Photo: Shutterstock / corners74
The day I received my Instant Pot felt like Christmas morning. I unpacked the box and started dreaming about what I would cook first. Then, I took a good hard look at all those buttons and realized something: this thing definitely wasn’t in the same league as my slow cooker. It was a sophisticated appliance and I had a lot of learning to do.
Luckily, it didn’t take long for me to learn how to get the most out of the Instant Pot. Once I got the hang of how to use my new favorite kitchen tool, I started converting my favorite slow cooker favorites into Instant Pot hits. I found that by following a few simple rules, I was able to make all these fabulous foods in a fraction of the time. So let’s dive in and take a look at what it takes.
1. Make sure there is at least 1 cup of liquid in the recipe
You don’t need any liquid at all when using a slow cooker, but it’s a different story in the Instant Pot. This thing gets really hot very quickly, which means there’s no time for the ingredients to release their natural juices. That can turn your food into a burnt hockey puck before you know it.
To solve the problem, you need some liquid (which also helps to create pressure inside the pot). You’ll need to adjust your slow cooker recipe so it has at least one cup of liquid. Since liquid doesn’t evaporate in a pressure cooker, this added cup will still be there when you’re done cooking your food. If you’re worried about that creating a watered-down version of your favorite recipe, you can set your ingredients up on the steamer insert to keep them above the water line. Or, use the Saute function after you’ve pressure cooked to boil off the excess liquid.
2. Scale back your recipes
If you wanted to, you could fill a slow cooker to the brim with ingredients. Not so much with the Instant Pot, which won’t pressurize if it’s too full. If it doesn’t pressurize, the food won’t cook properly, so make sure you’re scaling back your recipes. In general, you’ll need to keep the ingredients level below the 2/3 full “MAX FILL” line. If you’re cooking ingredients that expand (like beans, pasta or grains), only fill the Instant Pot to the halfway mark. The best instant pot recipes ensure that you follow this step.
3. Omit a few ingredients while cooking under pressure
There are a few ingredients that don’t work well under pressure. The Instant Pot gets too hot too quickly for dairy (like milk, sour cream and cream of mushroom soup) which means they can scorch. Modify your recipe so you’re adding these ingredients after you’ve finished the pressure cooking setting.
Similarly, thickening ingredients (like arrowroot, cornstarch or flour) also cause problems by preventing the Instant Pot from building pressure correctly. If your recipe calls for flour-coated chicken (like this slow-cooked chicken cacciatore), saute the chicken without the flour to avoid any problems. You can add any thickening agents at the end and simmer them in using the Saute function.
Finally, since liquid doesn’t evaporate under pressure, avoid adding wine or beer to Instant Pot recipes. The alcohol vapors won’t burn off like they do in the slow cooker, so you’ll end up with an incredibly tart, acidic or malty flavor in your dish.
4. Adjust the timing
Cooking meat in the slow cooker usually takes 6-8 hours, but it will only take about 30 minutes in the Instant Pot. If you include the time it takes to build pressure and release pressure, that means your meat will be cooked in about an hour. When it comes to vegetables, they only take under five minutes on the Manual pressure setting, so you certainly won’t need to let the recipe cook away all day!
To find the best cooking times, there are a few cheat sheets available out there (like this one). I recommend keeping a record of what timings worked and what didn’t. Or, if you’re not one for record keeping, you can cross-reference other recipes with similar ingredients to find the Instant Pot cooking times.
5. Consider adding ingredients in stages
Since meat and vegetables cook at drastically different timings, you may not want to add cook them at the same time like you do in your slow cooker. If your meat is cut into 1-inch or smaller pieces, it should be safe to toss them in together. But, if you’re using a larger chunk of meat (like pot roast or pork shoulder), make the recipe in stages. Start by cooking the meat first and releasing the pressure. Then, add the vegetables and either simmer using the Saute function or cook under pressure for an additional 1 to 5 minutes.
Get ready to have some fun converting your slow cooker recipes!