Instant Pot 101

If you have recently purchased an Instant Pot or received one as a gift, you may be feeling all kinds of feelings… excited, overwhelmed, maybe a little scared. Don’t panic! It’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed by your new Instant Pot.

Let’s walk through the basics of pressure cookers so you can increase your kitchen confidence and feel ready and willing to conquer pressure cooking! It won’t take long before your pressure cooker will become your new favorite tool in the kitchen!

Make sure you’ve stopped by my Pressure Cooker Basics page to learn exactly what a pressure cooker is, how it works, what size pressure cooker you need, and more.

Also, are you hip to the pressure cooker lingo? Do you know what QR or PIP stands for? If not, be sure to check out my ABC’s of Pressure Cooking page for allllll the terms you need to know to get started on the right foot.

What do all the function buttons do?

One of the first things people say to me when they get a new Instant Pot, is what do all these buttons do? At first glance, it looks like you can just press a single button and walk away. But do those function buttons really work that well?

Well sadly, they don’t. They’re programmed for the AVERAGE cook time. For example, the poultry button is programmed for the average cook time for all chicken. Not a specific cut of chicken, and not taking into account that some chicken breasts may be much larger than others. This can result in some very under (or over) cooked chicken.

The same goes for the meat, eggs, beans, grains, etc. buttons. They’re just preset buttons set to high pressure for a specific amount of time. In my humble opinion, they’re fairly useless. In all my time cooking with my Instant Pot, I’ve literally never used them, other than to test what they actually did.

So what functions DO I need?

The only real functions you need on a pressure cooker are the capability to saute, an option to set the cook time yourself (this would be the manual or pressure cook button), and the ability to make yogurt.

So while they’re are new models with plenty of bells and whistles and all sorts of function buttons, don’t be fooled into thinking you need that. In fact, unless you want to make yogurt, a yogurt button isn’t necessary at all.

Saute Button

This function is great for browning meat and vegetables before pressure cooking, or thickening up a sauce at the end of pressure cooking. This function is used in my Chicken Tikka Masala and Chicken and Dumplings!

How to use the Saute Function:

  • Press the “Sauté” button.
  • Select a temperature with the “Adjust” button for Normal, More, or Less.
  • Normal equivalent to MED heat on a stovetop. More is equivalent to HIGH, and Less is equivalent to LOW.
  • When Instant Pot reaches the selected temperature, it will display “Hot” and you can start sautéing.
  • One full “Sauté” session will run for 30 minutes, or until you hit “Cancel”.

Manual/Pressure Cook Button

This setting allows you to set the cook time to whatever you like. This is by far the MOST utilized function on the Instant Pot. It allows the pot to cook at high pressure for the time you selected. This means YOU control the outcome!

How to use the Manual/Pressure Cook Function:

  • Hit “Manual” or “Pressure Cook”.
  • If you need to adjust pressure, hit the pressure button until high or low pressure is lit up (keep in mind, if you have the Instant Pot Lux, it only cooks on high pressure).
  • Hit “+/-” to adjust time.

Just a note to say that adjusting the pressure from high to low is rarely done. Most recipes you’ll find are designed to be cooked on high pressure. So be aware, because if you accidentally set it to low pressure, the final result will be much different than intended in the recipe.

Yogurt Button

The yogurt function is only used only to make yogurt.

The yogurt button is able to be adjusted by pressing the “Adjust” button until it says “Boil” or 8:00 or 10:00. This is unique to yogurt recipes.

So if you don’t want to make yogurt in the Instant Pot, ignore that button 🙂

Cooking Time with a Pressure Cooker

Figuring out cook time for a recipe with an Instant Pot is one of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to using your Instant Pot.

If you have a favorite recipe you want to convert to the Instant Pot, check out my handy guide for converting almost any recipe to the Instant Pot!

An electric Pressure Cooker does not reach the same pressure as a stove-top pressure cooker, so you will need to increase cooking time by a few minutes if using a recipe written for a stove-top pressure cooker.

It is important to note that just like traditional cooking, you will need to account for altitude if living at higher elevations.

Cook Time Isn’t the Total Amount of Time a Recipe Takes

When planning out your meals, note that the pressure cooking time is NOT the full amount of time it will take to prepare the meal.

Pressure cooking requires a build up of pressure within the cooker, and that time can vary depending on the recipe, how filled the pot is, and so on. You also have to factor in the time it takes for the pressure to release.

Minutes to come to pressure + Cooking time + Minutes to release pressure = Total recipe time

So when a recipe says that you can cook ears of corn in 1-2 minutes, that doesn’t mean you’ll be chowing down in 1-2 minutes. An average time to come up to pressure is about 10 minutes, so for that corn recipe, you’re look at approximately 11-12 minutes (since it uses a quick release).

As a disclaimer: The amount of time needed for a recipe to come to pressure, and time to release pressure will vary from recipe to recipe.

What Shouldn’t I Cook in an Electric Pressure Cooker?

If you’ve searched the all-mighty internet for pressure cooker recipes, you might be thinking you can cook anything and everything in your Instant Pot! And it’s easy to find all kinds of crazy recipes, for everything from Instant Pot cookies to prime rib.

But while I think the Instant Pot is a FABULOUS appliance and makes SO many things, SO well… it’s just not meant for everything.

Baked Goods

Breads and baked desserts just don’t have the same crispy exterior and delicate, fluffy crumb when cooked in the Instant Pot. They’ll turn out very dense and almost TOO moist. Definitely best to leave the baking to the oven.

Breaded Foods

The Instant Pot cooks with a moist heat, so even if you placed breaded foods on a trivet or rack… they’ll get soggy. The breading may also fall off and cause a burn notice on the pressure cooker.


Given how quickly a good old fashioned burger cooks on a grill, stovetop, or broils in the oven, there’s really no need to bust out the pressure cooker to cook one. Burgers also won’t get the great caramelization that makes them taste so great. They’ll be a steamed meat consistency.


Adding dairy to the pot and pressure cooking can cause the milk or cream to curdle and/or separate. It can also cause your pressure valve to get clogged since dairy will foam at a high temperature.

It also is a very common reason you’ll see a burn notice on your Instant pot.

It is best to add any dairy product, like milk or cheese, to a recipe at the end of the cooking time, and let it finishing cooking (or melting) using the “Saute” function, which we do in this recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala.

Heavy cream can be used in moderation since it has a high fat content and has less of a tendency to curdle, but it can still cause a burn notice if you don’t use it with another liquid, such as broth or water.


Steaks need to be cooked to temperature and have that glorious caramelized crust, and they just can’t get that in an Instant Pot. Cooking an expensive cut of meat like a steak or prime rib in the pressure cooker is the best way to ruin it, unfortunately.