Why does my Instant Pot say “Burn”?

Last Updated May 2020
By Allen Foster

Nearly anything and everything you want to cook can be made in a "set it and forget it" Instant Pot. The convenience of having one appliance that can serve as a slow cooker, an electric pressure cooker, a rice cooker, a steamer, a yogurt maker, a browning pan, and more is undeniable. 

However, as remarkable as the Instant Pot is, there are times when it can be infuriating. For instance, whenever a "Burn" message appears, it can escalate your donation to the swear jar.

The "Burn" message is similar to the "Check Engine" light in your car. What does it mean? Why does it appear? What should you do when you see it? What are your best strategies for keeping it from ever showing up again? This article will help solve the mystery behind this unwelcome message.

Why does my instant pot say “Burn”?

When cooking with high temperatures and high pressure, as is often the case when using your Instant Pot, there are a few things that could go wrong and create a potentially hazardous situation. Fortunately, every Instant Pot is equipped with at least 10 safety features that not only keep your unit from damage, but that protect you from injury as well. Some of these features are mechanical in nature, such as the lid lock, while others are digital in nature, such as Overheat Protection.

Overheat Protection monitors the temperature of the inner pot in your Instant Pot. If that temperature climbs too high, it triggers a sensor that immediately shuts off the heat. To alert you that your Instant Pot is in this protective mode, either "Burn," "OvHt," or "Food Burn" will appear on your display. This message is simply telling you that the temperature has climbed higher than is desirable and the heat has been temporarily shut off, it is not telling you that your food has burned. In fact, in most instances, when this mode is triggered, it actually protects your meal from being overcooked.

Once your Instant Pot has cooled down to acceptable temperatures, the heating mechanism will turn back on and resume cooking. However, if the temperature of that inner pot rises too high, your Instant Pot will take the same precautions and turn off the heat again. The unit will attempt to cook your food five times before shutting off and returning to standby mode.

What to do when you get the “Burn” message on your Instant Pot

Although there are a number of quick fixes you can find when doing an online search — and some might even work under the right conditions — these methods are not always what the manufacturer recommends. If you see the "Burn" message and you are cooking something quick, like oats for breakfast, simply let the appliance finish its program and enjoy. If you are cooking something a little more time-intensive, such as meat, the manufacturer recommends canceling the cooking program and releasing the steam via the Quick Release program, making certain you stay away from the release valve while the steam is venting.

After the steam has vented, open the lid and carefully remove the inner pot, making sure that nothing is stuck to the bottom of the inner pot or the heating element. Place the inner pot on a heat-resistant surface and check all mechanisms, such as the sealing ring, the steam release, and the float valve, to ascertain that each is in its correct position and working properly.

Stir the food in the inner pot and check for scorching. If scorching is present and it is light, simply remove the overcooked portions and discard. If the inner pot is scorched, you will need to remove the food (temporarily placing it in another container) so you can clean the inner pot before continuing.

Replace the food in the clean inner pot and stir in additional liquid — roughly one cup for a three-quart Instant Pot to two cups for an eight-quart Instant Pot. After the food is thoroughly mixed, insert the inner pot back into the base, close the lid, place the steam release in the closed position, and start the cooking program once more. If the "Burn" message appears again, repeat the process.

What cooking strategies can help prevent triggering the "Burn" message?

As is often said, the best defense is a strong offense. If you want to use your favorite kitchen appliance without the worry of seeing that undesirable message again, make sure there is enough water-based liquid in your recipe — lack of liquid is the most common cause for triggering the "Burn" message. It is also important to regularly inspect your Instant Pot to make sure that it’s clean and all of the mechanisms are functioning properly. Consider using a steam rack and modifying your recipe slightly to add thickening agents after the pressure cooking process has finished. Additionally, it is important to point out that sugary recipes, thick sauces, sautéed foods, and pasta are the most troublesome items to prepare in an Instant Pot.

The "Burn" message is for your protection

Remember the "Burn" message on your Instant Pot is there to protect you, your appliance, and your meal. If you adhere to the procedures in this article, you will have the best strategy for preventing that message from appearing. If it does show up on your display, however, you will now know exactly what to do to recover and finish cooking your meal.