If you’re new to pressure cooking or you just want to know how to use the Instant Pot Duo, then you’ve come to the right place! This post includes a step-by-step guide, including how to do the initial water test and how to start the Instant Pot.

instant pot duo sitting on a kitchen countertop

Hello there! I’m Carrie and you might know me as the author of the best-selling Healthy Meal Prep Instant Pot Cookbook!

But, I didn’t always know how to use a pressure cooker and it took me several tries before I felt comfortable using one.

Fast forward to today, and I rely on my Instant Pot on a daily basis. In fact, I recently invested in second Instant Pot Duo so I can cook two things at once. I find them to be invaluable for cooking foods in less time and more efficiently with easy clean-up.

I thought this was the perfect opportunity to update this guide for how to use the Instant Pot Duo. Many of the lessons in this article apply to other Instant Pot models as well.

What You Need to Know

The Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker that comes in various sizes and models.

It’s different than the old stovetop pressure cooker 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!

My suggestion to start getting comfortable with any of the Instant Pot models is that you understand how a pressure cooker works.

Here are some quick lessons.

  1. The pressure cooker works when 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.
  2. So, the point is that as a general rule 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 of liquid is almost always the minimum amount of liquid (there are a few exceptions to this rule).
  3. The Instant Pot is a modern, electric 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. Most Instant Pots can also be used as a slow cooker, rice cooker, sous vide, sauté pan, and yogurt maker. See my favorite Instant Pot accessories for meal prepping.

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.

carrie holding an instant pot duo pressure cooker.

Getting Started with Your Instant Pot Duo

1. 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! I promise I will help you figure out what is what on your Instant Pot Duo.

2. 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.

photo with labeled ingredients for parts of the instant pot duo

The Instant Pot Duo comes with five basic pieces, including:

  1. The main base where the buttons are located,
  2. the inner stainless steel cooking pot,
  3. the lid that has a seal on the underside,
  4. the stainless steel trivet (you won’t be using the trivet for every recipe),
  5. and the electric power cord that plugs in the back of the base.

3. Familiarize yourself with the panel

photo of the instant pot duo panel

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

  • Pressure Level button – make sure it is set to high
  • Pressure Cook button – use the up and down arrows to set the cook 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 or stop the cooking process

4. Understand how to start the Instant Pot

Just forget about all those other buttons on the panel for now. And, just in case you were wondering, there is no Start button on the Duo.

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.

You can also use the other buttons that have smart programs (like for soup, meat, beans, or rice), but you don’t need those buttons for the first time you use your Instant Pot Duo or Instant Pot Duo Plus.

5. Wash the pot, trivet, and lid

It’s important to wash the pot, trivet, and lid of the Instant Pot Duo before you start to use it.

You can easily just wash them in the sink with a mild dish soap and a sponge, or you can run the pot and the trivet through the dishwasher.

The lid of the Instant Pot should not be put in the dishwasher. It’s best to always wash the lid by hand in the sink. This will help preserve the seal that is installed on the underside of the lid.

While we are talking about the lid, it’s important that you take note of the sealing valve (also called the float valve). There are two settings of the Instant Pot Duo lid: sealing and venting.

When cooking something, the seal should always be set to sealing. When you need to release the pressure, the seal should be set to venting (see my cautions below about venting).

Learning the difference between the venting position of the steam release valve is one of the most important things to know.

instant pot duo lid sealing valve

6. Do the water test

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. This initial test run ensures that your device is working correctly and is important to do for new Instant Pot users (and also if you’ve purchased a used device or one of the older models).

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.

You have now completed the Instant Pot water test.

Always use an oven mitt or a towel to protect your hands when you are adjusting the sealing valve from sealed to venting.

Your First Instant Pot Recipe

Once you have followed all of these initial steps and you have a basic idea of how your Instant Pot Duo works, then it’s time to actually cook something!

Until you feel really comfortable using a pressure cooker, then I would advise you to use recipes specifically for the Instant Pot. Pressure cooking is not like slow-cooking which is very forgiving.

Unless you want to have a bunch of Instant Pot fails, then it’s really best to use recipes. Here is a great post with beginner recipes for the Instant Pot that includes some of my favorite recipes.

See my entire index of healthy Instant Pot recipes.

Also, don’t miss my recipe round-ups of Instant Pot healthy chicken recipes and Instant Pot soup, stew, and chili recipes.

Or, you can also join my newsletter and I’ll send you my Instant Pot Cheat Sheet that includes a quick start guide to healthy cooking with your pressure cooker.

Instant Pot Duo FAQs

How do you set an Instant Pot Duo to start?

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 on the Duo. 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. It is very, very unlikely that you Instant Pot will explode, especially if you follow the directions.

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.

Final Tips for Instant Pot Duo

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.
  3. Lastly, have fun with your new Instant Pot Duo! There is an endless supply of delicious and healthy recipes that you can make with your Instant Pot, from Instant Pot Brownie Bites to an Instant Pot Whole Chicken.
  4. There are also numerous Instant Pot-authorized accessories and Instant Pot cookbooks that can make your pressure cooker even more efficient. Push yourself to try new flavors and recipes and you will surely fall in love with this way of cooking.
Instant Pot Beginners Guide Infographic

Don’t forget to join my newsletter list to get exclusive clean eating recipes and tips. The newsletter is 100% free with no spam; unsubscribe anytime.

About the Author: Carrie Forrest is the author of the best-selling Instant Pot-authorized cookbook, The Healthy Meal Prep Instant Pot Cookbook. She has a master’s degree in public health with a specialty in nutrition and receives over 5 million annual visitors to her site. Send Carrie a message through her contact form.