One of my favorite perks of cooking in the Instant Pot, is the fact that you can cook two dishes at one time. It’s called “pot in pot” cooking, and it takes the convenience factor of the Instant Pot to the next level. You can make an entire meal at once, totally hands-off!
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If you’re not familiar with pot-in-pot cooking, it’s a method where you cook one part of your meal on the bottom of the Instant Pot (I own this 6 quart model), in the large stainless steel insert, while another part of your meal, like a side dish, cooks in a separate bowl placed on a trivet.
To get started with pot-in-pot cooking, you’ll need two things:
- a 7-inch oven-safe bowl, to hold a side dish, like rice or vegetables
- a 2.5-inch trivet, to keep the bowl out of your main course
You may already have a 7-inch bowl in your kitchen that will work (our favorite porcelain salad bowls work great!), so you might only need to get a trivet to move ahead with pot-in-pot cooking. I bought this 2-piece trivet set on Amazon, and while I use the 2.5-inch trivet most often, the 4-inch trivet comes in handy when I want to place a cook a couple of small sweet potatoes at the same time as a main entree.
Which items can you cook at the same time in the Instant Pot?
Cooking with White Rice:
White rice cooks quickly, in just 4 minutes of high pressure cooking, but it can go up to 10 minutes when cooked in a separate bowl on a trivet. I always allow the pressure to naturally release for 10 minutes before moving the steam release valve to venting, then removing the lid. When cooking white rice, rinse it well in a fine mesh strainer to help keep the grains from sticking together, then use a 1:1 ratio of rice to water in the bowl.
The following items work well when cooked at the bottom of the Instant Pot, with the white rice in a bowl on top.
- Chicken Breasts: Chicken breasts cook in 8 to 10 minutes at high pressure, followed by the 10 minute natural pressure release.
- Pre-Cooked Beans: If starting with pre-cooked beans, like my Kung Pao Chickpeas, you can cook the dish on the bottom of the Instant Pot for 4 minutes at high pressure, and allow the pressure to naturally release for 10 minutes before removing the lid.
- Soaked Beans. Several varieties of beans can cook in 10 minutes or less, when they have been soaked in water for at least 8 hours, like black beans and cannellini beans. Be sure that you don’t add salt or vinegar to them while cooking, or they won’t become tender as quickly. Refer to this Instant Pot time chart for specific cooking times.
- Dry Lentils: Dry green lentils will cook in 5 minutes at high pressure, as long as you don’t add salt or acid to the recipe. To make a lentil recipe, like this Sweet Potato Curry, cook the curry on the bottom of the Instant Pot (without salt) for 5 minutes, then allow the pressure to release for 10 minutes before removing the lid. Red lentils work, too, but they will become mush before the rice is cooked. If you don’t mind soupy lentils, go for it!
Cooking with Brown Rice:
Brown rice takes 22 minutes to cook in the Instant Pot, but it can withstand a little extra cooking time up to 30 minutes when cooked in a separate bowl on a trivet. Allow the pressure to release naturally for an additional 10 minutes before removing the lid. Below are some ideas to help you get started, but you can use any recipe on the bottom of the Instant Pot that requires 22-30 minutes of cooking.
When cooking brown rice, rinse it well in a fine mesh sieve to prevent the grains from sticking together, then use a 1:1 ratio of rice to water.
- Dried Beans. Several varieties of dried beans cook in 25 minutes or less, without even soaking them ahead of time. Dried black beans or red kidney beans can be cooked in the bottom of the Instant Pot using the cooking times listed in this chart. Tougher beans, like chickpeas, can also be cooked with brown rice if you soak them ahead of time.
- Whole Sweet Potatoes. Medium to large sweet potatoes (1 pound or smaller) can take roughly 25 minutes to cook in the Instant Pot, so they can be cooked with rice at the same time. In this case, you might want to place the rice at the bottom of the pot and place the sweet potatoes on the trivet to keep them out of the cooking water.
- *Vegetables. Most vegetables will turn to mush if cooked for more than 1-2 minutes in the Instant Pot, but that can be to your advantage in some cases. Want a creamy cauliflower sauce to go with your rice? Cook the cauliflower with the rice at the same time, and it will totally disintegrate into a puree when you stir it, without using a food processor. (The exception to this rule is mushrooms, as they retain their texture well, even with over-cooking.)
- Chicken Thighs. Chicken thighs can withstand quite a bit of overcooking, as they become fall-off-the-bone tender when cooked for 22 minutes at high pressure. (You can use bone-in or bone-less thighs with similar results.)
Cooking with Vegetables:
As I noted above, most vegetables will turn to mush if you cook them longer than 1-2 minutes at high pressure. As a result, you can easily make a vegetable mash to go with your main entree all at once.
- Mashed Cauliflower. If you place a bowl of cauliflower (with no water added) on a trivet over chicken breasts, cooked beans, dry lentils, or anything else that takes at least 5 minutes to cook, with 10 minutes of natural pressure release, the cauliflower will turn to mush. Use a potato masher to mash the cauliflower into “cauliflower mashed potatoes” and then serve it as a low-carb side dish.
- Mashed Potatoes. Sweet and white potatoes become very tender with just 8 minutes of pressure cooking, using a quick or natural pressure release. Cook them in a bowl on a trivet with any recipe that requires that much cooking time, or more. (In this case, you can’t really over cook them!) Don’t add any water to the bowl of potatoes for cooking, as they will be sufficiently cooked from steam in the pot.
- Steamed Vegetables. If you’d like your vegetables to retain their texture, without turning into a mash, you’ll need to use the method described in my Instant Pot Salmon recipe.
What should you NOT cook in a separate pot in the Instant Pot?
Quinoa. In my experience, quinoa does not work using the pot-in-pot method. I’ve cooked it in water anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, and only the quinoa at the top of the bowl gets cooked. (The stuff underneath remains hard and crunchy!) I don’t know why this happens, but I recommend using my Instant Pot Quinoa recipe instead.
This might be the case for other gluten-free pseudo-grains, like millet and amaranth, too. I haven’t tested those myself, after having such a bad experience with the quinoa.
I hope this post helps you get the most out of your Instant Pot. For more healthy Instant Pot recipes, including convenient one-pot meals using this pot-in-pot method, be sure to pre-order my new cookbook, The Fresh & Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook. You can see a sneak peek here!
In the meantime, you can find more of my Instant Pot recipes and tutorials here on the blog.
Reader Feedback: Have any more Instant Pot questions? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to help you out!