When it comes to preserving food, pressure canning is one of the best ways to go. You can preserve almost any fresh food with pressure canning – including things like meat, jam, and salsa.
And, contrary to what many people think, pressure canning is actually very easy to do!
This guide to pressure canning will give you all the info you need to get started, including recommendations for the best pressure canners and equipment.
Table of Contents:
Pressure Canner Reviews
Our Top Pick
Best Budget Option
1. All American Pressure Canner and Cooker
This is by far the best pressure canner on the market. People love it because it is available in many sizes.
It has all the advanced features anyone serious about food preservation would want – like automatic pressure release and a weighted-gauge regulator which can be set to 5, 10, or 15psi. It’s easy to use and there is no confusion about reading the pressure gauge.
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All-American canners are also made from very sturdy materials. A unique feature is that there is no gasket (which often crack or break). Instead, it uses a metal-to-metal system for sealing the lid, so there is nothing to break.
If you need to can lots of jars at once, this is the way to go. With the largest size, you can even double stack jars on top of each other to fit 19 quart-size jars or up to 36 pint-sized jars in one go.
Just be warned that All-American canners (even the smaller sizes) are very heavy when fully loaded! Plan your canning so the canner doesn’t have to be moved when full.
- Available in many sizes (10.5 to 41.5 quarts)
- Largest size can hold 19 quart-sized jars
- No gasket to ever replace
- Weighted-gauge pressure regulator (5, 10, 15psi)
- Quality construction
- Simple to use
- Very heavy when full
- Not for induction stovetops
- Small handles
2. Presto 23 Quart Pressure Canner and Cooker
The Presto canner is really popular because of its affordable price tag. It still has a very durable construction but is more affordable because it has a dial-type gauge. Weighted gauge canners are more accurate when it comes to regulating pressure.
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There is a rubber automatic overpressure release valve. It will release when the pressure goes over 15psi.
As you’d expect with a cheap pressure canner, it has a rubber gasket for sealing the lid. You will have to replace this gasket at some point since it is prone to cracking.
The main pro about the Presto canner (other than the price) is that there is an inducation-capable model available. Few other pressure canners have this capability.
- Induction-capable model available
- Only sets to 15psi
- Dial gauge type of pressure regulator
- Rubber gasket will need to be replaced
3. Mirro 22 Quart Canner
The Mirro pressure canner has an impressive list of features yet is still a very affordable price. It is a weighted gauge canner, so you can set-it-and-forget-it. There are three pressure options: 5,10, and 15psi. Of course, there is automatic overpressure release for safety.
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There are also other backup safety features built into the canner. These include: a safety latch that prevents the canner from sealing when the lid isn’t closed properly, a lock which prevents the lid from opening when the canner is under pressure, and a backup overpressure release window.
The canner weighs 15lbs when empty and can hold 7 quart-sized jars or 16 pint-sized jars. There’s also a smaller size available, but IMO it’s too small for serious canning.
- Weighted gauge pressure regulator (5, 10, 15psi)
- Great safety features
- Jars can be stacked inside
- Rubber gasket will need replacing
- Not for induction stovetops
- No dial gauge- not great for high altitudes
4. Granite Ware 20 Quart Canner
This is also a great budget canner (though the Mirro model is better IMO). The main thing that makes it stand out from the Mirro and Presto is its appearance. The anodized aluminum is really attractive. However, it does mean the canner can scratch glass stovetops.
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This canner has a weighted pressure gauge. You can set the pressure to 5, 10, or 15psi. There is no dial gauge for reading the pressure. So, if you are in high altitudes, you’ll have to use the highest pressure setting.
A unique feature is that there are two overpressure valves. One issues a warning whistle and the other releases pressure in case the first fails. There is also a safety feature which locks the lid in place when the canner is under pressure.
The canner will hold 7 quart-sized jars or 8-pint sized jars. You can’t stack jars on top of each other in this canner. It is lightweight at just over 1llbs.
- Weighted gauge pressure regulator (5, 10, 15psi)
- Good safety features
- Also works as a steamer and cooker
- Good price
- No dial gauge – not great for high altitudes
- Will scratch glass stovetops
- Not suitable for induction stovetops
- Silicon gasket will need replacing
- Jars cannot be stacked
How to Choose a Pressure Canner
If you are new to pressure canning, then making sense of the options can be confusing. There are three main things you want to look at.
If you are serious about canning food to preserve it, then I wouldn’t get a pressure canner under 20 quarts in size. A canner of this size will hold about 7 quart-sized jars – which really isn’t a lot.
Some canners (like the All-American and Mirro canners) can fit jars stacked on top of each other. This allows them to hold many more jars and saves you time.
All pressure canners can be divided into two types based on how they regulate pressure:
- Dial gauge
- Weighted gauge
This has to do with how they control the pressure within them. The better option is weighted gauge pressure regulator. It uses a weight on the vent on the lid.
Weighted gauge canners (also called jigglers because of the sound they make) will automatically lift the valve if the pressure gets too high. You’ll hear them jiggling during the process. The only disadvantage to these canners is that they are more expensive. They also aren’t as good at regulating pressure at high altitudes.
With dial gauge, it is a lot harder to regulate pressure. You will have to turn up or down the heat if you want the pressure to be higher/lower. They can also become inaccurate. You are supposed to have your dial gauge checked once yearly before you start canning.
In the past, dial-gauge canners could be dangerous because they didn’t have automatic pressure releases. However, virtually all modern pressure canners now have this safety feature.
Not all pressure canners can be used on certain types of stoves. Many aluminum canners won’t work on induction stoves. If you have glass stovetops, the canner might also scratch the stove.
Equipment for Pressure Canning
In addition to your pressure canner, you will need the following supplies:
Ideally, you only use Mason jars for canning. These jars are strong, have been heat-treated, and have lid edges for getting a good seal.
There is a lot of debate about whether it is okay to reuse jars – such as from spaghetti sauce or mayo – for home canning. Some experts say that you should never reuse these jars. Because they have narrower sealing surfaces and may not be very strong, you can expect more seal failures and breaking.
On the other hand, many people reuse jars for canning without any issue. This saves them money on buying Mason jars. However, there is a risk that the jar of food will explode during the canning process – which wastes food and goes against the money-saving argument.
If you are going to reuse jars for canning, then accept the risk that comes with them. Before using a jar for canning, check to make sure that the two-piece lid fits and that the gasket sealer goes all the way to the edges of the jar.
Canning lids consist of two parts: a flat lid that has a sealing compound around the rim and a screw band. The flat lid goes on the jar first. The screw band holds it in place.
The screw band can be reused. The flat lid cannot be reused. It often gets indented and won’t be able to create a strong seal. The sealing compound also gets indented and squished, so won’t make a seal the second time around.
When putting on a canning lid, the screw band doesn’t need to be tightened very forcefully. The seal needs to be tight, but also have enough give so air can escape.
In canning, racks have three main purposes:
- They elevate the jars off the bottom of the canner. You don’t want your canning jars to be in direct contact with the bottom of the pot or they could break.
- They hold the jars in place so the water/steam can get around them.
- They make it easier to lower/lift the jars into the water without burning yourself.
Most pressure canners come with their own racks, so you won’t have to worry about buying one separately.
If you lose your rack, you can easily make your own, such as by tying together some canning screw lids and putting them on the bottom of the canner. However, these DIY racks will only elevate the jars. They won’t keep jars in place nor help you lower/lift jars.
What Is Pressure Canning?
Canning was originally invented in 1809 by the Frenchman Nicolas Appert as a way of preserving food for the military.
The process involves putting food into a clean, sealed jar. The jar is then heated. The heat kills micro-organisms and enzymes which would cause the food to spoil.
The heat also forces air out of the jar. As the jar contents cool, the lid gets sucked down to make a vacuum seal. The vacuum seal prevents air from getting back into the jar.
To properly can food, one must use:
- Fresh food that has been properly prepared (such as by washing and peeling)
- Clean jars
- Self-sealing lids
- Pressure canning for low-acid foods
- Acids such as lemon or vinegar for canning certain foods
- Hot-packing for some foods
- The correct temperatures and processing times
Water Bath Canning vs. Pressure Canning
With water bath canning, you fill the jars with food and put a lid on them. Then you put these jars in a very large pot, cover the jars with water, and bring the water to a boil. The process is simple and you don’t need any special canner. It can be difficult to find a pot which is large enough, which is why there are special water bath canners you can buy.
The problem with water bath canning is that it can only get up to 212F (the temperature at which water boils). Thus, water bath canning isn’t suitable for low-acid foods that could contain deadly botulism spores. Botulism spores are only killed at temperature of at least 240F.
Pressure canners solve this problem.
Pressure canners are basically big pots with vented lids that can be clamped on to create a seal. To use a pressure canner, you put the jars of food inside with some water. The water is heated to create steam.
Normally, water can only reach temperatures of 212F (100C). However, because of the high pressure inside the canner, the water boils at a much higher temperature. For example, at 15lbs of pressure, water will boil at 250F.
This higher temperature makes pressure canning safer as it kills more pathogens.
Do not use your oven for canning. The main issue is that ovens cannot reliably get the entire contents of the jars to 240F, which means botulism spores could still survive.
Further, jars can end up bursting if you put them in the oven. This not only makes a mess, but is very dangerous!
Inversion canning (sometimes it’s also called “open kettle canning” or “flip canning”) isn’t actually canning. It would be more appropriate to call it “bottling.”
The process involves cooking some jam, salsa, or relish. Then, while the food is still hot, you pour it into a warm, sterilized jar. A lid goes over the jar. Then you flip the jar upside down. The heat from the food causes a vacuum seal to form.
Even though many people will say things like “But my grandma did this and never had any problems!” inversion canning is not recommended. It simply isn’t possible to create a strong enough of a seal. Further, the temperatures used to cook the food usually aren’t hot enough to destroy dangerous microorganisms.
Safety issues aside, it simply doesn’t make sense to do inversion canning. It is a major pain to sterilize all those jars and lids. With water bath canning, you don’t have to sterilize the jars. So, it’s actually a lot less work to boil the full jars of food than try to sterilize everything for inversion canning.
Pressure Canning Instructions
You’d be surprised how easy pressure canning is. The instructions vary a bit depending on the pressure canner you have, but are generally as follows:
- Put 2-3 inches of hot water in the canner, or as directed by instruction manual.
- Put the filled jars on the rack and into the canner.
- Fasten the canner lid.
- Make sure the vent port is open.
- Place the pressure canner on the middle of the stove. Put on the highest setting. Steam will start to come out of the vent. Let it vent for 10 minutes.
- Close the vent port. This will cause pressure inside the canner to increase.
- Start counting the processing time from when the canner reaches the required pressure.
- If the pressure drops at any point, bring the pressure back up and restart the processing time from the beginning.
- When processing time is complete, turn off the heat. Let the canner de-pressurize. Never cool the canner with cold water or other methods.
- Once pressure drops, open the vent port. Wait approximately 10 minutes before removing the lid and removing the jars.
- Allow jars to cool at room temperature for 12-24 hours.
Pressure Canning Tips
Sterilizing Jars and Lids
One of the most tedious parts of home canning is sterilizing the jars and lids. The good news is that you do not have to sterilize jars or lids.
What if a recipe calls for only 5 minutes of processing in a water bath? The best solution is to extend the processing time by 5 minutes (or more at higher elevations). The longer processing time won’t affect the food but will save you a lot of energy in having to sterilize everything.
As for lids, you should never boil them to sterilize. While this was recommended in the past, it is a bad idea with today’s canning lids. Boiling could cause the plastic sealant on the lid to soften and spread out, meaning it won’t seal properly as the jar cools.
You don’t need to sterilize jars but it is recommended that you pre-heat them. Pre-heating does not kill micro-organisms. Rather, it is done to prevent the jar from shattering when it comes in contact with the hot food or canning water.
To pre-heat the jars, just fill them with hot water from the sink for a minute or two. Or, if you have lots of jars, fill a tub with hot water and put all of your jars in it.
Hot vs. Raw Packing Food
Food can be put in the jar when it is hot or when it is cold (called raw packing). Each method has its own benefits.
With this method, you preheat the food, such as by cooking it in syrup or water. The food is simmered for 2-5 minutes and kept near boiling temperature as it is poured into the jars. It will be loosely packed in the jar.
The hot packing method is preferred as it is better at removing air from the jar. Hot packing also helps pre-shrink foods so more food can fit in a jar.
To raw pack foods for canning, the food is packed very tightly into the jars without heating it first. Then the liquid (such as water, juice, or brine) is added to the jar. The liquid must be heated to boiling before it is added.
Unfortunately, raw packing often means that foods will float to the top and air will get trapped around them. This will eventually lead to discoloration.
The amount of space left at the top of the jar is called headspace. This space is needed because air expands as it is heated. Some foods also expand when heated. How much headspace to leave varies depending on the type of food, canning method and temperature.
As a general rule, leave:
- ¼ inch for jams and jellies
- ½ inch for fruits and tomatoes processed with water bath canning
- 1 to 1 ¼ inches for vegetables and low-acid foods in a pressure canner.
Sweeteners and Salt
Most store-bought canned goods have huge amounts of sweeteners or sodium in them. These help maintain the taste, shape, and texture of the foods – but they are completely unnecessary.
If you want to can foods without sweeteners or salt, just omit them (or adjust amounts to taste). It won’t alter the processing time or safety of the food.
Temperature, Pressure, and Elevation
At sea level, water boils at 212F. At higher elevations though, water boils at a lower temperature. So, if you are at a high elevation, boiling point might be a much lower temperature than at sea level.
To compensate for the lower temperature, you will need to either increase the processing time or canning pressure.
It is very important that you get the canning jars to a high temperature in order to destroy micro-organisms like botulism spores. Make sure you choose the right processing time or pressure for your elevation level.
Most of the micro-organisms found on food will die during the canning process. Not only does the heat kill them, but they are unable to survive in the oxygen-free environment created by canning. One exception is Clostridium botulinium, the bacteria which causes botulism.
Botulism is found in soil and on raw foods. They are not dangerous if eaten in this way. However, in an oxygen-free environment, they will start to produce deadly toxins. They also favor low-acid environments.
Boiling is hot enough to kill the botulism bacteria, but not hot enough to kill their toxic spores. So, any food which is low-acid needs to be processed with pressure canning. Only pressure canning gets foods hot enough to kill botulism spores. To kill botulism spores with the water bath method, you’d have to boil the jars for 7-11 hours, which isn’t very practical.
To prevent botulism poisoning:
- Peel all root vegetables
- Wash all fresh produce carefully
- Use pressure canning for low-acid foods
- Ensure canning temperature is at least 240F (if waterbath canning)
- Adjust canning temperature and processing time according to altitude
When you remove the jars from the canner, the screw band might be a bit loose. This is completely normal. Do NOT attempt to retighten the screw lid. It can cause the lid seal to break.
Allow the jars to cool for 12-24 hours. Once they are cooled, remove the screw bands and test the lid seal. This can be done by pressing the middle of the lid with your finger. If the lid pops up, then it isn’t sealed properly.
Alternatively, you can hold the jar at eye level and look at the lid. It should be slightly concave so it curves down towards the jar.
It is very easy to forget what you put in a jar. So, when you are done canning and the jars have cooled, be sure to label them with the contents. Also put the date so you can rotate the food.