Smaller Might Be Better!
Folks are really getting interested in canning/food preservation again and this makes me SO happy!
I don't know if canning skipped one generation or two. Dad was raised during the depression. Mom was raised during WWII. I learned food preservation skills from both sides of the family. I feel for the the folks having to learn all this from scratch and not being raised with it as their everyday. At the same time, I'm extremely proud of them for learning all these new skills on the fly.
I want to talk pressure canners today and the options that are out there.
Canning equipment has changed since "then". I never did learn pressure canning as a kid; Mom was afraid of them and Dad always waterbathed everything anyway. So that's what I learned. In the US, we are at an advantage to have pressure canners readily available and it's easy to learn to use them! At the same time, there are alot of folks that are happy to continue to waterbath everything and if that's where you're at; rebel on! I see folks still using their grandma's pressure canners or digging old ones out of barns. This is not my personal choice but if you're comfortable with that; rebel on! I'm going to talk about buying "new" pressure canners here.
First, let's talk about the electric automatic pressure canners that are fairly new to the market. Presto** makes one and Carey** makes one. They can be more expensive than a manual pressure canner but the guess work has been removed for you. I am hearing mixed reviews on them. Some folks are having a great experience with them and other folks are really having trouble and the food isn't turning out. The most common comment I see is that the cords are catching on fire? That's not cool. If you're in a situation where you can small batches regularly and are wanting to be able to walk away from your pressure canner while it's running, the electric p.c. might be for you. (For my kitchen, I will stick with the manual canners. They aren't going to set themselves on fire or toast the motherboard. They can hold small or large batches of food. They won't throw an error code and not work. All the parts are replaceable. I have control over how quickly they heat up and cool down. If there is a problem, all I have to do is turn off the burner.) Some folks are even canning with their Instant Pots; technically that isn't considered safe for long-term food storage at this time. While I am very comfortable with my Instant Pots, I am not personally choosing to can inside of them.
There are various brands of manual pressure canners; All American, Presto, Mirro, Denali, I know there are more.... Bestie uses a Mirro every once in awhile but fights with it. I am personally set on my Presto's. I have witnessed an AA in action. The off brands are unknown to me.
The mack-daddy of them all is All American**. They are extremely high quality and are made in the USA. The only part ever needing replacing at any time would be the gauge or if you lost the weight. There is no gasket, it is a metal to metal seal and there are six screw heads that complete the seal to create pressure. If you're going to do some heavy duty canning; this is the one to buy. They come in various sizes and run about twice to three times more expensive (or more) than the Presto canners. Some of the problems folks are experiencing are getting the lid set correctly to make the seal and being able to clamp down the screws at the same time and at the same rate of speed. If you drop the lid, you're screwed, they will warp out of shape and the seal won't connect. If you have the cash available, plan to can your heart out, and aren't a klutz like me; get the AA.
Presto is my personal choice for a canner brand that I stick with. I have 2 Presto 16s** and 2 Presto 23s**. I like the canners with both the gauge and the weight. There is a 16 quart with just the weight available and it is cheaper. I want to see those numbers on the gauge. What does the 16 vs the 23 mean? The volume inside the canner. The 16 quart size will run 7 quart jars or 9 to 10 pint jars. The 23 quart size will run 7 quart jars or 18 to 20 pint jars because you can double stack pints in them. Why do I have 2 of each? Because I like to be able to run 2 batches at a time. I don't use the heavier 23 quart size on my glass top stove. I only use the 16s on the glass top due to the weight. Why do I like my Presto's so much? They aren't terribly expensive. If I need to replace parts, I can. AND I keep a set on hand. There is an over-pressure valve built in; just in case. They are reliable and easy to use. The lid is easy to turn onto the canner and off. IF I drop a lid, there is a good chance it will still be ok to use, but I might need to replace the gauge I just busted. IF I screw up and run a canner dry; I'm not out a huge cost to replace a canner.
IF you're going to can on a gas stove OR outside on a propane burner, on a wood stove, or open fire; (regardless of canner brand) do yourself a favor and get a heat diffuser plate** to use under the canners. It can make the difference in your needing to replace an entire canner because of the flame. Most of these canners are made from aluminum and cannot handle the high heat of a constant flame without some support. The last thing you want to do is ruin your expensive canner.
Let's talk about choosing a canner size. As you can tell, I use my 16s more often than anything else. Even if I'm just waterbathing half pints or pints and not quarts, I will still pull out the Presto 16 quart canners and use those over the big waterbath pot. I can fit 1 more pint inside the pressure canner than the waterbath pot due the racking AND they heat up faster than the big 'un. The 23 quart canner size take far longer to heat up inside. The longer it takes to heat up the canner the more electricity, gas or wood you have burnt to get the job done. The larger canner also takes longer to cool down and reduce pressure; this increases the chance of flat sour. I pull out the bigger canners when I'm doing large batches of things and don't need to be able to switch out finished vs un-canned jars as quickly. My Presto 16 quart canners are both looking a little rough. They are clean, but the stand pipe has turned black from all the use and the inside is dark from me adding vinegar to the water.
I've seen folks choose to use other canning methods just because they don't want to get out the "big canner". Well if the thing cost $600 and just sits on a shelf, what good is it doing? I guess that is one way to get a canner to "last a lifetime". But really, that's about like those diamond earrings you got for graduation that you never wear. They are pretty but not doing you any good.
Consider how often you want to can and how quickly you're going to turn batches out. A larger canner has a slower turn around between batches. Also think about what you're planning to can and if it's something you're going to do year round or just seasonally with the garden. Are you going to be running smaller batches or marathon canning?
Figure up how much fuel it costs to can with and how much you pay per kwH for electricity vs gas/propane. Are you on or off-grid? How many kwH can your system provide? Is the wiring in your house new enough to handle multiple items going on the same circuit? Are you on a city gas connection? How much does the big house propane tank hold and cost to fill? Are you close to a place to fill or switch out a small propane tank for a reasonable price? A larger canner takes more fuel to heat up and run.
Figure up the strength of the burners you plan to can on. Alot of the new electric stoves come with safety burners that will need to be replaced up front because they have a setting that doesn't allow them to heat continuously. The gas burner on your stove, does it have enough oomph to keep a canner going 1.5 hours? Is the outdoor burner you intend to use too strong and will it warp your canner? Is your stove induction? You will need an induction-compatible canner.
Take a hard look at your personal strength and be honest about it. (I get frustrated with myself just feeding dogs and chickens because it is difficult for me to lift 50 pound feed bags.) If the canner is full of layers of full jars and water; that's going to weigh alot and you need to be able to lift it. I don't care if you think you're just going to turn the burner off; at some point, you're going to have to lift a canner full of jars, food and water. That is heavy. For me to move the Presto 16 full of quart jars of food off of the glass top burner; I have to lift the thing directly up a few inches to set it on thick towels so it will cool down quicker. That is weight directly in front of me with my arms stretched out lifting up and then stepping sideways a couple feet. I cannot even dream of moving the 23 quart canners around when double stacked , they have to sit where they are and wait til they cool down. Handsome has to move those around for me and he isn't always around when I need that done.
Now start measuring. How tall is it from the top of the burner on your stove to the bottom of the microwave, fan, or cabinet above it? How tall is the canner you're looking at? Will it fit? Can you get the lid off and on without burning yourself? With mine, I have to set my feet back from the stove, reach forward, and turn the lid and pull the lid off straight up and then tilt the lid so the excess water drips into the canner. I wear flip flops almost exclusively, that means my toes need to be out of the way of boiling water drips. If you're canning outside, is the area sheltered from wind? Is the garage open enough that you won't poison yourself with carbon monoxide?
I think you catch my drift. When you're considering what canner to purchase, take into account your style of canning, what equipment you have available to can with, where you're going to can, and how much you're willing to spend. There is an infinite combination of styles and types of canners and fuel sources that will all work well together. Just give it some thought ahead of time to save yourself from having problems early on.
What combination did you decide on? I'm excited to hear!
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