant Pot every day.

Here’s a link for nomnompaleo’s Instant Pot Spaghetti Squash, and a link for Real + Vibrant’s Instant Pot Carrots. I promise no matter what you’re looking for, there’s an instructional post out there for you to follow.

2. Learn the main functions you need to get started.

The Instant Pot can do a LOT. Confession: there’s a ton of things I still haven’t tried with it. Don’t worry about learning them all at once. Learn the main basic functions you’ll be using the most often, and go from there.

Here are the ones I use most often:

Steam.

I use this one for things like sweet potatoes and eggs. You can set the steam pressure to high or low. To figure this out, just think about the delicateness of the food. Sweet potatoes are pretty hard and tough, so they can stand up to high steam. Eggs are a little bit more delicate than sweet potatoes, so they get low steam.

Manual.

I think of manual like a stick shift car – I want to be in control of what’s happening. The “auto” side of things is for all the specific buttons: “Rice” and “Yogurt” and “Poultry” and whatever else. Most of those are the ones I haven’t tried; even when I cook my chicken breasts in the Instant Pot, I use the manual function. I want to make sure I have control over the time and pressure that’s occurring, rather than just hitting the poultry button.

Manual Release.

Manual release means when the timer goes off, you automatically flick the valve open on the top to let the steam out and depressurize the pot. You want to use this when you don’t want the thing you’re cooking to continue to cook any longer. For example, I use manual release on hard boiled eggs, so that I can stop them from continuing to cook, take them out, and shock them in cold water.

You can also use manual release for things like chicken, depending on the consistency of how you want the food to end up. For example, when I use manual release on chicken breasts, they come out a bit more firm and able to be diced up, as opposed to shredding easily, which happens with natural release.

Natural Release.

Natural release is exactly what it sounds like – instead of you manually releasing the valve, you let the pot release naturally on it’s own. I use this function a LOT, mostly because I’m lazy or busy. When I do chicken this way, I just let it sit and depressurize, sometimes for a loooong time, and it’s always fine when I come back: tender, shreddable, and delicious.

3. Know when to use the inner rack, and when to skip it.

This can be confusing for some people. Think about it this way. Would the item you are cooking benefit or suffer from sitting in liquid? That’s your answer.

Chicken: tender and juicy from sitting in broth.

Sweet potatoes: Soggy and mushy from soaking up water.

4. Give yourself time to grow.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. You can’t expect yourself to know how to use all of the functions and buttons right away. Start with these small steps and little bit of research. Once you’ve gained confidence in operating it, then try a full recipe and see how it goes.

side view of an Instant Pot

How to Use an Instant Pot

A few steps to help you learn how to use an Instant Pot - it's actually an amazing, life-changing kitchen appliance, and you can reap the benefits of it! Here's how to take the leap and take it out of the box, once and for all.

Instructions

Start with something basic.

People who decide to start running one day don't go straight to the Olympics. Allow yourself time to grow. Start off by cooking a single item in your Instant Pot that doesn't require complicated steps. I chose to start out with sweet potatoes (you can see my post on those here), but you can start out with anything you like to cook regularly and have on hand.

Learn the basic functionality.

You don't need to know what every single button does all the time to use an IP. Start with knowing the basics. My MVPs are Steam, Manual, Natural Release and Manual Release, which are all outlined in the post above.

Know when to use the inner rack and when to skip it.

Ask yourself if the food you are cooking would benefit from sitting in liquid. Potatoes will get soggy if they are left sitting in water; chicken will get tender sitting in warm broth.

Give yourself time to grow.

Rome wasn't built in a day. Start small. Learn how to cook 1 or 2 things in your Instant Pot. Once you start feeling more confident with it, you can move on to recipes!

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