When I first wrote about Instant Pots back in 2017, it was with the ardor of new love. I’d fallen hard for my first electric pressure cooker, delighting in the myriad ways it could improve my kitchen life. All those weeknight meals of dried beans and silky braised meats, the speedy brown rice, the endless flow of soups and homemade stock changed how I cooked in a fundamental way.
The question was, would the habit stick? Or would my Instant Pot end up like so many panini presses and sous vide wands — on a shelf in the basement, fuzzy with dust?
I’m happy to report that, nearly five years in, it has remained an integrated and well-used kitchen tool. After hundreds of meals, I’ve learned a few very valuable lessons, whether getting the smell out of the sealing ring or troubleshooting the dreaded burn message.
Here are my best practices and tips for getting the most out of your Instant Pot:
Play to Its Strengths
The most important thing I’ve learned is to stick to what the Instant Pot does well. Any dish that traditionally needs long, slow cooking in a moist environment will turn soft and succulent a lot faster in an electric pressure cooker.
Tough cuts of meat become incomparably tender and silky. Pork shoulder — stewed with wine, herbs, root vegetables and olives or capers for brightness — becomes a staple as soon as the weather turns cool. I especially love the Instant Pot for making chickpeas from scratch, which taste about a million times better than canned. And I haven’t made risotto or rice pudding on the stove since taking the Instant Pot out of its box. Why mess with perfection?
Lock That Lid
It’s bound to happen at some point: You’ve filled your Instant Pot, set the pressure to high, then opened the lid to find dinner only half cooked. What went wrong?
The sealing ring may be slightly askew. Before cooking, make sure the ring is pressed down all the way around the inside cover of the pot. Then after the machine starts counting down, check that the pressure indicator at the top is firmly in its locked position (I poke it with a chopstick).
Avoid the Dreaded ‘Burn’
Your electric pressure cooker can’t tell the difference between the tasty, caramelized bits that stick to the pot after you brown your ingredients (sometimes known as the fond) and food that is smoldering to a crisp. And that’s a common reason the burn message appears.
If you’ve seared your ingredients using the sauté function, add some liquid to the pot, bring it to a simmer, then scrape up all those browned bits thoroughly before locking the lid.
It’s also important to use enough liquid, at least a half cup, even if the recipe doesn’t direct you to. Older Instant Pot recipes, my own included, might have been tested on earlier models of the appliance, which had a less sensitive burn sensor. These recipes might not call for that much liquid because the old models didn’t need it.
If the burn message does come on midway through cooking, don’t panic. Simply release the pressure, open the pot and give everything a big stir, scraping up anything stuck to the bottom. If the pot looks dry, add a few tablespoons water or other liquid. Then reseal the pot and continue cooking.
Salt Your Beans
Cooking dried beans from scratch on any given weeknight is a triumph of the electric pressure cooker. To get the best flavor, add salt at the beginning. Cooking beans in salted water helps flavor them evenly.
Mind Your Temperatures
The colder the ingredients are when they go into your pot, the longer it will take to reach pressure. (Say, for example, if you’re using a block of frozen broth dumped in from a quart container, my mainstay.) Defrosting liquids in the microwave can speed things up. Or if you’re adding water and have an electric kettle, you can heat the water while prepping your other ingredients.
Clean That Smelly Seal
The easiest way I’ve found to get rid of that lingering, slightly sulfurous scent that clings to the sealing ring is making a paste made from baking soda and white vinegar. Spread it all over the ring, and let it sit in the sink for an hour or so (or overnight for really tough cases). Then throw the whole thing into your dishwasher. I do this along with all my other dishes, and everything comes out sparkling.