In a previous post, I explained that we select which type of canner to purchase based on what kind of food we are planning to can. I talked about how fruit, tomatoes and pickles have a high pH level and vegetables, beans and meat have a low pH (or acid) level. Now why does all this talk about the acidity levels of food matter? Well, fruit is canned in what is call a “Waterbath canner.” (Vegetables, beans and meat should NEVER be canned in a waterbath canner! For more information about canning those items, see this post.)
Here’s a picture of a typical water bath canner:
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What Water Bath Canning Supplies Do I Need For Canning Fruit?
It’s a really big pot, with a lid and it’s perfectly sized for canning jars. Basically, in this kind of canning, we take our jars of food and give them a bath in this big pot of boiling water.
Since boiling water is obviously hot and can be a bit dangerous, there’s also a rack that the jars sit in, and you use the rack to lower the jars in and out of the boiling water without getting hurt. The rack also prevents the jars from touching the bottom of the pot. If the jars touch the bottom of the pot, they could break because of the intense heat, so we don’t want that. It’s really important to protect yourself and your jars by using the rack. If you’re canning fruit, if you’re making pickles and probably if you’re canning tomatoes you’ll be using the waterbath canning method and there’s a few different popular canners you can choose from. Let me show you what canners are available to you…
Most Popular Waterbath Canners (If You Are Canning Fruit, Pickles or Tomatoes)
(I’m going to list several waterbath and steam canners below. You only need one.)
This is a 21 quart waterbath canner. These canners come in larger and smaller sizes, but this is the size I personally use and recommend. If you consider buying a larger waterbath canner, be sure that the base of the canner is no more than 4″ larger than the burner on your stove. This ensures that all the jars heat evenly.
Granite Ware waterbath canners like the one above are commonly found at Walmart, Target, on Amazon, in Grocery stores and other places like that. It’s inexpensive, and actually, this is the exact canner that I used for the first 15 years or so that I was canning. Even when I was making hundreds of jars of fruit butter at a time to sell, this canner is what I used. It’s lightweight, it’s convenient and it does the job. Remember, you cannot can vegetables in this, but it’s a good canner for someone who is just starting their canning journey and wants to can fruit, tomatoes and pickles. Even when I’m using a different canner to process my food, I like to have one of these on hand to keep my jars warm in.
Ok, let’s look at this canner. Where the last canner I showed you was just a basic canner that got the job done, this one is more luxurious. These stainless steel waterbath canners are really nice. They’re significantly more expensive than the one I just showed you, but the advantages are:
- This is just generally a more solid canner.
- The bottom of the canner is stainless steel and distributes the heat nice and evenly.
- My personal experience is that this canner heats up faster and holds the heat longer than the black canner does.
- The other thing about this canner that I really, really LOVE is the glass lid! When you lift a lid to check and see if the water is boiling, steam and heat escape from the pot. Being able to look through the glass means the heat doesn’t escape and the whole process is a bit quicker.
- This canner can double as a stock pot in a pinch! The black canner I showed you has a rippled bottom and food sticks and burns in it –because it’s not meant for cooking! This canner isn’t really meant for cooking, but you can cook in it if you have to, and that’s a nice feature.
Since this canner is a higher financial investment than the other one, this one is a nice choice for someone who knows that they are going to be canning quite a bit over the long term. Again, this is a waterbath canner which means you’re not going to be canning vegetables and meat in this, but it does a great job with fruit, pickles and tomatoes.
Before we stop talking about waterbath canners, there are 2 appliances that I want you to be aware of.
Ball is a company that specializes in all-things-canning. They’re best known for making high quality canning jars and providing safe, tested recipes. This is their electric canner. Basically, it is a waterbath canner that plugs into the wall. The two canners that I just showed you are boiled on your kitchen stovetop. This one is different. It does everything a waterbath canner does, but it does it on the kitchen counter. This is a great option for someone who:
- is concerned that traditional stove-top canning will heat their kitchen up too much. OR
- has a glasstop stove and is worried about cracking it with the weight of a full canner.
Please notice that this canner drains through a spout at the bottom. Once it is full of water it’s too heavy to lift, so you need to have a place to use this canner where the spicket can be placed over a sink so that it can be drained.
The other appliance I want to show you is the Ball Freshtech automatic canner. This is essentially an electric waterbath canner, but it is very automated. The way this works is that it has set cycles. Ball publishes recipes that are specific for use in the automatic canner. Instead of giving a processing time, the recipe gives a cycle. You put the food in the jars and then process the jars through the correct cycle, given in the recipe. This is a great option for people that know they only want to make salsa or jam or one of the other recipes specifically designed for the automatic canner. This system using cycles means that the cook is limited to the recipes designed specifically for the automatic canner when they choose what food they will preserve.
Can You Just Use A Regular Pot?
At this point you might be wondering, “Why do I need an actual canner? Can’t I just use an ordinary pot?” Well…. You could…sort of… the key to canning fruit is that the jars of food are well submerged under the boiling water for the correct length of time, without touching the bottom of the pot. There are some products on the market that are meant to be used for this, but they tend to be almost as expensive as buying a basic waterbath canner and much more frustrating to use! I personally prefer to just use my basic canner and the equipment that comes with it. But there is one canning accessory I want to show you…
If a big canner feels intimidating or if you live alone and you only want to make a few jars at a time, one product that you may really like is the canning basket. You do NOT need one of these if you have canner, but it’s a flexible rubber basket that you set 2 or 3 jars on, and submerge into the water. It’s made specifically for canning and it works pretty well. This is a great option for someone who just wants to can very small batches of 3 pints at a time.
Let’s Talk About Steam Canners
Before we move on, I want to talk to you about steam canners. Most canning books –even ones from really reliable sources –will tell you that waterbath canning (or using a large pot of boiling water) is the only safe way to can fruit. And until recently, that was true.
But, in 2016 some really interesting research came out of the University of Wisconsin that was life-changing for a lot of canners (including me)! It turns out, that when we have a recipe that needs to be waterbath canned for less than 45 minutes, steam canning is as effective a way to kill microorganisms as waterbath canning. If you’re making something that needs to be waterbathed for more than 45 minutes, you can’t steam can that, you need to go ahead and use your waterbath canner for that. But there are a lot of foods that we waterbath for 5, 10, 15, 25 minutes… and all those recipes can be safely preserved in your steam canner! The key is that it has to be done correctly to be safe.
The way we kill microorganisms is by heating the food in the center of the jar to a certain temperature. (The food in the center takes the longest time to heat up, so if the center jar is hot enough, then we know that the food in the rest of the jar is hot enough as well.) We need a way to measure what is going on inside the pot, without lifting the lid and letting the steam escape. You cannot just set some jars in a regular pot and steam it for a few minutes, you have to have the correct equipment to steam can safely.
A steam canner is something you might want to purchase instead of a waterbath canner, probably not in addition to one… unless you’re a really avid canner like me. I admit I do own both… but that’s because I started canning before we knew that steam canning was safe. So I started with a waterbath canner. In all honesty, I find myself reaching for my steam canner more than my waterbath canner these days because it’s faster, it uses less water and I personally find steam canning more convenient than waterbath canning.
This is the steam canner I own. As you can see, it has a rack on the bottom to place the jars on, a VERY securely fitting lid so steam won’t escape, and a gauge at the top of the lid, to measure the steam activity. We’ll get into the details of how to steam can in another course, but for now just know that this gauge is the key to safe steam canning and it’s the reason you can’t steam can in just any old pot.
The advantage steam canning has over waterbath canning is that it uses just 2 or 3 inches of water in the bottom of the canner instead of an entire canner full of water. Obviously less water is going to boil faster, and since it takes less time, it takes less energy. This is a great way to can for somebody who is processing a lot of fruit, jams, pickles, tomatoes or something high acid like that.
Remember how I showed you the basic water bath canner, and then the more deluxe version of the same thing? Well, it’sthe same situation with steam canners. The one I just showed you is the basic version that gets the job done. Another option on the market is the Multi-cooker. This is a really nice canner! It’s like a hybrid between a stainless steel water bath canner and a steam canner. It can be used as a waterbath canner by filling it with water, or it has the correct gauge on the lid to use it as a steam canner. This is a fabulous canner for somebody who wants the best of the waterbath canning world and the best of the steam canning world in one convenient canner.
PantryInsider’s Top Choice
Ok, I confess. I own several of these canners. But recently I needed to purchase a canner to use at my Mother In Law’s home several states away. When I had to choose just one canner, I ultimately decided that the practical water bath canner (and my personal favorite) is…. (Insert drumroll here!)…
The Steam Canner by Victorio! I can use this steam canner to process almost everything that I typically process in a water bath canner. I can stack almost 2 dozen jam jars into this canner and because it only uses a few inches of water, it is an efficient and effective canner that meets my needs well.
Learn More About Canning!
Now that I’ve helped you pick which canner you will need to begin canning, it’s time to learn more! Click here to be taken to our Learn To Can Series.