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15 Ways You're Using Your Instant Pot Wrong

The Instant Pot is your new kitchen BFF, but using a new appliance comes with a learning curve.
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The Instant Pot is an amazing tool. What other appliances lets you saute your veggies perfectly, make yogurt, and cook fluffy pasta in the comfort of your kitchen with hardly any effort? But with every fun new tool comes a bit of a learning curve, so we gathered some Instant Pot tips to help you avoid common mishaps.

When you first start using the Instant Pot, mistakes are bound to happen. But according to Anna Di Meglio, the marketing manager for Instant Pot, you'll be well aware of any errors or oversights that pop up and be able to fix them ASAP because the appliance won't work as it should. Reassuring, right? Before you get started, keep this list of common mistakes people make using their Instant Pot nearby because it'll save you a lot of trouble. Promise.

Mistake: You're not putting the sealing ring back in.

Sealing ring
Instant Pot/Youtube

If you remove the silicone sealing ring from the Instant Pot to give it a nice scrub, be sure to put it back in: It's crucial for the cooking process… and can create quite the mess if it's left out. "It's easy to forget, but if you do, it's going to come spewing out of the sides," Di Meglio says. "Luckily if you do notice it's still sitting on the counter, you can just press cancel and start over."

Mistake: You're not turning off the warm button.

Instant pot parts
Courtesy of Instant Pot

You want your food to be warm by the time you eat, right? Of course, you do. Just be a little wary of the Warm button on the Instant Pot, because it's pretty powerful stuff. Sure, it'll keep your meal nice and toasty—but it's also still cooking during that time so you might end up with overcooked food. Instead, keep the pressure cooker closed to lock in the heat until you're ready to eat.

Mistake: You're using sauce instead of liquids.

Tomato sauce jar
Courtesy of Zero Belly

If there's only one thing you should know it's that liquid is crucial when cooking with the Instant Pot. It's what enables it to work and make your food taste so gosh darn good. That's why pouring in some sauce instead of liquid is a major no-no. "We recommend you always use liquid—water, broth, anything like that. Not sauce," Di Meglio says. "If you're using sauce, you have to dilute it. That's really critical because if you're using a thicker sauce, you're going to get the Burn message. There's not enough liquid in it, and the unit is going to say something is wrong because it can't build pressure." Depending on the type of Instant Pot you have, there's usually a minimum requirement of around 1.5 to 2 cups of liquid.

Mistake: You're setting the timer button instead of the cook time.

Chicken broth soup

One of the easiest ways to make yourself want to give up on dinner altogether? Hearing your timer go off and realizing you didn't actually cook anything during that entire time. When you use the Instant Pot, make sure you're using the Manual option and not accidentally just setting the Timer so you'll actually have a steamin' hot plate of food when you want it. It's a rookie mistake, but a common mistake nonetheless.

Mistake: You're forgetting to put the inner pot back in the cooker base.

Instant pot eggs
Williams Sonoma/Facebook

The Instant Pot comes with two main parts: the base and the steel inner pot. And if you forget the latter, you're going to have a situation. "You always need to have the inner pot in the cooker base. If you don't put it back and add in your liquid, the water is going to spill right out—then you'll have to make sure your cooker is dry and redo the water test," Di Meglio says. Extra work? No thank you.

Mistake: You're clogging your steam release pipe.

Instant pot vent
Courtesy of Instant Pot

You won't have to worry about most foods, but when you're making certain things—like applesauce, oatmeal, and noodles—you might experience foaming, frothing or splattering due to clogging the steam release pipe or valve if you fill your Instant Pot too high. Luckily, there's a simple fix: To prevent a mess from going down in your kitchen, just be sure the inner pot isn't filled higher than the 1/2 line.

Mistake: You're not deglazing the inner pot after sautéing.

Vegetables on small plate

One of the best functions of the Instant Pot is the Sauté function, where you're able to pre-cook some ingredients before pressure cooking. The only issue? If you don't deglaze between—aka scrubbing the brown parts off the bottom—your meal isn't going to get very far. "We always recommend sautéing everything in your inner pot first. Once you do the sautéing, you need to deglaze the bottom before you turn it to pressure cook to ensure any bits of food that might have gotten stuck there aren't stuck any longer. If you don't deglaze the bottom of the inner pot, you'll get the Burn message," Di Meglio says.

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Mistake: You're not factoring in the pre-heat cycle.

Instant pot zoom
Courtesy of Instant Pot

The Instant Pot can help you whip up a flawless meal in record time. But with that being said, you still have to make sure you factor in the pre-heat cycle—something many recipes don't automatically do for you. Sometimes certain foods require 15 minutes to build up pressure, and sometimes it's 45. So if you want to have dinner on the table at 6:30 p.m. sharp, keep that in mind when getting everything ready to go.

Mistake: You're forgetting to turn the pressure valve to the sealing position.

Instant pot chop
Courtesy of Instant Pot

Before you start making your food, there's one thing you have to remember to do: Make sure your pressure valve is in the right position. "Once you go into pressure cook mode, you need to set the valve to the sealing position," Di Meglio says. "Some people accidentally leave it in the venting position, and if it's not sealed, it won't come to pressure properly." Basically, you'll have wasted all that time because your meal wasn't able to cook.

Mistake: You're using too much liquid.

Bone broth in bowl

While not using enough liquid is a major don't since it can cause your food to burn, adding too much liquid is also a problem. When it's too watery, you probably won't get an error message—but your meal is bound to turn out totally flavorless, something worse than eating burnt food. Just play Goldilocks and get the amount just right.

Mistake: You put your Instant Pot on the stove.

Instant pot sloppy joe
Williams Sonoma/Facebook

Whatever you do, keep your Instant Pot far, far away from any other hot surface or it'll be ruined before you know it. "You can't put your Instant Pot near a heat source or on the stove, as the bottom of the pot will melt," explains Di Meglio. "It's for countertop use only, but sometimes people forget or they'll put it on the stove and someone who doesn't know turns it on." Unfortunately, this mishap is probably going to cost you an entirely new appliance.

Mistake: You're using the wrong pressure release option.

Lemon on fish

There are two options for letting the Instant Pot release all its pent-up pressure: Natural Pressure Release (NPR) or Quick Pressure Release (QPR). While QPR is perfect for veggies and seafood since it prevents quick-cooking food from overcooking, NPR is for liquidy foods like soup and gradually releases the pressure on its own to keep your kitchen clean and your food at its best quality. Just make sure you use the right option because going with the wrong choice could lead to liquid "sputtering all over the place and burning yourself if you're not careful," Di Meglio says.

Mistake: You're overfilling the inner pot.

Rice and beans

It's tempting to fill your Instant Pot to the brim in order to make a little extra food, but resist the urge or your countertops are going to get pretty messy. "If you're preparing beans or rice or anything that might expand, you can't get away with overfilling the cooker—that gives you very limited space. It's going to have to come out somewhere," explains Di Meglio.

Mistake: You're not doing the water test.

Red instant pot

The water test—which essentially lets you get to know the Instant Pot and ensure everything is running smoothly—might not seem necessary, but not doing it could ruin a lot of potentially good food. "It's there for helping you become familiar with your cooker. You press the buttons, you see what happens when you do quick release… it's really important," Di Meglio says

Mistake: You're using too much oil.

Cooking oils

Adding oil to your dishes can definitely take the taste, texture and consistency to the next level. The problem is when you add too much, you run into the same problem as using sauces to cook your food instead of water: There's simply not enough water content to make sure your pressure cooker can do its job. To make sure the machine is able to come to pressure properly, never use more than 1/4 cup of oil or fat content.

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Tehrene Firman
Tehrene Firman is a freelance health and wellness writer. Read more about Tehrene
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