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How to Brown Meat in Instant Pot Without Sticking

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My Instant Pot has become my do it all cooking appliance. It's great for stews, soups, braised vegetables and meats, and sides. To take your Instant Pot skills to the next level, you gotta know how to brown meat.

If you’ve used the saute mode to brown meat in your Instant Pot then you’ve likely encountered the seemingly hard to avoid the problem of sticking. This is especially a problem with skin-on chicken.

Browning meat is such a critical step to adding flavor and depth to a dish so skipping the step is not an option unless you want food sub-optimized for flavor.

Straight-up as frustrating as it is to try and flip that chicken, only to leave that delicious and beautiful brown skin behind stuck to the bottom of your pan, there is a simple way around this.

What Is Browning

Browning is a cooking process for quickly cooking the surface of meat to give it color, crusty texture, and flavor. It involves cooking with a small amount of fat at relatively high heat.

This is an important step in braising meats or pressure cooking. Done before pressure cooking browning provides the added benefit of preserving moisture.

Browning is used for both vegetables and meat:

Recipe Examples of How to Brown Vegetables In An Instant Pot

collard greens with brisket in bowl

Instant Pot Braised Collard Greens w/ Smoked Brisket - Food Fidelity

Instant Pot Coconut Milk Braised Brussel Sprouts - Food Fidelity

Instant Pot Black-eyed Peas w/ Cacio e Pepe - Food Fidelity

Instant Pot Okra Soup - Food Fidelity

Instant Pot Creole Cabbage and Sausage - Food Fidelity

Instant Pot Creole Green Beans - Food Fidelity

Instant Pot Lentil Stew - Food Fidelity

Recipe Examples of How To Brown Chicken In An Instant Pot

Brown stew chicken topped with peppers in a white bowl

Instant Pot Jamaican Brown Stew Chicken - Food Fidelity

Instant Pot Jerk Chicken - Food Fidelity

Instant Pot Red Beans and Rice - Food Fidelity

Easy Instant Pot Chicken Thighs - Kristine’s Kitchen

Healthier Instant Pot Coq Au Vin - Half Baked Harvest

Instant Pot Chicken Cacciatore - Pinch Of Yum

Instant Pot Honey Garlic Chicken Thighs - Diethood

Recipe Examples of How To Brown Meat In An Instant Pot

Instant Pot Beef Short Ribs - Food Fidelity

Instant Pot Oxtails - Food Fidelity

Instant Pot Short Ribs - Amy + Jackie

Instant Pot Braised Beef Osso Bucco - Wildly Charmed

Instant pot Brisket - The Kitchn

Instant Pot Beef Bourguignon - Creme De La Crumb

Instant Pot Beef Tips - Simply Happy Foodie

Instant Pot Meatballs - Food Fidelity

Why does browning cause stickiness?

Meat sticking during the browning process is not limited to Instant Pots. Skillets, pans, etc. all present the same challenges if certain techniques aren’t used.

For all scientific questions regarding food I go to Harold McGee who is author of the two books On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen and Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes. I’m a self-taught cook, so I study and reference these books frequently to master different cooking techniques.

In the latter book, McGee explains that high heat causes proteins to form bonds with the surface of the pan it’s being cooked on. The more protein-rich the food, the greater the stickiness factor. This factor is multiplied for more delicate proteins like eggs and fish. Think about scrambling eggs as a reference.

The simple obvious solution is to create a buffer between the pan and the protein, which is why oils and butter become so important. But if it were all that simple; Fat/oils don’t always do the trick alone, technique matters too!

What are expert browning tips to prevent sticking?

To get that moist tender inside with crispy outside crust there a few key steps to follow:

  • Make sure the pan’s surface is clean. You don’t want possible contact surfaces created beyond the actual pan
  • Use fats that have a high smoke point?peanut oil, regular olive oil, canola oil, or ghee. Smoke point refers to the temperature level a fat/oil begins to smoke. As fat begins to smoke, the flavor changes and can affect the food's taste. 
  • Use a small amount of oil, enough to cover the ENTIRE surface of the pan
  • Add the oil to an already hot pan.
    • The oil will become hot instantly and when meat is added to hot oil, water will be released and steam.
    • The steam essentially elevates the meat just above the layer of oil so that there is some buffer between the surface and the meat. This doesn’t happen if pan isn’t hot enough
  • Make sure meat is at room temperature before adding to the pan. Cold meat sticks more to surfaces.
  • Dryness is also important. Moisture (including marinades) on the food surface lowers the temperature of oils which fosters sticking. Try pat drying your meat with paper towels before cooking. Adding oil to the food’s surface is perfectly fine
  • Don’t overcrowd your pan. The more stuff in your pan tends to lower temps, releasing more moisture creating a steaming effect as the steam has no room to escape. Steam = no caramelization which means no browning, no crust, and no flavor!
    • Shoot for at least a half-inch between each piece of meat. 
    • Better to cook in batches to allow food more room. Just remember to reheat pan and add more fat/oil
  • PATIENCE is a virtue! Don’t start trying to move the meat too soon. Give it time, as it will start to release after a while.

Instant Pot Saute Settings

Instant Pots have all kinds of features and settings. After experimenting with all the different functions, I’ve settled on the fact that 97% of your Instant Pot cooking needs can be solved with just two settings - 1. : "Manual” pressure cooking and 2. “Saute”

The saute setting is what’s used for browning meat and sautéing vegetables before cooking. Most newer Instant Pots come with advanced settings which include 3 levels of temperature:

  • “Normal” for regular browning
  • “More” for darker browning
  • “Less” for light browning

instant pot saute setting

More often than not “normal” mode is sufficient. However, for skin-on chicken I find that the “more” setting works best. There is some variability depending on temperature of the meat prior to cooking as well as amount of surface moisture. If after browning a while with no releasing you can reduce temperature by switching to the “Less” settings

During sautéing keep the lid open at all time to avoid pressure building up. 

To use the “Sauté” settings follow the below steps:

  • Press the “Sauté” function key and heat the IP first before adding anything to it
  • Select the desired temperature with the “Adjust” key for “Normal”, “More” or “Less”
  • Add oil once the Instant Pot reaches the desired temperature. This will be obvious as it will display “Hot” indicating you can start browning the meat.
  • A full “Sauté” session will run for 30 minutes. You can cancel it at any time by pressing the “Cancel/Keep Warm” setting

How to brown chicken in Instant Pot without sticking including Step-by-Step Instructions

After much trial and error as well as research, I’ve arrived at a solution. I cannot lie, it was a bitch getting here, but my pain is your gain! Follow these steps to not not only avoid effing up your chicken, but actually maximizing flavor in whatever chicken dish you’re making.

Step 1: Heat the pan FIRST using “More” saute setting

Step 2: Add the oil ONLY AFTER POT HAS REACHED DESIRED TEMP LEVEL and make sure the entire pan’s surface is covered with a thin coating

Step 3: Allow the oil to heat properly before adding the meat. YOU WANT HOT OIL FIRST!

Step 4: Add the chicken to the outer areas where the oil collects and cook skin side down (4 minutes)

browning chicken instant pot

After 4 minutes of cooking on "Hot" setting the chicken should release easily

Step 5: WAIT. WAIT SOME MORE before flipping. Any sticking means chicken ain’t ready for the FLIP. You can use your tongs to test for release. Cook for about 2 minutes.

browned chicken instant pot

Notice skin is still intact and has a nice color to it

Key Tips to prevent meat from sticking in an IP

In principle following the above-mentioned tips apply to the Instant Pot as well. However, the Instant Pot does produce one unique problem. The crown in the middle of the pot makes it hard to coat the entire bottom surface area. Instead, the oil/fat collects in the outer surface area. Given this there are a couple of solves:

  1. Don’t swim against the current; just position your meat in the areas the oil naturally collects
  2. Oil the meat
  3. Lift the pan and swirl the oil around
  4. Use a silicone brush to “paint” the bottom of the pan with oil
  5. Saute on the highest setting for skin-on chicken

Browning Meat Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I add cold oil to cold pan and heat them together?

Yes, and this makes it easier to tell when the pan reaches your desire temperature as the oil’s color will change visibly. However, I prefer adding cold oil to a hot pan for a few different reasons:

  • A hot pan requires less oil to cover the surface
  • Hot oil is less viscous so the faster the oil reaches temp the better
  • Less oil will be also be needed to fill the micro-crevices in the pan resulting in better buffer between food and pan surface

What is the best oil to use to avoid sticking?

Go for high smoke point oils. As a reminder, an oil’s smoke point refers to the temperature point in which the oil starts to become rancid. For high heat cooking like browning, searing and frying you want oils with high smoke points. These include ghee, peanut oil, coconut oil, or canola. Checkout this smoke point table for more details.

How will I know when the pan is hot enough?

Just for the IP settings to read “Hot.” For non-Instant Pot cooking, you can use the water drop test. Just flick water from your fingertips. If the pan is hot enough, the water will vaporize on the spot.

Why is my meat sticking?

If your food is sticking either not enough fat and/or not hot enough pan are your culprits. If using “Normal” saute setting increase the heat to “More” setting to see if this results in the chicken releasing on its own. Be patient and try to avoid forcing the issue.

How Do I Avoid Burning the Meat?

Listen for that cracklin’ sizzling sound. NO MO Sizzle sound means you’re vulnerable to burning at that point.

Should I Deglaze?

One of the benefits of a good browning is the sticky brown bits left behind. There is sooooo much flavor here, so you’ll want to deglaze the pan with a stock and/or acidic liquid like wine or vinegar.

Deglazing refers to add the liquid and then using a wooden spoon/spatula to scrape up the brown bits, then cooking the sauce before adding the chicken back for final cooking.

In Summary - to brown your chicken without it sticking to the pan just saute pan until it reads “hot”, add your oil and let it heat a few minutes, then add the dry, room temperature meat and flip after a few minutes. Just don't try to move it too soon. When it's properly browned, it will release. 

It’s as simple as that to brown chicken that doesn’t stick to the bottom of your Instant Pot pan!

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