By Hilary Meyer

Instant gratification

If you don't have one yourself, chances are you know someone who is crazy-in-love with their Instant Pot multicooker. For those of you in the dark, the Instant Pot (that's the brand name for one of the most popular models of multicookers) is an multitasking powerhouse that combines an electric pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, and more — all in one neat counter-top appliance. Read on to get seven different ways to use your Instant Pot for quick weeknight meals, including recipes and tips for success!

WATCH: 7 Ways to Use Your Instant Pot to Make Quick Dinners

It sounds complicated, but it isn't. There are plenty of easy Instant Pot recipes to explore. But the real reason to get one of your own (or dust off the one you have) is to enjoy some serious time-savings. When school starts up and things get busy, the Instant Pot multicooker can be a real lifesaver to help you make meals you never thought possible on a weeknight.

1. The Instant Pot is the Secret to Easy Mac and Cheese

Instant Pot Mac and Cheese with Ham and Peas

Mac and cheese is everyone's favorite one-pot wonder, and the Instant Pot multicooker makes it even better. How? For example, in this recipe, you can skip the step of draining your pasta after cooking, and returning it to the pot. When you use an Instant Pot, the water is absorbed almost completely during cooking, so you can simply add the remaining ingredients to the pot when the pasta is done. The trick is to make sure you measure both your water and your pasta so they cook correctly. And also be sure to take the liner out of the Instant Pot multicooker once the recipe is finished to prevent the residual heat from over-cooking your meal. Watch the video to see how to make this family-pleasing recipe.

WATCH: Instant Pot Mac and Cheese

2. Use a Multicooker to Tenderize Tougher Cuts of Meat

Instant Pot Chilorio

Who has time to cook pork shoulder or other tougher cuts of meat that take time to tenderize on busy school nights? You do, if you employ your trusty Instant Pot multicooker! Cooking under pressure literally slashes hours from the cooking time of pork shoulder, brisket, chuck, or any other cut of meat that would typically take much longer — and with the added benefit of infusing flavor. "The bold flavors of this simple stew come together quickly in a pressure cooker, and you can use it to make tacos, burritos, chimichangas, tostadas, quesadillas, sopes, or even tamales," says bd.weld. "This recipe can be easily doubled if you need more." Even if you don't need more now, double your recipe anyway and freeze the rest for another night when things get really busy.

Tip: Make sure you never fill your Instant Pot multicooker past the recommended fill line to allow for the expansion that will occur during cooking.

Photo by bd.weld

3. Brown Meat in an Instant Pot to Develop Flavor

Instant Pot Chicken Cacciatore

If you've got an Instant Pot multicooker, chances are you've probably played around with a slow cooker too. (By the way, you can use an Instant Pot as a slow cooker, too!). But where the stand-alone slow cooker falls short is where the Instant Pot multicooker shines. You see, simply putting raw ingredients and liquid into a slow cooker and letting it simmer isn't the best way to develop flavor. Your Instant Pot multicooker, on the other hand, has a "sauté" function built right in, so it can brown ingredients right in the pot before any liquid is added, which adds a ton of flavor.

This recipe is a great example. Chicken thighs are browned first, then the veggies are sautéed afterward to bring out their flavor. Diana71 says, "This wonderful, traditionally slow-cooked recipe has been translated into a quick and easy pressure cooker meal. Using the Instant Pot, you get an intensely flavorful meal made in minutes that will have your family thinking you simmered this all day. Serve over spaghetti noodles, rice, cauliflower rice, or eat as a stew!"

And that brings up another advantage your Instant Pot multicooker has over your slow cooker on a school night: time savings! Forget 8-hour simmering times. This recipe can be done start to finish in one hour. Instant Pot multicooker for the win! This video shows you how it all comes together:

WATCH: Instant Pot Chicken Cacciatore

4. Make Fuss-Free Risotto

Instant Pot Mushroom Risotto!

If you've ever made risotto, then you know it's a labor of love. The constant cycle of stirring and adding liquids to your pot during the cooking phase has taken it off of most weeknight menus — but that's not the case with this hands-off version. Your Instant Pot multicooker does all the work for you by cooking the rice under pressure, which releases the starches within to obtain the classically creamy texture of risotto. As with pasta, measure your dry and wet ingredients carefully before cooking.

Tip: When you release the pressure, use the handle of a wooden spoon to turn your Instant Pot multicooker to "vent." This will ensure that you avoid coming into contact with the steam being released so you won't get burned.

Photo by Shauna James Ahern

5. Cook Beans Quickly in a Multicooker

Instant Pot Double Bean and Ham Soup

Cooking beans in your Instant Pot multicooker takes half the time it does on the stovetop. You can soak beans overnight to speed up the cooking even more, or you can simply add them to your multicooker dry, as is called for in this hearty and delicious dish. Depending on how fresh your dry beans are and what other ingredients you may have in your Instant Pot multicooker, you may find some beans are tender while others are still a little toothsome after cooking. Not to worry. It's easy to just give them a stir, close and lock the lid, then cook at high pressure for a few minutes longer.

Tip: Re-pressurizing isn't as fussy as it sounds. If your ingredients are already hot, then it will take far less time to come to temperature than it did while they were cool.

Photo by lutzflcat

6. Cook Perfect Vegetables for Fall Soups

Instant Pot Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

A multicooker is a great tool for cooking veggies, but the secret to perfectly cooked vegetables is in how you cut them. Veggies cut into uniform shapes will all cook at the same rate, giving you the best texture and flavor. Even in blended soups like this warming fall soup, how you cut your veggies is important. Aim to cut winter squash and root vegetables into one-inch pieces. After the pressure builds, they'll be tender in just five minutes.

Photo by Fioa

7. Skip the Defrost Step and Cook from Frozen in an Instant Pot

Instant Pot Salsa Chicken

That's right: You can skip the extra time to thaw foods, as your multicooker can handle frozen foods just as easily as fresh. For example, in this awesome four-ingredient chicken recipe, it's totally fine to cook frozen food using the pressure function of your multicooker. Unlike a slow cooker that heats up too slowly to safely defrost and cook frozen meats, the Instant Pot multicooker comes to temperature (and pressure) much faster.

Tip: If you're cooking from frozen, it's a good idea to tack on an extra minute or two at pressure to properly cook your food, but still — how's that for convenience on a busy school night?

Photo by Buckwheat Queen
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