If you’ve used your Instant Pot long enough, chances are you might have received the dreaded Instant Pot burn message. In fact, it’s one of the most common comments we receive for troubleshooting on Instant Pot Eats. Most people simply don’t know why they get the burn message, and it stops the pot from cooking for good reason: nobody wants burnt food. While this function is ultimately very handy and makes cooking quality food easier, it can be pretty annoying if you have no idea why you’re getting it.
In this post, we will discuss what the Instant Pot burn message means, how to prevent it and why it happens – sometimes unexpectedly.
First, we see this problem most with recipes that use quite a bit of liquid like pasta, chili, rice and salsa/sauce-based dishes. We know that the reason the burn sensor switches to on is due to overall temperature. The pot is ‘smart,’ so it will detect a high-end temperature on the bottom of the pot and send the message automatically.
It varies from model to model, but older versions will often send an ‘overheat’ message while newer ones will send a ‘burn’ message. It’s also worth noting that many bloggers have noticed readers with newer versions of the Instant Pot experience the error more often, despite making changes or using tips to prevent it.
Common Instant Pot burn message culprits
You might notice that sugar-based sauces like barbecue or tomato sauce will increase the likelihood of burns. This is likely due to the fact that sugar will caramelise and increase the temperature, especially on the bottom of the pot as crystallisation happens. If you notice that this is a consistent issue for you, I recommend using a bit of water to cut sugary sauces with. It’s also helpful to use non-sugary liquid on the bottom, and use a tomato-based sauce to layer on top so it doesn’t come in contact with the bottom of the pot.
Some users report only seeing the burn message if they first used the saute function then try to cook with high pressure. It’s also more likely to occur while cooking recipes using fewer amounts of liquid. This may be because the pot holds more heat prior to sealing, so the bottom reaches that higher end of the temperature threshold sooner, preventing the ability to cook food once the lid is sealed. You should let the Instant Pot cool off a bit between switching functions to prevent this from happening.
The lid is loose
You’ll likely notice that your lid isn’t sealed properly prior to the burn message showing up, but if not, it can increase the chances of receiving the error. This will essentially mean you’re losing steam (and liquid) through the lid and the bottom is more likely to burn in short order. Make sure your lid is sealed tight and no steam or liquid is sputtering from the top. If you have sealing issues time after time, I recommend purchasing a new seal ring that will fit on nice and tight.
Not enough liquid
Perhaps one of the most common issues is not adding enough liquid. Even if the recipe only specifies a certain amount, you can almost always bypass the burn message by adding more liquid. Try simply adding ½ cup at a time to mitigate the issue until it stops coming up, and make note of that in your own recipe collection. Again, this may be more common with newer Instant Pots, and you don’t know if the blogger or cookbook author has an older version that their recipe works perfectly fine in. While recipes are meant to make things easier, sometimes, it takes a little trial and error on your end.
The liquid is too thick
Like with sugary sauces, a thicker liquid will stick to the bottom and cook faster than water boils. You can cut thick sauces with sugar or layer them on top of the rest of the food you’re cooking.
Cooking with dairy
Dairy is very easy to burn, so you should almost always add it after the fact. Don’t cook with thickeners like milk, cream, cream cheese or sour cream. Otherwise, you can use the pot-in-pot method to cook those tricky components separately without having them directly touch the bottom of the pot.
The bottom is dirty
While those brown, burnt bits on the bottom can be absolutely delicious, it’s important to wash the pot thoroughly or deglaze the pot prior to cooking with it. Otherwise, it will detect that leftover food burning once the pot reaches peak temperatures. Make sure that if you need to scrape the bottom, you do so with a wooden utensil so as not to damage the pot.
Starches are touching the bottom
Rice and pasta will easily burn to the bottom of the pot, so ensuring that there is enough liquid is a good start. If you’re cooking a one-pot meal that also contains other ingredients, try layering starchy components on top while still ensuring they are submerged in liquid.
The vent is letting out steam
It’s an easy mistake to make! Leaving the vent open will release liquid during quick evaporation while the pot is cooking on high pressure, so always make sure the vent is closed when cooking.
Food in all the wrong places
Make sure there isn’t anything stuck in between the heating element and the pot prior to cooking every time. Give it a quick cleaning every so often to make sure even the crumbs and burnt material isn’t giving you a hard time and causing the burn message to appear.
Try to double check which size Instant Pot model the recipe author used to develop their recipe. A 3-quart recipe will differ from a 6-quart or 8-quart recipe in terms of liquid needed. Double up on water for each size increase different from the recipe. Otherwise, reduce the liquid used if you’re using a smaller model.
Do a quick reset
If all else fails, start over. Sometimes, you just need to turn it off and turn it on again to prevent the burn message from appearing. Before you do so, make sure you release all pressure from the pot prior to opening the lid.
If you do end up with some burnt food, the easiest way to remove it is to deglaze the pot with water. If you have a lot of burnt food on the bottom, you’ll likely need to soak it in hot, soapy water for a bit before using the pot again.
If you need to use more liquid than desired for the burn message to not appear, we recommend draining some at the end and thickening the remainder of the liquid with cornstarch or tapioca starch, then reducing the liquid on saute mode to achieve a less viscous final result. Of course, if you’re simply using water, you can drain off the entirety of the excess instead.
Finally, many of these problems can be avoided by using the pot-in-pot method or using a trivet to cook. The only caveat is that this doesn’t work for all foods. However, for many recipes, these accessories can make things a lot easier by steaming through ingredients rather than cooking them on the hot surface that detects overheating.
I hope this article helps you troubleshoot if you’re receiving the burn message. Please leave a comment if you have any additional questions. Happy cooking!