If you’re just getting started canning you’re obviously going to need a canner. Basically, your canner is the big pot that you put the jars of food in to process them in to kill bacteria and get the jars to seal. In this post I will explain the difference between water bath vs pressure canning to help you know exactly which type of canner you need to buy for your what you plan to can.
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Don’t Buy The Best Canner on the Market!
Not yet, anyway.
When I began canning, the biggest mistake I made was purchasing a $400 canner that was WAY OVERKILL for what I was trying to do! I knew I wanted to start canning tomatoes and fruit and I knew I wanted to do this long term so I decided to buy the BEST home canner money could buy… Makes sense, right? So that’s exactly what I bought, but it wasn’t what I needed, and it didn’t serve me well (at least not at first).
Why I Bought the Wrong Canner
My husband was about to make a major career shift that would involve a huge pay cut. We were scrambling to save up as much money as we could in preparation and somehow – in the middle of that – I convinced him that before we lost our income (and while we could still afford it), it would be a good idea to spend almost $400 on an amazing pressure canner. He bought it for my birthday and I was SO EXCITED the day it arrived. But my excitement quickly turned to despair when I realized how heavy the canner was. When it had water in it, I couldn’t even lift it. And then, someone who knew what they were doing (I clearly didn’t!) told me, “Hey, that’s a pressure canner. It’s all wrong for what you want to do. If you put your peaches and tomatoes in THAT they’ll turn to mush.” That person was right and I was so disappointed! I ended up sticking that really expensive canner up in the attic –where it stayed for many years –and I used a $25 canner that I actually needed instead. My story has a happy ending, because I did eventually end up learning how to use that big fancy-pants canner, but looking back I definitely wish I had done things differently, especially at the beginning of my journey when we really could have used that money for other things!
I bought a canner that didn’t meet my needs, because I just blindly purchased what I thought was “the best canner on the market” and I didn’t evaluate my needs. You can avoid this same mistake by asking yourself two key questions.
2 Questions You MUST Ask Yourself:
The First Question is: What food am I planning to can? Different foods are canned differently, using different equipment. This is a hugely important safety issue and I’ll come back to this in a minute.
The Second Question is: How much canning do I plan to do? Somebody who is going to be canning hundreds of jars a year for their family or to sell jam at a farmer’s market is probably going to want certain features that wouldn’t matter as much to someone who is only making 5 or 10 jars of jam a year to give away as gifts. In general these features are for convenience and preference, not safety.
What Food Will You Be Canning?
Ok, now that you know what the questions are, let’s get a bit more in-depth. Remember the first question, “What food am I planning to can?” What difference does that make? It makes all the difference in the world when it comes to preparing a safe, shelf-stable jar of food.
This is a little bit complicated, so stick with me. Different foods have different levels of acid in them. The way you safely can any particular food depends on how much acid it has. If a food has a pH level above 4.6 it can be water bath (or often steam) canned. If a food has a pH level below 4.6 it MUST be pressure canned to ensure that we safely kill any microorganisms that could lead to food borne illnesses. Obviously, most of us aren’t equipped to measure the pH level of food at home, so the rule of thumb is this…
Fruit is high in acid. (Their pH is above 4.6)
Vegetables, beans and meat are low in acid. (Their pH is below 4.6)
Tomatoes are an Exception to the Rule!
You know that age-old debate “Is tomato a fruit or a vegetable?” Well, it turns out, that tomatoes are complicated! They’re not high acid like fruit, but they’re not low acid like vegetables either, they’re in the middle. To make it more complicated, different varieties of tomatoes have different pH levels. I’ll explain the details about tomatoes more in another post, but for now what you need to know is that we usually can tomatoes as if they are a fruit, but occasionally we can them like a vegetable. You’ll want to use a safe, tested recipe and that recipe will tell you exactly what kind of canner to use, so double check that recipe to make sure you’re using the right kind of canner.
The other exception is pickles… the vinegar and/or lemon juice that we add to pickles make it high acid, so we can pickles the same way we can other high acid foods… that means we can pickles in the same canner that we can fruit.
Basics of Canning: Water Bath vs Pressure Canning
If you are canning anything high in acid – fruit, pickles or tomatoes – you will need a waterbath canner or a steam canner. Click here for help picking the right canner for these foods.
If you are canning anything low in acid – vegetables, beans, possibly tomatoes, or meat – you MUST USE a pressure canner. Click here for help picking the right canner for these foods.
Learn More About Canning!
Canning can be a delicious way to save money and eat healthy foods and we can served home canned foods with confidence if we simply follow a few safety guidelines. Click here to be taken to our Learn To Can Series.