How Do I Know Which Instant Pot Button To Use?

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With all the hype surrounding the Instant Pot it’s so tempting to take it out of the box, skim the directions, and then start throwing food in. I mean, how hard can it be? Put a roast in and push the button, right?

If you’re like me you may have already filled up your Instant Pot and then found yourself staring at the control panel with all those buttons trying to figure out exactly the best setting. At first they seem simple enough, but then what happens if you push the poultry button and your chicken is frozen, or maybe it’s a little on the small side. Is 15 minutes at high pressure, the default poultry setting, still the setting I need?

Then what if I want to make something like boiled eggs? There is not a button for that. Now what?

You can do a little experimenting and a little (or a lot of) reading and get the hang of things, but I thought I’d put together this handy primer to save you a few bucks in “experimental” food and some research.

Of course the first thing you should do when you take the Instant Pot out of the box is read the manual, even if you just skim it and then start cooking. If you do decide to skim it be sure to go back and read it word for word after you’ve tried out a recipe or two. It will probably make more sense plus you’ll be more curious after you’ve tried to cook with it. Always thoroughly read all safety precautions the first time around DO NOT skim those.

Instant Pot IP-DUO

The DUO has 7 Functions–These are the things the Instant Pot DUO can do:

  1. Pressure Cooker
  2. Slow Cooker
  3. Rice Cooker/Porridge Maker
  4. Steamer
  5. Saute/Browning
  6. Yogurt Maker
  7. Warmer

Instant Pot IP-LUX

The LUX does not have a low pressure setting or a yogurt setting. It only has 6 functions which are:

  1. Pressure Cooker
  2. Slow Cooker
  3. Rice Cooker
  4. Steamer
  5. Saute
  6. Warmer

I’ve divided the buttons into three categories

  1. Function Button – pressing this type of button activates one the advertised functions that the Instant Pot performs.
  2. Pre-set Button – pressing this type of button starts a preset program.
  3. Utility Button – pressing this type of button has to be done in conjunction with one of the other two kinds of buttons.

The Control Panel Buttons

There are 18 buttons on the Instant Pot DUO (16 on the LUX – I’ve noted the buttons not present on the LUX) and here is what happens when you push each of them:

  1. Soup
    1. Purpose–A programmed setting designed for cooking soups.
    2. Type–Preset button
    3. Default Setting–30 minutes high pressure.
    4. How To Change–Pressing Adjust will increase or decrease the time. Press the Adjust button to navigate to the Less setting to cook for 20 minutes or navigate to the More setting to cook for 40 minutes. Press the Plus or Minus buttons to navigate to a time other than those programmed. Press Pressure to change the pressure setting from high to low (remember low pressure is on the DUO only).
  2. Meat/Stew
    1. Purpose–A programmed setting designed for cooking meat and stews.
    2. Type–Preset button
    3. Default Setting–35 minutes high pressure.
    4. How To Change–Pressing Adjust will increase or decrease the time. Press the Adjust button to navigate to the Less setting to cook for 20 minutes or navigate to the More setting to cook for 45 minutes. Press the Plus or Minus buttons to navigate to a time other than those programmed. Press Pressure to change the pressure setting from high to low (remember low pressure is on the DUO only).
  3. Bean/Chili
    1. Purpose–A programmed setting designed for cooking beans and chili.
    2. Type–Preset button
    3. Default Setting–30 minutes high pressure.
    4. How To Change–Pressing Adjust will increase or decrease the time. Press the Adjust button to navigate to the Less setting to cook for 25 minutes or navigate to the More setting to cook for 40 minutes. Press the Plus or Minus buttons to navigate to a time other than those programmed. Press Pressure to change the pressure setting from high to low (remember low pressure is on the DUO only).
  4. Poultry
    1. Purpose–A programmed setting designed for cooking poultry.
    2. Type–Preset button
    3. Default Setting–15 minutes high pressure.
    4. How To Change–Pressing Adjust will increase or decrease the time. Press the Adjust button to navigate to the Less setting to cook for 5 minutes or navigate to the More setting to cook for 30 minutes. Press the Plus or Minus buttons to navigate to a time other than those programmed. Press Pressure to change the pressure setting from high to low (remember low pressure is on the DUO only).
  5. Slow Cook
    1. Purpose–To cook food slowly at a lower temperature.
    2. Type–Function button
    3. Default Setting–4 hours at normal temperature (about 200°F).
    4. How To Change–Pressing Adjust will increase or decrease the temperature. Press the Adjust button to navigate to the Less setting to cook at a lower temperature (about 190°F) or navigate to the More setting increase the temperature (about 210°F). Press the Plus or Minus buttons to navigate to a time other than those programmed. On this setting the Instant Pot goes up or down in increments of 30 minutes.
  6. Saute
    1. Purpose–To brown meat or for stir frying.
    2. Type–Function button
    3. Default Setting–30 minutes at normal temperature (320°F).
    4. How To Change–Pressing Adjust will increase or decrease the temperature. Press the Adjust button to navigate to the Less setting to cook at a lower temperature (about 221°F) or navigate to the More setting increase the temperature (about 338°F). Pressing the Plus or Minus buttons have no effect with this setting and the cycle is set to 30 minutes.
      Note–Never place the lid on when using this function as pressure could build inside the Instant Pot.
  7. Pressure (DUO only)
    1. Purpose–To increase or low pressure.
    2. Type–Utility button
    3. Default Setting–High pressure (10.2-11.6psi) when using manual.
    4. How To Change–Press this button to change pressure from high to low (5.8-7.2 psi).
  8. Manual
    1. Purpose–To pressure cook food.
    2. Type–Function button (pressure cooking).
    3. Default Setting–30 minutes high pressure.
    4. How To Change– Press the Plus or Minus buttons to navigate to a time other than 30 minutes. Press Pressure to change the pressure setting from high to low (low pressure-DUO only).
      Note–Pressing Adjust has no effect using this setting.
  9. Plus
    1. Purpose–To add time to the default or preset time.
    2. Type–Utility button
    3. Default Setting–None
    4. How To Change–Press to increase time.
  10. Minus
    1. Purpose–To subtract time to the default or preset time.
    2. Type–Utility Button
    3. Default Setting–None
    4. How To Change–Press to subtract time.
  11. Adjust
    1. Purpose–To adjust temperature from the default or preset mode. Also used to navigate to different preset time once a preset has been selected.
    2. Type–Utility button
    3. Default Setting–Normal
    4. How To Change–Press to go between the Less, Normal and More modes.
  12. Timer
    1. Purpose–To delay the start of the cooking setting and time you enter.
    2. Type–Utility button
    3. Default Setting–Start cooking in 6 hours.
    4. How To Change–Press the Plus or Minus buttons to navigate to a time other than 6 hours.
      Note–Pressing Adjust has no effect using this setting.
  13. Rice
    1. Purpose–To cook white or parboiled rice.
    2. Type–Function button
    3. Default Setting–12 minutes low pressure.
    4. How To Change–This function is automatic and depending how much moisture and rice the machine senses the time and pressure could fluctuate to make sure all the rice if fully cooked. The remaining pressure should be released after 10 minutes.
      Notes–This is the only function setting that is completely automatic. You can not adjust the time or the pressure with the Adjust, or Plus or Minus buttons. If you’d like more control over your rice, you can use the Manual button and program in your own time.
  14. Multigrain
    1. Purpose–A programmed setting designed for cooking harder grains like wild rice and split corn.
    2. Type–Preset button
    3. Default Setting–40 minutes high pressure.
    4. How To Change–Pressing Adjust will increase or decrease the time. Press Adjust button to navigate to the Less setting to cook for 20 minutes or navigate to the More setting to cook for 60 minutes. Press the Plus or Minus buttons to navigate to a time other than those programmed. Press Pressure to change the pressure setting from high to low (remember low pressure is on the DUO only).
      Notes–The More setting has a 45 minute warm soak period as well
  15. Porridge (Congee in the LUX)
    1. Purpose–A programmed setting designed for recipes involving grains that have a porridge texture. In other words, only use this setting if you’d like to have your grains mushy like porridge.
    2. Type–Preset button
    3. Default Setting–20 minutes high pressure.
    4. How To Change–Pressing Adjust will increase or decrease the time. Press Adjust button to navigate to the Less setting to cook for 15 minutes or navigate to the More setting to cook for 30 minutes. Press the Plus or Minus buttons to navigate to a time other than those programmed. Press Pressure to change the pressure setting from high to low (remember low pressure is on the DUO only).
  16. Steam
    1. Purpose–To steam food with water or other liquid
    2. Type–Function button
    3. Default Setting–10 minutes high pressure.
    4. How To Change–Pressing Adjust will increase or decrease the time. Press the Adjust button to navigate to the Less setting to cook for 3 minutes or navigate to the More setting to cook for 15 minutes. Press the Plus or Minus buttons to navigate to a time other than those programmed. Press Pressure to change the pressure setting from high to low.
      Notes–The steam function is the only setting that heats food at full power continuously. This will probably cause food that is in direct contact with the bottom to burn. Always use the proper amount of water and a tiviot with this setting.
  17. Yogurt (DUO only)
    1. Purpose–To pasteurize milk, make yogurt or make Jiu Niang.
    2. Type–Function button
    3. Default Setting–8 hours at the incubate temperature which is between 100 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
    4. How To Change–Pressing Adjust will increase the incubation period or boil the milk. Press Adjust button to navigate to the Less setting to increase the incubation period to 24 hours. Press Adjust button to navigate to the More setting to boil your yogurt. Press the Plus or Minus buttons to navigate to a time other than those programmed when on the Normal or Low setting. Pressing the Plus or Minus buttons on the More (boil setting) setting has no effect.
      Notes–When making yogurt in smaller bottles you can steam them with the Steam (function) button for 1 minute (don’t forget to put water in the bottom). After letting your bottles cool and adding your starter you can place them back in the Instant Pot and for the proper incubation period.
  18. Keep Warm/Cancel
    1. Purpose–To keep food warm after cooking.
    2. Type–Function button
    3. Default Setting–10 hours on low temperature (145-172°F)
    4. How To Change–Press the Plus or Minus buttons to navigate to a time other than 10 hours.
      Note–Pressing Adjust has no effect using this setting. When in the Keep Warm mode the Instant Pot counts up (instead of down like in it does when cooking). Also, the Instant Post goes into Keep Warm mode after any pressure cooking setting or slow cooking setting is complete. This is also the button you press to turn the Instant Pot off.

So, in a nutshell all of the buttons except Rice, Slow Cook, Yogurt, Saute and the utility buttons are preset times with a high pressure default setting. Most recipes you find for pressure cooking will have the time at pressure in the directions instead of the buttons to push. The reason is that most recipe developers have tested their recipe at different times and they know precisely how much time you need to cook the food for. They have not necessarily tested the recipe on a preset program included with the Instant Pot.

Another more important reason is that even though the recipe might say for the Instant Pot it can be easily adapted to a stovetop pressure cooker or another brand of electric pressure cooker.
What is your favorite Instant Pot function? Do you have a favorite preset?

  • Merrilou says:

    Thank you for this overview. It has really been helpful. I plan to implement these directions and make better use of my two instapots! Yay!

  • Bob says:

    Great review. Love my instant Pot I recently received as a present. One frustrating thing that seems to reoccur however has me baffled. I will cook meat such as a stew and withhold potatoes to add later so as not to over cook them. When time, I will depressurize the Pot and add the chunked potatoes replace the lid, set time and wait for pot to seal. It will sit for a short while and time starts counting down, but the Pot does not pressurize again.

    I wipe the rim, check the silicone seal, ensure the vent/seal knob is reset to seal, but pot won’t seal. Have to finish potatoes in microwave.

    I will clean pot, put fresh liquid in it, and it pressurizes perfectly. This has happened 2 out of the 3 times I have tried adding ingredients to the end of cooking.

    Any suggestions?

    • Jennifer Osuch says:

      Hi Bob,
      I’ve had this happen to me too on occasion. Really not too often, so I have not had a chance to test. But the first thing to try would be to transfer all the ingredients to a second inner pot that’s not hot, either that or let the pot cool down a bit before trying to re-pressurize. I think it’s a safety feature where the lid won’t seal if the pot is hot.

  • Brenda Owen says:

    New to electric instant pot I cooked 3lb sirloin roast on rack with 3cups liquid as recipe indicated-I picked the Pressure Cook button instead of Meat/Stew and put on high pressure for 59 minutes-the meat was not done and very tough even with additional cook of 25 minutes/. Question confused when to use pressure cook vs meat button -any suggestions

    • Jennifer Osuch says:

      Hi Brenda,

      Are you sure your sealing ring was fitting properly? Fifty-nine minutes is a long time to cook a roast on high pressure. Was it frozen?

  • Brandy says:

    Ok so at the end of the cooking cycle what does the L0:05 mean like in the picture above with pressure cooker quick guide?

  • Mandy says:

    After six months is using my IP almost every day for all sorts of recipes (can you guess how much this long-time cook loves this gadget?) I pretty much ignore all the preset buttons except when making yogurt. And even with that I fiddle around with the fermentation time. Follow reliably tested directions, document what worked for you and you’ll be fine ignoring the presets.

  • Lorrese says:

    My Instant Pot sat for 3 months until I could really sit down and read all about it, and I had a break from school. Yesterday I did pinto beans in it and today I made navy bean soup. Both recipes worked well in well but I am ready to try pasta. Any suggestions on something easy while I navigate the buttons and continue to learn?

  • Barbara says:

    I get confused when it says Press Manual. I don’t see a Manual button so I think it must mean something else – can you heop?

  • Tanya says:

    This is a fantastic instruction guide; thank you for posting!!

  • Dennis B. says:

    Thank you so much for this chart, it is excellent. We’ve been using an Instant Pot for quite a while but are often a bit confused by what the buttons do & what they mean. Plus, manual isn’t alway helpful enough.

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