Using a Pressure Canner When You’re Terrified of Using a Pressure Canner

Let me just start off by saying that pressure canning is not my favorite thing. It’s loud, it’ll make your kitchen hotter than the hubs of hell during the summer, and can often take hours to finish.

But it’s absolutely necessary in order to preserve low-acid foods, so I do it anyway.

The first thing to do when you want to use a pressure canner (besides buying the darn thing) is to get a canning book. A lot of people like the Ball Blue Book, but it looked woefully thin to me. So I bought the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. She’s large and in charge. There are step-by-step canning guides inside, and a buttload of recipes. And with canning, you can’t really fly by the seat of your pants, it’s best to follow a tested recipe. Hence the book.

I’m not going to do a whole step-by-step guide to pressure canning here, because so many other web sites and books have already done a much better job than I ever could. But I will list a few pointers. A lot of canning sites/books tell you to reference the instructions that came with your canner for certain things and lemme tell you….the instructions that came with my canner? Might as well have been made into toilet paper. They were so poorly written that I was Googling things left and right. In order to maybe save someone the same headache, here are some tips.

So. You’ve got a pressure canner, a book, jars and lids, and some veg. Let us begin!


Just follow a canning guide and a recipe and you’ll do fine. But here are some things that guides and booklets can be vague on:

– Make sure the vent tube is clear – see the light coming through? That’s what it should look like. If it’s not clear, get a pipe cleaner and clean it out.

– Check the gasket for brittleness or tears before putting it in the lid.

– How much water to put in the canner? The general rule is 2-3 inches. The level can be adjusted again later if necessary.

– Another handy tip – when pressure canning, there is no need to sterilize the jars. Wash the jars in hot soapy water and keep them warm. I just leave mine in the sink, covered with hot water.

Then, keep following your recipe. I was canning plain old carrots during this particular canning session, so I peeled them and cut them into chunks.


I packed the carrots into the jars and covered them hot water from the tea kettle. I raw-packed the carrots as opposed to doing a hot-pack.

I used the baby spoon above to pop any air bubbles, then put the lids and bands on.

– Put the jars in the canner and make sure they don’t touch the outside of the canner or each other.

– What about the water level? The water should be about halfway up the jars.

– Another tip – for foods with a reaaalllly long processing time, add a bit more water. You don’t want to cover the jars, but the water can be up to the ‘shoulders’ of the jars.

– Double-triple-check the gasket and put the lid on. Adjust the heat under the canner to high. Now the steam needs to vent.

– The steam needs to be vented for 10 minutes, and you can start counting down the minutes once the steam vents in a strong ‘V’ shape – don’t start counting down until it forms a ‘V’. When they say ‘vent the steam’, they MEAN vent the motherfucking steam. 

If you can’t see it, stick something dark behind the vent. This is also about the time the canner starts making weird noises. This is normal. It will be hissing and bubbling. Don’t freak out.

– When the steam has vented for a full 10 minutes, put the weight on. USE A POTHOLDER, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY. The steam coming out of the vent tube is HOT.


And now we wait. The weight is on, and we have to wait for the canner to build up enough pressure to start moving the weight around. Some weights rock, mine spins and hisses. This is all very technical. Oh, and the canner is now going to be extra-noisy. Hissing and Spitting Time has commenced.

Once the weight starts spinning/hissing/bouncing/shucking and jiving/rocking (which can take 10 minutes or more, so be patient), it’s time to start a timer and begin counting down the processing time. There should be spinning and hissing/rocking at least 3-4 times every minute before you can safely begin counting down the time. Adjust the heat as necessary.

And the hard part is over. Just follow your recipe for the remainder of the canning process. The recipe (or a guide in a book) will tell you what to do when the processing time is up – how long to let it sit before removing the weight, etc.


It’s a bit weird until you get used to it. You might have to use the canner a few times before you get the hang of it and feel comfortable with it. The first time I used my canner, I watched it like this:

From the living room.

If you’d like to read a good guide to pressure canning, here’s one from the National Center for Home Food Preservation. They know what’s what.

Hopefully this was helpful. If anyone has a question, ask it in the comments and I shall do my best to answer it in a non-doofus-y manner.

Edited to add:  I forgot to mention the safety features! Modern pressure canners have built-in safety features to release the pressure inside the canner should it build up too high. The canner I have (which I bought new last year) has 3 built in safety doo-dads to release pressure if shit starts to get real. In most canning situations, this will never happen, so relax. It’s all good.

See you later!