It’s the #1 thing that strikes fear into the heart of new homesteaders…
Stories of Great Aunt Wanda blowing up her kitchen with a pressure canner abound… which has resulted in a whole lot of us who are slightly petrified at the thought of using a hissing, pressurizing “bomb” to preserve food in our kitchens.
And it’s understandable– if used incorrectly, pressure canners can indeed malfunction. And the results are often…. um… explosive.
BUT. Before you close out of this post and swear to never touch a pressure canner as long as you live, hear me out…
Because not only is pressure canning far safer than you’ve likely been led to believe, there are a bunch of benefits that make it a skill well-worth learning.
(And if it makes you feel any better, I’ve been pressure canning for 9 years with a grand total of ZERO explosions…)
(If you are new to any sort of canning at all, then you’ll definitely want to check out the How to Can tutorial– complete with tons of pictures. You can also check out my super awesome Canning Made Easy course and ebook.)
Is Pressure Canning Really Safe?
Yes! I am here to reassure you that, with a few precautions, pressure canning is absolutely nothing to worry about! Today’s pressure canners have two, if not three, safety valves. This way, if the primary vent ever somehow gets plugged, there’s still another route for the pressure to escape safely.
Why Bother with a Pressure Canner?
Water bath canning or boiling-water processing works great for high-acid foods like most fruits, jams, tomatoes, or pickles. The theory is that the acid helps to preserve the foods and prevent spoilage at the lower temps produced by the boiling water.
However, for low-acid foods (think beets, green beans, meats, potatoes), it is crucial that you use a pressure canner, since it reaches much higher temperatures and therefore preserves the food safely without the added “insurance” of the acid. (And nope. You can’t skip this step and just use a water bath canner instead. If you do, you run the risk of botulism in your canned foods, which is the deadliest form of food poisoning.)
Why I Love Pressure Canning:
1. More Freezer Space
I usually freeze a lot of my garden produce, as well as many make-ahead meal components. Combine that with our home-raised beef, I’m always running out of freezer space– even with my extra chest freezer.
I also love having a food supply that isn’t dependent on the grid– in the case of an emergency power outage, most of my frozen food would be a loss.
2. Homemade “Convenience” Foods.
The thought of being able to have ready-to-go, wholesome food at my disposal that doesn’t require defrosting or freezer space is pretty much magical.
With my pressure canner, I can preserve chunks of beef, pinto or navy beans, and chicken or beef broth to be stored at room temperature– not to mention pre-made suppers like homemade beef stew and chili.
Types of Pressure Canners
There are three main kinds of pressure canners available on the market today:
1. Dial Gauge Canners
These canners have a dial pressure gauge on top of the lid to tell you when the pressure has reached the appropriate level. The dial gauge must be checked every year by the manufacturer or your local County Extension Office to make sure the reading is accurate. Otherwise, you risk processing your foods at too-low pressure (can cause spoilage or botulism) or too-high pressure (aka: possible explosions…)
2. Weighted Gauge Canners
These canners don’t have gauges, but instead have removable, weighted regulators that are used to determine pressure. You can adjust the pressure in the canner by added more or less weights to the lid.
3. Combo Gauge Canner
These canners not only have a dial gauge on top of the lid, they also have a removable, weighted regulator as well. This regulator weight usually has three settings: 5, 10, and 15 pounds. The weight is what you use to determine pressure– the dial is just a back-up in this case.
The Best Pressure Canner
Naturally, there’s debate on this topic, but I personally prefer All-American pressure canners and have used one exclusively for 9 years.
- After reading many user reviews of the All-American canner on Amazon, I found that there were very few unsatisfied customers. This trend stayed the same with my followers on Facebook, as well as anyone else I have talked to.
- The All-American canner has no rubber gasket– that means there is one less thing to maintain and replace.
- All-American canners have weighted gauges– I definitely prefer that over the dial gauge, since I won’t have to take it to be checked for accuracy every single year.
- They are made in the USA.
- They have 6 bolts to securely hold the lid.
- Although this is not the cheapest pressure canner on the market, I don’t mind paying a little extra for something I know that will last for years and years. As some of my readers mentioned, this is something you could definitely pass down to your children and grandchildren. It’s a quality piece of equipment. I’ve had my canner for 9 years and it looks as good as the day I pulled it out of the box.
- I have the 21 1/2 quart Canner (Model 921). The 921 model will hold 19 pints or 7 quarts. This isn’t their biggest model, but 7 quarts is what my water bath canner holds, and I’m comfortable with that size.
(Please note- I am not affliated with All-American in any way. I just like ’em…)
Parts of a Pressure Canner
In this post, I’ll be focusing on combo-gauge canners, since that’s what I have.
Naturally, all manufacturers will be slightly different, so it’s very important to read the instruction manual for your particular canner. Fortunately, the majority of the parts will usually be the same.
There are 2 gauges on the All-American canner: a dial gauge and a weighted gauge.
The weighted gauge sits on top of the vent pipe.
Many pressure canners have a rubber gasket that fits between the lid and bottom, but All-American canners like mine do not.
Instead, my canner has a metal-to-metal seal. I prefer this since rubber gaskets are subject to cracking and breaking and have to be replaced. The only maintenance that the metal-to-metal seal requires is a light oiling (use olive oil) every 2-3 uses.
When you place the lid on the base, be sure that it is properly lined up. My model has a small arrow on the lid, and a groove on the rim of the base to show you the proper alignment. (I think some models have 2 arrows, but it doesn’t really matter.)
Another feature I like about my All-American is the added security of the six wing nuts that fasten the lid onto the base.
It’s very important that you tighten two opposite wing nuts at the same time when you go to attach the lid to the base. If you only tighten one at a time, the lid can become unevenly attached to the base. This can result in loss of pressure and an unsuccessful canning adventure.
I drew some diagonal lines on this photo to help illustrate the whole “diagonal tightening” concept.
Oh, and that little black rubber dot you see to the left of the handle? That’s the overpressure plug. There’s not much you need to know about that, other than it’s an added safety feature *just in case* the pressure in the canner ever becomes too high. (If that happens, it will pop out).
Just make sure it’s not worn or cracked, and clean it if it ever gets a build up of food or grease.
The inside of the canner is pretty boring– it’s just a big ol’ aluminum pot.
Mine discolored like this the very first time I used it, and that’s normal. (The photo makes it look crusty, but it’s not. The surface is still smooth, just “seasoned”…)
Now, the pot can become “pitted” if not probably cared for, so you do want to make sure that you thoroughly wash and dry it after every use.
My canner came with 2 racks. One always goes on the bottom (never place jars directly on the bottom of the canner itself) and one goes in the middle if you are stacking pint jars.
Simply place the rack with the rim facing down before adding any jars to your canner.
Pressure Canner Directions:
(This tutorial will cover how to use a weighted gauge All-American Pressure Canner. However, most other canners will follow a similiar technique.)
1. Make sure the canning jars are clean and hot.
This can be accomplished by placing them in a pot of hot water, allowing them to sit in a sinkful of hot water, or by running them through a quick cycle in the dishwasher. One of the neat parts of pressure canning is that you don’t have to sterilize the jars like you do with a water bath canner. The high heat of the pressure canning process takes care of that. However, you do want to heat them up to prevent breaking and cracking when you place the hot food inside.
2. Fill the canner with 2-3 inches of water and set it on the burner.
It is VITAL that you do NOT run out of water during the canning process, as it can seriously damage the canner. However, unlike the water bath canning method, you do not have to completely cover the jars with water.
3. Place a rack in the bottom of the canner.
If you have a rack like I do, be sure to place it rim-side down. Then, place your filled and sealed canning jars on top of that. If you are using pint jars, you can stack them in your canner with the second rack in between the two layers. Depending on what you are canning and the recipe, you’ll probably have hot jars with hot contents, so use your handy-dandy jar tongs if you have them.
4. Place the lid on the canner.
My All-American canner has six wing nuts that I must tighten in order to create a proper seal (always tighten two opposite wing nuts at the same time). However, different canner brands will have a variety of close mechanisms.
5. Start heating the canner.
Turn the stove burner on high heat. Make sure that your weighted gauge is NOT on the lid of the canner at this point.
6. Once the pressure vent starts releasing steam, set your timer for 10 minutes.
Allow the canner to “exhaust” for a full 10 minutes before you do anything else. You’ll know when the steam starts to escape, because it will begin to sputter and hiss and usually some water droplets will appear on the outside. This venting period is a good time to take a deep breath and clean up the kitchen a bit.
7. Check your canning recipe for two numbers:
- First, you need to look for how many pounds of pressure that the particular food needs to be processed at. Usually, the recipe will specify between 5, 10, and 15 pounds. (These are the three settings on your weighted gauge.) If you are at a high altitude like me, (over 6,000 feet…) you will need to adjust accordingly. My All-American manual recommends that, regardless of what the recipe says, always use 15 pounds of pressure when processing foods at 2,000+ feet above sea level.
- Secondly, look for how long you need to process that particular food. My beets took 30 minutes, while things like meat or stew will usually require over an hour of processing time.
8. Place the weighted gauge at the proper setting over the top of the pressure vent.
Once the venting period is complete, use a oven mitt to place the weighted gauge on the canner. Be careful— that steam is hot!
9. Wait for the pressure to build in the canner.
This is where the dial gauge comes in handy– you can watch the pressure slowly build and know when you’re getting close.
10. Count the Jiggles.
Once the canner reaches the proper pressure (15 pounds in my case), the weighted gauge will begin to jiggle and rattle. This is when you set your timer for the actual food processing time.
Now comes the part of the process that takes a little practice, but it’s not difficult. You want to hear a jiggle from the weighted gauge around 1-4 times per minute. This tells you that the pressure is staying at the correct level. You DO NOT want the gauge to constantly jiggle through-out the timed period– this would indicate that the pressure in the canner is too high.
I usually end up standing by the stove for a while and counting.
Too many jiggles? Reduce the heat.
Not enough jiggles? Increase the heat.
I’ve found that if I keep my burner at low, it’s just about perfect. (I have a gas stove that burns pretty hot…)
Once you get your jiggles regulated, you don’t have to stand there and stare at the canner the entire time. Feel free to clean up the kitchen or check your email, or whatever. Just try not to leave the canner completely unattended. (i.e. don’t go outside to the barn and forget that you are canning!)
11. When the processing time is complete, turn off the burner.
Do not move the canner– just allow it to cool down on its own. (This will take a while.) Now it’s safe to run outside to do barn chores or whatever else you may need to do.
12. Once the dial gauge reads zero, it’s safe to slowly remove the weighted gauge.
Use your oven mitt again, as it’s still usually pretty hot. As long as the pressure in the canner is at zero and the weighted gauge is removed, you are safe to remove the lid. Just make sure to crack it away from your face so you don’t end up with a nasty steam burn.
13. Remove the jars of food.
Allow them to cool completely before checking their seals or placing them into the pantry. Just like water bath canning, you’ll usually hear the “pop!” of the sealing lids fairly quickly.
14. After the canner cools completely, give it a gentle wash and dry thoroughly.
If you haven’t oiled it in a while, apply a thin film of olive oil to the metal-to-metal seal.
Can You Pressure Can in an Instant Pot?
No, please don’t! I love my Instant Pot for lots of things, but canning isn’t one of them!
Instant Pots or other pressure cookers are very different than pressure canners. You cannot regulate the pressure/temperature accurately enough and therefore they are unsafe to use for canning.
Where to Find Pressure Canning Recipes?
It’s extremely important to use tested, approved recipes any time you can to ensure the food is free from dangerous bacteria and spoilage.
The Ball Blue Book is one of my favorite resources, as is the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Here are a few of my personal favorites:
- How to Pressure Can Meat
- How to Can Beef Stew
- How to Can Broth or Stock
- How to Can Pinto or Navy Beans
- How to Can Chili Peppers
Listen to the Old Fashioned On Purpose podcast episode #12 on the topic Five Canning Mistakes You Can’t Afford To Make HERE.
Can You Come Teach Me How to Can?
I wish! However, since flying all over the country teaching canning classes isn’t going to fit into my schedule this time of year, I have the next best thing!
I’ve created a very simple canning eBook that will tell you EVERYTHING you need to know to get started canning on your homestead. It covers equipment, safety, water bath canning, pressure canning, and everything in between.