Everything You Should Know About The Instant Pot

an instant pot
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Are you interested in an Instant Pot but you're not sure where to start? Do you have one collecting dust you've never used? Read this first - I've got all the information you could ever want about this amazing little kitchen tool!

I love my Instant Pot. I picked a 4-quart model off of an Amazon Treasure Truck sale several years ago. Cradling the white and black box in the parking lot of Whole Foods, I knew I had something special.

Fast forward to now, and I’ve got two. My original 4-quart is still chugging along, and it’s great for rice, hard-boiled eggs, or one-person meals. I’ve upgraded to a 6-quart instant pot as well, and it is my go-to for soups, stews, and dishes I want some leftovers with.

The Instant Pot is hands down my favorite cooking gadget in my kitchen. I use it at least once a week, sometimes up to 3 times. It’s all but completely replaced my slow cooker, which gets used once every few months at best. While I love my air fryer and my sous vide, if I could pick only one, it would be the Instant Pot.

Instant Pot
CC by 2.0, Dianna Zandt

If you’ve got one of these beasts and you’re not sure where to go from here, I’ve got you covered. Let me share with you my favorite recipes, tips, and even tools so you can get the most out of your Instant Pot.

It’s basically a bomb

I never really thought of it before I moved in with my fiance, but the Instant Pot is basically a bomb. That means that when I tell you to be careful with your Instant Pot, I’m not kidding.

There are a thousand different safety protocols on the machine so that you don’t hurt yourself, but things do fail. If you’ve got several quarts of stock under pressure, it’s really hot in there. If the safety latch fails or you try to pry it open, it will explode all over you.

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If you’ve never used an Instant Pot before, make sure you read through your manual carefully. Understand the difference between a quick pressure release and a natural pressure release. A quick pressure release is when you carefully hit the valve on the top to release all the pressure quickly, while a natural pressure release lets the pressure drop naturally within the Instant Pot.

You cannot ever, under any circumstances, open your Instant Pot before the pressure valve drops. There are plenty of safety features that prevent it, but even if they weren’t there… don’t do it. You’re going to hurt yourself.

How does an Instant Pot work?

Before the Instant Pot, there were stovetop pressure cookers. They were giant metal contraptions that weighed a ton when full, were super dangerous to use, and mostly worked, most of the time.

A stovetop pressure cooker
CC by 2.0, aMichiganMom

These were hot and dangerous but did the job. The big old lid sealed the top tight, and allowed pressure to built up within the pot itself, cooking whatever you had in there faster than if heat was only being applied to one place.

Instant Pot the company took that idea, put a nice shell on it, made it electric, added some safety features (that were much needed. Seriously, I cannot stress enough that this is a bomb), and bam! A sensation was born.

Suddenly you could make a roast in 60 minutes instead of 8 hours. Chicken soup start to finish was 35. Deep, rich bone broth that had to be simmered overnight could be made in less than two hours. It’s amazing.

Honestly, the company did a great job with branding and marketing. There are still some people who don’t realize that the Instant Pot is just a fancy pressure cooker, but think they invented a whole new format.

Basically, what it boils down to (see what I did there? You see?) is that what is going on inside that pot is much hotter than even boiling water. Steam can’t escape, so it cooks the food that much faster. It feels a little like a cheat code, once you get the hang of it.

Why the Instant Pot became so successful

Looking at the phenomenon that is the Instant Pot now, it sort of makes you wonder why it is so popular. I think it’s a combination of a lot of things, which I’ll touch on briefly.

an instant pot
CC by 2.0, pepperberryfarm

One is the rise of the internet and finding recipes online. It used to be that you needed a cookbook for all your recipes, or handwritten cards from your parents, grandparents, or friends. Or you made it all up as you went along, knowing you’d never be able to exactly replicate that experience.

Now, you can find literally thousands of recipe blogs online, all trying to tell you their favorite way to cook a chicken breast or a piece of lamb. This means that we can share information about cooking techniques a lot quicker, and newer gadgets pick up steam much faster.

In addition, everyone is just so much busier than they were even 10 years ago. We have work and school and soccer practice and bowling and dance and cheer and this and that… with most families having both parents working, it’s not like someone is home all day preparing and cooking a big meal. If you need good, homemade food on the table fast, the Instant Pot can help.

The Instant Pot came at just the right time, with just the right marketing, to totally change the home cooking landscape.

The things you know you can make

Let’s talk what you can do. I’m going to discuss the obvious stuff here, the stuff everyone knows you can make with an Instant Pot faster and easier but you might be forgetting. Bored? Keep scrolling – the next section is the really fun stuff.

Please note: I’m pulling all of these recipes from my actual online collection of saved recipes. I’ve either made these before, or I’ve bookmarked them to make soon. I’m not giving you sponsored recipes or something I haven’t tried myself, in my own kitchen.

Soups and stews are my go-to the Instant Pot because you get a deep, rich flavor without having to tend to the stove all day. When my husband is sick, he always asks for this Instant Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup, extra spicy. I serve it over rice, and it’s perfect for when you’re cold, sick, and stuffy.

beef shank recipe
Instant pot beef shank by K Tao is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The one and only time I tried to make pho, I used this Instant Pot Pho recipe and it came out great! While it’s not quite as good as the place down the street, if you live somewhere that you can’t get great pho, this should be in your rotation.

If you’ve always wanted to make ramen but the process intimidates you, this Instant Pot Chicken Ramen recipe is a great jumping point!

Homemade stock should always be in your freezer or fridge, but I seriously never had the time – or desire – to let it boil for hours and hours on the stove. This Instant Pot Chicken Stock honestly makes better stock than I did before I got my Instant Pot, and it’s so stinkin’ easy. Just dump, turn it on, and walk away.

Life pro tip: freeze your stock in ice cube trays until solid, then pop them out and put them in a big ziplock bag. Drop a cube in rice, deglaze a pan with it, add it to anything you need to have an extra burst of flavor.

The Instant Pot also does big hunks of meat really, really well. This Instant Pot Carnitas recipe is still talked about by friends when I made it for them after they had their first child… 4 years ago. This Instant Pot Roast will have an incredible piece of beef on your table in less than 2 hours.

A roast in the instant pot
Instant Pot Roast by John Biehler is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

These Chicken Tacos have 4 ingredients, and one of them is water. I’ve made this Buffalo Chicken a dozen times for calzones, wraps, and pizzas, and it always turns out perfectly. This no-bean chili is a fall favorite.

If you cook on a budget, you’re vegetarian, or you love beans, an Instant Pot is honestly a must-have. You can go from hard dried beans to perfectly cooked and ready to eat in just over an hour, which is nuts. I don’t eat beans unless forced, but I’ve had friends recommend this no-soak, super fast Instant Pot beans recipe.

The things you didn’t know you could make

Okay, okay, those are all things that are easily replicated in a slow cooker, I guess. But what about things you didn’t realize you could make?

Starbucks has these amazing little egg bites that are so expensive for what you get, but I still splurge sometimes. Or I did, until I realized I could buy a silicone mold and make them myself in the Instant Pot. I do bacon some days, sharp cheese and lots of black pepper other days… I like to mix it up, and they keep very well.

I mentioned it before, but I make hard boiled eggs in the Instant Pot all the time. It’s so much faster, I’ve never run into an over or under cooked egg, and the shells peel off so very easily. That recipe has the time for soft, medium, and completely set eggs.

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This Instant Pot cheesecake recipe has a nearly cult following online, and for good reason – there’s no hassle with a water bath, a long wait time, or anything else like when you make a ‘traditional’ cheesecake. It has a perfect texture, it’s super easy, and it’s almost foolproof. Use this as a jumping point – add strawberries or cherries on top for a classic taste, throw peanut butter cups in the mix for a chocolate and peanut butter surprise, use Oreos for your crust… there’s no limit.

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While this Instant Pot Risotto might not be quite as good as the kind you make on the stovetop that takes, you know, 30 minutes of constant stirring, it’s a great way to make your weeknights feel fancy with almost no work.

When I tell you I made this Instant Pot mac and cheese recipe once a week for a month straight after I discovered it, I’m not kidding. I add mustard powder to bring out the cheesiness and extra hot sauce, and sub literally whatever cheeses I have in my fridge. No roux needed, and the only stirring you’ll do to get a creamy, delicious sauce is the stirring to incorporate the cheese. This one you can’t let sit and cook – release the pressure as soon as it’s done cooking for perfect noodles.

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These Red Chili Pork Tamales are on my list of things I need to make immediately. I’ve always wanted to try lasagna in the pan I have for cheesecake.

If you’re a big oatmeal fan, this Instant Pot Oatmeal recipe should be a staple in your home. Instant Pot Applesauce is so easy, and such a great way to get rid of those apples turning in the bottom of your crisper drawer. If you and your family love yogurt, you can make it yourself – once you get the process right, it’s so much cheaper than those fancy little jars!

You didn’t hear it from me, but you can even make moonshine.

Do you need an Instant Pot?

Did you get all the way through this and realize you don’t own an Instant Pot? Are you on the fence? Do you have one sitting that you’re thinking of selling?

I can’t tell you if you need an Instant Pot or not. I’m not in your kitchen, I don’t know your life. What I can tell you, however, is that our Instant Pot is great. I can make almost anything in it, and it makes really complex, delicious dinners super easy to make. I know some people hate them, however – a coworker described hers as making very wet chicken, which I suppose is fair.

But it does so much more than that. If you’ve got one you don’t use, or you’re on the fence, I encourage you to experiment with it. Once you get the hang of cooking in one, you might never go back.

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