Preserving the harvest can seem intimidating as you look at the different canning methods. However, home canning is a safe and effective means of home food preservation. There are two methods of canning: water bath canning vs pressure canning. Let’s look at the two canning methods to determine what method you should choose.
The appropriate food preservation method is determined by the ph level of the foods you are preserving. Some foods are naturally acidic. These foods can be safely preserved in a water bath canner. Other foods low in acid must be preserved using a pressure canning method. Of course, there are some foods that have a ph level that can be adjusted if you add acids, such as vinegar, citric acid, or lemon juice to the canning recipe. These foods can also be processed in a water bath canner. However, some foods can even be processed in either canner!
Why it Matters?
Choosing the correct processing method via water bath canning vs pressure canning is important. The reason that a home cook needs to be mindful of proper home preservation techniques is to ensure that the food you preserve is safe to eat. Home canned foods that are not processed properly can lead to botulism, which is a deadly form of food poisoning. Botulism is caused by a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. Acidic foods naturally prevent the growth of botulism spores. These foods can be processed in a water bath canner at a lower temperature. Foods low in acid, need to be processed at a much higher temperature that can only be achieved in a pressure canner. However, the good news is that botulism caused by home canning is rare. Be reassured, if you follow safe canning practices, the food you preserve will be safe for your family to eat.
Water Bath Canning
Water-bath canning is appropriate for foods that are naturally high in acid. It’s also appropriate for some foods that have added acid incorporated into the recipe which brings the acid level to an appropriate range. Fruits, jams, jellies, fruit juices, tomatoes, salsa, pickles, relishes, and some sauces are safely preserved in the water bath canner.
When water bath canning, the jars of food are submerged in boiling water. You can use a fancy boiling water bath canner. However, any large pot that you can submerge the jars into will work. It is important to put a rack in the bottom of the pot to keep the canning jars elevated off the bottom of the big pot. For complete instructions regarding water bath canning, see my post Water Bath Canning; Steps to Success.
The water bath method works for high-acid foods because the combination of acid levels in the food and the temperature of the water at a rolling boil is sufficient enough to prevent the growth of botulism spores.
All vegetables, meats, poultry, soups, and broth need to be processed in a pressure canner. In order to prevent the growth of botulism spores in low-acid foods, the temperate needs to be raised to 240 degrees. Since the boiling point of water is only 212 degrees, a pressure canner must be used to process these foods.
A pressure canner is a specially designed pot that uses steam under pressure to raise the temperature of the food processing to appropriate levels. The pressure canner lid locks onto the pot to maintain pressure inside. Pressure canners use just a few inches of water in the bottom of the pressure canner. The water level will vary based on the pressure canner you use. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding the specific amount of water your pressure canner requires.
When the water is heated, steam is produced inside the canner. When the steam vent is closed, the steam builds up inside the pressure canner. This steam continues to multiply to create pressure and very high temperatures within the canner. This pressurized steam reaches temperatures up to 240 degrees. This is hot enough to kill the microorganisms found in low-acid foods.
Types of Pressure Canners
There are only two types of pressure canners approved for safe home canning. They vary in cost and size of canners. If you have a flat-topped stove, you should be aware that not all pressure canners are safe for use on your stove. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s documentation to determine if it is appropriate for use. A pressure canner should not be confused with a pressure cooker.
Weighted Gauge Pressure Canner
A weighted gauge pressure canner does not have a dial to read the pressure. Once properly vented, the vent is covered with a weighted regulator that is set at a certain pressure. To regulate the pressure, the regulator jiggles to release steam. It’s the release of steam that maintains the pressure at the correct pounds pressure. Since all canners are a bit different, read the manual supplied with your canner to determine how to properly set the weighted regulator to the correct pressure.
The advantage of a weighted gauge pressure canner is it self-regulates. Once the correct pressure is reached, by the evidence of the jiggling regulator, start timing your processing time. The weighted gauge should jiggle gently the entire time. If it stops, the pressure inside is too low and the canner is under pressure. The heat would need to be adjusted and once the canner reaches pressure again, restart the processing time. It’s also important to note: the regulator should gently jiggle, not furiously jiggle. If the heat is too high and the valve releases too much steam, you can boil your canner dry which can warp your pressure canner. The processing time is determined by the type of food you are processing. Check your recipe to determine the correct processing time.
Weighted gauge pressure canners have set pressure. For home cooks who live at high altitudes, you cannot adjust the pressure from the preset weights. In this instance, you would need to process your home canned goods at a higher pressure than recommended. This can result in over-processed foods which can affect quality.
Dial Gauge Pressure Canner
A dial gauge pressure canner has a dial on the top that displays the pressure inside the pressure canner. Once the canner has been appropriately vented, a pressure regulator is placed on the vent pipe. The pressure regular is fixed. It doesn’t move or regulate the pressure.
To regulate the pressure within the canner, the home cook needs to adjust the temperature on the stove to raise or lower the pressure. If the heat is too low and the pressure goes below your minimum processing time, the heat will need to be adjusted and the processing time restarted when the canner reaches the correct pressure. Personally, I always watched my pressure dial like a hawk, literally sitting close by to monitor the processing pressure the entire time.
My biggest fear when I started pressure canning was the canner exploding. It is reassuring to know that modern dial pressure gauge canners have safety features in place. If the canner reaches too high of pressure, these safety features prevent accidents. Therefore, my fear of the canner exploding was not a safety issue I need to be worried about.
However, the pressure being too low is a concern. If the pressure goes below the recommended pressure adjust the heat. Restart your processing time once the pressure is reached again. Harmful bacteria might remain in my canned goods should I process my home canning at too low of a pressure.
A dial gauge pressure canner is most valuable to home cooks who live at high altitudes. Cooks who live at high altitudes must adjust the pressure and processing time for safe canning. Since the dial is in one-pound increments, cooks at high altitudes can process their home canning more accurately than they can with a weighted gauge canner.
I think on average, dial gauge pressure canners are less expensive. Most dial gauge canners have replaceable seals that you need to monitor for use and replace as needed. Replacement parts are available in most stores that sell pressure canners.
A dial gauge pressure canner should have the gauge tested on an annual basis to ensure it is accurate. If the pressure is more than 2 pounds off, the gauge should be replaced. While I’ve always heard this can be done at your local extension office. I’ve read that this service is not as readily available as it once was. Presto, is a major manufacturer of dial gauge pressure canners. does offer this service on certain models by mailing the gauge to them for testing. To ensure your canner is ready when you need it, this can easily be done in the “off” season.
Best of Both Worlds
I must confess that I have never had my dial gauge tested. Our canners were new when we purchased them and we take meticulous care of them. About a year ago, I learned an ingenious hack when it comes to dial gauge pressure canners from Sarah at Living Traditions Homestead. I purchased a weighted gauge pressure regulator for my dial gauge pressure canner. This inexpensive regulator allows my dial gauge pressure canner to self-regulate the pressure. While I still tend to watch my canner like a hawk, I no longer have to worry about the pressure getting too high and my foods being over-processed. Since I don’t live at a high altitude, this solution works perfectly for me.
Want to see the weighted gauge pressure regulator in action on a dial gauge pressure canner? In this video, I used the setup for the very first time.
A pressure cooker is different than a pressure canner. Pressure cookers do cook food under pressure using the same principles as a pressure canner. However, they don’t include a pressure-regulating device. The pressure regulator is needed to maintain the pressure over a period of time during the canning process.
Altitude Is Important
No matter what type of canning you do, be it water bath canning vs pressure canning, altitude matters! Since water boils at a lower temperature at altitudes over 1000 feet above sea level processing time or pressure needs to be adjusted. Most recipes will include this information. If using a water bath canner, the processing time will need to be lengthened. If using a pressure canner, the pressure will need to be increased.
My Favorite Resource: Water Bath Canning Vs Pressure Canning
Navigating all of these details makes it sound like home canning is complicated! While there are a lot of details and it does need to be done correctly, it doesn’t have to be hard! My favorite canning book is the Complete Home Canning Guide put out by the USDA. It can be downloaded for free from the National Center for Home Food Preservation website. This book takes out all the guesswork! Simply look up what you will be canning and the book tells you exactly how to process it. Some foods can be processed in either canner. This guide helps you decide between water bath canning vs pressure canning. It also gives you instructions for high altitudes. This book is my go-to resource every time I need to do any home canning.
While this book is available as a free download, it can be purchased in a colorful, spiral-bound book. I love having the complete details regarding water bath canning vs pressure canning right at my fingertips. I make notes in my cookbook and dog ear all my favorite pages!
Want to Learn More About Home Preservation
Shop This Post
Presto 23-Quart Pressure Canner (this is nice if you do a lot of canning in pint jars, safe to double stack)
Harvest Guard Reusable Canning Lids creates reusable canning lids that are approved by the USDA. Use my code to get 15% off KMcanning.
Denali Canning Lids Use my discount code for 10% off! BARBRA-SUEKOWALSKI
See all my favorites in the Kitchen Shop
About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.