Do you have visions of your pressure canner exploding and food covering your entire kitchen and ceilings? Have no fear...just have awareness.
I get this question quite often. So I'm including my recommendations here first for those who just want a recommendation. Then I'll get to the steps on how to use a pressure canner.
The All American Pressure Canner, the Presto Pressure Canner, and the Mirro Pressure Canner are the three main brands of pressure canners. Any one of them will work. I would recommend the All American or the Presto, with the Presto being best for a new canner who might be intimidated. Many people have Mirro and seem to be satisfied; I just don’t have any personal experience with them myself.
There are two types of pressure canners: the dial gauge and the weighted gauge. Both perform the same task, only in slightly different manners.
The difference is the way they measure pressure. One uses a dial gauge, while the other uses weights to measure the amount of pressure buildup. When you've reached the desired pressure, you adjust the heat to either maintain the dial in the correct position, or keep the weights at a moderate jiggle.
The style of pressure canner you choose is simply personal choice. Let's go over the parts of a canner and how they are different on the different styles.
Both weighted gauge and dial gauge pressure canners will have a base pot and a jar rack. The pot for either canner style is basically the same. It is a deep pot with a way for the lid to latch on. (See canning lid below for more on that.)
Unlike the rack of a water bath canner, The pressure canner rack does not hang on the sides, it simply sets on the bottom and keeps the jars off the bottom of the pot.
In this photo, my older dial gauge Presto is on the left, and the new weighted gauge Presto is on the right. I was surprised at the difference in size. Both canners hold seven 1-quart jars. However, my old pot is a bit narrower and taller than the new one. The jars fit more comfortably in the newer one with more room around them, but the older style has more head room above the jars. Neither pot is better than the other, just different.
Some pots will be deep enough that you can stack jars. Yes! Stacking jars is acceptable and a great way to get more done all at once.
Both styles have similar lids. However, after closer inspection, we see a few differences.
This little black rubber plug is the safety net. If the pressure inside ever gets too high because of plugged vents, this plug will pop open and release pressure. It is designed to send steam and pressure straight up in the air. It will be loud and may startle you, but the canner will not explode. A good thing, eh?! Both canners have a rubber overpressure plug.
This opening allows air to vent or exhaust at the beginning of your processing time. As pressure begins to build, the lock comes up and seals the opening. This vent lock is also a safety device that prevents us from accidentally opening the lid when pressure remains in the canner. It is a fail-safe, because it is IMPOSSIBLE to take that lid off until the pressure drops.
When the vent lock closes, steam continues to stream out of the vent pipe. You should allow this steam to escape for the complete venting time recommended in your directions, usually 10 minutes. See the step-by-step directions for more details on how to monitor the canner during heating up.
This is where there are slight differences between weighted and dial gauge canner lids.
On the weighted gauge, the weights sit on the vent pipe. You rely on the weights to determine your pressure.
On the dial gauge, a counter-weight sits on the vent pipe. You'll notice this is separate from where the dial sits. You rely on the dial to determine your pressure
The two weights mentioned are different for each type of canner. Before each use, check the vent openings to be sure they are clear. You can visually check and/or run a string through the openings to clear out any obstructions.
Weights are different for each style of canner as well. When the chosen pressure has been achieved, the weight will begin to rock. This indicates that the desired pressure has been reached.
In this case the "weight" is really a one-piece counter-weight. It is used to close off the vent, so pressure can build. It does not determine the amount of pressure buildup. You will watch the dial to determine when the required pressure has been achieved, and then adjust your heat level to maintain the level on the dial. The weight does not rock.
With a weighted gauge, you are limited to 5, 10, or 15 pounds pressure.You do not rely on a dial. You will choose your own weight according to your altitude. You will choose a weight of: 5, 10, or 15 pounds. Your recipe should tell you what pressure you need.
The style of weights that I show here on the right consists of the base and metal rings. This is what comes with a Presto pressure canner. The base and plastic tip without the rings will indicate 5 pounds of pressure, the base with one ring will indicate 10 pounds of pressure, and the base with two rings will indicate 15 pounds of pressure. Add rings according to your required pressure.
This style of weight on the left is what comes with an All American Canner. It is one piece and you choose your pressure by putting the weight on your canner at the right hole. 5, 10, or 15 pounds is written on the side of the weight. Even though the All American canner has a dial…you don’t rely on that dial, you go with the weights. I know; confusing, huh! The AA company has designed this with a dial for an estimate, but we are to rely on the rattle of the weight to determine the proper amount of pressure.
Presto and Mirro pressure canners both have a rubber sealing ring inside the rim. This gasket provides an airtight seal that allows pressure to build.
If you find you are loosing pressure and steam is leaking around the lid, this gasket is the culprit. Though they do last for years, it will need to be changed occasionally. Each year, make sure the gasket is flexible and not cracked. If there is any doubt, go ahead and check it before you have a load of food to process.
To do this, simply fill your canner with 3 inches of water and bring to a boil. Place your lid and weights and let the canner build up a little pressure. As soon as you can see that the gasket is working and no steam is leaking around the edge of the lid, turn the heat off and let the canner cool. Do not lift off the weights or try to open the lid until the canner has come back to zero pressure.
The All American pressure canner does not have a rubber gasket. The lids are made to clamp down tightly enough that a seal is not needed. It is recommended that you lubricate the lid with oil occasionally. Specific directions will be included with the care and maintenance manual.
Yes! There is actually a big difference between a pressure cooker and a pressure canner. You can read more at the link below, but basically, you can cook with a canner, but you can’t can with a cooker.
Some brands will call their pot a cooker/canner, which adds to the confusion and mixing the two up. In order to be acceptable for using in processing jars, your canner should be able to hold 4 quart jars, it should have a way of venting, and it should have a mechanism to accurately measure the pressure. Many cookers do not meet those requirements.
Warning - You will see smaller pressure cooker/canners advertised on the market for canning purposes. These canners have not been tested with current canning recipes and instruction.
The link below leads to directions for pressure canning low-acid foods, which include any meat and most vegetables, all of which must be pressure canned. This tutorial goes step-by-step with pictures to guide you through the whole process, from filling your jars to storing them on a shelf.
Click here for step-by-step Pressure Canning Instruction.
Page last updated: 11/12/2020.