When someone is thinking about starting to use home canning to preserve their foods for long-term shelf-stable food storage they typically get overwhelmed with all of the various types of canners and styles available, but let me try to make ait a whole lot easier for you.
Let's first start off with the different types of canners, and what makes them different from the others, and what they are used for.
The first style of canner we are going to look at is a water-bath canner. This is simply an inexpensive pot, with a rack or wire basket inside the bottom to keep the jars off of the bottom of the pot.
They come in several different styles including stainless steel and enameled. These canners can normally be found starting at around $30 and are good for new canners just getting started or those on a budget.
You can simply use a large stock pot that you may already have if it is tall enough to allow water to completely cover your jars and does not allow allow the boiling water to splash over the rim. You can purchase a basket or rack that will fit inside the stock pot to keep the jars off of the bottom, or you can also fold a kitchen towel and place it in the bottom of the pot under the jars to keep them off the bottom of the pot.
Water-bath canning is suitable for preserving pickles, fruits, jams, jellies & preserves, and salsa.
With water-bath canning, you are simply placing the filled jars into a pot filled with boiling water for a certain amount of time, depending on the food and the size of the jars used. The heat from the boiling water is what is processing the food for preservation.
One thing to keep in mind though is that the water-bath canning method can not be used for meats, poultry, fish, vegetables, or low-acid foods because the heat that is achieved using the water-bath canning method is only around 212°F and does not get high enough to kill botulism spores that may be in the food during processing. Foods with low acidity, meats, poultry, fish, and vegetables must be processed at a temperature of at least 240°F which can only be acomplished in a Pressure Canner.
The second type of canner we are going to look at is a pressure canner. A pressure canner works similarly to a water-bath canner by using hot water to process the foods that you are preserving, yet a pressure canner will do so under a specific pressure depending on your elevation for a predetermined amount of time, depending on the type of food and the size of jars your are processing.
By subjecting the foods to the addition of pressure it allows the temperatures in the food to reach above 240°F which is sufficient to kill any bacterial spores which could be hiding in the food.
Pressure canners basically come in two versions, one like the Presto aluminum models that are thinner and lighter and are thereby less expensive, and heavier duty stainless steel models that are made to last several lifetimes like the All American.
The Presto brand pressure canners are made from aluminum and are al inexpensive lightweight option for pressure canners. They typically will be in the $50 to $80 range depending on size and where you buy it. If you really want to just spend extra money for nothing Bed Bath & Beyond has the exact same model that WalMart.com sells for $69.99 but Bed Bath & Beyond sells theirs for $104.99, ouch.
The Presto brand pressure canners rely on the pressure guage on the top which must be checked every year to make sure that it is still properly calibrated. If the pressure guage is not checked and it is malfunctioning, you will not know if your food has been safely preserved or not. The health of your family is too important to ignore testing the guage and risking food poisoning or botulism. Make sure the guage is working properly, or do not use the canner. Depending on where you live, this may be a challenge as you may not have anywhere locally that can test the pressure guage for you.
The Presto canner also uses a rubber gasket which goes around the inside of the lid to create a seal. This seal will need to be replaced periodically, so make sure you always have an extra one on hand because Murphy's Law will always step in and make the seal go bad just as you are trying to preserve a batch of precious food. If you have a spare ready, you can simply swap it out and keep going, otherwise you will not be able to finish processing the food.
If you have a glass top stove, the Presto brand canners may be a good option for you because they are lightweight. Also its ease of lifting is a good option for those who have mobility issues.
For those who are wanting something that is made to last a lifetime, I recommend the All American brand canners. They are made from heavyweight stainless steel and are the true workhorses of the canning world.
An All American canner is about $200 more expensive than a Presto, but it is built to last and you can feel the craftsmanship the first time you pick one up to look at it. An All American canner will be something to pass down to your children as it will last your lifetime as well as theirs.
Instead of using a rubber gasket to create a seal, the All American uses a precision-machined metal-to-metal surface area, so there is no gasket to fail.
Even though the All American has a pressure guage on the lid, it is only there as a reference as the All American uses calibrated weights that sit on top of the vent to set the exact pressure inside the canner. Using calibrated weights is the foolproof method that has been used for generations. This means that although you can have the pressure guage checked periodically to make sure that it is still calibrated correctly, there is no need to. The weights determine the pressure inside, not the guage.
Because the All American is built to last several lifetimes and is made from stainless steel, it is considerably heavier than the Presto models. I would not recommend the All American for those who have glass top stoves, although I do know several people with glass top stoves who insist on using the All American and have not had problems with it.
Choose What Works For Your Needs
Basically the choice in a canner comes down to your needs and preferences. If all you are wanting to do is make jams and jellies and things like that, then all you need is a water-bath canner so there is no need in buying a more expensive pressure canner.
But I warn you now. Once you start canning, you will get hooked. It is a very addictive hobby. You will want to start preserving everything you can find and will start experimenting with new recipes to see what else you can do with it. You will soon see that you will need to add on a pressure canner.
One thing to consider is that pressure canners are also able to be used as a water-bath canner, so if you are needing both options, you can have both by just getting a pressure canner.
Personally, in a pressure canner I prefer the way the All American is designed over the Presto. I like the individually tightened clamps running all the way around the rim which makes me feel safer. I also like the handle on the top of the lid of the All American which keeps you from burning you hands with the steam as you release the seal. I have burned my hands many times with the Presto before I decided to upgrade to the All American.
Until Next Time,
Aloha & 73