Yup, your new device is pretty darn magical—if only it weren’t so intimidating. With close to 20 buttons and knobs, it’s not always easy for an Instant Pot newbie to know if they’re getting things right. (Here's what happened when one woman replaced all of her cookware with the Instant Pot.)
That’s where this list of Instant Pot mistakes come in. Read them before you start cooking to find out exactly where most first timers go wrong—and how you can avoid their mishaps.
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Not reading the manual
There are plenty of kitchen appliances where you can get by just fine without poring through the instructions. But your Instant Pot isn’t one of them. “It’s a little more involved than, say, an immersion blender where you just plug in and push a button,” says Jennifer Robbins, author of Paleo Recipes for Your Instant Pot.
Reading the manual makes quicker work of figuring out the different settings and what they do. They’ll show you how to manipulate the manual setting, too. That way, “you can alter the time or pressure to accommodate your needs and not feel trapped by the presets,” Robbins says.
Starting with a super involved recipe
Yes, you can totally make yogurt, cake, or deviled eggs in your Instant Pot. But should you do so the minute you pull it out of the box? Probably not. Your new device comes with a little bit of a learning curve. So it’s worth easing yourself into the world of Instant Pot Cooking with an easy, straightforward recipe that can help you get your bearings and build up your confidence.
Related: 8 Instant Pot Recipes That Make Healthy Eating Easy
The best place to start? Go for a simple stew or braise, recommends Nom Nom Paleo blogger and Instant Pot aficionado Michelle Tam. “They require minimal futzing around,” she says. So your odds of getting everything right—and delicious—will be pretty high.
Using a recipe that’s made for a regular pressure cooker
Instant Pots and regular pressure cookers are close cousins. But conventional pressure cookers (like the one shown above) use a bit more pressure than an Instant Pot, Robbins explains. So they could cook food at a slightly different rate. (No Instant Pot? Check out these 6 mistakes you're making with your regular pressure cooker.)
Of course, it’s possible to adapt a pressure cooker recipe to an Instant Pot and vice versa. But unless you’re comfortable converting pressure and cook times between recipes, it’s probably worth sticking with recipes that were developed for an Instant Pot. At least in the beginning until you get a feel for how your new gadget works.
Overfilling or underfilling your pot
Even if you aren’t normally in the habit of measuring ingredients when you cook, you’ll want to be precise with how much liquid you add to your Instant Pot. Adding too much can cause liquid to seep through the venting knob—leaving you with a big mess. Add too little, Tam says, and your food could end up drying out, or your pot might not reach the proper pressure.
That’s why it’s usually best to stick with the amount of liquid that a recipe calls for, especially in the beginning. Once you get a feel for Instant Pot cooking, you can try eyeballing it. Your Instant Pot should be filled to the halfway mark for beans or grains, and around 2/3 full for other recipes, says Tam.
Forgetting to turn the steam release knob to the sealing position
You added all your ingredients to the pot, clamped on the lid, and walked away. But when you came back, your food still seems pretty far from finished. Why? Chances are, you forgot this very important step.
Related: 9 Surprising Dishes You Didn't Know You Could Make In A Slow Cooker
Remember, Instant Pots are basically high-tech pressure cookers. In order to cook your food properly, they need steam—and lots of it. But if you forget to seal the knob, all of that steam will seep right out. As a result, “your Instant Pot will never reach high pressure and your food won’t cook properly,” Tam says.
(Into meal prepping? In addition to using your Instant Pot, check out this simple salmon and roasted veggie sheet pan meal that allows you to make 4 lunches at once!)
Confusing “quick release” and “natural release”
Both release pressure from inside of the Instant Pot to stop the cooking process. But manually pulling the quick release valve releases pressure immediately, so food stops cooking quickly. The natural release option causes the pressure to drop at a slower rate, so food gradually stops cooking.
Related: 10 Paleo-Friendly Meals You Can Make In The Instant Pot
Both releases are important—though they work best for different types of recipes. Opt for quick release when you’re making vegetables or other foods that can go from cooked to overcooked quickly, Robbins says. Use natural release for dishes that do better when they’re slow-cooked, like braised meats or stews.
Forgetting to turn off your pot when you’re finished cooking
It’s pretty easy to do, since your Instant Pot’s Keep Warm and Cancel buttons are one in the same. The good news? It’s not the end of the world. “Nothing really bad happens if you press Keep Warm instead of turning the machine off,” Tam says. “It just keeps the food warm until you realize your mistake.”
Related: 6 Recipes That Prove The Instant Pot Is A Freaking Miracle Worker
Still, keeping your Instant Pot on when you don’t mean to uses up extra energy. And food that’s kept warm for way too long runs the risk of overcooking or drying out. So if you find yourself accidentally forgetting to hit cancel, do like Tam and just unplug your Instant Pot when you’re finished cooking. That way, you’ll know it’s totally off.
Being afraid of your Instant Pot
Sure, it has a lot of buttons and it could end up making sort of a mess if you do something wrong. But an Instant Pot is pretty easy to use once you get the hang of it. And making a mistake isn’t the end of the world.
Related: 10 Best Foods To Meal Prep On Sunday
“I have so many readers who literally kept their Instant Pot in the box for months out of fear, and when they finally cracked it open it was like heaven,” Robbins says. “Once most people give it a try, they are hooked and end up using it multiple times a week,” she says.