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What is an Instant Pot

Stovetop pressure cookers have been a popular way to speed up cooking for decades. Over the past few years, electric pressure cookers have become a popular alternative. Instant Pot is the most popular brand, even though most other major kitchen appliance brands have made their own versions. Electric pressure cookers are a quick and convenient way to speed the cooking process compared to a normal stovetop version, and they can be used for a variety of other cooking activities, such as sautéing, slow cooking and yogurt-making.

Pressure cookers not only save time but also money and stress. The insulated pot uses less energy than the stovetop pressure cooker and less time than other traditional cooking methods. It also is safer, making the steam explosions sometimes produced by traditional stovetop cookers nearly nonexistent. It also keeps food warm for a longer period of time, eliminating the need to reheat.

Differences of Traditional vs. Electric

The hiss – traditional pressure cookers put out a low hissing sound as the steam is released; however, electric pressure cookers do not release as much steam, thus they have less evaporation.

Traditional stovetop models cook a little more quickly than electric pressure cooker models. Add about 25% more cooking time when using an electric pressure cooker as opposed to a stovetop model. Because the electric model is more insulated, it keeps the food warmer for a longer period of time than the stovetop model.

Purchasing an Electric Pressure Cooker

When purchasing an electric pressure cooker for the first time, it may be hard to decide which make and model to choose. For example, choosing a 6-quart pot versus an 8-quart pot will depend on the portion size you plan to make. If you will be making smaller portions, you want the smaller 6-quart pot; however, if you will be making larger portions or roasts, you want to go with the 8-quart pot. Some electric pressure cookers are more high- tech, including some Instant Pots that connect to your phone; however, these models are often more expense.

You may find a generic brand on sale, which typically will work just as well as a name brand. Read through resources, such as consumer reports or customer reviews, to make an informed purchase.

Instant pot on a counter.

Glossary of Terms for Instant Pots

  • Burn: There may be insufficient water or broth in the inner pot, or the food may be too close or stuck to the bottom of the inner pot with all the liquid on top.
  • Condensation collector: The cup positioned at the back of the Instant Pot that captures any condensation that develops during cooking. Note: The Instant Pot Lux series does not include a condensation collector.
  • EPC: The abbreviation for electric pressure cooker.
  • Float valve (pin): The silver or red pin beside the steam valve. When it is up, the cooker is fully pressurized; when it drops, it is no longer pressurized, and the cooker can be opened.
  • Manual or pressure cook (newer models): Use the manual/pressure cook programming to set a custom time and/or pressure level.
  • Natural release (NR or NPR): Allow the cooker to cool down naturally until the float valve drops. This can take 10 to 40 minutes, or longer, depending on the amount of food that is in the cooker. After the cooking process is complete, the cooker will go into the “keep warm” mode if it is turned on.
  • Pot-in-pot (PIP): This refers to placing another pot inside the stainless-steel inner pot to prepare a dish.
  • Quick release (QR or QPR): Turn the steam release handle or press the quick release button to the venting position to let out the steam until the float valve drops. Quick release is not suitable for foods with a large liquid volume or high starch content, such as oatmeal, porridge, beans, sticky liquids or starchy soups. With these foods, use natural release instead to prevent food content from splattering out.
  • Sealing ring: Made of high-quality, heat-resistant silicone, the sealing ring is positioned underneath the lid. The sealing ring is critical to the proper functioning of an Instant Pot, and it must always be positioned properly on the underside of the lid. Only use genuine Instant Pot sealing rings because using other brands will void your warranty.
  • Sling: Used for pot-in-pot to easily remove the pot from the inner pot. Slings can be in silicone or aluminum foil.
  • Stainless-steel inner pot: The inner pot that is positioned inside the cooker base where the food and liquid are placed. It is made of food grade 304 (18/8) stainless steel with a three-ply bottom for even heat distribution. There is no chemical coating on the inner pot, and they are compliant with FDA food safety standards. In addition, the inner pots are dishwasher safe.
  • Steam rack (trivet): The steam rack is positioned inside the stainless-steel inner pot. It is used to elevate food or your dish above the water in the bottom of the inner pot while you pressure cook.
  • Water test (initial test run): A water test is done to help you become familiar with your Instant Pot and to ensure the cooker is functioning properly.

Safety

Electric pressure cookers are safer and easier to use than traditional stovetop cookers.

  • When you release the pressure valve, steam is a safety concern. Be sure to keep your hands and face clear of hot steam from the pressure release and when opening the lid.
  • Make sure you are plugged into a safe outlet on an even surface.
  • The Instant Pot will tell you if something is wrong by displaying a message. For instance, if it displays “burn” that means there isn’t enough liquid to cook the food without burning it.
  • Make sure not to overfill the pressure cooker, leaving no room to cook.
  • Your electric pressure cooker should be clean and free from food particles stuck in the lid, valve or other parts of the machine.
  • Read the user manual before using your electric pressure cooker.

Electric Pressure Cookers Help Make Healthy Meals

Pressure cookers can make healthy foods in less time than traditional cooking methods. For example, squash or beans often take more than an hour to bake in an oven, while pressure cookers make them in less than a half an hour.

Because pressure cooking uses steam to cook, additional butter or oils are not needed when cooking. Using the steam rack keeps meats and other foods above their fat drippings, which allows for healthier meals. Additionally, the nearly airless environment prevents nutrients and other minerals from being boiled away. Lastly, high temperature steam helps intensify flavors, which means less added seasonings, such as salt, are needed.

Electric Pressure Cookers Are Not Pressure Canners

Although Instant Pots and other electric pressure cookers use pressure to cook, they do not get to the proper temperature and pressure for pressure canning. Consult your user manual for recommendations on hot water bath canning or visit https://nchfp.uga.edu/ publications/nchfp/factsheets/electric_cookers.html for more information.

Building on Knowledge

Once you have mastered the basics of the electric pressure cooker, you can try more complicated recipes, such as cheesecake, yogurt, meatloaf or more. Visit https://recipes.instantpot.com/.


Alexandra Coffman, WVU Extension Agent – Grant County
Brooke Alt, WVU Extension Agent – Pendleton County

Adapted from a lesson created for the West Virginia Community Educational Outreach Service, a service organization supported by WVU Extension Service.

Last updated: April 2020