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How do you brown beef in a Instant Pot?

Browning ground beef in an Instant Pot before making recipes like chili, pasta sauce, or tacos adds incredible depth of flavor. The Maillard reaction that occurs when beef is browned results in complex, roasted flavors that make the overall dish taste significantly better. However, Instant Pots are not designed to brown meat the same way as a skillet on the stovetop. So browning ground beef in an Instant Pot requires some special tips and tricks to get the best results.

Should You Brown Beef in an Instant Pot?

Browning ground beef in the Instant Pot is possible, but it won’t achieve the exact same sear that you’d get from a skillet. The pot shape and enclosed environment means the beef cooks more by steaming in its own juices versus having direct contact with a hot surface to caramelize and brown.

However, browning in the Instant Pot still imparts much more flavor than simply simmering raw beef in a sauce or liquid. So while it may not be the perfect sear, it’s still worth the extra step when you want that rich, brown beef flavor in Instant Pot recipes.

Tips for Browning Ground Beef in an Instant Pot

Follow these tips to get the best results when searing beef in your Instant Pot:

1. Pat the beef dry

Remove excess moisture from the beef for better browning. Spread the beef on a plate lined with paper towels. Cover with additional paper towels and gently press to absorb surface moisture. Start with beef as dry as possible.

2. Use smaller batches

Crowding too much beef in the pot will cause steaming instead of searing. Brown just 1/2 to 1 pound of beef at a time, and don’t overload the cooking surface.

3. Get the pot ripping hot

Preheat the Instant Pot on the highest Sauté setting for several minutes before adding any oil or beef. You want the pot to be as hot as possible for the best sear.

4. Use a little oil

Add just 1 teaspoon of a high heat oil like avocado, grapeseed, or light olive oil. Swirl to coat the bottom of the inner pot before adding the beef.

5. Don’t stir or toss too early

Let the beef sit undisturbed for 1-2 minutes to brown on the underside before stirring.

6. Stir sparingly

Stir the beef just a few times during cooking. Aggressive stirring can disrupt the browning process.

7. Work in batches

Brown additional small batches as needed, allowing the pot to reheat for a minute or two between batches.

8. Optionally deglaze with broth

For extra browned bits and flavor, you can optionally deglaze the pot with a small amount of broth after browning. Simply add 1/2 cup broth and stir vigorously to dissolve the fond as the liquid simmers and thickens slightly.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Follow this simple step-by-step method for browning beef in the Instant Pot:

Prep the Beef

1. Pat 1/2 to 1 pound of ground beef dry with paper towels. Make sure no large clumps remain.

2. Try to remove as much external moisture as possible for optimal searing.

Preheat the Instant Pot

1. Select the Sauté setting on High/More.

2. Allow to preheat for 5 minutes. The display will read “Hot”.

Add Oil and Beef

1. Pour 1 teaspoon avocado oil, grapeseed oil, or mild olive oil into the preheated inner pot.

2. Swirl the oil to coat the bottom of the pot.

3. Add the ground beef crumbles carefully without splattering.

4. Spread into an even layer but do not stir yet.

Brown the Beef

1. Let the beef sit undisturbed for 1-2 minutes. Resist stirring or tossing too soon.

2. Once browned on underside, stir and break up beef into smaller pieces.

3. Allow beef to cook without stirring again for 1 minute more.

4. Stir again, scraping any stuck browned bits from the bottom of the pot as you mix.

5. Let cook about 1-2 more minutes, stirring occasionally.

6. Once browned, remove beef from pot and set aside.

Repeat with Remaining Batches

1. Let the empty pot heat on Sauté mode for 1-2 minutes to reheat.

2. Add another teaspoon of oil, then brown the next batch of beef.

3. Repeat until all beef is browned.

4. Option: For extra flavor, deglaze with 1/2 cup broth, stirring vigorously.

Finish Dish as Recipe Directs

1. Add beef back to pot along with any other recipe ingredients.

2. Complete recipe as directed on High Pressure or Slow Cook setting.

3. The pre-browned beef will add rich, delicious flavor to the finished dish!

Tips for the Best Results

– Pat the beef very dry before searing

– Work in smaller batches for better browning

– Let the pot fully preheat before adding oil or beef

– Don’t stir too vigorously or too often

– Consider deglazing with a small amount of broth

– Add seared beef back to pot along with other ingredients

Common Questions

Should I salt the beef before browning?

Salting early helps enhance browning by drawing out moisture. It can work to sprinkle with salt up to 40 minutes before searing. But for browning in the Instant Pot be careful not to add too far in advance, or the released moisture may hinder the Maillard reaction.

How long does it take to brown beef in Instant Pot?

Browning 1 pound of beef with the pot properly preheated takes about 10-15 minutes. Work in batches and allow the pot to reheat in between for best results.

Is it better to brown beef before or after cooking?

Browning before cooking infuses the beef with rich, caramelized flavors. Browning after won’t have the same benefit of flavoring the whole dish. Always brown ground beef before pressure cooking or slow cooking recipes.

Should you drain fat after browning beef?

Draining off excess fat after browning is optional, but can help the Instant Pot come up to pressure more quickly after adding liquids. Keep some of the fat for flavor.

Can you brown beef from frozen in an Instant Pot?

No, always thaw beef in the refrigerator before browning in an Instant Pot. Frozen beef won’t sear properly. Defrost ground beef completely first for the best texture and browning.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

– Forgetting to preheat the pot first

– Putting too much beef in at once

– Stirring too frequently or vigorously

– Letting raw beef clumps fall apart into small pieces

– Skipping the step of browning entirely

– Adding frozen beef instead of thawed

– Leaving the beef in an uncovered bowl as it defrosts and reabsorbs moisture

Using a Browning Insert

Some Instant Pot models come with a special stainless steel insert pan for browning and searing foods. This accessory sits on top of the stainless steel inner pot and provides a flat, wide surface for better contact and heat transfer.

To use a browning insert:

– Preheat insert along with empty pot for 5+ minutes on Sauté High

– Add thin layer of oil to insert

– Add beef in an even layer, do not overcrowd

– Let beef cook undisturbed for 2 minutes before stirring

– Repeat with additional batches as needed

The browning insert can help mimic stovetop sear results more closely than the curved inner pot. If your Instant Pot didn’t come with one, it can be purchased separately.

Trying Other Browning Methods

Besides using Sauté mode, there are a couple other methods that can be attempted to brown ground beef in the Instant Pot:

Browning on the stove

Simply pre-brown the beef in a skillet on the stove over medium-high heat before transferring to the Instant Pot. This separates the tasks and guarantees the best possible sear. Just make sure to deglaze the skillet to get all the flavorful fond.

Manual browning

Set the Instant Pot to the lowest pressure cook time, usually 2-5 minutes. Add 1 cup water to create steam. Once pressurized, quick release pressure and remove lid. The bottom of the pot should be hot enough to sear. Add oil and beef to the bottom inner pot.

While this approach can work, it’s a bit more cumbersome. Browning on Sauté has fewer steps and less risk of overcooking the beef in the steam.

Flavor Variations

Change up the flavor of browned beef in your Instant Pot dish with these easy additions:

– Onion and garlic: Sauté minced onion and garlic before adding beef for aromatic flavor

– Spices: Add dried spices like cumin, chili powder, paprika, oregano, or Italian seasoning to the beef while browning

– Herbs: Sprinkle fresh chopped rosemary, thyme, sage, or basil onto the beef after browning

– Soy sauce: Stir in 1-2 Tbsp soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce when deglazing with broth for umami

– Bacon: Brown chopped bacon before beef, leaving rendered fat to sear the beef

– Tomato paste: Sauté 1-2 Tbsp tomato paste with the beef for added richness

– Liquid smoke: Add 1/4 tsp liquid smoke when deglazing for a smoky accent

– Hot sauce: Mix in a few dashes or up to 1 Tbsp hot sauce like Tabasco post-browning

Beef Browning Times

Amount of Beef Browning Time
1/2 pound 5-7 minutes
1 pound 10-15 minutes
1 1/2 pounds 15-20 minutes
2 pounds 20-25 minutes

Browning times will vary slightly based on the fat content of the beef, the preheating time, and how often the beef is stirred. Monitor progress and adjust cook times as needed.


It is absolutely possible to get delicious browned beef flavor cooking in the Instant Pot. While the results may not be quite as deeply caramelized as on the stove, the flavor will still be far better than skipping the browning step altogether.
With a hot pot, dried beef, and patience to work in smaller batches, you can achieve excellent results. Browning beef in the Instant Pot adds so much richness and depth to recipes like chili, bolognese sauce, sloppy joes, or any beefy stew or soup. Just be sure to follow the key tips for best results. Now get ready to enjoy incredibly flavorful Instant Pot beef recipes!