Home Canning – Water Bath Canning or Pressure Canning, Which is Right for You?

by Chris on March 20, 2011

I think that we have all found ourselves in a situation where we have been blessed with an abundant harvest or we have stumbled into a heck of deal on fresh produce or fruit. So there we are with more fruit or produce than we can possibly eat in the short term or store in the fridge or freezer. We’ve all probably given away as much as possible to our friends and neighbors, but they can only take so much ( I remember one particularly good summer where there were so many tomatoes grown, that you couldn’t even give them away in our Sunday School class). If you find yourself in such a predicament, then there is really only one thing you can do to preserver your harvest and that is to take part in the time honored practice of home canning.

Home Canning

For our purposes there are really two options for home canning, water bath canning and pressure canning. Both methods have their drawback and benefits. Water Bath Canning, as the name implies is simply the immersion of the canning jars in a bath of boiling water. Pressure canning utilizes a sealable container with a pressure valve to build up steam to preserve the food.

Pro’s and Cons of Water Bath Canning

Pro’s:

Inexpensive – a simple set of tools (often found at grocery and hardware stores where I live) and a large pot are all you need to get started
Relatively Uncomplicated – a basic set of instructions are all you need

Con’s:
Limited Ability – Water Bath Canning is only safe for high acidic fruits and vegetables like tomatoes. Due to physics, a water bath can only get up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius). This temperature is safe for acidic foods (lower than 4.6 pH units), since the lower pH inhibits bacterial growth. The temperature of boiling water and a pH greater than 4.6 pH units is not sufficient to kill off some of the nastier pathogenic organisms (like botulism).
Limited Location – if you are at a higher elevation, water will boil below 212 degrees, thus reducing your safety margin. Water bath canning should not be relied on at high elevations.

Pro’s and Con’s of Pressure Canning

Pro’s:

Versatility – A pressures canner get’s the temperature up to 240 degrees Fahrenheit ( 116 degrees Celsius) which is the temperature of steam. Because of this higher temperature, you are able to can all kinds of food (regardless of the pH) including meats, soups, and even dairy products.
Increased Safety – Because of the higher temperature and the pressure, you are more likely to get a good seal on your lids.
Dual Purpose Equipment – Most pressure canners can also be used as pressure cookers!
Safe for all Elevations – due to the pressure, a safe temperature is reached regardless of whether you are at sea level or 12,000 feet.

Con’s:

Cost – Pressure canners are an investment. A good pressure canner can cost over $200, with the large higher end models going much higher than that. But if you buy a quality pressure canner and take care of it, they will last for years and years of service.
Learning Curve – Pressure canning takes a little bit more time to get used to. Be sure to read as much as possible and ask your friends or relatives that may know how to pressure can for some help.

To Water Bath Can or Pressure Can?

If you are just getting your feet wet and want don’t want to invest a lot, water bath canning is an easy way to see if home canning is right for you. Be sure to only can foods with a pH lower than 4.6 pH units. Contact your county extension agent if you have questions, they should be able to help you if you aren’t sure how acidic a certain vegetable or fruit is. But if you are serious about canning, are at a high altitude or have a need to can a wider range of foods, pressure canning is the way to go. I’d also recommend getting a nice canning guide like the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

Check out this review of a great American made pressure canner that will suit most home canning needs and last for years and years of canning.

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