There’s nothing quite as rewarding as canning.
Being able to put up fresh vegetables and fruits for the winter and filling my shelves with jars of jams, pickles, and jellies is beyond satisfying – this time of the year is what I live for!
However, this year, I had an “oops.” After dropping my pressure canner’s lid, I broke the dial and had to send out for another one.
Due to shipping delays related to COVID-19, it took nearly a month for me to get the new piece in the mail. This was frustrating, to say the very least, since I had massive amounts of produce I needed to can.
I still had a functioning water bath canner, though. This led me to wonder what sorts of foods could be water bath canned instead.
Unfortunately, not many – which is what I discovered in my research. That led to another question, which was, “can I just ditch the water bath canner and pressure can everything next year?”
Pressure canners are admittedly more expensive than water bath canners. However, if you can only have one, pressure canners are the way to go.
They can process a wider variety of foods and do so quite quickly.
However, you can’t always swap out recipes between the two types of canners.
Even though most pressure canned foods are safe to eat, pressure canning food that is meant to be water bath canned can produce results that are less than palatable.
Let’s dive in a bit deeper.
Benefits of Pressure Canning
If you’ve been canning food for quite some time, you probably already know that using the water bath canner to process foods that would otherwise be pressure canned is not a great idea.
Foods that are meant to be pressure canned (like vegetables and meats) need to be processed in this way because they have low levels of acid.
A water bath canner just can’t get itself up to high enough temperatures to reduce the risk of contamination.
However, there are lots of benefits to pressure canning, leading many people to wonder if they can just pressure can all the food that’s meant to be water bath canned.
For one, pressure canning, for the most part, works with a wider variety of foods.
It can be used for meats, vegetables, and sauces, while water bath canning is only suitable for pickled items, fruits, and jams.
Pressure canners often have a higher load capacity as well.
While a water bath canner usually holds a maximum of 7-quarts, a pressure canner can hold up to 20-pints (if you have one that allows for double stacking, as I do).
Is Pressure Canning Faster Than Water Bath Canning?
Before I answer the nagging question of whether you can just pressure can everything, I’d like to first dispel a myth about pressure canning.
It isn’t necessarily faster than water bath canning. It can seem like it is.
That’s because the pressure canning times that are usually listed on a recipe are shorter than those listed for the water bath.
However, if you look at that time and that time alone, you are ignoring other factors.
For one, you need to count the time that it takes a pressure canner to get up to pressure. This can add at least 15-20 minutes to your processing time.
Plus, if you’re canning multiple loads of food, you’ll also need to give the unit time to lose pressure. Otherwise, it’s not safe to remove the lid. That adds another hour (at the very least) to your overall time.
Can I Just Pressure Can Everything?
Despite the longer times associated with pressure canning, you might still be interested in pressure canning all of your food instead of water bath canning it.
Perhaps you only want to buy one type of canner or you just want to be as streamlined in your approach as possible. I get it!
However, there are a few issues associated with pressure canning everything.
1. No Recommended Processing Times
If you decide to pressure can all of your food instead of using the water bath canner, you’re going to have to do a lot of guesswork.
That’s never a good thing when it comes to canning. The reason for this is that most reliable recipes have information on how to safely can food one way – either with the water bath canner or with the pressure canner.
Without official pressure canning guidelines and recommended times, you’re going to be bumbling around in the dark.
Using a pressure canner on everything doesn’t make it safer. A lot of people believe that pressure canning everything, since it adds extra heat, adds an extra layer of safety. Unfortunately, that’s not true.
2. Degradation of Certain Food Products
The biggest reason why I recommend against pressure canning everything is that pressure canning can lead to serious degradation of your food. This is one of the most common canning problems.
You may find that your food loses its flavor or texture when you’re canning in a pressure canner.
That’s true especially when you’re working with delicate foods like chutneys, jams, relishes, and pickles.
Because a pressure canner reaches such high temperatures, you’ll find that the resulting products are mushy, bland, and colorless. Not exactly pleasant, right?
3. Other Adjustments May Still Be Necessary
Some people want to pressure everything because they’re canning at altitude and assume they don’t need to change the times or pressures when using a pressure canner.
That’s not the case! You still need to make adjustments either way – there are just some differences in what needs to be adjusted specifically.
4. It’s Not Cheaper
At the end of the day, relying solely on a pressure canner probably isn’t going to save you any money unless your kitchen is devoid of gear.
Pressure canners easily cost more than $100 while a water bath canner costs less than half of that. You don’t even have to buy an official water bath canner, either – you can use a large lidded stockpot instead.
The Alternative Solution
There is one big alternative you can try to save space and increase your efficiency.
It won’t necessarily take care of all the concerns that may have led you to want to use a pressure canner for everything, but it can help.
You can use your pressure canner as a water bath canner.
All you need to do is fill the canner the way you normally would, but add more water than normal and avoid locking the lid (which adds pressure).
Fill the canner with water about 2-inches over the tops of the jars and attach your lid loosely.
You can also buy a separate lid that fits snugly on the unit but is not a pressure canning lid.
The benefit of this is that you can have two water bath canners going side by side on the stove. This will help increase your efficiency (I did 17-pints of canned tomatoes – which can be safely canned in a water bath canner – at once last week!).
It also cuts down on the amount of equipment you need to have.
There you go! It’s truly a win-win solution.
Can Some Foods Be Canned Either Way?
Yes – some can be water bath canned or pressure canned – go through the list of options.
Pressure canning and water bath canning are two different methods for preserving food. They both have advantages and disadvantages.
It’s important to know which method is right for you before proceeding with your preservation efforts.
Unfortunately, some foods are best suited to a water bath canner. Others should be canned with a pressure canner.
Stick to the classic recipes and try not to veer off course.
It can be time-consuming (and potentially expensive) to maintain two separate canners. However, it’s worth it when it comes to the quality and safety of your food.