Instant Pot Manual: Smart Programs Demystified

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Instant Pot Manual – Do the buttons in the Instant Pot overwhelm you? Don’t worry I have got you covered. In this post, learn what each button does and learn how to choose a program that works best for your food.

An image with caption that reads Instant Pot Smart Programs Demystified and which to buttons to use and how

Most folks don’t read their manuals. Rightfully so, since appliances, these days are intuitive and user-friendly. But with Instant Pot, I would advise you to read the manual at least once. If you have already thrown it away, don’t despair – this abridged  Instant Pot manual is all you need to get started with your electric pressure cooker.

Instant Pot Buttons Manual

Note –  the buttons on the Instant Pot display can vary depending on the model (look at the image below to see the difference between Duo vs Duo plus). Don’t worry there isn’t a huge difference and we will cover all the buttons in both these models with instructions on how to use them. 

A comparison of the DUO and the DUO plus programs

The buttons on the Instant Pot can be categorized into two categories – smart programs and program settings

The smart cooking programs are a set of pre-programmed settings with set times that allows you to cook different foods within the Instant Pot at the touch of a button. Examples of smart programs found in DUO plus would be – Soup/Broth, Meat/Stew, Bean/Chili, Cake, Egg, Slow Cook, Sauté, Rice, Multigrain, Porridge, Steam, Sterilize, Yogurt, Keep Warm, and Pressure Cook.

The program settings buttons allow you to adjust the smart programs. The examples would be Pressure Level, Keep Warm, + / – keys adjust time, Delay Start, and Cancel

Let’s review both the smart programs and program setting buttons in detail – 

Instant Pot Smart Programs – All you need to know

What’s great about these smart programs is that once you select a program based on the food you are cooking, the Instant Pot will set the time for you automatically.

There are 3 preset time options for each program –  ‘Less’, ‘Normal’, and ‘More’. The default is ‘Normal’. Pressing the smart program button once moves you to ‘More’ and press it again to select ‘Less’. 

Note–  The preset times are recommended cooking times but you can easily change them using the + and button to match the cooking time of the recipe you are following. The only exception would be the Rice program where the cooking time cannot be modified. 

Let’s go ahead and review all the buttons and functionalities in detail – 

Pressure Cook/Manual

Pressure Cook (Manual in older models) is likely the feature you use the most because, well, most recipes call for it. Pressure cook allows you to control the cooking time, pressure setting, and temperature, which is why a lot of folks like to use it.

To use, select Pressure cook and then set a time (max 240 minutes) using the + and – button. Set it to high or low pressure using the Pressure Level setting (more on it later). 

  • Low pressure: In this setting, the temperature ranges between 229°F to 233°F and the pressure would be 5.8 psi – 7.2 psi.
  • High pressure: Temperature ranges between 239°F to 244°F and the pressure range is 10.2 – 11.6 psi. 

Do this: Use the Pressure cook setting to run the water test in your Instant Pot  

Note: For the most part you can get away with using just this one smart function because the temperature and pressure settings for most smart programs are very similar. There are some unique ones though like Saute, Yogurt, Slow cook, Multigrain that have different temperature settings tailored to the function that needs to be performed. Let’s find out how they differ and when to use which. 

Saute

Chances are, if you have followed enough recipes for the Instant Pot, you have used the Saute smart program. It is a handy tool to either sear meat or vegetables before pressure cooking them. It also helps to remove excess liquids once they have fully cooked. 

This handy feature gives you the equivalent of an extra burner, so it is perfect for times you need to have lots of burners going at once, like on the holidays. Just keep in mind, the Saute feature will shut off after 30 minutes due to a built-in safety feature, but you can always start it again if you need to.

Saute comes with 3 settings. Press the Saute button to move from one setting to the other – 

  • Normal will saute veggies nicely. 
  • More is perfect for browning meat.
  • Less will keep things simmering. 

Temperature settings (no pressure involved)

  • Less – 275°F – 302°F
  • Normal – 320°F- 349°F
  • More – 347°F – 410°F

Soups/Broths

Use the soups or broths button for cooking the perfect soup. The contents are not boiled making it perfect for cream or yogurt-based soups such as this Gujarati kadhi.

You have three options based on the soup you are making. If it is a clear broth, use “Less,” if it is a soup with precooked meat, use “Normal,” and if it contains something like a bone, use “More.”

Preset cooking time at high pressure

  • The default ‘Normal’ setting sets the pot to cook for 30 minutes.
  • ‘More’ will cook for 40 minutes
  • ‘Less’ cooks for 20 minutes.

Bean/Chili

The bean or chili button helps you cook your beans to your desired doneness level. Choose the “Less” option for firmer beans, the ‘Normal’ setting for somewhat softer, and the “More” setting for really soft beans.

While I use this setting, I often vary the cooking times of the pulses depending on the type. Here’s the cooking times guide I follow – 

Preset cooking time at high pressure

  • ‘Normal’ cooks for 30 minutes.
  • ‘More’ cooks for 40 minutes
  • ‘Less’ cooks for 25 minutes.

You can use the Bean/Chili settings for recipes that use pulses such as Rajma masala (kidney beans curry), Chana masala (chickpeas curry), and Chowli (black-eyed peas curry)

Eggs

If you like soft, medium, or hard-boiled eggs, the eggs smart cooking function is for you. Depending on the size of your Instant Pot model, you can make up to 12 eggs at a time. Select ‘Less’ to make perfect soft-boiled eggs right in your Instant Pot. Use ‘Normal’ for medium-boiled eggs, and ‘More’ for hard-boiled eggs.

Just be aware that the Instant Pot makers designed this function based on extra-large eggs. If you are using smaller sizes, like large, you may need to decrease the time a bit as I have in this Instant Pot Boiled eggs recipe.

Preset cooking time at high pressure

  • ‘Normal’ cooks for 5 minutes.
  • ‘More’ cooks for 6 minutes 
  • ‘Less’ cooks for 4 minutes.

You can use a trivet to make eggs or use this handy egg steamer rack

Cake

If you don’t want to turn on the oven on a hot day or are trying to free up oven space on a holiday, the cake smart function is perfect for you. The Instant Pot cooks a very moist cake thanks to all the steam.

Use ‘Less’ for a lighter, very moist cake. ‘Normal’ creates a firmer cake than ‘Less’ and the ‘More’ option is for baking a cheesecake or other dense cake similar to that.

Preset cooking time at high pressure

  • ‘Normal’ cooks for 30 minutes.
  • ‘More’ cooks for 40 minutes 
  • ‘Less’ cooks for 25 minutes.

Use the cake setting to make this delicious Instant Pot Date Cake.

Rice

The rice button cooks at low pressure and adjusts the cooking time depending on the amount of liquid and rice in the pot. This is the only smart program that does not allow you to change the time.

“Less” makes firmer rice, “Normal” cooks rice with an average texture, and “More” creates rice that is softer like risotto. Just keep in mind, Rice is designed for white rice (see Multigrain for how to cook brown or wild rice).

This is probably the only function I would not recommend using – there are many different varieties of rice, it is best to follow a recipe tailored to the rice you are cooking. 

Rice recipes to followInstant Pot Basmati rice and Instant Pot Brown rice.

Slow Cook

This allows you to slow cook food just like slow cookers but you’ll have to convert the slow cooker recipes to work for Instant Pot. It is because the temperature settings for the slow cook modes in Instant Pot and slow cookers are different – see below. 

Instant Pot slow cook mode and settings

  • Less – 180°F – 190°F
  • Normal – 190°F – 200°F
  • More – 200°F – 210°F

Temperature settings of a traditional slow cooker are 

  • Low – 190°F
  • More – 300°F
  • Warm – 165 to 175°F

Similar to other smart programs, Instant Pot slow cooking program has three settings –

Preset cooking time (No pressure is involved)

  • ‘Less’ slow cooks for 8 hours cook time
  • ‘Normal’ slow cooks for 6 hours, and
  • ‘More’ gives you a 4 hour cook time.

Multigrain

The Multigrain smart program is for cooking wild rice, brown rice, and other tougher grains that require a bit more time than white rice. Multigrain adds extra time to soak the grains prior to cooking them when you use the ‘More’ setting (this also creates the softest texture). Otherwise, the options are basically the same as Rice: Less creates firmer grains and Normal creates average texture to the grains being cooked.

Preset cooking time at high pressure

  • ‘Normal’ cooks for 40 minutes.
  • ‘More’ soaks for 45 minutes prior to 60 minutes of pressure cooking.
  • ‘Less’ cooks for 20 minutes.

Porridge

Most Americans would call porridge oatmeal. With this in mind, the Instant Pot Porridge setting cooks a lot of the grains you’d likely associate with breakfast like oatmeal but it can also be used to cook rice along with a mixture of other grains. The ‘Less’ setting is perfect for oatmeal. The ‘Normal’ setting is perfect for rice porridge. Use ‘More’ to cook rice mixed with grains. 

Preset cooking time at high pressure

  • ‘Normal’ cooks for 20 minutes.
  • ‘More’ cooks for 30 minutes 
  • ‘Less’ cooks for 15 minutes.

Recipes that you can make with this setting:

Meat/Stew

For an amazing, fall-off-the-bone roast, you don’t need to cook the meat in the oven for hours or turn on the slow cooker. Pop it in the Instant Pot, select Meat/Stew, and set the level you want: ‘Less’ creates soft texture, ‘Normal’ creates very tender meat and ‘More’ makes that fall-off-the-bone meat you’d expect from a slow cooker or a long time in the oven.

Preset cooking time at high pressure

  • ‘Normal’ cooks for 35 minutes.
  • ‘More’ cooks for 45 minutes 
  • ‘Less’ cooks for 20 minutes.

Steam

Steam is a great healthy alternative to cooking foods in a lot of oil or fat. Before you cook using Steam, make sure you put the steam rack on the bottom since the Instant Pot will use full heat while coming to temperature and pressure.

‘Less’ is typically used for steaming your favorite vegetables, ‘Normal’ is typically used for seafood items, and ‘More’ is often used for steaming meats. Also, you always want to use the quick-release valve to prevent overcooking your food.

Preset cooking time at high pressure

  • ‘Normal’ cooks for 10 minutes.
  • ‘More’ cooks for 15 minutes 
  • ‘Less’ cooks for 3 minutes.

Note: The ‘steam’ function heats up food quickly. That’s why while using the steaming function, never place the food in the inner pot directly. 

Read more: How to steam idlis using Instant Pot

Poultry

Perfect for cooking chicken, turkey, and other poultry products. 

Preset cooking time at high pressure

  • ‘Normal’ cooks for 30 minutes.
  • ‘More’ cooks for 15 minutes 
  • ‘Less’ cooks for 5 minutes.

For the most part,  the ‘Less’ setting for 5 minutes is what I use. It is perfect for 2-3 inch pieces of boneless chicken thighs. It is equivalent to pressure cooking using Pressure cook or manual setting. Use this program for recipes like Butter Chicken, Chicken Vindaloo, and Chicken Chettinad.

Note: DUO plus does not have the Poultry program. Using the Pressure cook function yields similar results. 

Sterilize

Use the Sterilize preset to sanitize your baby’s bottles. Or if you are into canning, you can use the Sterilize feature to safely can fruits and vegetables. The ‘Less’ function allows you to pasteurize milk products. ‘Normal’ is used for low-pressure sterilization and canning non-acidic fruits and vegetables. And ‘More’ is used for high-pressure sterilization and canning acidic fruits and vegetables.

Note: There has been a lot of debate on whether Instant Pot can be used for canning or not. Here’s the official response from Instant Pot.

“There are two types of canning: boiling-water canning at 100°C/212°F (for acid fruits, tomatoes, pickles, and jellied products) and pressure canning at 115~121°C/240~250°F (for low acid vegetables, meat, and poultry). Please refer to “USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning” for more details.

Instant Pot can be used for boiling-water canningThe Instant Pot current product line is regulated by a pressure sensor instead of a thermometer; the altitude of your location may affect the actual cooking temperature.  We recommend not using Instant Pot for pressure canning.”

Yogurt

Have you ever tried making your own yogurt or fermenting idli batter in the oven? The Instant Pot makes it much easier than traditional methods.

  • “Less” mode for making Jiu Niang (fermented glutinous rice) and fermenting idli-dosa batter86 ~ 93.2°F (30 ~ 34°C )
  • “Normal” mode for making yogurt:  96.8 ~ 109.4°F (36 ~ 43° C )
  • “More” for pasteurizing milk:  160~180°F (71~83°C ).

Here are a few tips when using the built-in smart cooking programs – 

  1. By default use high pressure except for shrimp and rice which do better with low pressure
  2. After using the Instant Pot for over two years, I have figured out the pre-programmed cooking times are suggestions and you need to adjust them to meet your desired level of doneness. 
  3. Pressure Cook / Manual function is probably the most used smart program because it gives you full control over pressure, temperature and time.
  4. Total cooking time = time to come to pressure + cooking time that was set. 
  5. Recipes will often refer to a ‘Manual’ button. It is the same as the ‘Pressure Cook’ button in newer models. 

Programs settings buttons and how to use them

The programs settings buttons allow you to adjust the smart programs

+ and –  keys 

This allows you to increase/decrease the cooking time and is also, used to set the time when using the Delay timer.

Pressure Level 

Once you select a pressure cooking program, press this Pressure Level button to select high or low pressure.

Delay Start 

Add all the ingredients to your Instant Pot and use this button to set a later time for the cooking to begin. For example – you could add rice to the Instant Pot along with water and set the timer to begin after 30 minutes allowing for a 30-minute soak time. The cooking can be delayed for up to 24 hours.

Keep Warm

Talk about convenience! If you aren’t ready to eat right when the Instant Pot is done, it can help keep the food warm at three different serving temperatures based on Less, Normal, and More. The cooker will keep warm up to 99:50 hours.

Cancel 

This button is also used to cancel the current cooking cycle. 

Adjust 

The older models have this button and it allows you to select the ‘Less’, ‘Normal’, and ‘More’ settings for each smart function. With the newer models, pressing the smart program buttons twice allows you to change through the default ‘Normal’ setting to ‘More’. Press it again to move to ‘Less’. 

Now you know understand what the buttons do, let’s walk through a few scenarios for you 

How to set the cooking time in an Instant Pot?

  1. Select a cooking program and the preset time will show on the LCD display. 
  2. Press + and –  keys to increase/decrease the cooking time. 

How do I use the pressure cooker button on my Instant Pot?

  1. Press the ‘Pressure Cook’ button (or Manual for older models).
  2. Press + and –  keys to set the desired cooking time. 

How to adjust the pressure levels?

Select a cooking program and press on ‘Pressure Level’ to toggle from Low to High and vice versa. 

How to increase the heat in saute mode?

  1. Select the Saute program. 
  2. In the older models, use the adjust button to change the mode from ‘Normal’ to ‘More’. Press it again to move to ‘Less’. In the latest models, pressing the Saute button a couple of times allows you to decrease/increase the heat.

How to use the delay start or timer button?

  1. Add the ingredients in the Instant Pot.
  2. Select the cooking program, set the desired cooking time. 
  3. Press ‘Delay Start’ or ‘Timer’ (in old models) and use the + and – button to set a later time (up to 24 hours) for the cooking to begin.
  4. Within 10 seconds cooker will beep 3 times and Delay Start will begin.
  5. Cover the lid. The cooking program will begin after the set time.

Note – You can’t make changes to the ‘Delay Start’ program once the timer starts. To make any temperature/time changes, press ‘cancel’ and start again. 

Mastering Instant Pot – next steps

  1. Understand the different parts in an Instant Pot and terminology that is commonly used by other users. 
  2. Learn how to use the Instant Pot with the help of video instructions. 
  3. Get the Instant Pot water test done!

Easy Instant Pot recipes

If you are ready to cook some food in your Instant Pot, check out these easy recipes – 

  1. Instant Pot Boiled eggs – Once you make hard-boiled eggs in an Instant Pot, you’ll never go back to your old ways. The eggs not only cook in 5 minutes, but they are also super easy to peel and you get perfect eggs every time!
  2. Easy Indian potato recipe – Learn how to make this classic Indian potato recipe in under 30 minutes using a pressure cooker like Instant Pot. This versatile dish is easy to make and it is perfect for those who are new to Indian cooking. 
  3. Instant Pot – One-pot dal– One pot recipes are the best! That’s why you’ll love this Tadka dal (tempered dal) recipe – make it in an Instant Pot or a pressure cooker – and you’ll have your meal ready in no time.
  4. Instant Pot Vegetable Biryani  – You have to try this flavorful one-pot vegetarian meal that comes together in under 30 minutes.
  5. Instant Pot Ghee – Follow this detailed fail-proof recipe with step by step pictures to make ghee in Instant Pot and say goodbye to storebought ghee.

and you’ll find many more in this Instant Pot Recipes section. 

Get dinner on the table faster!

Learn my meal planning + prepping secrets to make fresh Indian food without spending hours in the kitchen.

An overhead shot of Gujarathi kadhi along with rice, rotis and a side of lemon

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