Instant Pot 101 - All Your Questions Answered!

Instant Pot 101 - All Your Questions Answered!

SupperUp TeamDec 15, '20

If you’re reading this you’re either a seasoned Instant Pot® user, or you’re thinking, “how the heck does this thing work?!” Either way, we’re here to help you better understand your pressure cooker, and to explain how we use its various functions.

What is an Instant Pot?

An Instant Pot is a multifunctional pressure cooker that cooks many different types of ingredients in much less time than other types of appliances. The best news is that this gives you more time doing the other things you love to do.  Instant Pots come in various models and sizes. The best model type for you depends on what functions you want to use and the size of your family.  Here at SupperUp we test our meal kits using both 6 and 8 quart Instant Pot models.  There are also 3 quart models available. Most Instant Pots come with basic functions such as Pressure Cooker, Steamer, Rice Cooker, Saute/Browning, to name a few.  The best news is that a Pressure cooker can help thaw and cook foods right from the freezer. Another time saver!! That’s why we created our SupperUp meals to come frozen and pre-portioned.  It’s the perfect combination aimed at conveniently getting delicious dinner on the table in a very quick and easy way. Cooking foods under pressure has lots of benefits such as even heat distribution, less moisture evaporation and sometimes better vitamin retention in some foods. Learning to use an Instant Pot is easy but it requires reading the manuals and learning the proper ins and outs of cooking with the model you have chosen.   

What is that silver tray thing that came inside the pot?

Many models of Instant Pots come with a metal trivet or  “Steam Rack”.  This is a very useful accessory. They are made from stainless steel and are dishwasher safe for fast clean up. The steam rack has collapsible sides and is meant to keep ingredients out of liquids or water while cooking in your Instant Pot.  For our SupperUp meals, we like to use both the steam rack and a foil pan in our meals because we like to cook different ingredients separately and simultaneously such as rice and vegetables. The rack elevates and separates the components while cooking. And...using this method saves time and gets dinner on the table faster!  

What does “sealing” position mean?

Instant Pots have a pressure cooker function. When this function is used the Instant Pot needs a closed environment where steam is allowed to build up creating pressure which in turn raises the temperature and cooks food in less time. There are a couple steps that need to be taken to make sure your Instant Pot is correctly set up to make this happen.  

I’ll stop here and encourage you to fully read the manual that comes with your Instant Pot before using it for the first time. It is really important for safety reasons.  

First, the “sealing ring” needs to be properly and firmly placed in the sealing ring rack under the lid. Next, the lid itself needs to be correctly closed and locked.  There are markings on the both the Instant Pot lid and base to help you achieve this. Once lined up correctly, the lid is turned in a clockwise direction and you should hear a chime. Lastly, your Steam Release Valve needs to be in the “sealed” position. By reading the manual and following directions for sealing your Instant Pot, you should be ready to start cooking!

Can I really sauté something in my Instant Pot?

Absolutely! No reason to dirty 2 pots or pans when you are cooking up something delicious in your Instant Pot. The sauté function allows you to use the Instant Pot just like you would use your stove burner. The sauté function is great for cooking up onions or vegetables, reducing sauces or searing meats. All of these steps help to build great flavor in your dish. Some Instant Pot models allow you to adjust the sauté heat and choose between low, medium and high settings.  Use whatever works best for the ingredients you are cooking. 

What is the difference between manual release and quick release?

If you are just learning about all things related to an Instant Pot, this is a common question.  So many different terms! Both of these releases have to do with eliminating the pressure that builds up in the Instant Pot as your meals are cooking.  After all, you cannot safely open your pot until all the pressure has been released.  Which release is recommended depends on the type of foods being cooked.

Quick Release (QR or QPR) is done by moving the “venting knob” from the sealed position to the venting position.  This will release the pressure very quickly.  As a reminder, never put your hands or face over the venting knob when releasing steam.  You will know when all the pressure has been released as the “floating valve” or metal pin will drop down.  This could take a couple minutes.  Quick Release is used when you want to stop the cooking process immediately to prevent overcooking.  This type of release in general is not suggested for meals that have a high volume of liquid or are very starchy.

Natural Release (NR or NPR) is accomplished by simply allowing the “floating valve” or metal pin to drop down on its own after the cooking process is done.  This usually takes anywhere from 10-25 minutes depending on the type of foods inside the Instant Pot.  Some recipes will actually direct you to use a Natural Release for a certain amount of time, say 5 minutes and then use a Quick Release to release any remaining steam or pressure.  It is important to remember that even with a Natural Release, you must turn the “venting knob” to the venting position right before you open the lid.  There may be some steam that still needs to be released before you safely remove the lid.  Natural Release is used when you want the food in your Instant Pot to stop cooking gradually.  It also helps prevent “sputtering” or foam to come out the venting valve when cooking starchy or high liquid volume foods such as soups.

Why does my meal come with a foil pan??

Great question! There can be different reasons for using a foil pan. It usually depends on the type of meal and the ingredients. There’s actually a term for this type of technique.  It’s called “Pot in Pot” or PIP for short. The bottom line is some dishes just look better and taste better when ingredients are kept separate.  For example, in our Honey Teriyaki Chicken, we like the idea of being able to serve the saucy components over a bed of rice vs. having everything all mixed together.  In this case, the rice tastes and looks better and actually hydrates more optimally.  Another example can be found in our Mini Meatloaves.  We love the texture and creaminess of the Cheesy Potatoes just the way they are.  Placing them in the foil pan keeps them at their best and there is no additional Instant Pot clean up needed.  The foil pan can be discarded.

Some ingredients require a “Delicate Touch”

At times, some ingredients require a bit less direct heat in order to retain their optimal texture or color. Using a foil pan allows these ingredients to be placed further away from the direct heat at the bottom of the Instant Pot. For example, the salmon in our Teriyaki Salmon is being slowly poached for a bit in the foil pan before we finish it off with a flavorful sauté. This method helps to retain the moistness and flakiness of the salmon. This method also helps to maintain color and texture with certain kinds of vegetables as well.

If you have any additional questions regarding how to use an Instant Pot, just reach out.  We are here to help!