When to Use a Pressure Cooker vs Water Bath Canning

Growing up, my parents had a large garden and every summer and fall they spent a lot of time canning vegetables and fruits, as well as making jams and pickles. All winter long, we would have spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce, cans of delicious corn, and sweet applesauce. Not all families take the time to can produce, but it’s a great skill to learn for a variety of reasons. Deciding to can meats or produce is the first step. The second step is to determine when to use pressure cooker vs water bath canning.

Canning Creates Food Security

Having a pantry full of food creates security if hard times occur. Canned foods are healthier than processed foods in part due to less chemical preservatives. You can control the amount of salt and seasonings. You can have pears in February when they are out of season and more expensive in the grocery store.

The purpose of canning is to preserve foods for long term storage. By putting them in canning jars and heating them up to a temperature that destroys micro-organisms that cause food to spoil, you can safely and easily have quality food when you desire. If you don’t get foods up to a specific temperature, molds, yeast, enzymes, and bacteria can grow and you can get pretty darn sick with botulism.

What are the differences between pressure cooker vs water bath canning?

There are two forms of canning – pressure cooker vs water bath canning. They are both effective methods of preserving fresh foods, but there are some key differences and different times when each method is appropriate.

Water Bath Canning

Water Bath Canning is the simpler of the two methods. Use this method to can foods with a high acid content such as pickles, jellies, fruits and tomatoes that use lemon juice or vinegar in the recipe.

Equipment needed are a large stockpot or a canning pot with a rack in the bottom for holding the jars. This rack also allows the water to surround the jars enabling even cooking. You also need canning jars and lids. Nice to have equipment includes a funnel for filling jars and a tongs designed to lift the jars out of hot water.

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=water+bath+canner&dc&ref=a9_sc_1 (amazon link to canners and equipment)

Water bath canning involves placing your food in jars, covering those jars with water and boiling them for a specific amount of time. It allows foods to reach a temperature of between 180 and 212 F. Boiling point is determined by barometric pressure and altitude. If you live in the mountains boiling point is lower and the time to process will be longer.

Pressure Cooker Canning

Pressure canning is a little more complicated and scientific, but a great skill to learn. Use this method to can foods with a lower acidity such as meats, vegetables, seafoods, dairy products, potatoes and stews. All foods that can be canned in pressure canner can also be canned in a water bath, but not the other way around.

Pressure canning uses higher temperatures and pressure which better destroys bacteria and parasites. Water bath methods just cannot heat the water that hot. Some foods contains more bacteria than others and if they are preserved properly, that bacteria will grow in your jars and at best rot and be a waste of time and money and at worst, make you sick. Note that most processed foods you buy from the store in jars and cans use some sort of pressure canning process. This ensures safety and a longer shelf life and will do the same for your foods.

Pressure Cooker Canning Equipment

Pressure canning uses a special pot designed for this purpose and canners vary in size, shape and features. Some pressure canners can be used for other purposes such as steaming or cooking, but a pressure cooker should not be used for canning unless specifically designed for that purpose. Click here to learn about the best pressure canners on the market and the difference between these styles: https://pressurecanners.com/best-pressure-canners/.

Pressure canners are basically a heavy-duty pot with a vent, a pressure device, and screw clamps to seal the lid on tightly. The pressure device is either a weighted gauge or dial gauge. The weighted gauge is calibrated to a certain pressure. If you are using a 10 PSIG weight, the weight will jiggle when the pressure inside reaches 10 PSIG. A dial gauge has a face and a needle, which allows for more specific pressure and temperature controls. Either one works just fine.

What is Pressure related to Pressure Cooker Canning?

Pressure corresponds to the temperature of the contents inside. They are measured in PSIG, which means pounds per square of pressure as measured by a gauge. Boiling water at sea level is 0 PSIG. The minimum temperature required to sterilize food in a pressure canner is 240 F or 10 PSIG. Pressure build-up inside the pot enables the water inside to heat up to a higher temperature.

Consult your recipe book and pressure canner instruction manual to determine the time, temperature and PSIG required for your produce.
Safety measures should be taken to make sure your pressure does not build up too much, especially when releasing the steam through the vent before removing the lid. Follow the instructions on your particular canner very carefully.

How do I Can?

Once you have determined which method to use, preparation of the food up until the canning method is similar.

  1. Gather supplies including canning jars, lids and seals made specifically for canning. These come in different shapes and sizes with different size jar openings. Use a jar size appropriate for your food. Do you want a large or small jar of jelly?
  2. Sterilize your jars and lids – there are several methods for doing this from putting them in a hot oven to using your dishwasher to boiling them in a big pot of hot water.
  3. Prepare your food according to a recipe. Recipes for water bath and pressure canning methods can vary. Some fruits and vegetables can be placed in the canning jars raw as the canning method will cook them. Some produce as well as meats and jellies need to be prepared in specific ways.
  4. Fill hot jars with the prepared recipe leaving ¼-1 inch of space at the top of the jars for expansion and proper sealing. Again, this depends on the foods you are canning.
  5. Remove air bubbles using a spatula or wooden dowel. This is important because too much air in the jar can interfere with the development of a good seal on the jar.
  6. Wipe the rim and the top of the jar with a damp clean cloth. This is also important removing food particles from the top of jar and ensuring a good seal.
  7. Place the very hot lids on the jars and add the screw band. Hand tighten the band, but with not too much force.

Water Bath Canning Specifics

For water bath canners, fill at least half-full with water. Cover and maintain a simmer of 180 F while preparing your cans. Once steps 1-7 are complete, add the jars to the canner. Add more boiling water, if necessary, to make sure the jars are covered by at least an inch. Bring the water to a rolling boil and start the time. Boil for the specified period of time.

Pressure Cooker Canning Specifics

For pressure canners, check your canner instructions for the amount of water, how to tighten the lid after adding the jars and how much pressure to use. Start the timer when the weighted gauge starts to jiggle or the pressure on the dial gauge reaches the requisite PSIG. Specific directions related to counterweights, safety fuses and vent cover locks should be followed carefully. Follow directions for releasing the pressure when time is up.

With the pressure canning method, follow the directions for water level and pressure in your canner directions. Start the timer when the pressure knob starts moving. Follow the directions for releasing the pressure when time is up.

Finishing Up

Whether you choose pressure cooking vs water bath canning, continue the same process for each method. Remove the jars and place on a towel to cool the jars down slowly. A jar lifter is the best tool for this use. If your house is cooler, place a towel or blanket over the jars to cool them down even slower. A slow cooling process allows the jars to seal better.

Once the jars are cool, check the seal. If it does not seal properly, have it for dinner. If everything looks good, label and date your jars and place them in a cool dark pantry.

Ready to Choose Pressure Cooker vs Water Bath Canning?

Now that you’ve been introduced to the two canning methods – pressure cooker vs water bath canning, it’s time to decide which one you will tackle. Determine what you want to can, and your budget for equipment. A water bath canner and tools are relatively inexpensive. Good jars are an investment as you can reuse them as long as they don’t get chipped. Ring tops can be reused as well, but invest in new jar seals each time.

Pressure canners are a bigger investment. Read about different kinds on this site and determine which one fits your needs. Find a good cookbook and give it a try. Follow this site for instructions, tips and tricks and you’ll be an expert canner in no time.


  • Kimberly

    Kim Burton is an avid canner, freelance writer, and certified Nutrition Coach living in the mountains of Colorado. She believes in providing her family with fresh organic foods. A perfect way of preserving quality foods in through canning. Kim’s goal is to make canning accessible to everyone and help you save money and time and reduce food waste using tried and true preservation methods.

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