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How to Use a Pressure Canner

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Pressure canners… what is it with these amazing contraptions that make people run for the hills?

“It will blow up in my face.”

“It will explode in my kitchen.”

And a million and one other reasons the masses come up with to not use a pressure canner.

But, I’m here to tell you… they’re awesome, ya’ll. They open up so many more possibilities when you learn how to safely and properly utilize one of these beauties.

They don’t have to be scary. They’re not going to blow up in your face or explode all over your kitchen. Seriously.

They’re not that scary once you get to know them and start using them to can things you never thought possible with a water bath.

Home canned chicken? You got it.

Beef broth, chicken stock? Yup, totally possible.

My famous black bean and corn salsa? Only possible in a pressure canner.

From meat and broth to low acid garden vegetables like green beans, potatoes, and corn you need a pressure canner. That is if you don’t want to freeze everything in existence that isn’t a tomato or fruit ?.

I’m here to not only show you how to properly use a pressure canner and explain why you definitely need a pressure canner in your home preserving arsenal, but also to ease your pressure canning fears once and for all.

I have been using pressure cookers and canners all of my life. I had one explode on my once and it was when I forgot to tighten down the lid as I was using it as a water bath (sans weight). I lived to tell the tale, it was due to user error, and it wasn’t really as disastrous as one might be led to believe.

If I had used it properly, it never would have happened. 

You got this… let me show you how.

How to Use a Pressure Canner Safely

Find the Right Canner for Your Needs

There are two basic types of pressure canners for your home canning needs. One with a dial gauge and one with a weighted gauge. There is also a third type, which is my favorite and available on all-American Canners which is a dual gauge.

Weighted Gauge

A weighted gauge canner will keep the pressure at the set “weight” but you cannot read what the pressure is. It will naturally release any extra pressure that is in it.

Dial Gauge

A dial gauge canner will let you know what the pressure inside the canner is and you adjust it accordingly by increasing or decreasing the heat on the bottom of the canner.

Dual Gauge

A dual gauge is the best of both worlds. It will tell you what the pressure inside the canner is and you keep it adjusted with a weight that will naturally release any excess pressure. I prefer these it takes all the guess work out of it….

Find the Right Size

Canners, pressure or not, come in a variety of sizes. We have three pressure canners and they’re all 21 quart. They fit a decent amount of quart jars and make things less time consuming for us to get large batches done.

Prep Your Jars

Just like in water bath canning, you need to get your jars, rings, and lids ready. Wash them in hot soapy water, place the jars about 2/3rds full of water in the pressure canner filled with a few inches of water. Put the heat on and allow them to come to a low boil while you prepare whatever it is you’re canning. I personally put my lids in a separate pan of boiling water, but that’s entirely up to you. You can throw them in the bottom of the canner if you’d like.

Pack Your Jars

Using whatever methods and food you’re planning to can, pack the jars accordingly. Remove any bubbles. Wipe the rim, center the lid, and tighten the ring finger tight. Place your jars back in the canner.

Adjust the Water Level in the Canner

Unlike a water bath, the jars do not need to be submersed in water. About 3 quarts of water is sufficient for most canners. You’ll want a couple of inches of water up the sides and that’s it. While you want to ensure it doesn’t run dry, you do not want too much water, either.

Secure the Lid

Once you get all of your jars packed and placed back in the canner, it’s time to secure the lid. Some canners this simply means turning it to tighten it (like mirro and presto brands). For All American canners you’re going to put the lid on and tighten the screws. Just finger tight, it’s not Fort Knox.

Allow Canner to Vent

You do not immediately place the weight on a pressure canner. Instead, you turn the heat up after you’ve secured the lid and wait on the canner to “vent.” You will see steam escaping the vent hole on the canner (where you place the weight). You want to allow the canner to vent for 10 minutes.

Bring Up to Pressure

Now, it’s finally time to pressurize your canner, yay! For anyone under 1,000 ft above sea level, you’re going to bring it up to 10 pounds of pressure. For anyone over 1,000 ft above sea level you’re going to bring it up to 15 pounds of pressure. Once your canner reaches pressure, adjust the heat underneath accordingly but make sure it stays at the appropriate pressure the entire time.

Note: If at any point your canner dips below the appropriate pressure, you’ll need to bring it back to the right pressure and start timing it all over again. This will not affect the safety of your food, but will generally affect the quality (it will be mushy from being overcooked). 

Process Jars for Required Time

After you get the canner up to pressure, you can set a timer and periodically check to ensure it stays at the proper pressure. I usually clean up my mess in the kitchen and/or start prepping the next preservation project on the agenda.

Allow Pressure to Release Naturally

Once your jars have processed for the allotted time, you’ll want to turn off the heat. Don’t do anything with your canner. Just let it sit and come down to 0 pressure on its own.

Once the canner is down to 0 pressure, allow it to sit for two minutes, then remove the weight.

Remove the Lid

When you get the weight removed, you can safely remove the lid from your canner. Once the lid is removed, you’ll want to let the jars sit inside the open canner for another 10 minutes.

Set Canned Food on Towel Lined Counter

Now is where everything is exactly the same as a water bath canner. You’re going to carefully lift each jar out of the canner and place them onto a towel lined counter. Do not disturb them for 12-24 hours.

After 12-24 hours, you can safely check the seal. You’ll hear a high pitched ping when gently tapping a spoon onto the center of the canning lid. Remove the rings, label, and store.

If anything didn’t seal, place it in the refrigerator and use it up within a couple of days.

That’s it! See? It’s really not that bad. It takes a bit of time, but it’s easy to get comfortable with it. We wouldn’t be able to enjoy near the amount of home canned goodness through the winter as we do without a pressure canner! I hope you’ll give it a try!

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