Pressure Canning vs. Water Bath Canning

Canning season is right around the corner over here on the Hilltop. The tomato plants are brimming with fruit that will be ready to harvest this month, so I’m mentally preparing myself for all of the work to come.

Last year I preserved all of my garden harvest in two different ways: freezing and water bath canning. I did not have my own pressure canner at the time, so I made the very best with what I had.

As we’ll talk in more detail about later, I couldn’t preserve very much in the water bath canner. Just applesauce and tomato sauce. So everything else, like sweet corn, okra, and green beans was frozen.

Thankfully, this year I purchased an All American Pressure Canner, so I’ll be able to process all of my garden harvests the way I’d really like to!

Ok, I’m sure all of that brought up quite a few questions in your mind: why do you prefer to pressure can? Why not use a water bath for everything? What’s the difference between the water bath and pressure canning methods?

Canning is a bit overwhelming at first glance, so let’s break all of the information down and answer those questions and a few more too.

Food preservation can be a bit intimidating at first glance. What’s a pressure canner? What’s a water bath canner? Why can’t I use a water bath canner to process all my food? Which method is better to use? There’s a lot to consider! Continue reading along if you’d like a basic rundown of what pressure canners and water bath canners are, what foods can be preserved in them, and the pros and cons of both methods. My hope is that you leave this post with a better understanding of these two food preservation methods and which one is best suited for your situation! I promise that you’ll get the hang of all this in no time.

Pressure Canning

A pressure canner is a heavy-duty piece of equipment with a vent, pressure gauge, and screw clamps. It heats the food up to a temperature hotter than that of boiling water.

This is why low acid foods can be safely preserved via pressure canner. The pressure canner reaches a high enough temperature to kill off any botulism spores that could still be present in boiling water.

Foods That Must Be Canned in a Pressure Canner

These kinds of foods are not acidic enough to keep away bad bacteria, so they must be pressure canned instead of preserved in a water bath.

  • Any kind of meat
  • Pinto beans
  • Broth
  • Green beans
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Corn

Keep in mind:

  • There are more foods than I have listed here, but these are just a few examples. I encourage you to research each food you’d like to preserve before getting started!
  • A pressure canner is not the same as a pressure cooker! Only use canners that show the Underwriters Laboratories approval of safety symbol (UL).

Needed Equipment:

  • Pressure canner
  • Glass mason jars with lids
  • Food to preserve
  • Jar lifter

The Pros to Pressure Canning

  • Pressure canning allows the freedom to preserve so much more than is allowed in water bath canning! There are no limits on low acid foods because this piece of equipment is designed to safely preserve them if the instructions are properly followed.
  • This one depends on what size your pressure canner is. A pressure canner can typically hold a lot more jars than a water bath can. This means you can process larger batches of jars at one time. My pressure canner holds about twice as many pint jars as my stock pot!
  • Neither water bath canning or pressure canning require a lot more equipment than the other method. Both are pretty minimal in needed supplies.

The Cons to Pressure Canning

  • The initial purchase of a pressure canner is a financial investment. High-quality pressure canners can be quite expensive compared to using a basic stock pot for water bath canning. I’ve determined the expense to be worth it simply because my goal is to grow as much of our own food as I can, but I also know that is not everyone’s situation. I encourage you to evaluate how much canning you plan on doing in order to decide if a pressure canner is worth the purchase!
  • Many pressure canners are quite heavy! I am able to lift mine up without issue, but I can’t really imagine what the larger ones must weigh!
  • Certain pressure canners are not recommend for use on a glass top stove. Now, this one is up for debate…because I know some people who do it anyway. Just know that some models suggest that using it on a glass top stove be avoided. There are chances that the weight of the canner will shatter the stove top. I suggest that you do some research in order to determine if the risk is worth it!

Water Bath Canning

Water bath canning is another method of food preservation. It requires the use of a large stock pot rather than a heavy-duty pressure canner.

The water bath method can only heat the jars to the temperature of boiling water, so only high-acid foods are safely preserved this way.

Needed Equipment:

  • Water bath canner or stock pot
  • Glass mason jars with lids
  • Food to preserve
  • Jar lifter

There are three common types of water bath canners: enamel, stainless steel, or aluminum. Each type should work well.

Stock Pot

  • Enamel pots are heavy duty. This means they should last a very long time, but it also makes them quite heavy. Another downfall is the enamel may chip and rust after some years of use.
  • Stainless steel pots are another great option, but they typically cost more than aluminum or enamel. They should last a lifetime!
  • Aluminum pots do the job well too. I don’t have a problem with aluminum pots for canning since the food is in jars, but I don’t recommend using them for cooking. There are many health concerns about the aluminum in cookware getting into foods and disrupting hormones.

You can use any regular stock pot as long as the jars will fit inside when the lid is closed.

You’ll need to create a rack system for the jars to sit on in the pot. We don’t want them coming into direct contact with the bottom of the pot. You can achieve this kind of system by tying a few of the lid bands together and placing them in the bottom of the pot.

Foods You Can Safely Preserve With a Water Bath Canner

Highly Acidic Foods. These include foods with a pH of less than 4.6. Foods in this category are perfectly safe to can with a water bath canning method.

These acidic foods are able to prohibit the growth of bad bacteria.

This includes:

  • Pickles
  • Peaches
  • Jams
  • Jellies
  • Applesauce
  • Marmalades
  • Relish
  • Some tomato products

Keep in mind: There are more foods than I have listed here, but these are just a few examples. I encourage you to research each food you’d like to preserve before getting started!

The Pros to Water Bath Canning

  • Water bath canning can be less expensive than pressure canning. A stock pot is usually much cheaper to purchase than a long-lasting pressure canner (or you may even have a stock pot around the house…even better!)
  • This method of food preservation does not require any special equipment! You have everything you need with a large stock pot, jars, rings, lids, and food to preserve.

The Cons to Water Bath Canning

  • Stock pots do not usually hold as many jars as a pressure canner does. This means that you’ll have to process smaller batches at a time. Again, this may work well for certain situations, but it can be a headache if you have 24 pints of tomato sauce to preserve!

An Acid Chart to Reference

Reference this chart to see which fruits and veggies are high in acid and low in acid.

More on Canning

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