If you’re new to pressure cooking or you just want to know how to use the Instant Pot, then you’ve come to the right place! This post includes a beginner’s guide to get started making healthy meals in the Instant Pot, plus a free copy of my recipe e-book.

instant pot beginner's guide fb

The Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker. It’s different than the old stovetop models that our mothers and grandmothers had. Those were scary because they made a lot of noise and there were stories flying around about them exploding!

The Instant Pot is a modern version of a pressure cooker that is safe, easy to use, and one of the best ways to get healthy food on the table fast. That said, it can be intimidating getting used to a whole new way of cooking. I hope this post offers some guidance and assurance that it’s not that hard to get started.

Instant Pot Beginners

Unpack the Box

To get started using your Instant Pot, you first need to unpack the box. I know that’s kind of obvious, but I’ve met more than a handful of people who tell me that they’ve purchased an Instant Pot, but that it’s still sitting in the box in the garage. Now is the time to unpack the box.

Identify the Pieces

Once you’ve opened the box with your new Instant Pot, then it’s time to get familiar with what is included. I would also suggest washing the stainless steel pot before you use it for the first time.

instant pot pieces


The Instant Pot essentially has six pieces to it:

  1. The main base where the panel and buttons are located
  2. The inner stainless steel cooking pot
  3. The lid
  4. The sealing ring for the lid
  5. The stainless steel trivet (you won’t be using the trivet for every recipe)
  6. The electric cord that plugs in the back of the base

The panel with all the buttons can be intimidating, but you actually only need to use a few settings once you plug it in.

  • Pressure Level button – make sure it is set to high
  • Pressure Cook button – use the up and down arrows to set the time (you’ll need to know exactly how long to cook whatever it is you’re cooking)
  • Cancel button – if you need to cancel the program

instant pot panel with buttons

Just forget about all those other buttons on the panel for now. And, just in case you were wondering, there is no Start button. Once you’ve pushed the Pressure Cook button and set the time using the up and down arrows, then the Instant Pot will start by itself.

The LED screen will show you the time you’ve set, and the time will count down once the post has come up to pressure.

Using For the First Time

Step One

Now that you are familiar with the basics of the Instant Pot, it’s time to talk about how to use it to cook. I suggest that you start with something very easy, like doing a water test that the Instant Pot company suggests you do.

To do the water test, add 3 cups of water to the stainless steel inner pot. Lock on the lid and set the time to 3 minutes at high pressure. Make sure the sealing valve is set to “sealing.” Let the Instant Pot do its thing. As long as you don’t get any error buttons, you have set it up correctly!

Once it is done cooking, you can let the pot sit for about 10 minutes to let the pressure come down a little bit naturally. Then, you can carefully move the sealing valve to “release” to let out the pressure and pour out the water in the pot. Always use an oven mitt or something to protect your hands when you are adjusting the sealing valve from sealed to release.

Step Two

My second suggestion is that you understand how a pressure cooker works. The idea is that you always use about a cup of liquid with most anything you cook in the Instant Pot. The heating element heats up that liquid and creates steam that builds pressure inside.

That enormous amount of steam under pressure is how food gets cooked so quickly, without any loss of quality. So, the point is that you always need to use about one cup of liquid (water or broth or juice) no matter what you’re cooking. Sometimes, you’ll use a little less or a lot more, but one cup is about the minimum amount of liquid.

Step Three

My last suggestion is to use recipes specifically for the Instant Pot while you’re getting used to how it works. Pressure cooking is not like slow-cooking which is very forgiving. You really need to follow some basic guidelines to have a successful dish, and why not benefit from someone else’s work and just use recipes for awhile?

Here is a great post with beginner recipes for the Instant Pot.

carrie holding instant pot with plants in the background

Healthy Instant Pot Recipes

Speaking of Instant Pot healthy recipes, I have just what you need in the form of a brand-new e-book that I’m offering for FREE! Yay!

Download my FREE Clean Eating Instant Pot recipes e-book!

Clean Eating Instant Pot ebook cover My book includes some of my most popular healthy Instant Pot recipes, including:

and more!

See my entire index of Instant Pot recipes.


How do you set an Instant Pot?

The easiest way is to plug it in and use the manual button to set the time for whatever food you’re cooking. There is no start button. Once you set the time for the desired number of minutes, the Instant Pot will start by itself.

Can an Instant Pot explode?

There are safety features that prevent an Instant Pot from exploding.

How does Instant Pot work?

The Instant Pot is a pressure cooker which means the heating element heats up and creates steam inside. The steam is trapped and creates pressure which cooks the food quickly.

Why does my Instant Pot say burn?

The burn message usually means you didn’t add enough liquid or there is food stuck to the bottom of the stainless steel insert. So, you have two choices. Add more liquid or use a wooden spoon to remove whatever is stuck on the bottom and then try again.

How do I keep my lid from stinking?

This is a common problem. The cause is that the rubber seal on the inside of the lid is very good at absorbing odors. So, before you know it, your Instant Pot lid can start to stink from garlic or whatever else you’ve been cooking.

My best tip to keep the lid from stinking is to wash it after every use and then store the lid upside down on top of the Instant Pot base. By storing the lid upside down, you’ll expose that underside and the seal to the air which will keep it from stinking. You’re welcome, ha ha!

Final Tips

I promise that learning how to use the Instant Pot is worth the effort. Once you are comfortable using it, then you’ll save so much time cooking healthy favorites. I’ll leave you with two final tips for getting started.

  1. Remember that most recipes will take between 10-15 minutes to come up to pressure before the cooking time starts. So, you need to factor in that extra time to your schedule.
  2. You can use the natural release or the quick release to let out the pressure from the Instant Pot. Most recipes will indicate which method to use. Get healthy recipes for your Instant Pot by checking out my Instant Pot recipe index.

If you’re a visual learner like me, you might enjoy my YouTube video for How to Use the Instant Pot that I recorded in my kitchen.

Also, don’t miss my recipe round-ups of Instant Pot Chicken recipes, Vegan Instant Pot recipes and Instant Pot Soup recipes.

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