Pressure Canning Vs. Water Bath | Which one to Use

There are two main canning methods, that are very popular. Water bath canning, and pressure canning. What is the difference? Today we’ll compare pressure canning vs. water bath canning.

Water bath canning is one of the easiest ways to start learning how to can foods. It’s not quite as intimidating as pressure canning, because you aren’t dealing with a pressurized pot.

It also works well for a variety of foods.

Pressure Cooker canning is a canning method that is better for low acid foods.

This canning process is great for animal products and alkaline products. The ph values of a food tells you what method to use.

I’ve only been learning to pressure can foods recently, in the last year or so. I received a pressure canner as a Christmas gift and was too intimidated to try it.

Yet once I did, I realized it’s a lot easier than I thought.

Pressure canning times are a bit trickier, especially when converting a regular water bath canning recipe into a pressure canning recipe.

But it is possible. Most pressure canners come with a manual with helpful instructions.

There is a place and time for both water bath canning and pressure canning.

Basics of Canning

Canning foods is the process of preserving foods using hot water and heat to seal glass jars.

You start by ladling hot or cold, cooked or raw food into sterilized jars. These jars are then placed in a pot of water and cooked for a determined amount of time.

Canning has been a common method of home food preservation for more than a century.

It was invented in 1809 by Nicolas Appert of France. I’m glad he discovered this because it is one of the main ways I preserve our garden vegetables.

Alexander Kerr invented the easy-to-fill wide-mouth jar in 1903.

When done correctly, canned foods can be stored in a dry, cool room for 12-18 months, and sometimes even longer.

If you are a beginner canner, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and corn are some of the easiest foods to start with. Start with small batches, and learn as you go.

canning dill pickles

Water Bath Canning

Also called boiling water bath, water bath canning is the easier method of canning that lets you make and store homemade jars of jam, pickles, and tomato sauce.

All you need is a large pot (you can use a stock pot or a water bath canner), with a rack at the bottom. If you don’t have a rack, simply use canning jar rings.

You place filled canning jars onto the rack and completely immerse it in water. Once your water starts boiling, the processing time starts.

It’s important to note that only high-acid foods can be preserved by water bath canning.

These include fruit preserves, pickles, and jams. Tomatoes are borderline acidic enough to use in a water bath canner. Some recipes call for lemon juice, which ensures the acidity of the food.

Non-acidic vegetables and meat must be canned in a pressure canner.

Pressure Canning

A pressure canner is capable of heating the food in jars to a higher temperature than boiling water.

This is why this method is best for low acid foods, as the high heat kills any botulism spores.

Most vegetables and low acid foods are safe to eat when preserved by pressure canning.

The heat of the processing kills botulism bacteria and makes pressure cooking one of the most utilized ways to preserve pantry shelf-stable foods.

A pressure cooker uses only several inches of water at the bottom of the pot.

The processing time and pounds of pressure required will differ per recipe, although there are a lot of similarities.

Raw meat must be processed for 90 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure.

The downside of the pressure canning method is that it can ruin the texture of food.

Fruit preserves turn to mush in a pressure canner. It essentially overcooks them. That’s why water bath canning is best for those.

Pasta sauces can be processed in a pressure canner, but the texture will also be different than when using a water bath.

Because tomatoes are a slightly high acid food, I prefer to use a water bath to can them.

Raw and cooked meats are a must in a pressure canner. You won’t save a lot of time using a pressure cooker, but it provides a safe and reliable method of preservation.

Acidic and Non-Acidic Foods

The reason use between a pressure canner and water bath canning is the risk of botulism.

Low-acid foods are the most common sources of botulism. That’s why it’s important to use a pressure canner for these.

High temperatures successfully kill botulism spores in pressure canning, which makes these foods safe to eat.

Some recipes call for lemon juice, which successfully lowers makes the recipe more acidic.

Most of my tomato canning recipes contain lemon juice. This is why water bath canning is enough. Adding citric acid is another way to acidify the recipe.

What Foods Should Be Pressure Canned

Low acid foods include all vegetables, meats, poultry, and seafood. These foods must be preserved in a pressure canner.

My recipe book includes fish, pork, and poultry canning recipes.

What Foods Should Be Water Bath Canned

High acid foods include most fruits, such as lemons, limes, plums, grapefruits, and blueberries.

Fruits and pickles with a PH of 4.6 or lower can be successfully canned in a water bath canner. Botulism will not grow in acidic conditions.

Supplies You Need To Can Foods

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Boiling Water Canner

Pressure Cooker

Canning Jars

Canning Lids

Jar lifter

Difference Between Pressure Canners

A pressure canner is a more complex piece of equipment.

Therefore it is more expensive. There are two types of pressure canners.

One contains a dial gauge and the other has a weighted gauge.

A dial gauge shows you what the pressure is, and you control it by adjusting the heat on your stove. This is the one I have.

Weighted-gauge pressure cookers release any pressure above the desired amount of pressure.

Then you can also get the dual gauge canners, which have both a weighted gauge and a dial gauge.

Dial gaugeWeighted Gauge
indicates the pressure inside the cannerregulates pressure inside the canner
must be checked regularly for accuracy doesn’t need to be tested
more flexible in altitude adjustmentsaltitude adjustment requires an increase of 5 PSIG pressure
pressure is increased, and decreased by burner heatwill continue to allow some air to be released from the canner during processing
Dial Gauge vs. Weighted Gauge Pressure Cookers

Which one is Cheaper

The water bath is a cheaper way of canning when compared to the cost of a pressure cooker.

A simple canner is not as complex as a pressure canner, therefore it’s cheaper.

It is an investment, but a pressure canner that gets taken care of will last decades.

When it comes to dial gauge pressure cookers and weighted gauge canners, the price is very similar. It depends on the brand and the size of the pot.

Best Boiling Water Bath Canner

Best Pressure Canner

Is pressure canning faster than water bath canning?

Not really. While processing times on recipes can be much shorter when pressure canning, the times it takes to pressurize the pot, as well as release pressure after done, even outs the time difference.

Can I just pressure can everything instead of water bath canning?

As nice as it would be to own only one canner, not all foods can be pressure cooked. Not all foods can be water bathed either.

Home canning is a safe and great way to preserve food items that don’t keep for long.

Food safety is always the number one thing to consider. Fresh vegetables and other products can be safely stored for the long term with the correct canning method.

The basic rule when comparing pressure canning vs. water bath canning is the acidity of the food. Low acid foods need to be pressure-cooked, and high acid foods can be canned using a boiling water bath.

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