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I’ve been canning in my Nesco canner for a couple of years now. I love using my Nesco canner, for both water bath and pressure canning. But is it safe to steam can in the Nesco canner? That’s the question that I’ll answer in this article, so that you can make an informed decision regarding steam canning in the Nesco smart canner.
Before I get into my own personal decision about steam canning in the Nesco, I first want to explain what steam canning is, the benefits of steam canning, and why many people have chosen to steam can in the Nesco canner.
What is Steam Canning?
So the big question is, what is steam canning?
If you’re new to canning, you might be wondering what the difference is between steam canning and water bath canning. Both methods require the use of a canner, and both are large pots with a lid and rack.
However, water bath canning is the more traditional method, and it involves submerging jars of food in boiling water. Steam canning, on the other hand, uses steam to kill microorganisms and seal the jars.
What are the Advantages to Steam Canning?
So, what are the advantages of steam canning? There are many reasons some people have switched from water bath canning to steam canning.
For one, steam canning uses less water than water bath canning. This is important from an environmental perspective and also means the canner is lighter and easier to handle.
Additionally, steam canning takes less time than water bath canning, and uses less energy.
If you’re looking for a more efficient way to preserve your food, steam canning is the way to go.
What Types of Food Can you Steam Can?
To determine which foods you can safely steam can, apply many of the same guidelines for water bath canning. Both water bath canning, and steam canning are suitable for the same types of food.
With that in mind, The National Center for Home Food Preservation provides guidance on safe food preservation methods, including canning. They note that:
A boiling water canner cannot be used for foods that are low in acid and have a pH higher than 4.6. A pressure canner must be used to process these foods.
The low acidity of the food helps to prevent the growth of bacteria.
Foods that are safe to steam can include fruits that are high in acid. You can also water bath or steam can some vegetables with added acid, such as vinegar or lemon juice.
The time required for processing also plays a role; according to the NCHFP:
“Any foods processed in a boiling water canner must be processed for at least 10 minutes at altitudes of less than 1,000 feet above sea level. At altitudes greater than 1,000 feet, foods must be processed for longer periods of time.”
The flip side of this is that the maximum amount of processing time for steam canning is 45 minutes. The good news is, I’ve seldom, if ever, seen a water bath canning recipe that calls for a processing time of longer than 45 minutes. So, the bottom line is that if a recipe is suitable for water bath canning, it is also likely safe for steam canning.
But is it Safe to Steam Can in the Nesco Canner?
Many people who use Nesco canners have started using them for steam canning. They swear that it’s safe and that they will never go back to water bath canning in the Nesco.
Their reason is that it’s faster and uses less water. It is also so much more convenient than water bath canning in the Nesco canner.
I Decided to Give Steam Canning in the Nesco Canner a Try
Since so many Nesco canner enthusiasts raved about steam canning in the Nesco, I decided to try it.
I followed general canning safety guidelines, including using an approved recipe from The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. (Amazon)
I Felt Uneasy Using My Nesco Canner for Steam Canning
Even though I used what I knew was a recipe that would be safe for steam canning, I felt uneasy. Perhaps my uneasiness was due to first time jitters. It can be nerve wracking to try a new method of preserving food for the first time.
There are No Instructions for Steam Canning in the Nesco
However, there was a bigger issue that caused me concern. The issue is that the manual for the Nesco canner doesn’t have any instructions for steam canning in the Nesco.
Since there are no official instructions for steam canning in the Nesco, there are several unofficial instructions.
As an example, in the various versions of instructions for steam canning in the Nesco:
- Some say to add water until it touches the rack.
- Others say to add water until it covers about a third of the jar
- Others say to put in 8 cups of water
Some of the sets of instructions for steam canning in the Nesco are more popular than others. But there’s not a standard, proven way to steam can in the Nesco canner. The reason for this is that there never has been any legitimate testing done regarding steam canning in the Nesco canner, and because of that, there aren’t any set procedures for doing so.
“Winging it” with the Nesco Canner is a Matter of Personal Integrity
The second problem is that I wrote an article about whether or not the Nesco smart canner is safe. In it, I respond to an often-quoted study by the Utah State Extension.
In the study, a few different devices were tested. Based on the results of the study, the researchers concluded that they don’t recommend canning with smart canners.
The contention that I have with the study is that they didn’t follow the manufacturer instructions.
Since my biggest contention with that study is that they failed to follow the manufacturer instructions, I can’t justify using my Nesco canner in a way that’s inconsistent with the manufacturer instructions.
What the Nesco Canner Manual Says about Steam Canning
So now let’s look at what the Nesco user manual says about steam canning.
On page 6 of the manual, there are instructions for steaming (not steam canning, but steaming). Since those instructions are for steaming food, I won’t go over them here.
However, the instructions for steaming in the Nesco are one of the common instructions I’ve seen floating around for steam canning.
So, people just took the steaming instructions in the Nesco canner manual and use them to steam can.
Instructions for Preserving food in the Nesco Canner Manual
While the information in the manual on steaming is on page 6, the food preservation information starts on page 8. So, it’s not until 2 pages after the steaming instructions that the manual gets into food preservation. This matters because the instructions for steaming aren’t intended to be used for preserving food.
What the Nesco Canner Says about Water Bath Canning
The instructions for water bath canning in the Nesco start on page 9 of the manual. I
Here are the basics in the Nesco manual for water bath canning:
- Follow an approved recipe
- Place food in jars and add the lids according to the manufacturer’s instructions
- Put the canning rack in the bottom of the inner pot
- Fill the pot with enough water to completely cover the jars
- Close the lid, setting the valve in the exhaust position
- Select the WB/Steam button
- Add the time and press start
- When there’s a steady stream of steam, press the start button a second time
It’s important to note is that there is an emphasis on making sure the jars are covered with water when water bath canning in the Nesco canner.
It goes on to say that if jars are too tall to cover with water, to use the low pressure setting instead of the water bath setting.
The Problem with Using the WB/Steam Setting in the Nesco Canner
One of the biggest issues with steam canning in the Nesco canner is that the water bath and steam function use the exact same button. In other words, there’s not a water bath button and a separate steam button.
And yet with water bath canning, you MUST cover the jars with water, and with steam canning you do not cover the jars with water. With that in mind, how can the same button work for two different canning methods?
While the Nesco is indeed a SMART canner, I don’t think it’s smart enough to know whether or not my intention is to steam can or water bath can when you use the exact same button for steaming and water bath canning.
A Way to Use Less Water in the Nesco Canner
Since using less water is one of the benefits of steam canning, please note that the Nesco canner manual provides a way to use less water. If you want to use less water in the Nesco smart canner, you can use the LOW pressure setting instead of water bath canning. The low-pressure setting on the Nesco canner uses much less water than water bath canning.
I have done this a couple of times when water bath canning in the Nesco, with good results. However, I have heard of some people who have used the low pressure setting with pints and had the texture of what they’re processing impacted.
I recommend using the low setting for water bath canning jars that are too tall to cover with water, since that’s the intended use of the low-pressure setting.
The nice thing about this is that it makes it possible to use water bath recipes for quart size jars, even though they are too tall to be covered with water.
That’s kind of a big deal for me since one reason I prefer the Nesco canner over the Instant Pot Max is that the Nesco is large enough to accommodate quart size jars, and there’s provision for using quart-size jars for water bath recipes.
What Nesco Support Says About Steam Canning in the Nesco Canner
Since there are so many people who swear by steam canning in the Nesco, before writing off the possibility completely, I called Nesco support. I asked them about steam canning in the Nesco. Without hesitation, the person I spoke with emphatically stated that the Nesco canner is not made for steam canning.
So, the official bottom line from Nesco is not to use the Nesco canner as a steam canner.
What Canning Experts Say About Steam Canning in Water Bath Canners
In addition to steam canning in the Nesco canner, some people are using standard water bath canners for steam canning.
According to an article published by the University of Wisconsin, after testing using water bath canners as steam canners using thermometers, they concluded that a boiling water canner is not safe to use as a steam canner because it does not produce enough heat for a long enough time to kill all the pathogens and spoilage organisms. In order for any canning process to be considered safe, it must be tested in a laboratory. (Source)
Should We Steam Can in the Nesco Canner?
So where does this leave us? Should we steam can in the Nesco canner?
From what I can see, the majority of people who use a Nesco canner and want to steam can are comfortable using it as a steam canner.
However, I’m personally choosing not to. The big reasons for my choice not to are that I don’t feel the reasons for using it as a steam canner are compelling enough to go against the manufacturer’s recommendations.
I can still can everything I want to in the Nesco canner, and I can feel confident in doing so, if I follow the manual.
I’m not going to miss out on canning fruit or jam or salsa or any other water bath recipe since there are approved ways of canning those recipes in the Nesco smart canner.
I can even can those things in pint and a half jars or quarts, which are too tall to be covered with water, by using the low-pressure setting, as recommended in the manual.
In my opinion, my family’s safety, and having confidence in the food that I have stored in my prepper pantry is a high enough priority that it outweighs the benefits of steam canning in the Nesco.
If at some point in the future, Nesco approves the device for steam canning, then I’ll jump on the steam canning bandwagon with the rest of you that are already doing it.
My Recommendations Regarding Using the Nesco Canner as a Steam Canner
In conclusion, my personal recommendation is to follow the manufacturer guidelines for using the Nesco Smart Canner. The bottom line is to use it in one of the following three ways:
- Use the high setting for pressure canning
- Use the WB/steam setting for water bath canning (completely covering the jars with water)
- Use the low setting for canning water bath recipes if the jars are too tall to cover with water
These options provide a way to safely can any approved canning recipe in your Nesco canner.
If you really want to steam can, I recommend picking up an actual steam canner such as this one on Amazon. Steam canners are surprisingly reasonably priced, and your family’s health is worth buying the right type of device to can your food.
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