Water Bath & Pressure Canning Explained

by Charlotte Walker
Water Bath & Pressure Canning Explained

Canning is simply a form of preservation that involves heating, sterilizing and sealing your food into jars. It is one of the easiest food preservation methods to learn. We preserve about 1000 jars each year and there’s nothing better than walking into the pantry and grabbing a jar of food, fully knowing the quality and origin of the ingredients inside.

There are two main methods for canning: water bath and pressure. The method you use depends on what you want to preserve. It all comes down to food safety and ensuring that no harmful bacteria can thrive in the food you are preserving.

Water bath, Steam or Electric canning

Water Bath & Pressure Canning Explained

Water bath, steam and electric canners are interchangeable with one another when it comes to recipes that call for water bath canning. In fact you can simply use a large stock as long as you line the bottom to prevent the jars from touching. When you get into canning or bottling, the water bath method is the simplest to learn.

You’ll want to use this method of canning for acid foods that have a pH of 4.6 or lower. This include products like: tomatoes, fruits, pickles, sauerkraut, jams, jellies, marmalades, and fruit butters.

When to use

Acidic foods, pickled items, fruits, jams, jellies and conserves.

When NOT to use

Water bath canning should not be used for low-acid foods such water packed vegetables, fruits, meats, poultry, and seafood.

Pressure Canning

Water Bath & Pressure Canning Explained

Pressure canners have a twist on lid, a dial/guage and steam vent. They are not interchangeable with pressure cookers! Before purchasing one, make sure it is suitable for your type of stove.

You’ll want to use a pressure canner for preparing low-acid foods have with pH values higher than 4.6. This includes: red meat, seafood, poultry, milk, and all fresh vegetables except for tomatoes.

When To Use

Fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, poultry, and seafood.

When Not To Use

Avoid using pressure canners for acidic foods, jams and jellies. These items typically only need 10-15 minutes to be processed. A pressure canner takes much longer, exposes the product to unnecessary heat and can alter the quality of the final product.

Canners Described

Water Bath & Pressure Canning Explained

This is the Victorio stainless steel multi-use: steam/water bath canner.

Water bath canner

Water bath canning is simply the process of processing you filled and closed jars in a bath of water for a set period of time as prescribed in your recipe. Generally this 10 – 15 minutes for jams and jellies. The water bath canner comes in a range of sizes. It is a large pot that includes a rack for your jars. You can also use a soup/stock pot and line the bottom with a dish cloth. Don’t place jars directly on the bottom of the pot as they can crack.

Steam canner

The steam canner requires only a fraction of the water and as a result it heats up much faster. Many of them are dual purpose so you can use it to water bath as well. Exactly the same processing time is required for your preserves.

Electric Canner

The electric canner operates much like the water bath canner however it uses electricity. It generally has a spigot so you can drain the water into your sink without lifting the pot.

Amish Canner

This is a lesser known water bath canner for large batches. The canner holds up to 36 pints, 56 half pints and 15 quarts! It it rectangular in shape and neatly sits across two burners leaving the other burners free for sauce pans and stock pots. You can read about it here.

Water Bath & Pressure Canning Explained

This is the Amish water bath canner.

Pressure Canners

A pressure canner is a heavy pot with lid that locks, seals and pressurizes when heated. It heats contents at 220 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. There are various models, some suitable for glass tops and others are not. Be sure to check with your stove manufacturer before using.

Water Bath & Pressure Canning Explained


The model pictured here is thePresto 23-Quart Pressure Canner.

The one thing you need to know when using a pressure canner is your elevation. Here is a guide on finding your elevation. I do suggest that you buy an adaptable Presto pressure regulator if you are buying the Presto model. They ship with one for 15 psi which is unfortunate being as a lot of people need one for 10 or 5 psi.

I hope this gives you an idea of the choices of canners available and which ones should be used, for which recipes.

Happy Canning!

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