Why I am ADDICTED to the Instant Pot + 5 tips for cooking with it

So you've read all the rave reviews on the Instant Pot Facebook groups, listened to your best friend… and mom… and coworker… and cousin… all talk about how it's changed their lives, turning meals that used to take hours into meals that take minutes to make, and now you've decided to buy an Instant Pot for yourself.

Casey Barber / TODAY
Chili made in the Instant Pot that literally took a fraction of the time

Before you take the plunge (but after you read the manual, of course), you'll probably feel a little intimidated and overwhelmed. Don't worry! This is not the scary stovetop pressure cooker that threatened to blow the house down every time it jiggled menacingly. This is a state of the art, stainless steel, super-sophisticated machine that will, in fact, change your cooking habits for the better. Even us recipe professionals have fallen head over heels for how easy and intuitive is to get great results!

If you've ever used a slow cooker or a rice cooker, you're already halfway to becoming an Instant Pot expert—follow these five tips to really get the most out of your Instant Pot.

Work those preprogrammed functions

Unlike your circa-1993 dorm microwave with its mysterious "potato" and "casserole" buttons, these function keys are actually…well…functional! For pressure cooking novices, the Instant Pot's preprogrammed settings—including soup, poultry, rice, beans and chili, and stews—take most of the guesswork out of how long and how high to pressure-cook a meal.

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Once you get more comfortable with the Instant Pot, it's easy to make adjustments to time and temperature. But the preset functions make you feel comfortable using it right off the bat. I've been making the same slow-simmered chili recipe on the stove for years with canned beans, but now I set a button and have a big batch made with healthier dried beans ready to go in an hour. No-stir risotto is something even my husband can accomplish, and I'm more than impressed that my favorite Thai coconut curry only takes 20 minutes for chicken thighs as tender as if I braised them for hours.

Reheat leftovers without nuking them

The steam function is, at face value, meant to quickly and briefly cook vegetables—it turns the Instant Pot on at full heat and full pressure, and is preset to cook for only a few minutes. However, I prefer using this setting as a nifty hack for reheating frozen meals—and is especially great at steaming those potstickers we all stash in the freezer for emergency snacks. (Again, even the recipe pros aren't immune to a little prepackaged help every now and then!)

RELATED: 10 tips for using your slow cooker to get the best results

Pour 1 cup of water into the Instant Pot before reheating anything—the moisture is necessary to bring it up to pressure. For packaged meals or potstickers, remove any plastic wrap and place the food on the provided steamer rack or your own steamer rack. For frozen leftovers, place the block of food in a small oven-safe casserole dish on the rack. Timing will vary based on what you're reheating; potstickers will only take about 3 minutes, but larger portions need 7-10 minutes to thaw through.

Saute all day

All current Instant Pot models come with a saute function in addition to the preprogrammed timed settings—a feature that not every basic slow cooker can boast. If you've ever had to wash a separate skillet after messily dumping ground beef or sautéed onions into your slow cooker insert, you'll understand 100 percent why this built-in function is a lifesaver. It's truly a one-pot wonder—use the Pot as you would a skillet on a stovetop before switching to pressure cooker mode for a seamless transition. Fewer dishes? That's worth it in my book.


Go bulk

While it's possible to make as little as 2 servings of rice in 10 minutes with your Instant Pot, the horsepower (pressure power?) that makes it so effective also makes it a no-brainer to cook large quantities in just as short a timespan.

This is how the Instant Pot has magically turned me into a better meal planner: I'll cook double the quantity of rice, beans, or other meal building blocks, then portion the cooked food into freezer-safe bags and freeze in flat layers. I'll let the bag of cooked beans defrost in the fridge all day until we're ready for dinner tacos, and if I'm really pressed for time, rice will defrost on the counter in minutes—ready to go with quick-steamed vegetables and shrimp I threw into the Instant Pot right from the freezer.

Keep it clean

One last note: while it seems silly to remind anyone to wash their dishes, it's important to keep the rubber sealing ring and the anti-block shield inside the lid squeaky clean. Residue from pressure-cooked food can build up on both, and the rubber ring can accumulate odors over time. To keep your Instant Pot working in top condition, follow the manufacturer instructions and remove them for a good scrub in between meals.

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