Instant Pot L Symbol Mystery, What It Means & How To Use It

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Every Instant Pot model has an L symbol that is displayed after each cooking cycle, but what exactly does it mean? The short answer is that the mysteriously appearing  ‘L’ is a sign that your machine has finished a cooking cycle and is now keeping your food warm and ready to eat at a low constant temperature. Let’s take a closer look at when L appears, what it actually means in totality, how to cancel and modify it, and how to work with the Keep Warm feature of your Instant Pot in general. 

Key Takeaways

  • The L symbol displayed on every Instant Pot is a sign that your pot is on Keep Warm mode and is currently counting up the amount of time that it’s been sustaining a fixed, food-safe, ready-to-eat temperature. 
  • If you’re planning to use the Keep Warm feature to delay serving any given meal, factor the gap into your cooking time. Cook your dish for a few minutes shorter than required so that the residual cooking that occurs during the warming period doesn’t spoil the consistency but rather brings it to the perfect point for eating exactly when you plan to eat it. 
  • The optimal foods that benefit from an Instant Pot’s Keep Warm feature are soups, stews and curries that can do with all the extra slow-cooking time possible. Always use the warming feature with care, but when it comes to these dishes, a little extra water or stock every few hours is all that you need to leave them warming and building depth of flavor for hours and hours on end. 

What The L Symbol On An Instant Pot Means

The L symbol represents ‘lapsed time’ after the unit has switched to low heat and is an indication that your Instant Pot has begun a ‘Keep Warm’ cycle. This happens directly after any cooking cycle has run its course. As soon as cooking ends, the L symbol appears, and a timer begins counting up the lapsed time since the mode started, which is extremely useful for showing the timing for foods that require a natural pressure release. Alternatively, the warming cycle can be canceled and a quick release performed. 

The ‘Keep Warm Cycle’

The ‘Keep Warm’ cycle indicated by the L symbol keeps the Instant Pot at 145°F to 172°F for up to 10 hours. A minimum food temperature of above 140°F needs to be maintained in order to prevent the growth of bacteria which is why this variable temperature is enforced for every Instant Pot’s warming cycle. There is, however, a period of heat adjustment as the pot depressurizes. This means that for the initial period after switching to low-temperature mode, enabling the L symbol, and beginning the count-up timer, your Instant Pot cooks at a slightly higher heat instead of the heat required to simply keep the food warm. 

How to Cancel The L Symbol And End The Warming Cycle

  1. Press the Cancel button to turn off the cooking cycle.
  2. Press the Keep Warm/Cancel button to turn off the Keep Warm mode.
  3. Wait for the Instant Pot to cool down before opening the lid, or carefully perform a quick release by turning the steam release handle to the Venting position.

How To Set The Keep Warm Duration

Set the amount of time that your Instant Pot will stay in Keep Warm mode by following these instructions:

  1. Press the Manual or Pressure Cook button to select the cooking program you want to use.
  2. Press the Adjust button until the Keep Warm light turns on.
  3. Use the + and – buttons to set the desired time for the Keep Warm function.
  4. Press the Start button to begin cooking with the adjusted Keep Warm duration.

Please Note: Some Instant Pot models may have slightly different button configurations, so be sure to consult your user manual for specific instructions.

How To Adjust The Keep Warm Temperature

Set the interval and temperature for the warming cycle at any point during or after cooking by following these steps:

  1. Press the Keep Warm/Cancel button to activate interfacing with Keep Warm mode.
  2. Use the + and – buttons to adjust the temperature of the Keep Warm mode.
  3. Set a temperature for Keep Warm mode between a range of 145°F to 172°F.
  4. The Keep Warm mode will automatically turn on after the cooking cycle is complete, and you can adjust the temperature and time at any time.

How To Prevent Keep Warm Mode And The L Symbol From Automatically Enabling

Independent testing reveals that canceling an Instant Pot’s Keep Warm cycle only grants a marginally faster pressure release. Across all models tested, natural pressure release without the warming cycle enabled finishes under a minute faster than when canceling it. Keep this in mind when cooking. 

To cancel the Keep Warm mode before starting cooking in an Instant Pot, you need to follow these steps:

  1. Press the Pressure or Manual button to select the cooking time and pressure level for your recipe.
  2. Once you have selected the cooking time and pressure level, press the Keep Warm/Cancel button to turn off the Keep Warm function – you will notice the Keep Warm light switch off. 
  3. Press the Start button to begin cooking your food. The Keep Warm function will not turn on automatically after cooking is complete.

Please Note: If you want to use the Keep Warm function after cooking is complete, you can simply press the “Keep Warm/Cancel” button to turn it on.

How To Prevent Keep Warm Mode From Running During A Cycle

During any point during cooking, simply press the Keep Warm/Cancel button to disable the automatic warming feature that would otherwise switch on after a cycle. 

When To Use The L Symbol / Keep Warm Mode On Your Instant Pot

Here are some instances when it’s appropriate to use the L symbol/Keep Warm mode on your Instant Pot:

Briefly After Cooking

When your food has finished cooking, and you’re not quite ready to serve yet, you can use the Keep Warm mode to keep your food at a safe and warm temperature until you’re ready to eat.

Forward Meal Preparation

If you’re meal prepping for the week or for a busy day ahead, you can use the Keep Warm mode to keep your food warm and ready to eat when you are

Potluck Or Buffet

If you’re bringing a dish to a potluck or hosting a buffet, you can use the Keep Warm mode to keep your food at a safe and desirable temperature for guests to enjoy throughout the event.

Slow Cooking

When using the Slow Cook function on your Instant Pot and your recipe is finished, but you’re not quite ready to serve yet, you can use the Keep Warm mode to keep your food at serving temperature. 

Proofing Dough

The Keep Warm mode can be used to create a warm and humid environment for proofing dough.

Foods Best Suited To Keep Warm In An Instant Pot

FoodCooking TimeNatural Release TimeKeep Warm Time
Brown Rice22-24 minutes10 minutes2-4 hours
White Rice3-4 minutes10 minutes2-4 hours
Quinoa1 minute10 minutes2-4 hours
Lentils8-10 minutes10 minutes4-6 hours
Chickpeas50-60 minutes20-30 minutes4-6 hours
Black Beans25-30 minutes20-30 minutes4-6 hours
Beef Stew35-40 minutes15 minutes2-3 hours
Chicken Thighs10-12 minutes10 minutes2-3 hours
Chicken Breast6-8 minutes10 minutes2-3 hours
Pork Chops8-10 minutes10 minutes2-3 hours
Pot Roast45-60 minutes15 minutes2-3 hours
Meatballs8-10 minutes10 minutes2-3 hours
Spaghetti8-10 minutes10 minutes2-3 hours
Chili20-25 minutes10-15 minutes2-3 hours
Beef Ribs25-30 minutes15 minutes2-3 hours
Corn on the Cob2-3 minutes5 minutes2-3 hours
Baked Potatoes12-15 minutes10 minutes2-3 hours
Sweet Potatoes12-15 minutes10 minutes2-3 hours
Carrots3-4 minutes10 minutes2-3 hours
Brussels Sprouts2-3 minutes5 minutes2-3 hours
Green Beans1-2 minutes5 minutes2-3 hours
Broccoli0-1 minute5 minutes2-3 hours
Cauliflower0-1 minute5 minutes2-3 hours
Hard-Boiled Eggs5-6 minutes5 minutes2-3 hours
Steel-Cut Oats10-12 minutes10 minutes2-3 hours
Mashed Potatoes8-10 minutes10 minutes2-3 hours
Macaroni and Cheese3-4 minutes5 minutes2-3 hours
Risotto6-8 minutes10 minutes2-3 hours
Vegetable Soup8-10 minutes10-15 minutes2-3 hours

Foods Unsuited To Being Heated With Keep Warm

The number one category of food to avoid keeping at eating temperature with your Instant Pot’s Keep Warm feature is any food that requires a crispy or crunchy texture. This includes but is not limited to fried foods like french fries, tater tots, and roasted vegetables. Delicate proteins with short cooking times should not be kept at a warm temperature over a prolonged period as they become overcooked and rubbery very quickly. Keep Warm’s constant heat dries in fish in a jiffy as well, so always remove immediately after cooking. 

Factors To Consider When Using Keep Warm Over An Extended Period

  • Consider the cooking time and texture of the food before setting the Keep Warm mode to prevent overcooking. 
  • Foods with high moisture content, like stews and soups, may thicken or develop skin if kept warm for too long. Consider adding more liquid or occasionally stirring to maintain the desired consistency.
  • Larger pieces of food may take longer to heat through and may require a longer Keep Warm time. Foods with irregular shapes may heat unevenly and require occasional stirring.
  • Some foods, like rice, may become hard or dry if kept warm for too long, so always add extra liquid if heating over a very long time. 
  • The temperature and humidity of the room may affect the Keep Warm time, but this is only in extremes. In a colder or dryer environment, the food may cool down faster and require a longer Keep Warm time.
  • Food being warmed over extended periods requires infrequent stirring to prevent sticking and clumping. 
  • If you’re not sure how long you’ll be keeping the food on warm, start with a shorter amount of time and adjust as needed.
  • Consider using a thermometer to monitor the temperature of your food on Keep Warm mode, especially when warming over extended durations.

Instant Pot L Symbol/Keep Warm Mode – Frequently Asked Questions

Now that you know what the L symbol is, you may still have a few lingering questions about your Instant Pot’s warming mode. Here are the answers you need. If you have any concerns about the usability and safety of your Instant Pot, consult our Instant Pot hissing troubleshooting guide

Why Is My Instant Pot Counting Up?

The Instant Pot counts up when it’s in Keep Warm mode. This happens when your cooking program has finished, at which point the L symbol appears, and Keep Warm mode begins counting the lapsed time that it’s been warming your food. To stop the Keep Warm feature, simply hit the Cancel button at any point. 

Does The Instant Pot L Symbol Mean The Food Is Still Cooking?

No, the Instant Pot L symbol does not mean the food is still cooking. Instead, it indicates that the automatic keep warm function has been activated after the cooking program has completed. The L symbol stands for ‘lapsed time,’ and it is displayed when the Instant Pot switches to Keep Warm mode. Please note while this feature helps maintain the temperature of food until it is ready to be served, the ongoing heat does mean residual cooking continues at a very slow degree. Keeping food warm for too long will ruin its consistency and eventually the flavor too. 

How Long Does The Instant Pot Keep Food Warm With The L Symbol?

The Keep Warm mode automatically starts after each cooking process is complete and remains on for up to 10 hours. During this warming period, the food in the Instant Pot sustains a steady temperature of between 145°F and 172°F.

How Do I Know When Natural Release Is Done?

It can be tricky to tell when a natural release is done. Always follow the recommended natural release period best suited to the particular type of food you’re cooking, then open the vents and quick release the remaining pressure after the necessary duration has elapsed. A totally natural release is done when you notice that the hissing sound has stopped and the pressure indicator has dropped to zero. At this point, the float valve will have dropped, which is a clear sign that the pot has depressurized. On certain models, there will be an indicator that switches from natural release to venting when done. A complete natural release can take up to half an hour.

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