When summer arrives, so does the bounty of vegetables at the farmer's market and our gardens at home. For people who love to store food, a pressure canner opens a world of possibilities outside of hot water bath canning, including low-acid vegetables like carrots, which need to be pickled for a hot water bath canner but can be processed without pickling in a pressure canner. Christina Ward, the Master Food Preserver for Wisconsin and author of Preservation - The Art and Science of Canning, Fermentation, and Dehydration, says a little bit of planning and education can help make your home canning projects a success.
Many foods can safely be processed with pressure canning. Ward says, "My favorite things to can with my pressure canner are ready-to-eat meals. Especially soups and chilis." By making ready-to-eat meals in pint jars, you have a perfect heat-and-eat lunch that's ready to grab and go. James Beard-nominated chef and author Jeremy Umansky loves to can mushrooms, especially maitake. "What I like most about it is the ability to preserve foods for long-term storage without the need to acidify, saccharify, or salinate," says Umansky, "This allows you to preserve the taste and flavor of an ingredient that's as close to unadulterated as possible." Ward warns there are some "can-nots" that can't be safely processed by home canners. These include dense squash purees like pumpkin butter, bananas, dairy, high-fat red meats, pastas, and rice. Read on for our top picks for pressure canners, including the expert favorite All American Pressure Canner, as well as a Q&A with the pros about making pressure canning safe and fun.
Pros: The most trusted name in home pressure canning, All-American canners are reliable and sturdy enough to last a lifetime.
Cons: It has a higher up-front cost than other models.
Every food preserving group I'm a part of, and every expert I speak with always points to All-American as the pressure canner to use. They come in a range of sizes, but we chose this size as a good all-purpose model. According to Umansky, "I recommend a 15-quart canner. It'll hold about 10 pint jars or 7 quart jars. That should be sufficient for home use." This canner's all in one lid doesn't require replacement gaskets like some more affordable models, and this canner is likely to outlive you.
Ward swears by the All-American canner as the top brand for home preservers: "All-American Pressure Canners are the best. Objectively, the best. They are also expensive. Yet an All-American is a precision-machined tool made to the highest specifications and worth every penny. Most people buy only one All-American in their lifetime because it will last forever and a day. When you factor the quality and durability into the financial equation, an All-American is a good investment."
Pros: The affordably priced, easy to use, high-quality canner is great for small batches.
Cons: This model will not work for larger canning projects.
We like this small but mighty canner because it's durable and easy to use, which makes it a great choice for folks just starting out with pressure canning and those with small kitchens. This model's lid locks easily in place, too, for safe canning. For those new to pressure canning, Ward recommends starting small and working your way up: "I always recommend that beginners buy a small canner and upgrade to a larger size if they find they are annoyed when running multiple batches." The Zavor canner comes in multiple sizes, ranging from 6 to 12.7 quarts. Umansky notes that a small pressure canner is great for experienced cooks too, and notes, "I do also like a smaller size that can handle just pint and 1/2 pint jars because they double as a pressure cooker."
Pros: An affordable canner for those on a budget; works on all types of stovetops including induction
Cons: The rubber seals will need to be replaced after wear and tear.
Once upon a time, pressure canners were more common in stores, and more models were available across price ranges. As pressure canning has become less common, fewer brands are available today, but thankfully we still have some great value options. Ward notes that while "pressure canner manufacturers have dwindled in the past half-century...the entry-level brands available today are all of solid quality." We like this entry-level canner because it has a straightforward design, is highly regarded by customers, and is accessible to home food preservers on a budget.
"Like many kitchen tools, pressure canners can be affordable or very expensive," says Ward, "If you're new to pressure canning, look for a canner that firstly fits your budget. New ones begin around $60-$75. These entry-level models have rubber seals that wear out over time and are easily replaced." Make sure to check that replacement seals, like these, are available. I like to buy an extra set or two ahead of time just to make sure they're around when I need them. In addition to looking for canners online, Ward urges readers to look for deals during that start of harvest season at farm supply stores.
Also available at Amazon and All-American.
Pros: Large enough to handle big batches of canning jars, durable enough to last a lifetime.
Cons: The high up-front cost makes it a major investment, and it is heavy when full.
For canning enthusiasts who plan to put up a lot of food each summer, a large capacity canner may be the choice for you. All-American canners are trusted and durable, and their larger models are our choice for your biggest canning projects. Like our Best Overall choice, the All American 41-quart canner has a precision machined metal sealing system, which means you don't need to replace gaskets.
The one downside is its weight — all large pressure canners are very heavy when full, and can be difficult to move. For those with glass or ceramic cooktops, make sure to check with your stove manufacturer that it can handle the weight of a 41-quart canner before purchasing.
Because of its high up-front cost, this canner is a better choice for experienced canners regularly working in large batches, rather than for beginners. Don't let the price tag scare you off, though. Ward notes that "more expensive models are machined to seal without the seals. A maintained pressure canner can last MULTIPLE lifetimes." If you know you'll be using the canner regularly, you'll definitely get your money's worth.
The best home pressure canner is the model that fits your budget and meets your needs for capacity. Try to get the most durable model you can, remembering that a good quality canner, like the All-American 15-quart Canner, will last you a lifetime.
Ward urges, "Ask yourself how much and what kind of pressure canning do you see yourself doing? Do you see yourself canning large amounts of food? Are you interested in canning quarts or pints? Answering those questions helps determine what size of canner to get."
Modern pressure canners are typically durable and high quality, but make sure your canner comes with any gaskets or gauges it needs, and that you check that these are functioning regularly. Whichever canner you choose, make sure to read and understand the instruction manual and safety guidance before you start. Buying the best quality canner ensures both a good investment and easy maintenance. "If you invest in a well-constructed pressure canner then it can last you a lifetime if you care for it and maintain it," says Umansky
Ward notes that stovetop pressure canners are the only guaranteed safe tools for pressure canning at home. "Any electric or automatic canner must be avoided," she says, "These have not passed the rigorous testing of the Center for Home Food Preservation. They do not regulate temperature and pressure for them to work effectively. Great for cooking beans — terrible at pressure canning." When choosing a stovetop canner, make sure to check that it's compatible with your range and that the weight of the filled canner won't crack or otherwise damage your cooktop.
To find the best canners, we used our own food preserving experience and input from canning experts, along with scouring customer reviews and product specifications. We focused our research on what would be safe, durable, and easy to use, to give you years of rewarding and fun canning projects.
An electric pressure canner seems like a convenient way to can low acid foods without hauling a heavy pot on and off the stove. However, Ward cautions that electric models have not undergone rigorous safety testing. Because we can't prove they are as safe as stovetop models, we can't recommend them for home canners.
Like our Best for Beginners pick, this small capacity canner has a securely locking lid and good consumer reviews. It also has a small price tag, making it another great choice for beginners. Ultimately it didn't make our list because it only comes in two sizes, rather than the five sizes available for the Zavor canner.
Both pressure canners and pressure cookers are, well, pressurized, but that doesn't mean they work in the same way. "What makes a pressure canner a pressure canner is the ability to control and regulate the AMOUNT of pressure in the vessel," says Ward, "Cookers don't have that ability. The old saying is: A canner can cook, but a cooker can't can."
So how can you tell if you have a pressure canner versus a pressure cooker? According to Ward, "A pressure canner has either (sometimes both) a pressure regulating gauge. The gauge can be a dial gauge that reads the actual pressure and/or a machined weighted gauge to fit over a valve to control and signal with a "knock" that the desired pressure has been reached." She notes that reading this gauge can be overwhelming at first, but it makes sense in action, which is why it's helpful to take a class or seek out guidance from your local Master Food Preserver.
Ward notes that it's perfectly fine to buy a used pressure canner, and that you'll often see them at estate sales or in online marketplaces. However, she cautions, "When considering a used canner, look for ones made after 1960, as those models have safety-release valves that much older models do not."
There are steps to take to ensure your canner is safe, too. "Even if you find a second-hand canner missing the rubber seal and safety value, go ahead and buy it because those seals should be replaced,' says Ward. "Likewise, if you're considering a dial gauge canner, know that the gauges can be easily replaced. And in a rare gift to canners everywhere, replacement gauges are universal, so if you find a used Menomonee Canner (an excellent canner but long out of business), a new Presto gauge will fit it." Finally, make sure your canner is in good working order. Steer clear of a canner with any cracks in the vessel or the lid, and inspect the safety valve opening to ensure it's clear and unobstructed.
Knowing how to safely work your pressure canner before you embark on a canning project is the key to success. Ward urges new pressure canners to take classes, or find online tutorials from the Center for Home Food Preservation or a Master Food Preserver. She notes that following the correct procedure, and never taking shortcuts, is critical to safely canning foods that are shelf-stable and free of pathogens.
Your local University Extension office is another fantastic resource, and the Master Food Preserver program can point you to your area's MFP and to any available classes. She urges readers to seek out classes taught by Master Food Preservers, who have the expertise and scientific grounding to teach you how to safely and correctly pressure can your food.
A little preparation goes a long way in ensuring kitchen safety. "Read all the directions and become intimately familiar with all the parts of your pressure canner/cooker!" says Umansky, "If used improperly they can cause massive amounts of damage to your kitchen or yourself. That being said if you operate it properly and keep it maintained then you should have nothing to fear. Pressure canners/cookers will completely transform how you cook and eat." Ward agrees. "A pressure canner is a tool. A powerful tool," she says, "Just as you wouldn't operate a table saw distracted and barefoot, use the same basic safety precautions with your pressure canner." She always advises first-time pressure canners to start by canning jars of water, to become familiar with the machine and the process.
"Once you're comfortable with your canner, get started. Like any new technique, you may encounter a few challenges and false starts," says Ward. "The key to pressure canning success is understanding the WHY of what you're doing." And finally, follow the directions, always! "Follow the steps with focused attention. Do not deviate. Ever," she urges. "I can't stress this enough. You will feel confident in your home-processed foods because you KNOW that you did it correctly. Confidence in the science of why it works alleviates any fears."
Christina Ward is an author, editor, and the Master Food Preserver for Wisconsin. She is the author of Preservation-The Art and Science of Canning, Fermentation, and Dehydration, which explores the history and science of food preservation while sharing 100 fool-proof recipes that make the science real. She has appeared as an expert on Milk Street Radio, Padma Lakshmi's "Taste the Nation," and numerous NPR programs. In addition, she has contributed to Serious Eats, The Wall Street Journal, Maggot Brain, and more.
Jeremy Umansky is the James Beard Foundation nominated chef/owner of Larder Delicatessen & Bakery in Cleveland, OH and coauthor of Koji Alchemy with Rich Shih.
Julia Skinner, PhD, is a writer, culinary educator, and avid gardener and food preserver. She writes about and teaches fermentation and food preservation through her business, Root. She interviewed our two experts for this piece.