If you were on social media at all in the days leading up to and immediately after Thanksgiving, chances are very good that you saw something about the Instant Pot. If you didn’t, then the good news is that I’m going to be telling you all about this kitchen lifesaver. The bad news is that it’s probably no longer on sale (depends on when you’re reading this post). But if you really want one of these, keep your eyes peeled for a deal—they seem to go on sale fairly regularly, especially for occasions like Mother’s Day and Christmas.

I had heard about the Instant Pot last year but couldn’t fit it into my budget at the time. It looked amazing: a 7-in-1 marvel that by itself would replace a crock pot, pressure cooker, rice cooker, and yogurt maker. I was intrigued, but not willing to pay the nearly $130 price tag for a 6-quart model. So I waited and decided instead to join the Instant Pot Facebook community and just drool over the recipes until a sale came up. When I saw the price of a 6-quart 7-in-1 IP drop to just under $68 the day after Thanksgiving, I jumped at the chance. A few days later, Instant Pot in hand, I promptly did the water test to make sure it worked and then proceeded to cook my first pot roast!

That was one week ago. Since then, in addition to the delicious roast, I have used the Instant Pot to make steel cut oats, boiled eggs, rice pudding*, dulce de leche, cough syrup, 15-bean soup, Greek yogurt, applesauce, tikka masala, rice*, ham & potato soup, and porcupine meatballs* (a childhood favorite). Plans for the rest of the week include a modified version of Zuppa Toscana, red beans & rice, and shredded chicken with BBQ sauce for a quick, healthy lunch.

So why this passion for the Instant Pot? I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but over the last several years I’ve gotten bad about waiting until the last minute to plan what we’re having for supper. I have a general idea of what’s available either in the frig or pantry, but I seemed to fall back into the same recipes over and over again without much variation. Part of my problem is forgetting until the last minute to thaw meat, which is why I was so excited at first to try out the Instant Pot’s pressure cooker. It definitely has not disappointed.

This week hasn’t been without its share of lessons, however. Here are the main things I’ve learned as I’ve put my Instant Pot through its paces these seven days. If you are already a pressure cooker pro, these probably don’t apply to you.

  1. Don’t skip the water test. I was tempted to do this when I took mine out of the box because it was already almost 6 pm and I wanted to use it to make supper, which we are usually eating by that time. Doing the water test assured me that the pot was working as it was supposed to and, more important, made me realize that it wasn’t quite as “Instant” as I had assumed it would be. If you don’t do this test, you may think your pot is broken when it doesn’t come to pressure “instantly.”
  2. Be sure to read your recipe through a couple of times to make sure you’re allowing enough time (if you’re in a crunch). Although the IP *will* absolutely save you a ton of cooking time if you’re using it as a pressure cooker, you can’t forget that it actually takes the IP several minutes to come up to pressure. I’ve found that for most recipes, it takes my 6-quart IP anywhere from 10-15 minutes to come up to pressure. That’s time that you have to ADD to however much cooking time your recipe requires. You also have to allow for the pressure to go down after cooking, so don’t forget that, either. If you’re in a super big hurry, you can do a quick release of the steam, which is the fastest method. However, for some dishes you’ll want to let the pressure release naturally to allow for a bit more extended cooking time and to avoid having pressurized liquid shoot through the steam valve! The recipe will generally say which is preferred but I just mention it here to stress again that you need to allow for all 3 of these phases when you’re planning your total cooking time: getting up to pressure + cooking time + de-pressurizing time. There’s very little that you can actually make in 15 minutes total time. {If you boil your water first before putting it into the IP, it will probably come up to pressure much more quickly and save you some time. I haven’t been organized enough to do this thus far, but I’m sure I’ll test that theory to see for sure.}
  3. Don’t make Greek yogurt in the same pot that you just made 15-bean soup, aka you may want to buy an extra sealing ring. The rubber gasket that fits snugly inside the lid of your IP will absorb some of the odors from certain foods–garlic being just one (but one of the major offenders). If you’re worried about your caramel cheesecake having a subtle infusion of flavor from last night’s curry, then you will at the very least want to make sure that you clean the ring with vinegar and possibly just buy an extra so you can use the appropriate one for whatever you’re cooking at that moment. On a related note: I did go ahead and buy extra rings when I bought my IP, I just forgot to use the extra one when I made the yogurt. Now that I’ve experienced how important it is, I’ve come up with a system: when I use the IP, I take the ring out and let it air dry (which in itself seems to help with getting rid of some of the odors), then put the lid of the IP upside down on top of the base. Then, when I’m ready to use it the next time, I’m reminded that I need to insert a ring, which allows me to choose the correct one according to what I’m about to make: red for savory, blue for sweets.
  4. Remember to make sure that the steam release handle is set to sealing whenever you’re using the pressure cooker functions. I forgot to do this at least once, and had to start over because I wasn’t sure how it had affected what I was trying to make (dulce de leche). I wondered why it was taking so long for the pot to come up to pressure!

4 in 7: Lessons I Learned in my First Week with the Instant PotThose are my go-to tips after having used mine quite a bit over this first week. I’m finding that there are a ton of accessories out there that I never even thought about needing. I did buy the Greek yogurt strainer when I bought the IP and I’m so glad I did. Although many people prefer their yogurt with the whey, I wanted the firmer Greek-style yogurt with less carbs and I was able to remove probably at least 2 cups of liquid from mine over a span of 6 hours or so. I think I probably will purchase a glass lid at some point so that I’ll be able to see what I’m slow cooking, but that’s not a huge priority for me right now. I think my next purchase as far as accessories go will be a cheesecake pan and maybe something that will allow me to layer two different things in the pot—this looks useful or maybe a taller rack.

What are *your* favorite Instant Pot recipes or tips/tricks?

*I got these recipes from this cookbook that was highly recommended on the Facebook Instant Pot Community page.

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