How to Can: Pressure Method


Try home preserving using a steam-pressure canner! A pressure canner must be used to process low-acid foods including vegetables, meats, poultry, and seafood as well as soups, stews, and sauces containing those foods. The bacterial spores and toxins produced by low-acid foods are destroyed by the higher temperature reached by this method. Following proper procedures when using a pressure canner is important, but it’s not scary. Learning to use a pressure canner is nothing more than learning how to operate any other piece of equipment, and it’s a fairly simple piece of equipment at that. Also, if you already know how to can using a hot water bath, you know the basic steps of food and jar preparation, so you’re halfway there in the process. Now learn to use a pressure canner and you can preserve almost anything in a jar. If you’ve been afraid to try pressure canning, c’mon. I’ll show you how.

*Utilize expert canning resources for further guidance. See suggested resources at the bottom of this post. This post is intended as a visual aid, and as inspiration and encouragement, not a single or expert resource. Also note that pressure canners come in different styles and sizes–deep enough for one layer of quart or smaller size jars, or deep enough for two layers of pint or smaller size jars. The USDA recommends that a canner be large enough to hold at least 4 quart jars to be considered a pressure canner for its published processes. Consult your manual for specifics regarding use of your gauge and how to lock on your lid. I do not recommend the use of a pressure canner for which you cannot acquire the manual, especially if you are new to canning. Many manuals are available for download online or for a small cost, ordered through the manufacturer or a distributor.
My pressure canner is 50 years old. It came with its manual, was in good working order, and it was free! (Also known as well-loved.) Ask around. You never know what people might have in their attics and be happy to give away.

Supplies you will need: A large pressure canner with a dial or weighted gauge and a rack, a wide-mouth funnel, a jar lifter, and canning jars, lids, and bands. Lids are one-time use items. Jars and bands can be washed and re-used.

Jars must be well washed and hot when you begin filling them. Jars do NOT need to be pre-sterilized as long as the filled jars will be processed at least 10 minutes in a boiling water bath or pressure canner.

Use a rack that fits the bottom of the pot and the size jars you are using. (The jars must not be in direct contact with the bottom of the pot. Normally, a rack will come with your canner.) In a small pot, prepare jar lids. Lids come in regular and wide-mouth sizes, as do jars. Use “real” canning jars ONLY. Lids should be heated for at least 10 minutes prior to using. Lids can be heated in a small pot on the stove or in a small slow-cooker that can maintain a temperature of around 180 degrees. (Do NOT overheat. Do NOT boil. Overheating lids by boiling can result in seal failure.) Remove as needed.

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How to Can Using a Pressure Canner:

1. Before you begin the final preparation stage of the food to be canned, fill the canner with 2-3 inches of water and heat to a simmer (180 degrees). Note that the simmering water is for hot-packed jars. If using “cold” or raw pack, do not heat water above 140 degrees to avoid thermal shock/jars breaking.

2. Using a wide-mouth funnel, spoon prepared food into jars, filling to the recommended headspace per your recipe.
Use a plastic or wooden instrument to press mixture and remove air bubbles. (Always remove air bubbles, even if you think there aren’t any. THERE ARE.) After debubbling, add more food if needed to reach the recommended headspace.
Never use metal in a glass jar. The slightest knock of metal against a glass jar could cause an invisible fracture that might cause the jar to break in the canner.

Wipe jar rims thoroughly with a damp towel to clean any spillage. This is important because any particles of food remaining on the jar rim can prevent a vacuum seal. If you are canning foods that are particularly sticky or greasy, you can wipe the rims with a paper towel dampened with vinegar to ensure a squeaky clean rim.
3. Take lids one at a time from simmering water with tongs. They do not need to be dried–put them right on the jar.
You can also buy what is called a magnetic wand to use for removing lids from simmering water to place on jars. Tongs do just fine, too.

Place lid immediately on each jar as it is prepared. Screw on bands. Use a towel to hold the hot jars as you tighten the bands. Tighten the bands only fingertip tight–meaning stop when there is resistance. Firm and snug –not as tight as you can make it.

Over-tightening can interfere with the vacuum seal and even cause buckled lids.

4. Slowly lower each jar as you fill it into the simmering canner of water.

Make sure jars remain upright as they are moved. Once all the jars are loaded, place the lid on the canner and lock it on according to the style of your canner and your manual’s instructions. My canner works by moving the lid until the handles on the lid and pot align and lock.
5. Adjust heat to medium-high, leaving vent open to exhaust steam for 10 minutes. Begin counting the 10 minutes after you see visible, continuous steam escaping.
6. Close vent, either by shutting what is called the “peacock” or placing the weighted gauge on top. (Consult your manual’s instructions for more info if using a dial gauge.) My canner uses a weighted gauge.

When using a weighted gauge, place the gauge down on the vent at the pressure level required for the recipe. I was canning tomatoes here at 5 pounds pressure.
You can process tomatoes in a hot water bath with the addition of an acid (lemon juice, or vinegar when making salsa, etc), but I prefer to use a pressure canner because of the increased speed of processing.

7. Time processing according to directions for the recipe you are using. Begin counting the processing time after the correct pressure is reached. Using a weighted gauge, this is identified by when the gauge begins to jiggle, letting off steam as it holds the pressure at the required level. After the gauge begins to jiggle, lower the temperature until the gauge jiggles two or three times per minute. Avoid “see-sawing” the temperature when adjusting for the proper “jiggle”–this can cause excess loss of liquid from the jars.

When the processing time has expired, turn off the heat. Do not remove the lid (or gauge) until the canner has depressurized. Allow the canner to cool naturally. Trying to rush the cooling of the canner will also cause liquid loss/siphoning of liquids from the jars. (I usually give my canner about an hour.) When using a dial gauge, wait until the gauge returns to zero. With a weighted gauge, you can test it by lifting the gauge in minimal increments. If steam is still escaping, lower the gauge and wait. If nothing happens as you slowly lift the gauge, the canner is ready to be opened. Open the canner by tilting the underside of the lid AWAY from you to avoid a steam burn. Wait a few minutes to allow the temperature in the canner to stabilize.

8. Remove jars one at a time with a jar lifter and place the jars, not touching and at least one inch apart, on a dry surface covered with toweling or layers of newspaper to prevent thermal shock.
Keep cooling jars out of drafts. Do not move jars or adjust rings during the resting period.

Allow jars to rest undisturbed for 12-24 hours. Store jars in a cool, dry location after removing rings from jars and thoroughly washing jars in warm soapy water. Do not store jars with the rings on. Rings may rust onto jars and become difficult to remove. Rings may also mask a bad seal and result in jar explosion. Always remove rings on stored jars. (You may want to replace them later for gift-giving or for transport, but it’s not a good idea to store jars with rings on a longterm basis.)

Recipes and Resources:

For high-acid foods that can be safely canned in a hot water bath, check out: How to Can: Hot Water Bath Method.

I highly recommend the “bible” of canning, the Ball Blue Book of Preserving. (Want to win one? Check out my Ball Blue Book Project page for information about this ongoing giveaway.) Please read expert canning instructions. Do not take anyone’s advice on the internet, including mine, without also consulting an expert source. The Ball Blue Book is an EXCELLENT canning guide. I use it endlessly. Visit the Ball site here.

Another expert source of canning knowledge: The University of Georgia.

Read: The Joy of Canning.

See: All my home-canning recipes and ideas.

Find even more canning recipes at Farm Bell Recipes.

Got questions about canning? Just want to chat about canning with other like-minded canning souls? Join us in the special canning forum on Chickens in the Road!

*Special thanks to Dede for her assistance with this post. Visit the Yahoo canning group here.

See All My Recipes
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  1. rainss61 says:

    This beautiful picture and instructions make me want to can a few things again-my husband and I did it together 35 years ago when we were first married-the blue book was great-I remember it well! :happyflower: Am going to suggest it to him again !! 8)

  2. Sheila Z says:

    Great post. The only thing I would add for safety is to be careful when you remove the jars from the canner. I once had the bottom give out on a jar and the boiling hot contents drop all over my feet as I attempted to move the jar to set it on a towel to cool. Either the jar had an imperfection or I tapped the bottom of the jar on the side of the canner as I took it out. I highly recommend wearing shoes on your feet to protect from being burned if that happens.

    Once all those jars are lined up on the can rack it will be a pleasure to go stare at all you did this summer. It’s a sight to behold and there is such security in having all that food in storage.

  3. CindyP says:

    Great post! Last year, I used a weighted gauge (1st time pressure canning) and on my 2nd load, the stupid thing wouldn’t jiggle! HaHa, there was too much pressure!!! I finally turned it down far enough and it started jiggling. I continued to let the full time go, just to be safe, probly overcooked that meat, but it was good!!!

    So, this year, I have the dial gauge 😉

  4. smiledarlin says:

    I have been busy spending a chunk of my summer time doing the same thing, and will love the great food I’ll eat all winter.
    Another great resource is from Penn State- it’s called “Let’s Preserve Newsletter” and has some current tips and safety features along with recipes. You can go to the web site and look under “Food & Nutrition” for the newsletter and sign up for email notification when the pdf form is ready. You can also read past issues in the archives.

  5. Suzette says:

    I got a pressure canner for the first time last summer. About all I’ve done in it is chicken. But, I’m here to tell you…it makes the most amazing canned chicken. The chicken salad made with home-canned chicken is to die for. It was scary the first time I opened a jar, but now I wouldn’t be without it in my pantry. Thanks for sharing. I hope your post encourages others to dive in.

  6. Kat says:

    I scored a well-loved pressure canner this year at an estate sale earlier this summer. It’s the type with a dial gauge. Our local extension agency tests the accuracy of canners for free, and boy was I glad I took advantage of the opportunity. The gauge was up to 4 pounds off at the top of the scale, and 2 pounds off at the bottom. Nothing I canned would have been safe to eat.
    I picked up a new gauge at the hardware store for about 12 dollars…

  7. Catalina says:

    Great post!
    I love my magnetic wand. It makes canning so much faster and easier.

  8. Brenda says:

    Yesterday I WBC applie pie filling. Today I’m Pressure canning vegeatable soup, tommorrow it’s chicken. I could do this almost everyday if I could find good prices on produce and meat. My dad sent me his pressure canner since he said he didn’t want to can anymore. Can’t beat free.

  9. milkmaid says:

    My pressure canner is my best friend this time of the year. I just finished 170 quarts of tomato yummyness…I LOVE my canner.

  10. Debbie says:

    Thank you so much for explaining pressure canning. I’ve been wanting to try it but it seemed so mysterious!!

    Love, love, love your blog!! Today is my son’s birthday and he requested a carmel cake, well I thought of your burnt sugar cake because it looked so good. So I proceeded to make it and for some reason the cake layers were very flat, I mean really flat. Hmmm, I double checked my ingredients and AHA!! my baking powder was expired. So off to town I go again and buy some “fresh” baking powder. So I started to make it a second time. Thought about putting it in 8 inch cake pans but I thought it might spill over. Anyway, it was time for the cake to come out and it was JUST as flat as my first attempt. 🙁 What in the world could have gone wrong? I have never had any luck with whipping egg whites and today is real humid (I live in N.C. in an old farmhouse that doesn’t have central air (sound familiar?) Do you think that could be it? Maybe my egg whites didn’t have enough volume?

    Has this ever happened to you? I did use fresh all purpose flour and just bought the eggs and used 9 inch pans. The only other thing I can think of is maybe the sugar syrup was too hot when I added it to the flour/sugar mixture. Anyway, I hope you can help me. Love your recipes and your farm.


    • Suzanne says:

      Oh, Debbie, I’m so sorry to hear that. I really have no idea, unfortunately. I’ve never had any trouble with that cake! I haven’t used the syrup really hot, though I’m not sure if that would do it or not. Possibly if it was very hot, it could mess up the baking powder. Maybe. (I’d have to experiment with that to know for sure.) I always make my cake recipes to make tall layers so I hate to hear that!

      • Debbie says:

        Thank you so much for responding. O.k. I’m not giving up– tomorrow I’m going to try for a third time on the burnt sugar cake. Third times the charm, right? Approximately how long did you whip your egg whites? The receipe says until fluffy, I’m assuming that is soft peak stage. Also, did you use 8 or 9 inch pans—- wish me luck! Thanks again.

  11. Lois Klein says:

    I’m just getting back into canning, after doing it for years. My return to water bath tomatoes/zucchini is tomorrow. While I have a kitchen glass top cookstove, I’m using a cooktop in the basement. I use wooden chopsticks to poke/release air bubbles. I just froze my first corn, according to your previous post, but wish I had my big pressure canner back. I’m looking forward to making apple butter in my crockpots. More women are returning to preserving foods and sewing. Your site is really lovely and informative.

  12. Donna says:

    My step grandmother always cooked her wonderful green beans and I think her roast in a pressure cooker.

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