Avoid the instant pot burn notice, and if you do get it, troubleshoot easily with these handy tips and tricks.
Your instant pot says BURN. Yikes! Now what??!
The first time I got this message, I seriously panicked! I had visions of the pot catching fire and burning the whole place down! I immediately called one of my friends, a long-time instant pot user, and she told me on the phone what to do step by step to defuse the ‘crisis’.
Now that I have more experience with the appliance, I thought I would share what I know with you. First of all, don’t worry. You don’t have to hit the panic button like me if you see the dreaded instant pot burn notice. It is a common problem, especially with the newer models, and easily solved in most cases.
Let’s go over it in detail.
What does the instant pot burn notice actually mean?
According to the official instant pot website, the appliance has built in sensors that can detect high temperatures in the pressure cooking mode. As soon as the temperature crosses a certain threshold, the pot flashes a burn warning message across the LED display. Further heating is suspended to give you a chance to fix whatever’s wrong.
This is actually a great safety feature if you think about it! While you do have the inconvenience of uncooked food, the food is NOT going to catch fire and burn as it would on the stovetop if you left it unattended.
And what’s more, you’ll see when you open the pot that most of the food can be salvaged. It is not burnt yet because the cooker has cut off further heating automatically.
Why am I getting the instant pot burn error?
To know why the burn on instant pot is triggered, we need to understand the principle behind pressure cooking food. It is the same principle whether you are using a electric pressure cooker like an instant pot or your regular stovetop pressure cooker. The liquid added to the food creates steam when it is heated to a high temperature. Since the steam has nowhere to go in a sealed pot, pressure builds up quickly which cooks the food faster.
The important thing to note here is that pressure cookers require a certain amount of thin liquid like water or stock to come to pressure. If there is less liquid or no liquid, the food at the bottom of the pot will get scorched because there isn’t enough steam and you can’t stir it once the pot has been sealed.
Lack of sufficient liquid is the number one underlying reason why you might get the burn message. Your instant pot is warning you that there’s something wrong. Cool, no?
What should I do if I get the instant pot burn message?
1. Press the CANCEL button.
2. Turn the pressure valve to venting to release the built-up pressure quickly.
3. Open the lid.
4. Check the contents inside the pot. There are 3 scenarios here and what you should do in each case:
- The food is not burnt and there is nothing sticking to the bottom – let the pot cool down, add more liquid and resume cooking. If there’s excess liquid after the food is cooked, turn the pot to saute mode and cook down until you get the desired consistency. This will take some time if there’s lots of liquid, so you can also add a solution of corn flour and water to thicken the dish quickly.
- Some food is stuck to the bottom, but it is not burnt – deglaze the food. Scrape the bits of food stuck to the bottom and add half a cup water or other liquid like stock. Stir to make sure the liquid is at the bottom of the pot and resume cooking.
- Some food is stuck to the bottom and burnt, but the top layers are good – Wait for the pot to cool down somewhat, carefully remove the food and liquid that is salvageable and transfer to a clean bowl. Scrape the bits that are burnt and throw them away. Wash the inner pot and resume cooking with the food that was not burnt.
- The risk of the entire dish being burnt to cinders is almost non-existent as the sensors in your appliance can detect the lack of liquid and higher than normal temperatures in time. In most cases, the food can be rescued before that happens.
- Usually, the burn notice is triggered when pressure is building before the countdown on the timer (though it can happen later too). When you resume cooking, reduce the cooking time slightly because the contents will be cooking even when the pressure is being built. I can’t tell you the exact re-adjustment obviously since each recipe is different, but use your best judgment.
What are the mistakes I’m making and how can I troubleshoot them?
If you are making any of these mistakes or want to avoid them, read on. You’ll save yourself the inconvenience of going through the above drill. All of these mistakes lead back to the same thing: not enough liquid and steam to create the ideal conditions for pressure cooking.
Mistake #1: Not adding enough thin liquid to the pot
We’ve gone over this. But allow me to give you a few more details. Sometimes we think there is enough liquid in the pot. However, after sautéing at high temps, the liquid you added originally can thicken or dry up. Result? Burn message!
Solution: A good rule of thumb is to always have one to two cups of total liquid in the pot just before pressure cooking, especially when cooking meats for a longer time. You can always cook down the excess liquid after the pressure cooking cycle is over.
Mistake #2: The liquid you’ve added is too thick
Thick liquids like tomato sauce, cheese, heavy cream and thickening agents like cornflour can be a problem.
Solution: Here’s what you can do to avoid the burn message with thick liquids.
- Dilute tomato sauce with water if the recipe calls for sautéing before pressure cooking. Keep adding splashes of water while you are sautéing and deglaze just before securing the lid and hitting the pressure cook button. A rough rule of thumb is to have at least one cup of total liquid in the pot (Deglazing is discussed in mistake #4 below).
- If you don’t want to thin it out with water, layer the tomato sauce on top of the other ingredients. Don’t mix it in. Remember, there has to be thin liquid at the bottom so that the food doesn’t get scorched.
- If possible, add thick liquids like cream or cheese after the pressure cooking cycle is over. The same goes for cornflour and other flours.
Mistake #3: The food you are cooking has a lot of starch
Rice is the obvious example here. It not only absorbs water pretty quickly, but also has a lot of starch that can make the rice stick to the bottom, triggering the burn notice. Some people have a lot of difficulty cooking rice because of these two problems. Never fear, I have some tips to get those perfectly cooked and fluffy grains of rice!
Solution: There are several things you can do to avoid getting the burn notice and cooking the perfect rice in your instant pot.
- Rinse the rice in a colander until the water runs clear.
- Add a few drops of lemon juice to the rice and water before cooking. This ensures that the grains do not stick to each other.
- Add the correct amount of water to the rice. This is perhaps the most important tip of all. I have worked out the ideal ratio of rice to water, and it is 1:1.25 for the instant pot. One cup of rice needs one and a quarter cups of water to get non-sticky and fluffy rice grains. Here’s a recipe to give you an idea of how to go about making the perfect rice.
Mistake #4: Not deglazing the pot after sautéing the food
Indian foods generally need to be sautéed in some kind of sauce before being pressure cooked. If you add liquid without deglazing the pot first, the bits of food stuck to the bottom can trigger the burn message.
Solution: Always, always make it a habit to deglaze the pot before pressure cooking. As mentioned earlier, this very simple to do. Cancel the sauté mode and scrape the brown bits of food stuck to the bottom with a wooden spoon, add liquid and give everything a good stir. Now, the food is ready to be pressure cooked.
Mistake #5: Not sealing the steam release valve
After sautéing the food, you close the lid, push the pressure cooking button and set the timer. But you forget to seal the steam release valve and it is still on venting! What do you think will happen? All the steam that’s building inside the pot will escape, and as soon as the pot detects less steam, it will flash the burn notice.
Solution: Make sure the steam release valve is sealed before pressure cooking the food.
Mistake #6: Not fitting the sealing ring properly in the lid
If the sealing ring does not sit properly in its groove in the lid, it can cause steam to leak. Again, this will cause the food to dry out and you might get a burn notice. In fact, if the sealing ring is improperly fitted, you will see steam leaking from the sides of the lid while the pressure cooking cycle is on.
Solution: Make sure the sealing ring is in place and pushed back all the way round in the lid with no food particles stuck to it. Wash the ring after every use.
Note: If the sealing ring is old or damaged, it won’t do its job properly and you might see the instant pot burn notice. Replace any old or worn out rings with branded Instant Pot rings only.
Mistake #7: Food particles stuck in the heating element
The heating element is at the inner base of the outer pot, the part the inner pot sits on. Sometimes food or liquid can get on the heating element and if you place the inner pot over it and start cooking, the debris will burn and trigger the burn message.
Solution: Take a quick glance at the heating element before inserting the inner pot. If there are any food debris or liquid you can see, remove them. Also, wipe the outer sides and base of the inner pot dry before inserting it in, especially if you’ve just washed the inner pot.
Okay, so you’ve taken all precautions, checked everything and still you’re getting the pesky burn notice. No matter what you do, you get it almost every time you use your instant pot. In this case, you may have a defective pot:( Nothing you can do about it except get in touch with the instant pot customer service and ask them for a replacement.
I do hope these tips helped you deal with the instant pot burn notice. If you still have any concerns or questions, do make use of the comments section below and I will try to answer them as best as I can!