Equipment
Your Instant Pot Says "BURN"—What Should You Do?
Instant Pot’s burn notice is alarming and confusing. The manual doesn’t help. But we’ve got you covered.
05-28-2021
Hannah Crowley

I was feeling smug. I was making pressure-cooked beef stew in the new Instant Pot Pro, testing the machine for my job (spoiler alert: We liked it!), but this meant that I’d have dinner for my family in the bag, too, all during working hours. Score! I was washing the dishes when all of a sudden my Instant Pot started frantically beeping and the entire screen started flashing "BURN." I thought the thing was going to explode. I ran over to the manual, looking for what to do. To my shock, there was nothing addressing the burn notice in the booklet. 

While I tried to salvage the beef stew, the question remained: What should I do when the Instant Pot says "BURN"? As your friendly ATK Reviews executive editor, I did some investigating.

What Is Instant Pot’s Burn Notice?

Instant Pots have sensors that report when the temperature at the bottom of the pot is getting too hot. This feature is designed to prevent someone from opening the pot to a pile of scorched food. The screen will either read "BURN," "HOT," "OvHt," or "Food Burn," depending on your machine.

What to Do If You Get a Burn Notice While Cooking

First, see if the key elements of the machine are in working order. Make sure that there’s nothing caught between the pot and the burner. Check the silicone ring; make sure that it didn’t fall out of place. Check the floating valve; make sure that it’s clean and moving freely. Check the steam-release switch; is it in the right position for your job? If any of these is out of whack, the machine will just continue to try and build pressure, heating the contents until there isn’t enough liquid and it gets too hot, which trips the sensor—and then it’s burn notice o’clock. 

If all your gear looks right, check your food. You probably either scorched something on the bottom of the pot when sautéing before sealing (this is why mine went off—I took the step of browning tomato paste and flour at the beginning of my recipe a wee bit too far) or don’t have enough liquid in the pot.

Instant Pot photo

How to Recover from a Burn Notice

If the problem was one of your machine's components, then fix the issue, reseal the pot, and set it to cook for the time you had left. You can set a separate timer when you start your Instant Pot to keep track of this, or do what I do if I don’t have a clue how much time is left: guess. I subtract a minute or two to account for the pot heating the contents as it comes back up to pressure. Then, hope for the best. Luckily the environment inside an Instant Pot is so moist that food will not dry out as readily. 

If it was a food issue, stir everything to recombine, scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot, and add a small amount of water; a half cup worked for me, though you might need a little more, depending on how dry it is inside the pot. Seal the pot and try again.

How to Prevent a Burn Notice in the Future

  • Scrape before you seal: Scrape up all the browned bits left in the pot after sautéing food and before closing the lid. 
  • Double-check your parts before you close up the pot for cooking. An improperly sealed lid can cause the Instant Pot to just cook and cook your contents as it attempts to reach pressure. This will lead to scorching and then a burn notice. 
  • Make sure that you’re using enough liquid. Our recipes take the amount of liquid necessary for the machine to function into account, but someone else's recipe might not. 
Photo: Smith Collection/Gado, Getty Images