Instant Pot

The 5 Most Common Mistakes People Make When Using the Instant Pot

They're not what you'd think.

March 14, 2020
Photo by James Ransom

Welcome to Set It & Forget It, a series about all the ways we rely on our Crock-Pots, Instant Pots, and ovens during the colder months.


As an Instant Pot lover (and the author of multiple Instant Pot cookbooks), I get asked often: What am I doing wrong? Maybe it’s the BURN message glaring at you balefully (yes, that means something is burning), or your silicone sealing ring is improperly positioned. I’ve even seen people forget to put the stainless steel insert back into their Instant Pots before pouring in the ingredients. Apart from these kinds of technical difficulties, here are the less obvious things I see all the time.


Most Common Instant Pot Mistakes

1. Using too much liquid

Many recipes call for too much water, which makes users wonder why their food is so bland or overcooked. Yes, it is true that you need a certain amount of water for the pot to come to pressure—but that water does not all need to come from the tap. Most vegetables, fruits, and meats release water while cooking. A LOT of water, in fact. In contrast, rice, most grains, potatoes, and pasta all absorb water.

Once you understand how this works, you will realize why many of my recipes don’t call for added water. Not only does it make food bland, but to thicken the sauce, you often end up having to use the Sauté function after the food is already well cooked—resulting in overcooked food.

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Top Comment:
“However, the vast majority of IP recipes I see (I actually own perhaps at least 7 IP cookbooks) simply call for “Quick Release,” as though what may be overhead doesn’t matter. So thank you, thank you for being the first author in my online foodie world to bring this to our attention! ”
— J
Comment

Take my advice. Find recipes that don’t require you to sauté afterward each time. If your food is bland and watery despite this, reduce the added water and add more seasoning.

2. Forgetting to deglaze

Many recipes ask you to brown/sear meats ahead of time. While I think this is rarely necessary for pressure cooking, since pressure cookers produce a Maillard reaction without browning, there are times you will want to do that.

If you brown things on the Sauté function and are not absolutely fanatical about deglazing that pot, then you will likely get a BURN message later. This message is one of the fabulous but sometimes frustrating safety features of an Instant Pot. While there are many reasons why you get that BURN warning, not thoroughly deglazing is the most prevalent reason. My recommendation is to momentarily ignore your recipe, add in 1/4 cup of water, and scrape up all that fond. Allow the water to evaporate completely, and then proceed as directed.

3. Venting & Sealing

As many times as I’ve cooked with electric pressure cookers, you’d think this would never be an issue even for me. But I’ll admit that all too often, I do forget to turn that knob from Venting to Sealing. People think that’s a rookie mistake. But having written over 500 recipes for an Instant Pot, I ain’t no rookie! What I am is absent-minded. If you’re following an otherwise-trusted recipe writer, and you open up the pot to find a burned mess, or uncooked food, before you give up on the Instant pot or yell at the writer, check to ensure that you really did close the valve to sealing.

I have overcome my shortcoming by using an Instant Pot Ultra or Evo, which automagically turn from venting to sealing when you secure the lid.

4. Underestimating cook times

Chicken in eight minutes! Beans in 30 minutes! Roasts in half an hour! Yes, we’ve all heard the hype. Well, it’s the truth—but it’s not the whole truth.

Yes, you can most certainly cook chicken thighs in eight minutes under pressure. But did you add in the 10 minutes for the pot to come to pressure, and 10 minutes for the Natural Pressure Release, making that a total of 28 minutes? I always specify total times for my Instant Pot recipes but not all recipe writers do this. The last thing you want is hangry people, so be sure you understand total elapsed time, not just time under pressure.

5. Using quick release for foamy or high-liquid volumes

There’s a lot of confusion about when to use NPR (Natural Pressure Release) vs. QPR (Quick Pressure Release) for foods. But one thing you absolutely do not want to do is open up that valve on a pot that is still under pressure—and full of either foamy foods like beans and pasta or liquids like broths, stocks, and soups. Because when you open up that valve, you won’t just get steam, you’ll get bits of food and hot liquid, making a huge mess of your kitchen counters, cabinets, and even ceilings.

But that’s okay. We’ve all been there. Luckily for you, the solution is quite simple: Just close that valve back up and wait five minutes before trying again. Those five minutes should allow the pressure to release naturally so that you can open the valve, release any remaining pressure, and open the lid.

In short, do not ever overfill your pot. That max line is for your safety. I never fill mine more than halfway, just to be on the safe side.

To recap:

  • If your food is bland, it’s not the Instant Pot, it may be the recipe. Adjust accordingly per my instructions above.
  • If you get the BURN message, check your seals and valve, and add water to deglaze the bottom of the pot if needed.
  • Be safe, don’t overfill that pot, and budget the proper time for your meal to cook. Then you, too, can join the legion of raving fans, and speak passionately about how the Instant Pot has brought you love and joy. Or at least, good food (same thing really).

What are some mistakes you’ve made while using your Instant Pot? Share your trials and tribulations (and any funny stories) in the comments below. And for more of Urvashi's recipes, visit her blog.

Disclosure: This post contains products that are independently selected by our editors and writers, and as an Amazon Associate, Food52 may earn an affiliate commission.

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Dr. Urvashi Pitre is the President of a global marketing consulting firm, and also the author of the best-selling Indian Instant Pot Cookbook, one of Amazon’s Best Books of 2017. She combines her training as a scientist with her desire to make fast, healthy, authentic, global cuisine, and experiments extensively to create the most streamlined recipes that use fresh ingredients. WEBSITE: www.twosleevers.com FB PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/twosleever/ FB GROUP: https://www.facebook.com/groups/twosleevers/ PINTEREST: https://www.pinterest.com/twosleevers/pins/ INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/two_sleevers/ YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/TwosleeversUrvashi

12 Comments

khartell1229 May 25, 2020
awesome tips!

i really only created an account so that i can tell you how much i LOVE your butter chicken recipe! best - and easiest - i've ever made!
 
Author Comment
Urvashi P. May 25, 2020
Aww thank you!! So glad to hear you’re enjoying it
 
flanl March 28, 2020
Opened the vent with beets inside. Wrong! Purple steam everywhere.
 
J March 19, 2020
***** (5 stars). What a fabulous piece! Yes, I’m with you on #3 but have the highest praise for #5. I follow a lot of food blogs, repeat A LOT - and this is the first article I’ve seen that reminds us about quick release: there’s food in them particles, and we should be mindful. My kitchen is a small condo galley configuration, and I figured this out long ago (I “slow release” with a potholder over the steam thingie as it winds down). However, the vast majority of IP recipes I see (I actually own perhaps at least 7 IP cookbooks) simply call for “Quick Release,” as though what may be overhead doesn’t matter. So thank you, thank you for being the first author in my online foodie world to bring this to our attention!
 
Mary J. March 15, 2020
Urvashi has been a game changer in so many of our lives. From her awesome blog and Facebook groups to her amazing cookbooks, she’s gets us to make magic in our kitchens everyday. She one absolutely amazing woman!
 
kscooks March 15, 2020
So happy to see my favorite Instant Pot cookbook author confirm my suspicions about added water! I am constantly questioning the addition of water and broth in recipes for the Instant Pot. And by questioning, I mean refusing to follow the instructions. Lamb, chicken, beef, pork, they all release a ton of liquid on their own. So much in fact that even without the addition of water or broth I typically need to reduce the liquid at the end. Now instead of feeling a rebellious and careless risk-taker Xwhen I refuse to do it instead of a rebellious outsider.
 
kscooks March 15, 2020
Darn it! I was editing when my post posted. Instead of feeling a rebellious and careless risk-taker when I refuse to add liquid, I'll feel part of a select club. ;)
 
JulieBoulangerie March 14, 2020
I'll admit that once I forgot the stainless steel insert and poured water in the cooker. It was not one of my best moments as a cook! I dried the thing out for several weeks, and it still works.
 
J March 19, 2020
I know, I did that too with my very first IP trial! Thank goodness I followed the instructions for a water test and no harm was done! So, to this day, I’m impatient with IP recipe authors who say “pour xyz into the Pot”. NO! Pour everything into the IP LINER Pot!
 
Peggy March 14, 2020
I'm so pleased to find an article written by my favorite cookbook author, Urvashi Pitre, on one of my favorite food sites! In true Urvashi spirit she manages to simplify and solve our most common Instant Pot errors. As always #trusturvashi
 
Sheila D. March 14, 2020
Excellent tips, especially the advice to remember to thoroughly deglaze the pan. We have loved every recipe by this author that we’ve tried. If you haven’t made her butter chicken recipe, above, you should. It is incredible!
 
Author Comment
Urvashi P. March 14, 2020
Thank you!