America's Test Kitchen LogoCook's Country LogoCook's Illustrated Logo

I Just Got an Instant Pot. Now What?

Go ahead and take it out of the box. We’re here to talk you through it.

Published Jan. 10, 2022.

I got an Instant Pot! Woo! Wait. What are all these buttons? How do I pressure-cook? Why does it kinda look like R2-D2?  

I hear you. I was you. But that quickly changed while working on our Mediterranean Instant Pot cookbook. After developing more than a dozen recipes, I got to know the multicooker really well. And believe you me, this thing is incredible. True to its name, the Instant Pot multicooker can perform a multitude of cookery. With a little practice you’ll be sure to love your multicooker as much as I do (I’ve since named mine Ben Burtt).

95 Foolproof Recipes

Mediterranean Instant Pot

Bringing together the #1 diet and the #1 most popular kitchen appliance, this Instant Pot–authorized cookbook makes it more convenient than ever to cook the Mediterranean way in the kitchen appliance that revolutionized home cooking.
Save 20% Right Now

Sam’s Favorite Instant Pot Recipes

Lemony chicken with fingerling potatoes and olivesMussel with fennel and leeks Weeknight paella
From left: lemony chicken with fingerling potatoes and olives, mussels with fennel and leeks, and weeknight paella

If you want to start cooking straight away, read no further than three of my favorite Instant Pot recipes: 

1. Lemony chicken with fingerling potatoes and olives: This dish will seriously become your new go-to weeknight chicken dinner. The best part? All components finish cooking together, leaving you with tender chicken thighs and delicate fingerlings swimming in classic Provençal flavors: garlic, lemon, and olives. 

2. Mussels with fennel and leeks: I like to think of this recipe as Pressure Cooking 101. After adding the mussels, set the pressure to high for a total of zero minutes (trust us). The results are tender, plump, and evenly cooked mussels. Just don’t forget the crusty bread!  

3. Weeknight paella: Paella in an hour? It can be done! The Instant Pot ensured that the arborio rice (our choice for its firm, toothsome texture) and chicken thighs were ready in a snap (and simultaneously!), and once they were cooked we took advantage of the residual heat to cook our shrimp and peas gently.

Tips for Using the Instant Pot

After making and developing dozens of recipes for the Instant Pot, I’ve learned many of its ins and outs. There are always a few points of confusion for first-time IP users:

Instant Pot Pro 8Qt

This stellar performer is the best multicooker on the market and the winner of our multicooker testing. 
Buy Now

1. What’s the Difference Between Natural and Quick Release on an Instant Pot?

Pressure cooking is arguably the coolest Instant Pot function. There are two methods to release said pressure after cooking, and the one you use will affect the final outcome (so don’t swap!). 

  • Natural release is simply that—if you do nothing or turn off the pot when the cooking time ends, the Instant Pot will allow the pressure in the pot to drop back down naturally. This is preferred when you want to gently finish cooking food through. 
  • Quick release happens by turning the pressure regulator knob to “steam” as soon as your recipe is done cooking. Be careful! Steam is hot! We usually use a quick release when we want to stop the cooking right away to avoid overcooking (think delicate fish). 

2. What Happens If Your Instant Pot Says “BURN”?

Multicookers have sensors that report when the bottom of the pot is getting too hot. Depending on your gadget, it could say “BURN,” “HOT,” “OvHt,” or “Food Burn.” Don’t worry, though. ATK Reviews Executive Editor Hannah Crowley has you covered. First, check that all the key elements of the gadget are in order. If everything looks right, check your food. Most likely, you’ve got scorched food on the bottom of the pot. If so, it’s important to scrape up all those brown bits before sealing the lid again. Also, make sure that you’re using enough liquid.

3. I Pressure-Cooked in My Instant Pot and My Food Is Still Underdone. What Now?

It’s impossible to test the doneness of food as it cooks under pressure, so sometimes food might be slightly underdone. Fortunately, we’ve figured out how to troubleshoot in your Instant Pot. Simply finish cooking by switching to the highest sauté or browning function, adding extra liquid as needed.

Sign up for the Notes from the Test Kitchen newsletter

Our favorite tips and recipes, enjoyed by 2 million+ subscribers!

4. Helpful Accessories You’ll Want with Your Instant Pot

While we love that the Instant Pot eliminates the need for multiple cooking vessels, there are a few tools we reached for time and time again when developing recipes. I call them the Four Ts. 

  • Thermometer: Take away the guessing games and temp your proteins after releasing pressure.
  • Timer: The Instant Pot’s timer can be hard to hear, so we recommend a kitchen timer to keep track of cooking time (I’ll often resort to using my phone).
  • Tongs: The Instant Pot is narrow, so we preferred tongs to unwieldy spatulas as our primary flipping tool.
  • Towel: The secret to full, distinct grains (such as wild rice, wheat berries, or bulgur) is putting a dish towel over the pot after cooking, gently laying the lid on top, and letting the contents rest. This allows any excess moisture in the pot to be absorbed. 

Got More Questions About the Instant Pot?

Your sauce is too thick. You never reach pressure. Your food scorches. Unfortunately, setbacks are inevitable. Fortunately, we embrace setbacks with open arms because they bring us closer to foolproof recipes. Have no fear! After spending months in the kitchen with the Instant Pot, we came up with a few key tricks to fix these common problems. Check out this article for the answers to many of your most frequently asked questions about the Instant Pot.

This is a members' feature.