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Do you have an Instant Pot sitting in a box or in a cabinet, unused? Don’t worry, I’m going to tell you the basics of how to use an Instant Pot!
I keep saying I’m going to write about my Instant Pot, because so many people I know have bought one in the past year. But I always delay it because there are just so many Instant Pot posts and recipes out there. Who needs mine?
Lately, though, I’ve seen lots of comments like these on Facebook:
“My Instant Pot is still in its box, help!”
“I thought the Instant Pot was supposed to make my life easier, but it’s so complicated!”
“Every time I try to use my Instant Pot I get overwhelmed. So many buttons.”
I get it. My Instant Pot stayed in its box for months, and then once I took it out it stayed untouched for a while longer. It is overwhelming if you try to take in the whole thing at once. I mean, mine does seven different things: it’s a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, sauté pot, steamer, yogurt maker, and warmer. That’s a lot of functionality, which explains why there are so many buttons and things to learn.
But you don’t have to learn them all at once! I’ve realized that instead of recipes, what Instant Pot newbies really need is instruction on how to use an Instant Pot for the first time. So we’re going to start with something simple: mashed potatoes. Barely a recipe, more of a method. A method for quickly cooking potatoes with a minimum of fuss and attention. We’ll be dealing only with the controls for the pressure cooker function.If you bought an Instant Pot but you're scared to use it, this post is for you!Click To Tweet
Why You Should Make Potatoes In The Instant Pot
Now, have you ever heard the expression that when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail? People make all sorts of things in their Instant Pots that personally I find easier or better to do on the stove or in the oven. I only use my Instant Pot for things that are easier or faster or better in the Instant Pot. And mashed potatoes definitely qualify.
When you make mashed potatoes on the stovetop you have to pay attention. You wait for the water to boil, then make sure that it doesn’t boil over. You need to keep checking the potatoes to see when they’re done, and usually the outsides of the potatoes are disintegrating by the time the insides are cooked. Then you have to strain them without burning yourself. And it usually takes about 45 minutes to an hour.
In the Instant Pot, on the other hand, the cooking time is about 22 minutes total, and you don’t have to pay any attention to it while that’s happening. Then as soon as they’re done you can just scoop the potatoes out of the pot, since they’re not sitting in liquid. So much easier. Including prep you could have these done in half an hour, start to finish.
Get To Know Your Instant Pot
Before we actually start cooking, here are the basic things you need to know about your Instant Pot. Get familiar with these parts and these functions, and you’ll be good to go.
There are five main parts of your Instant Pot you need to know about, simply because either we’re doing something with them for the mashed potatoes, or they come off for cleaning – something you might want to do before using the IP for the first time. I have the IP Duo 6 Quart, so these instructions are specific to that one, but other versions may be similar.
The Metal Pot
The first is the metal pot itself. It’s removable. I mean, that’s how you wash it. (The metal pot and all components of the lid can–and should–be washed; the main unit, the part that plugs in, should not get wet at all.) But I read a horror story of someone who left a soup ready to go in the metal pot in the fridge and left instructions for the babysitter to put the soup in the Instant Pot. Instead of placing the metal pot into the Instant Pot, she poured the contents into the Instant Pot and turned it on, ruining it.
So the first thing to know is that you should never ever put anything into your Instant Pot without the removable metal pot in there.
The Sealing Ring
The sealing ring is under the lid. It stays in place by being pushed under a metal frame attached to the lid. Every time you’re done using your Instant Pot you should remove the ring and clean it.
One of the very first things I ever made in my Instant Pot was a turkey breast, and that sealing ring still smells like turkey breast. It’s not a big deal at all for most things—my mashed potatoes don’t come out smelling like turkey—but it’s not a bad idea to have one sealing ring for savory foods and one for sweet foods just in case. Amazon sells a two-pack with two different colors, so that you always know which is which.
If you ever find that you’re having trouble getting your Instant Pot to pressurize, check the sealing ring. If it isn’t in properly and you don’t have a tight seal, steam will escape.
I don’t know what this is really called, so I call it the metal shield. Its purpose is to keep bits of food from getting sucked up into the parts above it. The shield pulls right off, and you should always wash it separately when you wash the lid to make sure that there’s no food stuck in it. Make sure you pop it back on before using the lid again.
This is the little lever that you move from “venting” to “sealing” depending on whether you want steam to escape from the lid or not. It pulls right off for cleaning and pushes back on. If steam is ever escaping from the valve when it should be set to “Sealing” just give it a careful nudge closer to the “Sealing” side – it doesn’t click into place or anything like that, so even though it looks like its all the way there it might not be.
And that little metal thing to the right of the Pressure Valve? You don’t actually do anything with that, but just know that it’s normal for some steam to escape from there before the IP gets up to pressure.
The Control Pad
You’re going to be ignoring almost all of this today, so don’t get overwhelmed. You’ll be using the “Manual” button, which means that you’re not using a pre-set button (“Soup,” “Rice,” etc.). You’ll be using the + and – buttons to set the cooking time.
When you’re done, you’ll be using the “Keep Warm/Cancel” button to turn things off. Another handy button when using the pressure cooker function is the “Pressure” button, which toggles the Instant Pot between high pressure and low pressure. The default is high pressure, so we won’t need that button today, since we’ll be cooking on high pressure.
When using the manual function, the cook time that you set isn’t actually going to start until the Instant Pot comes to pressure. Until then it will just say “On.” Once the pot is pressurized, your cooking time will start counting down.
When the cook time is over, the pot will beep, and the timer will start counting up to let you know how long its been since the cooking stopped. The pot will automatically switch to its “keep warm” function.
Getting To Pressure
The way the pressure cooker works is by heating water until it is steam, and then…things happen with the boiling temperature. I’m not even going to pretend that I understand it. But the key is that if you don’t have enough liquid in the pot, you won’t produce enough steam to pressurize the Instant Pot.
In order for the Instant Pot to pressurize the Pressure Valve must be pushed all the way to “Sealing.”
You should never try to use the pressure cooker function with less than 1 cup of liquid in the pot. And if you’re making a food that absorbs a lot of liquid, like rice, you’ll need more. But don’t worry about that today, one cup is fine for potatoes.
Since the liquid for the mashed potatoes isn’t part of the finished recipe (as opposed to something like soup), you don’t need to add more liquid if you decide to cook more potatoes. That holds true for most recipes where you’re just using the liquid to steam cook the food.
How long the Instant Pot takes to get to pressure depends on what you put in there. If you put in hot liquid and room temperature food, it could come to pressure in as little as five minutes. If you put in cold liquid and frozen food, it could take half an hour to come to pressure.
You’ll hear people throw around cooking times for the Instant Pot that sound very short: hard-boiled eggs in seven minutes, a whole chicken in 25 minutes, or as I first read, mashed potatoes in eight minutes. But those times leave out two vital—and potentially time consuming—steps: getting up to pressure, and releasing the pressure. So don’t believe the recipe times unless you’ve read through the entire recipe. Often people are just referring to the actual time you’re programming into the Instant Pot.
The other thing about cooking time is that in general, more food doesn’t mean more time. If you were to double the mashed potato recipe, you would still cook for the exact same time.
Releasing The Pressure
Instant Pot recipes will tell you to do either a “quick release” or a “natural release.” These are the two options for releasing the pressurized steam so that you can open the lid.
A quick release means that you are going to VERY CAREFULLY move the Pressure Valve lever from “sealing” to “venting.” This will INSTANTLY send a geyser of steam shooting straight up, so you want to make sure that your hand is not in the way, or your face, or anything else.
If you’re nervous about doing this for the first time, use a wooden spoon so that you can get some distance between you and the steam.
And by all means, have someone videotape your cat while this is happening.
A natural release means that you’re going to let the natural cooling down of the pot lower the pressure. This can take a long time, and remember, your food is still cooking during that time. So if a recipe calls for a quick release and you go for a natural release instead, your food will overcook.
Some recipes will have you do a combination of the two releases: natural release for a certain amount of time, and then quick release to get rid of the remaining steam.
Those are the basics you need to know in order to use your Instant Pot pressure cooker, so let’s get cooking!
This recipe makes four servings. If you want to double it, go ahead – but only double the potatoes, not the cooking liquid. And make sure you don’t put anything above the “Max” line on the inside of the metal pot.
Aside from your Instant Pot, there are a few pieces of equipment that will make the process even easier.
Your Instant Pot probably came with a little metal rack that fits into the bottom of the metal pot. If that’s all you have, you’ll be fine. But one of the best Instant Pot accessories you can buy is some kind of steamer basket for holding food. I have this one. I didn’t buy it for my Instant Pot, I already had it for using in regular pots for steaming vegetables. But it works perfectly in the IP.
At some point I’m probably going to buy this silicone basket, since it will make lifting foods out of the IP very easy. I can kind of do that with the basket I have now, but as you lift it out of the pot it gets wider and wider and I’ve had a few disasters where the pile of food fell off of one side. [Update: I did buy that one, but what actually came in the mail had different handles. They’re much thicker and don’t have a little clasp for keeping them attached to each other and out of the way. So, I have to shove the handles down to close the lid. I should have returned it, but I was too lazy. It works fine, and is more functional for the IP than my metal steamer basket, but it wasn’t what was pictured.]
If you’re using the metal rack that came with your IP, you might have to remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon since the bottom ones will probably be sitting in the cooking water.
Whipping mashed potatoes with an electric mixer is the best way to make glue. If you want smooth potatoes that are not gluey, you should use a potato masher. I’ve had many, and this is my favorite. The horizontal handle allows you to really put some muscle behind it.
I almost always use Russet potatoes for mashed and baked potatoes. Yukon Gold are also a good option.
What Cooking Liquid?
You can totally use plain water for your liquid in this recipe, but if you want your potatoes to have a really rich, interesting flavor, you can use stock. I always use vegetable stock.
Here we go!
Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes
- 5 medium Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes peeled or scrubbed
- 1 cup water or stock
- 1/4 cup milk
- 6 tablespoons butter or to taste
- Kosher salt to taste
- pepper to taste
Place a rack or steaming basket in the bottom of the Instant Pot's metal pot; make sure the Instant Pot is plugged in
Cut the potatoes into 2-inch chunks (for medium potatoes, you'll be quartering them)
Put the potatoes into the Instant Pot with 1 cup of water or stock
Put the Instant Pot's lid on and turn it clockwise until it's locked
Make sure that the Pressure Valve is pushed all the way to "Sealing"
Press the "Manual" button, then press the - button (minus button) until you get down to "10" (most Instant Pots will default to "High Pressure" on the manual setting; if yours doesn't, set it to "High Pressure")
After a short time the Instant Pot will start automatically and the readout will say "On"
It should take about 12 minutes for the Instant Pot to pressurize, then 10 minutes to cook
When the cooking is done the Instant Pot will beep; press cancel to turn off the warming function
Do a "quick release" - very carefully, making sure that nothing (including your hand or your face) is above the Pressure Valve, turn the valve from "Sealing" to "Venting"; make sure you're pushing the valve from the side and getting your hand out of the way quickly
Once the steam has stopped escaping from the Pressure Valve, turn and remove the Instant Pot's lid
Remove the potatoes from the metal pot (leave the liquid) and put into a mixing or serving bowl with enough room for mashing
Cut the butter into pieces and add to the hot potatoes
Pour the milk over the potatoes
Mash well using a potato masher
Add salt and pepper to taste and stir well
To double the recipe, double all of the ingredients except the water or stock - it should always be 1 cup. Cooking time remains the same. Just make sure your potatoes don't go over the "max" line on the inside of the Instant Pot.
I have the IP Duo 6 Quart, so these instructions are specific to that one, but other versions may be similar.
Looking for some other super easy Instant Pot recipes? Check out why Instant Pot hard boiled eggs are the best, and this quick and delicious Instant Pot potato salad recipe. Perfect for cookouts and picnics! Plus, if you think a ton of stirring is necessary for creamy risotto, you’ve never made risotto in an Instant Pot.