the definitive guide to an important safety feature
If you’ve used your Instant Pot for a while, chances are you’ve encountered the Overheat Protection feature, also known as the “Burn warning.” It may appear on the display as “BURN”, “OvHt”, or “Food Burn”.
The Burn warning does not mean your meal is ruined. It means the Instant Pot has detected things are getting too hot!
This article talks about what Overheat Protection is, what causes it, and what to do about it.
Accidents happen, especially in the kitchen. But one of the great things about the Instant Pot is how safe it is to use. All Instant Pot electric pressure cookers come equipped with at least 10 important safety mechanisms designed to keep you and your cooker safe and happy.
Some safety mechanisms are purely mechanical, like the lock that physically prevents the lid from opening when the cooker is under pressure, or the anti-block shield that prevents food particles from blocking the steam release pipe.
Other safety mechanisms are digital and utilize the Instant Pot’s sensors to detect potential hazards before they happen. The Overheat (Burn) Protection is one of these important safety features.
Things in an Instant Pot can get hot…really hot
The Instant Pot’s thermal sensors monitor and adjust the cooker’s internal temperature automatically, which is what gives the Instant Pot its well deserved ‘set it and forget it’ reputation. It also lets the cooker detect when something is on the verge of burning and shut off the heat before that happens.
Under pressure, the inner pot can reach temperatures well above the boiling point of water, and it’s important that things don’t get too hot. The purpose of the Overheat Protection feature is not only to help salvage your dinner, but also to protect the cooker itself.
How does Overheat Protection work?
For the curious among you, here is exactly how it works. The temperature sensor will trigger the Overheat Protection if the inner pot reaches too high a temperature, shut off the heat, and the cooker will display the warning message.
Once things cool down enough, the heating element will turn back on and the Instant Pot will try to complete its cooking program. If the temperature gets too hot again, it will trigger the Overheat Protection again. It will do this five times before shutting off and returning to Standby.
Sometimes the Instant Pot will be able to complete its program even after overheating, depending upon what you’re cooking.
How to avoid overheating
The best way to handle a burn warning is to try to avoid getting one:
Ensure there is enough liquid. The single best way to prevent overheating is to have enough water-based liquid. Without water, the cooker cannot pressurize properly and may overheat.
Ensure the steam release is sealed. Your Instant Pot cannot reach pressure if the steam release is not sealed, but it will continue to heat as the steam escapes. This could lead to overheating.
Ensure the sealing ring is working properly. If the sealing ring is damaged or placed incorrectly steam will escape and prevent pressurization, potentially leading to overheating.
Ensure the float valve is clean and moves freely. Food residue can cause the float valve to stick, which can also allow steam to escape.
Layer ingredients. Put liquids into the inner pot first, then add the other ingredients. Do not stir or mix. This helps keep things that might scorch from touching the bottom.
Add some ingredients later. Some things, like pasta, milk, cream, coconut milk, or thickeners like starch and flour, can scorch easily. Consider adding these after pressure cooking is complete, just make sure there is enough liquid to pressure cook effectively.
Use the steam rack. This is just a good ideal in general! Not only does it protect ingredients that could burn, like meats and vegetables, away from the bottom of the inner pot, but staying out of the cooking liquid also helps to retain your food’s natural vitamins and minerals
Use pot-in-pot method. Place your food in an oven-proof container, then insert it into the inner pot on the steam rack. Pot-in-pot method can be useful for making sauces that are prone to burning, like cream sauces.
Grease the bottom of the inner pot. Spraying the bottom with cooking spray or greasing it with butter or oil may help prevent food from sticking and overheating.
Deglaze: If the recipe calls for sautéing before pressure cooking, ensure that no bits of food are stuck to the bottom of the inner pot by first deglazing with some liquid. Instant TipDeglazed liquid makes an excellent gravy or sauce base!
Lift the inner pot: Sometimes things can make their way into the cooker base. Always check between the inner pot and the heating element to make sure the coast is clear.
Use the inner pot: We can’t stress this enough! There’s a reason we recommend you add your food to the inner pot before placing the inner pot into the cooker base. This guarantees that you’ll never accidentally put food directly into the cooker base. That’s a real burn.
If you get a Burn warning
If your display is showing a burn warning, don’t panic. Remember, it’s a safety feature to prevent burns, not a notice that it’s time to order pizza.
What to do next depends on what you’re cooking. If it’s something quick like steel cut oats, you can just ignore it and let the Instant Pot finish its work. The oats will cook, the cooker will depressurize, and you can enjoy your delicious breakfast.
If it happens when you’re cooking something that takes longer, like a stew, you can fix the problem and keep cooking:
Cancel the program and Quick Release the steam from the Instant Pot.
Open the lid and carefully remove the inner pot from the cooker base. Make sure there is nothing stuck to the heating element, or the bottom of the inner pot. Place the inner pot on a heat resistant surface.
Check the sealing ring, steam release, and float valve to ensure they are working properly, in good condition, and in the correct positions.
Check your meal. You may see a little scorching on the bottom of the inner pot, but your food should not be badly burned. The whole point of the safety mechanism is to save your meal from total ruination.
Carefully stir the food and remove anything that is overcooked. If there is scorching, move the food to a different container, clean up the scorching, then replace the food in the clean inner pot. Instant TipHaving a second inner pot can save a lot of time when you’re the one under pressure.
Add more cooking liquid. You don’t need to add a lot, just add enough to thin things out. Generally, we recommend 1 cup of liquid for the 3 Quart size, 1½ cups for the 6 Quart size, and 2 cups for the 8 Quart size.
Insert the inner pot into the cooker base, then close the lid. Set the steam release to the sealed position, and start the program again. Your food is already hot, so it won’t take very long to come back up to pressure. After stirring and adding water it should be able to finish cooking without overheating again. If it does, repeat these steps.
Enjoy your dinner!
What causes things to overheat?
Most meals won’t ever trigger Overheat Protection, but some things are at particular risk of overheating:
Sugary recipes: recipes with a lot of sugar in them are the biggest causes of overheating. Sugars can stick and caramelize on the bottom of the inner pot, causing things to get too hot down there. There’s not a lot you can do to adjust these recipes, except to make sure there is enough water.
Thick foods: dishes with thick sauces, especially tomato or cream-based sauces, are more apt to overheat. If you are adding a thickener like flour or corn starch, consider mixing it in after the cooking program and sauté until thickened.
Pasta: most pasta recipes contain just enough liquid to cook the pasta and create a nice sauce, but this may not be enough to avoid overheating. Always add the pasta last, but do not stir it in— instead, just push it down to ensure that it is submerged.
Sautéed foods: when you sauté, bits of food can sometimes stick to the bottom of the inner pot which can trigger Overheat Protection. To reduce sticking, try adding oil, butter, or non-stick cooking spray to the inner pot, and never leave your cooker unattended when sautéing.
Helping you to cook better
A lot of work has gone into designing the Instant Pot, and we’re constantly working on ways to improve it. Overheat Protection is an important safety mechanism that stops accidents before they can happen.
So, if one evening you happen to find a burn warning on your cooker, be happy. Your Instant Pot just rescued dinner.