11 Unexpected Ways to Use Your Instant Pot
Easy jam, spaghetti, even homemade vanilla extract! Everybody’s favorite gadget can cook so much more than soups and stews. We’ve got tips and tricks to make the most of it.
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In the heat of summer, I do everything possible to avoid heating up my kitchen. That’s when I break out my Instant Pot. The multi-cooker can make a delicious, filling meal without raising the room temperature one degree. But I’m not necessarily talking hearty, wintry stews — I use my IP for all kinds of things, from complete meals to big-batch components to condiments, sauces, and snacks. You’ll be amazed at just how versatile this one machine can be.
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1. Perfect summer pasta in an Instant Pot
There’s no way I’m boiling a pot of water when it’s 90 degrees out. Why would I, when the Instant Pot can cook pasta and sauce, all at once?
Think of this recipe as a blueprint: Add the ingredients for a simple tomato sauce, some carefully-arranged spaghetti, and water to the insert of your Instant Pot. It all cooks together at once, no draining necessary, and no stirring required until just before serving. This recipe also adds fresh spinach, a clever way to get in some greens.
2. You can cook frozen meat in an Instant Pot. Seriously.
Confession: I’m not always on top of things. Sometimes I forget to defrost the meat I need for dinner. That’s no biggie when you’ve got an Instant Pot — it can cook meat straight from the freezer. For instance, here’s how to cook frozen chicken in an Instant Pot. Once they’re cooked, IP chicken breasts are perfect for salads, tacos, grain bowls, and anywhere else you’d use simply seasoned chicken. And here’s how to cook frozen ground beef in an Instant Pot. Of course, you can also prepare a complete meal with frozen meat.
I never thought of pot roast as a spontaneous meal until I got an Instant Pot. A frozen chuck roast goes into the insert along with broth, fresh herbs, onion, baby potatoes, and carrots, and comes out tender and ready to eat in around two hours.
3. Summer lifesaver: Instant Pot batch cooking
Lazy summer dinners are so much easier when you’ve got pre-cooked components ready to go. In addition to frozen meat, the IP whips up large quantities of things like baked potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, bone broth, corn on the cob, and rice.
Dried beans are my favorite big-batch item to cook in the Instant Pot. It’s so simple, with no soaking required. This recipe shows you the basic technique, with a nifty cook time chart for six different dried beans. Make them, and you’re ready for bean salad, marinated beans, refried beans, and hummus. If one pound of dry beans is more than your family can eat in a week, just freeze the extra in one- or two-cup portions.
4. How to reheat leftovers in an Instant Pot
I don’t only use my IP for the initial cook — it’s also great for reheating food, even straight from the freezer. Cooking times will vary depending on how much you’re heating, how dense it is, and if it’s refrigerated or frozen (a thick stew will take longer than noodles, for instance, and a frozen casserole will take the longest of all). The multi-cooker offers three ways to do it.
Use the steam function. This is great for foods that are already on the moist side, like soup. Put the trivet inside the IP and add 1 cup of water. Place the food on the trivet in an IP-safe bowl, seal up the machine, and press the Steam button. Use a quick-release at the end and test to see if your food is hot. If not, reseal and add another minute or two.
Use the slow cook function. I like this best for denser foods like casseroles, since it’s so gentle. The outer portions won’t wind up overcooked before the center is hot. It’s not the quickest method (the giveaway: it’s called “slow cook”), so plan accordingly.
Use the saute function. Think of this as a stovetop burner that won’t heat up the kitchen. Put the food directly into the insert and stir frequently. You can use the lid or not — leave it off it you want to thicken up the food, since water will evaporate.
5. Your new favorite: Instant Pot yogurt
They don’t call it a multi-cooker for nothing. In addition to straightforward cooking functions, your machine should also have a yogurt button. Once you see how easy and inexpensive it is to make a big batch of creamy homemade yogurt, you’ll never go store-bought again.
Before your first foray into IP yogurt, check out this thorough, step-by-step guide. All you need is milk and a little bit of plain yogurt for a starter. The recipe walks you through the process, right down to advice about the best milk and yogurt to buy. And if your cooker doesn’t have a yogurt button (a handful of models don’t), you’ll find instructions here, too.
6. How to make popcorn in an Instant Pot
My son would eat a bag of microwave popcorn every day of his life. But I’d rather he not ingest all those chemicals, so we mostly have homemade. The stovetop can be tricky, with some kernels burning before others can pop. Plus it’s dangerous — hot oil, exploding kernels, oy. But the IP is a breeze.
All you need is coconut oil, popcorn kernels, and a glass lid for your IP (the official one, or any large glass lid you have on hand). This recipe provides step by step instructions, with pictures, and six different seasoning options. My son’s favorite isn’t on that list, though: Instant Pot kettle corn.
7. Instant Pot vanilla extract saves time and money
Pure vanilla extract is pricey, but it’s not hard to make. The absolute easiest way is to simply plunk some vanilla beans into a bottle of vodka and let it sit in a cool, dark place for months. But using the IP not only speeds up the process (like, a lot), it also produces a more intensely flavored extract.
I like this recipe because it uses canning jars within the IP. The extract won’t pick up any residual flavors from your multi-cooker’s insert or ring, and no alcohol fumes will escape while the pressure builds up. Twenty-four hours after you combine beans and vodka, you’ve got a deeply vanilla-y elixir.
8. How to make jam in an Instant Pot
Peak fruit season is upon us, and I always seem to buy more than we can possibly eat. Using the IP to turn some of my excess into jam is a no-brainer, and I love that you don’t need pectin to thicken the spread — just a cornstarch slurry. Note that you’re not canning here, so the jam will need to be refrigerated and used within a few weeks.
One pound of fruit (almost any kind), a splash of water, lemon juice, and sugar go into the IP. Put three minutes on the timer and when the cycle is done, let it release naturally. Stir in a mix of cornstarch and water and stir to thicken, and BOOM you’ve got three cups of jam.
9. Sweet and creamy dulce de leche in an Instant Pot
Making homemade dulce de leche, the Latin American caramel sauce, is simple (boil a can of sweetened condensed milk for hours) but it’s time consuming. And you need to be paying attention. Using the IP makes it quicker and easier.
All you need is a can of sweetened condensed milk, water, and about 45 minutes to make a rich batch of dulce de leche. Sprinkle some flaky salt on top, grab some apple slices (or ice cream, mmm), and go to town.
10. No more waste: applesauce in an Instant Pot
My kid loves apples, but once an apple has a bruise he behaves like it’s radioactive. I never stress about the waste: I just chop his rejects into the IP — without even peeling the apples — and turn them into a thick, chunky, homemade applesauce.
You don’t need anything more than apples and a splash of water for this recipe, but it also includes options for adding spices and/or lemon juice. It only takes five minutes under pressure to break down the apples — then I grab my trusty potato masher and get to work. The recipe calls for three pounds of apples, but it's more of a technique than a recipe — I've made it with just three apples and a splash of water, and it's turned out perfect.
11. Easy, homemade hot sauce from the Instant Pot
My older brother puts hot sauce on everything. Except maybe cheesecake, but even that wouldn’t surprise me. Wait until I tell him how simple it is to make at home using the multi-cooker.
The nice thing about homemade hot sauce: You can control the heat by choosing your chilies wisely. Not sure which to go with? Consult the Scoville scale, which ranks the heat level of dozens of chilies. Once you’ve got your selection, this recipe offers formulas for both red and green hot sauces. A single batch will give you four, five-ounce bottles. My brother could go through that in a week, but I’ll bet yours will last a little longer.
More ways to love your Instant Pot
IP fans, we know you’re always on the lookout for ways to expand your cooking repertoire. Keep exploring in these next articles.