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Small Appliances

How to use your Instant Pot

It's not just a supercharged pressure cooker -- it's a way of life.

Josh Miller/CNET

Instant Pot mania is far from over. The pressure cooker -- which lately has been shortened to Instapot -- continues to draw an obsessive, cult-like crowd of home cooks that have long forgotten about their slow cookers. Its name is fun to say, meals come together incredibly fast and, oh yeah, it makes damn delicious food. 

Whether you're a new Instant Pot owner or have dabbled for a while, this guide is for you. We're dedicating the entire week to the Instant Pot to show you how to make the most of your supercharged pressure cooker with recipes, tips, hidden features and more. 

To kick things off, let's walk through Instapot basics. Even if you've owned yours for a while, there's something here for you, too. Let's get started.

More on Chowhound: How to make your life easier with an Instant Pot

What is the Instant Pot?

Instant Pot is a pressure cooker -- and then some. It also sautés, slow cooks, makes rice and steams veggies and poultry. It's an all-in-one device, so you can, for instance, brown a chicken and cook it all in the same pot. In most cases, Instant Pot meals are ready to serve in less than an hour.

Its quick cook times are thanks to its pressure-cooking function, which locks steam created by liquid (even liquid released from meat and veggies), building pressure and pushing steam back into the food. 

But don't confuse it with a stovetop pressure cooker. Unlike your grandparents' pressure cooker, this Instant Pot eliminates safety concerns with a lid that locks, and stays locked, until the pressure is released.   

Read more: Instant Pot safety tips everyone should know

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Yes, you can cook a whole chicken in the Instant Pot.

Josh Miller/CNET

What can be cooked with the Instant Pot?

With the Instant Pot, you can cook a hearty meal for a whole family in less than 30 minutes. Dishes like rice and chicken, beef stew, chili and even a whole-roasted chicken cook in 30 to 60 minutes, start to finish. And, yes, you can even bake bread with the Instant Pot.

Paleo and ketogenic diet followers love the Instant Pot for its ability to "braise" meats in such a short amount of time, but it's also loved by vegetarians and vegans who can quickly cook dishes like butternut squash soup, sweet potatoes, chili, steel cut oats and mac-and-cheese.

Even dry beans that usually require overnight soaking can be cooked in about 30 minutes for dishes like chili and hummus.

How to cook with the Instant Pot

How you use your Instant Pot depends on what you're cooking. But, many recipes -- especially those involving meat -- tend to follow this formula:

  1. Set the Insant Pot to Saute mode. Add oil (or other fat) and brown your protein, like beef or chicken. Aromatics, like garlic and onion, are browned in this step, too.
  2. Hit the Cancel button. Now tap Manual, followed by Pressure. Tap it again to go into High Pressure mode (which most recipes require.) Use the plus and minus buttons to set the cook time.
  3. Place the lid on the Instant Pot and lock it into place. You should hear a lovely little sound letting you know it's locked. 
  4. Make sure the valve built into the lid is in the Sealing position. 
  5. When the Instant Pot builds enough pressure, the red button will pop up. Now the cook time will officially begin.

The above steps can vary quite a bit, depending on the recipe, but most of what I cook in my Instant Pot follows that sequence. 

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Here, the Instant Pot's valve is in Sealing position.

Josh Miller/CNET

Natural vs. manual pressure release

When the cook time is up on your Instant Pot, there's still one more step -- releasing the pressure. 

There are two ways the pressure can be released. With natural pressure release, the valve on the lid stays in Sealing position and the pressure dissipates naturally over time. This can take anywhere from 20 minutes to more than an hour, depending on what you were cooking. Low-liquid meals (like chicken drumsticks) take much less time than high-liquid meals, like soup or chili. 

The other option is manual pressure release (also known as Quick Release). Here, you'll carefully move the valve into Venting position and watch as steam shoots out of it, releasing the pressure. This method is much faster, but very high-liquid meals, like soup, can still take about 15 minutes to release pressure manually.

So which one should you use? Consider that with natural pressure release, the Instant Pot is still full of pressure, so the food will continue cooking (albeit increasingly slower) while the Instant Pot is in Sealing mode. Manual pressure release is useful -- and necessary -- when you've built in enough cooking time and cooking needs to be stopped as fast as possible.

If the goal is to cook a meal quickly, set enough time on the Instant Pot to cook your food and release the pressure manually when the time is up. 

More Instant Pot tips 

After owning my Instant Pot for about a year, I've made some mistakes and learned a few lessons I'd like to pass on. Here are some tips to help you zip through the Instant Pot learning curve.

Your Instant Pot has a bunch of buttons. And the best recipes call for using more than one of them. Here's what all the buttons on your Instapot do.

Always add at least 1/2 cup of liquid. Pressure-cooking requires liquid to build pressure in the pot. So, even when you're trying to keep things simple with something like chicken breasts or thighs, make sure to add a 1/2 cup of sauce, broth or water to the Instant Pot before going into Pressure mode.

Make sure the lid valve is set to Sealing. Pressure will never build if the valve is set to Venting position. Ensure it's in Sealing position when you lock the lid in place for pressure cooking.

Clean your Instant Pot! After enough delicious meals, your Instant Pot will start to acquire a smell, and maybe even some food stains. Here's a guide to cleaning the Instant Pot and its silicone ring

Cook frozen food. Non-Instant Pot recipes caution against cooking protein from frozen. That's because traditional cooking methods take too long to heat the protein, subjecting it to too much time in the dangerous temperature zone. With the Instant Pot, though, you can safely cook food from a frozen state. (Just be sure to add extra cooking time.) 

Convert slow cooker recipes. Suddenly, an 8-hour recipe can be made in about 1 hour. 

Get to know the "real" cooking times. Let's say you set the Instant Pot to Pressure mode for 30 minutes. That time doesn't actually start until pressure builds, which often takes about 10 minutes. You'll also want to add about 10 to 15 minutes for the pressure to release. In the end, a "30-minute" recipe can take about 50 to 60 minutes.

Need some recipes? Here are CNET editors' favorite InstaPot recipes, from hard-boiled eggs to Moroccan chicken. We also rounded up some of the recipes every Instant Pot owner should know.

Buy the Instant Pot from Amazon.com.

CNET's Guide to Smart Living is a destination for tips, tricks and guides that make your life smarter. 

Want more pressure cooking tips? Here you go.