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Instant Pot Guide for Beginners

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I created this Instant Pot Guide for Beginners because a lot of people (including me) are intimidated by their electric pressure cooker when they first get one. Don’t leave your Instant Pot sitting idle on the counter (or even worse, still in the box!).

an instant pot with title text reading Instant Pot Guide for Beginners

Here’s everything you need to know to have a successful relationship with this amazing appliance.

a graphic of an instant pot that says Is Your Instant Pot Still in the box? Afraid it might blow up in your kitchen? I can help!

Instant Pot Guide for Beginners

If you’re afraid of your Instant Pot, don’t be. This appliance has the potential to make your meal times a lot easier! Let’s cover some basics.

Know Your Pot

There are several different Instant Pot models. It’s important to keep this in mind when you are looking at recipes or for new accessories.

First, pay attention to the size of your Instant Pot since it comes in three sizes: 3 Quart, 6 Quart, and 8 Quart. You can see a comparison chart of all the models here.

Since the 6-Quart is the most popular, most recipes you find online will be written with that size in mind. If you have the 3-Quart, you can still follow the recipes, you’ll just need to cut all of the ingredients in half.

In addition to different sizes, Instant Pots also come in a variety of models that include different features. For example, some models have a “Poultry” button while others do not.

Don’t worry too much about the different buttons. If a recipe calls for a button that isn’t on your pot, you can just use “Manual” and the results will be almost identical.

On some models, you won’t have the “Manual” button. Instead, the button will say “Pressure Cook.” They do the same thing.


You’ll notice a lot of terms that come up frequently in Instant Pot recipes and when talking to other people who have one. Here are some of the most common terms and what they mean:

Inner Pot: The stainless steel liner inside your Instant Pot.

stainless steel liner for an instant pot

Sealing Ring: The silicone ring that sits inside the rim of your IP.

silicone ring for an instant pot

Steam Release Valve/Venting Knob: The small black piece on top of the lid that you can pivot to set the IP to “venting” or “sealing.”

Floating Valve: The small metal pin next to the steam release valve. When the floating valve is raised, the IP has pressure built up inside. NEVER attempt to remove the lid when the floating valve is raised even the tiniest amount.

Quick Release: This means that when the Instant Pot is done cooking, you move the steam release valve from “sealing” to “venting” to release the pressure within the pot. I usually use a wooden spoon to push it open to keep my hand away from the steam.

the steam release valve on an instant pot

Natural Release: When the Instant Pot finishes cooking, leave the steam release valve in the “sealing” position and the pot will SLOWLY release pressure on its own.

Controlled Release: Some foods, like beans and pasta, create a lot of froth when they cook. If you quick release, you end up with foam all over your kitchen. If you natural release, you end up with mush inside because the contents overcook. To avoid both outcomes, do a controlled release by only partially moving the valve towards “Venting.”

the steam release valve on an instant pot

Pot-in-Pot: A cooking method that allows you to cook two separate dishes in your Instant Pot at the same time. You place one dish on the bottom of the pot, then place a steamer rack on top upon which you can set a bowl or pot containing another dish.

Important Things to Know

When you use the “Saute” mode, always let the pot heat up before adding your ingredients. The display will say “Hot” when it is ready.

If you brown meat in the pot, always add a little liquid to the bottom when you’re done and scrape any bits that have stuck to the bottom off. You’ll see this referred to as “deglazing” in some recipes. This will help you avoid a burn error when you move on to pressure cooking after browning meat.

To avoid a burn error, always use at least 1/2 cup of liquid.

When you set your Instant Pot to pressure cook, the display will read “On” until the pot has come to pressure. This can take several minutes (the fuller the pot and the colder the contents, the longer it will take).

Once the Instant Pot reaches pressure, the cook time will start.

an instant pot with 30 minutes on the timer

When the cook time has finished, the pot will beep loudly several times to let you know it’s done.

After the cook time has finished, the Instant Pot will automatically switch to warm mode and will start counting up. The display will read “L000” at first and then the numbers will change to indicate how long it has been since the pressure cook time ended.

Whether you quick release the pressure or let the pressure release naturally, NEVER attempt to remove the lid before the floating valve has dropped. When the valve drops, all the pressure has been released from inside the pot and it is safe to open.

Troubleshooting Tips

If your Instant Pot won’t turn on, make sure you have the power cord pushed in all the way at the back of your pot. It sounds obvious, but many of us forget it unplugs from the back so we only look at the end that plugs into the wall.

the plug in an instant pot

If you get the dreaded “Burn” error during the pressure cooking process, you can still salvage your meal. Quick release the pressure, stir the contents to scrape up anything that has stuck to the bottom and add more liquid to the pot.

If your pot isn’t coming to pressure, make sure the valve is turned all the way to “Sealing.” If it is, also try pushing down gently on the lid to make sure it is sealed correctly.

Simple Instant Pot Recipes to Get Started

Now that you know all the Instant Pot basics, it’s time to get cooking!

Many people start with hard-boiled eggs. Here’s a great video for beginners that shows you how:

When you’re ready to move onto dinner, this Instant Pot BBQ Shredded Chicken is a great recipe to start with. Just 3 ingredients!

bbq shredded chicken sandwich on a plate with a mason jar drink and instant pot in the background

Another really easy recipe that also happens to be a family favorite is this recipe for Instant Pot Chicken Taco Bowls.

chicken taco in a bowl

More Instant Pot Resources

Want even more detailed, step-by-step instructions to teach you how to use your Instant Pot? Sign up for Instant Pot School (a free course from Eat at Home).

a graphic of an instant pot with text reading Learn to use your instant pot join for free

You’ll get 4 video lessons and assignments to help you master the basics, plus a free Instant Pot meal plan. It’s the perfect way to get started confidently. And did I mention, it’s free?

Another course that is extremely helpful for beginners is Electric Pressure Cooking 101 from MyFreezEasy. This is a more detailed course with instructions for even more meals.

Plus, it’s designed to introduce you to electric pressure cooking in general so it’s not specific to Instant Pot. This course isn’t free but it’s VERY modestly priced (just $12 at the time of this publishing).

See more Instant Pot Recipes, Tips and Resources here.

Already in love your Instant Pot? Find more Instant Pot Recipes here. And check out my favorite Instant Pot Hacks.

9 thoughts on “Instant Pot Guide for Beginners”

  1. My pot doesn’t have a sauté button what button do I use.

    • Which model do you have? I thought all of the Instant Pots came with that button. If you can provide me with your model name/number, I’m happy to look into it.

  2. I have a symbol on the display screen. I don’t know what it means. It looks like the inside of the instant pot with a flame underneath. Do you know what this means?

    • Hi Debbie. What model do you have? I have an older model that doesn’t have that symbol, but my best guess is that it’s indicating a burn error. The bottom of the inner liner is overheating due usually to not enough liquid or from food that stuck to the bottom during saute mode.

  3. Thanks for all the tips!! I got my pot for Christmas and have made a few successful simple meals but this takes some of my hesitation out of experimenting with it. Have a Happy Mew year.

  4. Just got mine for Christmas and can’t wait to get started!! Thanks for all the tips!!

  5. Thank You My pot has been sitting for two years going to try chicken recipe tomorrow!


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