How to can with a pressure canner.
with Sharon Peterson
These directions are for pressure canning low acid foods. This includes any meat and most vegetables.
Pickles, jam jelly, or fruits are all high acid foods. If you are preserving these you need to be on my Water Bath Canning Page.
Tomatoes are a special case. Check out this page to learn more about when to use a pressure canner or a waterbath canner.
Pressure Canning Directions
These are general pressure canning directions. Each recipe will be a bit different in how the food is prepared for processing. Links to more specific canning recipes are at the bottom of this page.
Gather all your pressure canning supplies:
Be sure to use fresh picked , high quality food.
Fill your canner with 3 quarts of water. Yes, that is all the water needed. Check the manual for your particular canner to verify how much water.
Remember, pressure is the key to safety in pressure canning. The pressure buildup is what causes the high heat necessary.
The jars do not need to be covered like a water bath canner. Set the rack on the bottom of the canner and heat water until hot, not boiling. Keep warm.
Wash and rinse your jars and lids.
Jars can be washed by hand or in the dishwasher
You don't need to sterilize jars in pressure canning. The high temperatures reached in the canner will sterilize everything. You DO need to start with clean jars.
Keep jars and seals hot until ready to be filled.
For keeping jars hot, I have two options for you.
- Place the clean jars upside down in a large pot with 2 or 3 inches of hot water. Bring to a boil and turn off heat. Leave the jars in the water until ready to be filled.
- You can also wash the jars in the dishwasher and then simply leave them there until ready to fill. Keeping the door to the dishwasher closed keeps in the steam and heat. Remove the jars a couple at a time as needed.
- This third way is my preferred method. Place your jars in your canner. The water should be warming anyway as you prep your food. With your jars in the canner they will get heated up at the same time.
An easy way to keep seals warm is place the seals in a small pan of water. Bring to just below a boil and remove from heat.
Remember when you are pressure canning everything will be well sterilized in the canning process. You don't need to boil the lids. Only warm them.
Leave the seals in the water until ready for a jar. I usually move this pan to a potholder just to the side of my stove because often I need all the burners.
Prepare and pack food according to instructions in your recipe.
Fill jar leaving the recommended head space. Remove air bubbles by running a non-metallic spatula around the inside of the jar. I like to use a plastic orange peeler for this step. It is small and easily slides down. A small rubber spatula will also work.
Wipe the rim of the jar clean with a damp tea towel or paper towel.
Place seals and rings on jars. Tighten finger tight. You really don't have to crank down hard, snug is fine.
Place jars on the rack in the pressure canner. The jars must not sit directly on the bottom of the canner. Be sure jars are not touching each other. Steam needs to flow freely around each jar. Sometimes this takes a little maneuvering, twisting the jars so that the flatter sides leave more room.
Place the cover securely on the canner. Heat to boiling. Do not place the weights on yet. At this point steam should be escaping from the vent or the weighted gauge opening.
Allow steam to vent for 10 minutes. This is an important step don't skip it. This pushes all the air from the canner. After the 10 minutes, close the vent or put on your weighted gauge and let the pressure build.
When canner reaches correct pressure, lower your heat to maintain pressure level.
Adjust heat as needed to keep it at the correct pressure.
NOW start timing.
Time needed will be given in the recipe. Again be sure to adjust for altitude.
Check your gauge often. In pressure canning you must maintain the correct pressure. If the pressure drops below the recommended level, start your time over. ~ Bummer ~ I hate it when that happens! Yes, I've done it.
The best way to avoid this mistake is to make it a point to stay in the kitchen and do other stuff, checking the gauge occasionally. You can be cleaning up, or getting your next load ready. Take a break! You deserve it. Have a cup of coffee or tea or ice cold water! Put your feet up.
When time is up, turn off the heat. Do not remove weights or open petcock. Let the canner set until pressure comes back to zero.
NOW is the time you can leave the kitchen. DO NOT try to speed up the cooling process by pouring cold water over the canner or some other artificial method. Just let the canner cool and release pressure all by itself.
When the pressure in the canner is at zero, pressure is released, you may now remove the weight or open the vent. Then wait two minutes.
Carefully remove the lid, be careful CONTENTS ARE HOT AND STEAMY. Tilt the lid so the steam will not hit you in the face.
Using a jar lifter, carefully remove the jars and set upright on a wooden board or a thick towel to cool. Be sure they are in a draft free area and leave 1-2 inches space between each jar so air can circulate.
Did you hear it? This is my favorite part. As the jars cool the seals (or flats) will pull down and seal. They make the coolest little pinging sound. For some odd reason I love that sound. It is so satisfying. It means all my work is... well... working!
Resist temptation to press the lids at this point. If your kids are like mine keep them away too! Just leave the jars alone until completely cool. This may take 12 hours.
I leave mine on the counter overnight. I love waking up in the morning to the jars sitting out on the counter with the morning sun shining off of them.
After jars have cooled, NOW you may press on the lid to check the seal.
The seal should be sucked down and not pop up. If you find a jar that did not seal, simply put the jar in the fridge and plan on using the food within a few days.
Remove the screw cap and wash the jar. The outsides will often be sticky. It is a good idea (but not essential) to store without the screw cap.
Sometimes the caps will rust if you leave them on. If you have one that is stuck don't force it, you may break the seal. Just go ahead and store it with the screw cap in place.
Label the jar with the food type and date.
You may think that labeling the type of food isn't necessary if you can obviously see it is canned pears. However, what if you are canning applesauce using different types of apples for each batch? You will want to know which is which when you open them later. You can then decide which you like better for next time.
Always record a date, at least the year. That way when you find a jar in the waaaay back of your cupboard, you will know how old it is. You think you will keep them straight, but it is so easy to forget and so easy to label them now. Trust me. Just do it.
Store your jars in a cool, dark, dry environment. Usually a pantry is fine. Don't store in a utility room where there are hot pipes or high humidity. Direct sunlight is a no-no as well.
You are Done!!
Now stand back and admire all colorful jars full of delicious nutritious foods.
Wasn't that easy??? Pressure canning is not as difficult as it may seem. What? You're tired? Yes, but it is a satisfying tired is it not?
If you have any questions please let me help.
Pressure canning can be intimidating if you have never done it before. It is so satisfying to learn how to can with this method.
Return from Pressure Canning to Simply Canning Homepage
Instruction for pressure canning specific vegetables.
|Do you need to sterilize your jars?
|Canning Safety: why it is important.
|What is the best pressure canner?
Pressure Canning Questions From my inbox:
Can you over process foods?
Greetings! I just used my Presto pressure canner for the first time.
I'm trying it out on my enchilada sauce (no meat). Is there a problem if
the pressure is ABOVE the stated level the entire time? I know below
would cause a start over. I found you on FB and want to also say THANK YOU for all your great recipes and help :)
Hi Gwendolyn, If you pressure goes over it is still safe. Of
course you don't want to go too much over, and some foods will be
overcooked if you go over a lot. But it is safe. You are correct that
if it goes under you need to start your time over. That is always a
I hope this helps.
How much water do I need to use in a pressure caner?
by Hillbilly Homer
How much water do I need to use in a pressure caner? Ive been using 3"-4" for my quarts and I was told that I needed to fill the caner up to the lids. Is this right?
When you are pressure canning you put about 3 quarts water in before your jars. When you place your jars the water will come about half way up your jars or possibly to the shoulders.
For some items that have a really long processing time (corn and meats) I will start with 4 quarts of water instead of 3. I just feel like it ensures that my canner will not run dry.
Is annual checking of the pressure gauge necessary?
I have recently read that you should have your pressure gauge checked each year, but it seems as if people who I know, who have been canning for years, are not really doing that. Is it really necessary to have that gauged checked each year?
Yes you should have your pressure canner gauge tested each year.
The USDA recommends that gauges be checked every year. That way you will know that the gauge is reading correctly.
I confess I also used to skip having my gauge read. But I decided to have it checked on year just because it had been awhile. I found out that my gauge was not reading correctly! Not a good thing.
Now I go ahead and do it regularly. Better safe than sorry.
Check with your local Ace Hardware Store. Ours has a canning day each year. The local extension comes and checks gauges for a discounted rate. They offer advice and recipe booklets too.
What should my pressure cooker sound like?
I am using a pressure cooker for the first time. I have read the instructions at least 12 times. I finally got enough courage to use it today. The instructions say, "when the control jiggles vigorously, reduce heat..."
Can I assume that the loud and, quite frankly, frighting hissing was the "jiggling vigorously" the instructions speak of? I have a 22 qt. MIRRO.
Shari your question made me smile! I never think of the hissing as being frightening. :0) But I suppose if you have not used a pressure canner and not sure what it is supposed to do, it could be kinda nerve racking.
Yes if the sound was loud and frightening I would definitely say it is time to reduce your heat. It will rock back and forth letting steam out at each rock. This is what is releasing the steam preventing the pressure from getting too high.
Filling the pressure canner
I am new to pressure canning but have started canning a few things. My question is do I have to fill the canner up? Can I just do say 2-3 jars?
Just curious as I wanted to can some beef from my freezer but didn't have enough to fill the canner. BTW it need to be cooked as its been in the freezer about 5-6 months.
Yes you can run a partially filled load. It is more efficient to have a full canner but, if you only have 4 jars full and you really need to get it processed, it is perfectly safe to do so.
You need to follow the same instructions as if you had a full load. Do not reduce the time or pressure.
Sound of the Weighted Gauge? Could you please help me. I bought a MIRRO 16 quart pressure canner, model number 92116, brand new earlier this year. No matter what I do, I cannot get my weight to jiggle. It lifts off the vent, spins while releasing steam then sets back onto the vent. In about 15/16 counts, it does it again.
I can't find any information on it saying if this is normal or I'm doing something wrong. Would you happen to know if this is normal for this make of canner? Thank you so very much. I'm about ready to beat it with a sledge hammer.
Answer: Hi Karen, I don't have a Mirro, but yes I would think that is normal. If it lifts up, and releases steam.... consider that a jiggle. My All American also does a weird hissing type jiggle. The point is that the weight is releasing steam indicating that the pressure has reached whatever poundage you are working with.
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