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5 ways to use your Instant Pot that might surprise you

(Scott Suchman for The Washington Post/food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)

Just making a big batch of beans alone is enough for my Instant Pot to earn its keep. (I cook A LOT of beans.)

The pressure cooking feature — valued most for beans, large and small cuts of meats, soups and stews — is what prompts plenty of people to purchase an Instant Pot or one of the many other multicookers on the market. But these appliances can do many less obvious tasks and have other built-in functions you might not have played around with yet.

Here’s a rundown of my top picks.


I’m a huge fan of steaming vegetables in the Instant Pot. I open up “Martha Stewart’s Pressure Cooker” often, because it has such great reference charts with cook times for various foods (vegetables, grains, beans), so I tend to stick to the strategy listed in there. For 1 to 3 pounds of vegetables, it calls for placing 3 cups of water and 1 teaspoon coarse salt (such as kosher; use half of that for finer salts) in the bottom of the pot of the multicooker. I then drop my steamer basket in, but you also can use the steamer insert that came with the cooker or just put the vegetables straight into the water.

A complete guide to Instant Pots and other multicookers

The cooker will come up to pressure (on high) fairly quickly, and after that, the vegetables will steam rapidly. Finish with a manual release of the pressure. The timing, anywhere from 0 (as in turn off the cooker as soon as it hits pressure) to 8 minutes, will vary depending on your desired level of tenderness and the type and size of your produce, with broccoli and cauliflower florets, green beans and chopped potatoes at the lower end and carrots and beets at the higher end. Until you get the hang of it, err on the lower end and then check. If you need more time, the cooker will almost instantly come back up to pressure after you put the lid back on and seal.

Steaming can be especially handy for quickly prepping small, frozen cuts of meat, which can be placed in the pot straight from the freezer. Most of the time, I’m just steaming chicken for my elderly dog! I usually put in about 1 cup of water or broth and then set the chicken in the steamer basket over the liquid. Timing depends on size and whether the piece is boneless or not, but prepare for 12 to 20 minutes. Again, it’s easy to check the temp and add more time as necessary. You’ll find lots of information on suggested cook times online, such as this table from Instant Pot. (It has suggestions on other types of food, too.)

Steaming eggs for egg salad and the like? My colleague Ann Maloney has the details.

Stove-top steaming is hands down our favorite way to hard-cook eggs

Slow Cooking

Yes, multicookers are not just for speed. They can serve as a slow-cooker, too, just like the good ol’ Crockpots of yore. Probably other than beans, the thing I do most with my Instant Pot is use it to make overnight steel-cut oats. I slow cook them with a 3-to-1 ratio of water to oats, along with some dried fruit, for 8 to 10 hours and leave the “keep warm” setting on, so that when my husband and I wake up, we can dig in whenever we want to a ready-to-eat breakfast. Any leftovers keep well for a few days and reheat splendidly in the microwave.

A good number of sources that offer pressure-cooked recipes will also include a slow cook time. That makes the process fairly straightforward. However, if you’re hoping to adapt a recipe designed for a traditional slow-cooker to make in a multicooker, it can be a little trickier.

The first step is choosing the right setting. Check the recommendations of your particular model. Instant Pot, for example, says that on its slow cook function, Less corresponds to a low (8-hour) slow-cooker setting; Normal corresponds to a medium (6-hour) slow-cooker setting; and the More mode corresponds to a high (4-hour) slow-cooker setting. You may also see varying results due to the differences in shape, as slow-cookers generally have a larger surface area, and construction, with multicookers featuring one heating element on the bottom and slow-cookers often boasting a band around the side as well.

Slow-cookers allow for the release of more steam, while multicookers, even with the lid vented, tend to hold onto it. Moreover, as America’s Test Kitchen found, temperatures in some multicookers set to slow cook can fluctuate significantly, leading to uneven or longer cook times. These aren’t dealbreakers, but worth keeping in mind as you get to know your appliance and recipes, which you may need to adjust.

Five recipes that maximize the power of your Instant Pot (or multicooker)

Making yogurt

Also on the low-and-slow end of things: Have you tried the yogurt setting on your multicooker? My colleague Olga Massov has, and she’s a fan. Check out her story for all her advice, as well as a recipe, of course.

Making yogurt at home is easier than you think

Using it as an extra burner

Multicookers are equipped with a sauté or sear function, meaning you can use them as you would a pot or skillet on a traditional stovetop. That can come in handy when your cooktop is full (Thanksgiving!). Be sure to take into account that the pan surface area is likely to be smaller than some of your pots or skillets and that multicookers can run hot, meaning you should adjust the heat as needed. If something starts to burn, you may be treated to an alarm and automatic shut-off.

If you think you’ll be trying recipes that need to be cooked with a lid on or ajar, consider purchasing a glass lid to fit your multicooker or repurposing one you already have that matches the size. That will help you monitor your food and allow for better escape of steam.

Satisfying your sweet tooth

Crisp, golden desserts are not going to happen in your multicooker. Instead, as cookbook author Jessie Sheehan wrote for us, focus on items that benefit from cooking with steam: “The Instant Pot excels at ‘baking up’ luscious, custards and puddings, cakes with a dense, moist crumb; think sticky toffee pudding or dense ‘snacking cakes’ (since the IP only ‘bakes’ a single layer of cake at a time anyway, it is perfect for snack cake-making), crème brûlée, rice pudding, flan, clafoutis, chocolate pots de crème, lemon pudding cake, and … cheesecake and bread pudding.” As she points out, desserts contained in a 7-inch cake pan work well, as do those you can make in individual ramekins.

Does dulce de leche eaten with a spoon count as dessert? In my book, it does. Homemade dulce de leche is within easy reach with the Instant Pot. See the instructions in Alfajores (Cornstarch Cookies With Dulce de Leche).

More from Voraciously:

Is there an easy way to make risotto? Yes, in an Instant Pot.

How to make an entire Thanksgiving feast in your Instant Pot

Follow this formula to make a velvety soup in your Instant Pot using any vegetables you have on hand

This Instant Pot beef stew is rich, hearty and ready in 45 minutes