We’ve heard the clamor. We understand that you need help with a piece of technology that we’ve been recommending for a little while now. It’s the one thing in our kitchen we can no longer live without. It’s handy, it’s dandy, it does everything except slice and dice. It’s the Instant Pot.
For years people have been saying how much easier it is to use a pressure cooker to easily and quickly cook a variety of things from stews to vegetables. But I always found the actual usage of a pressure cooker to be intimidating. First of all, my own pressure cooker looked like it was hammered by 19th century aluminum smiths. Second of all, I became worried that I would screw up so badly that I would blow up my kitchen. Which happens.
But the Instant Pot is a separate unit that plugs in (which means the heat is more regulated than leaving it on the stove top), has a very solid looking design, and a very good seal. And because it has pre-programmed settings, it takes the guess work out of how long you have to cook things, which was always a problem for me because without seeing the food, I had a hard time telling when it was done.
But it was this holiday break, while visiting my father – who had one of them for almost a year without ever trying to use it – that we realized many of you have one of these but aren’t using it. Well, we can’t go into your cabinet, pull it out, and plug it in like we did for my dad – but we can show you how to apply it you your standard recipes and teach you how it works. So let me share what I know and what I do so that you, too, can make a pot roast in less than 45 minutes!
Why does pressure cooking cook so darn fast?!
So what voodoo that you do makes pressure cooking work? Well, it’s a little bit of basic physics and a little bit of engineering that make this the most efficient cooking method we have.
Do you remember the back of the Betty Crocker cake mixes that gave “high altitude” instructions for those cooks unfortunate enough to live in the mountains? You ever think about why that was a thing? Well, the higher in altitude you go, the lower the atmospheric pressure. The lower the atmospheric pressure, the lower the boiling point. At sea level, which I essentially live near here in Virginia, the boiling point of water is about 100 degrees Celsius or 212 degrees Fahrenheit. But in Denver, the mile high city? Water boils at 95 degrees Celsius or 203 degrees Fahrenheit. At the top of Mount Everest, water would boil at about 71 degrees Celsius or 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
So what happens if you increase the pressure instead? Well, the boiling point also increases. Inside of a pressure cooker, the pressure increases well above atmospheric pressure, causing the liquid to boil at up to 120 degrees Celsius or 248 degrees Fahrenheit. So already your food is sitting in liquid and steam well above normal boiling. And, in general, for each ten degrees you increase the temperature of a chemical reaction, you halve the reaction time. At 120 degrees, you are quartering the cooking time.
Additionally, steam and liquid cooking transfer heat to your food much faster than dry cooking to begin with. Think about it. You can stick your hand in the oven for quite a few minutes before getting burned, but you will burn almost immediately if you’re hit with hot steam. That’s why you can cook a lot faster steaming or boiling than baking.
How do I use this Instant Pot on the recipes I already make?
Look at the front of your Instant Pot. See all those buttons? Well, you’re probably only going to use about three or four of them. I’ll list them from least frequent to most frequent.
- Multigrain – This setting is intended for harder grains like brown or wild rice. Maybe you’re into that, but it’s not exactly a paleo choice so we’ve never used it.
- Beans/Chili – This setting is specifically for cooking beans like kidney beans or navy beans or black eyed peas, etc. It’s not for cooking a meat based chili so we’ve never used it.
- Porridge – This is used for cooking grains into a oatmeal or porridge consistency. I guess you could use this for a nut-based cereal, perhaps.
- Soup – This setting is specifically for broths and soups but it only cooks your broth to a certain point and then stops. In fact, the instruction manual specifically says that it stops before the bones fall apart. That’s not the kind of broth that paleo types make, so I use the manual setting instead. Troubleshooting FAQ for broth that doesn’t gel in Tips below, but the real answer is in No. 11.
- Saute – This setting is for using your Instant Pot to saute things with the lid open. But you probably have a stove, so you probably won’t use this much unless you want to saute food in the pan prior to slow or pressure cooking.
- Yogurt – This setting cooks at a fairly low temperature so as to incubate bacteria in yogurt making. We link a recipe below that would make good use of this setting!
- Slow Cooker - Yes, you can use the Instant Pot as a slow cooker, without pressure. But almost all slow cooker recipes can be cooked on pressure as well, which reduces time, so you would probably prefer that.
- Poultry – This is essentially the same as the Meat/Stew program, but with less cooking time since chicken cooks more quickly than beef or lamb or pork.
- Rice – Rinse your rice a few times, then dump it in the pot. Pour in the prescribed amount of
waterbroth for your rice type, maybe some salt and butter, seal your pot and hit the rice button. Walk away, have perfect rice that doesn’t stick to the pan in 10-15 minutes.
- Steam – Any time you want to quickly steam some vegetables, peel and chop them first, then throw them in the pot with about a cup of water. Seal and hit the steam button. You’ll have fork tender potatoes ready for mashing in 15 minutes or so. I use this quite a lot so anything I want to mash or puree (like carrots, cauliflower, etc.) but I especially use it when I make the Tomato-less Marinara Sauce. There is a steaming rack that inserts for this mode.
- Manual – I use the manual setting for making bone broth. Put your bones in, put your water in, put your peppercorns, salt and vinegar in, then seal and hit manual. Increase the time all the way to the max of 90 minutes. I usually turn it on two or three times to extract all the nutrients from the bones before releasing the steam and straining it for use.
- Stew/Meat – Anytime I use the Instant Pot for a pot roast, stew or cooked meat of any type. I just toss in all the ingredients in the recipe that aren’t garnishes, seal, and hit that Stew/Meat setting. It’s so perfect, you guys. Only 45 minutes and it falling off the bone perfect!
Here are a few tips that throw a lot of people when using the Instant Pot for the first time.
- Is it working? Many people hit the buttons to turn it on and are confused when the time countdown doesn’t appear on the LCD display and instead just see “ON”. That means that it is heating up your cooking liquid to the appropriate temperature and pressure. Once it does that, then the countdown begins.
- Man, it’s staying on “ON” forever! Unless you are making a stew or broth, halve the liquid in your recipe. No, seriously. You can halve it. Because if you are steam cooking and none of the steam is escaping, you don’t need so much liquid as you would in the stove or oven. Then your cooking will be much more efficient. Remember: the heating element in the Instant Pot isn’t putting out the same amount of heat as your 15000 BTU “super mega turbo boil” burner on your stove top. The more it has to boil, the longer it takes to reach the right pressure.
- I forgot to make dinner and all my meat is frozen! Can I put frozen meat in the Instant Pot? Yes you can! The Instant Pot has sensors to monitor temperature and pressure and won’t count down until it has reached the desired readings. While cooking from frozen will lengthen the preheating time, your dinner will still get be cooked in the end (and much quicker than you’d expect).
- Oh crap! There is steam pouring out the top of this thing while it’s cooking! Is it broken? If you’ve forgotten to make sure that the top valve is pointing to “Seal” then you will see steam coming out the top, which means you’re not cooking yet. Seal that up or you’ll never get pressure!
- I have a great slow cooker recipe I want to make with my Instant Pot. Can I do that? Yes, you can! I have yet to find a slow cooker recipe that isn’t even better when pressure cooked! You just simply throw all the ingredients you’d throw in the slow cooker into the pot and seal it. Maybe you’d reduce the amount of broth or other liquid. Seriously, there is no other preparation change.
- Should I sear my meat before I pressure cook it? Maybe. If you want. This is really a matter of taste. Just like in slow cooking, you are breaking down the fibers of the meat so much that it probably doesn’t make much of a difference in flavor in the end product. We’ve heard a lot of people complain about a lack of flavor with pressure cooking, this could solve that problem – but it’s not something we’ve experienced ourselves.
- Ok, it says its done but now the lid is stuck! What do I do? Be careful! This is the danger zone and just about the only place where you can potentially hurt yourself! DO NOT EVER, EVER, EVER TRY TO BRUTE FORCE OPEN THE LID OF A PRESSURE COOKER! This is how you make the 250 degree liquid inside your pot explode into your face. Do you want your face to melt like the Nazis who opened the Ark of the Covenant? Didn’t think so. If the lid doesn’t easily come off, you need to release more of the pressure. Did you vent the steam yet? All of it?
- The paint is peeling from my walls! My cabinets are warping! Always use and always vent away from your walls, cabinets, small animals, children, priceless heirlooms, and pretty much anything else you don’t want hit with venting 250 degree steam. Please.
- Can I make yogurt? Beans? Porridge? Yes you can. But we generally don’t make those foods, so I don’t have much insight into that. Pretty much everything else is covered in the round-up below.
- Can I use it as a slow cooker? There is a setting for that and you certainly can, but I really don’t think you’d want to. Pressure cooking is much more efficient and has the added bonus of keeping more of the nutrients in your food than a slow cooker would (because it uses steam to cook instead of liquid). Not only that, but essentially any slow cooker recipe can be put in your pot and cooked as a pressure cooking recipe in 1/4 of the time or less. If you’re used to slow cooking while you work, try prepping the pressure cooker meal before work and hitting “on” when you get home. It’ll be done before you’re table is set (if your kids are as slow as ours anyway)!
Here are our recommendations for delicious recipes to use in the Instant-Pot:
Use the manual setting for the broth, and the yogurt for the yogurt. You can steam the others.
1. Our broth
2. The Paleo Gypsy’s Paleo Banana Bread
4. Provincial Paleo’s Applesauce
5. Predominantly Paleo’s Hard Boiled Eggs
These are for use with the steam program setting.
1. The Urban Poser’s Tomato-Less “Marinara Sauce”
2. Predominantly Paleo’s Roasted Potatoes
3. Nom Nom Paleo’s Braised Kale and Carrots
4. Nom Nom Paleo’s Spaghetti Squash
5. Your Season With Love’s Butternut Squash
6. Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen’s Sweet Potatoes
7. Food and Sunshine’s Butternut Apple Mash
Throw these in the pot and use the meat option.
1. Our Juicy Pot Roast
2. Nom Nom Paleo’s Kalua Pork
3. Paleo Gone Sassy’s Whole Chicken
4. Nom Nom Paleo’s Mexican Beef
5. All Recipes Bone-In Pork Chops, Baked Potatoes and Carrots
6. My Heart Beets Texas Beef Chili
7. Fresh Tart’s Braised Beef Short Ribs
8. The Domestic Man’s Instant Stew
9. Gutsy By Nature’s Paleo Turkey & Gluten Free Gravy
10. The Domestic Man’s Corned Beef and Cabbage
We hope you’ve now got a better idea of how to use your Instant Pot. Hopefully your panicked afternoons have gotten a whole lot less stressful!