Canning can be intimidating. It seems like a complicated process. However, canning can be a simple and worthwhile experience. There are two primary methods of canning: pressure canning and water bath. These two methods both have their own benefits. In this article I’ll dive into pressure canning vs. water bath, so you’ll understand the difference.

In short, the difference between pressure canning and water bath canning is that pressure canning cans low-acid foods while the water bath method is used to can high-acidic foods. A pressure canner also heats the product at a higher temperature than a water bath canner.

When done correctly, both of these canning methods are effective. It just depends on what type of food you want to can. If you want to learn the basics of canning and the benefits of these two canning methods, read on!

Pressure Canning Vs. Water Bath

pressure canning vs. water bath

This article includes affiliate links.

Now let’s get into the difference between pressure canning and water bath canning.

Pressure Canning

To safely and properly can low-acid foods, you need to use a pressure canner. Some foods that require a pressure canner include beans, potatoes, corn, meats and poultry, seafood, and stews.

Preserving these types of foods requires a special piece of equipment known as a pressure canner. Each canner comes with a set of instructions that you need to read carefully before you begin the pressure canning process.

The pressure canner itself is one of the big differences between pressure canning and water bath canning. A pressure canner is a large pot that has a lid that locks onto the pot and a dial or weight that allows you to control the amount of pressure. This pressurized steam gets much hotter than boiling water and can kill the microorganisms found in low-acid foods.

Pressure Canning Basics

To begin the pressure canning method, start with heating your jars. Add two to three inches of water to your pressure canner and then bring that water to a simmer.

Put the jars in the simmering water until they are hot. You can then fill the hot jars with your food.

Use a funnel (such as this one found on Amazon) and add hot liquid to the top of the jar after you have filled it with food.

Be sure to leave the proper amount of headspace in the jar. (Read this article to learn about headspace.)

Place the lids and bands on the jars and screw them on fingertip tight.

Pro tip: To better understand what is meant by “fingertip tight” read my article, How Tight Should a Ring be When Canning

Place the jar back into the canner before filling up the next jar. Once you have set all the filled jars back into the canner, the water should come up a few inches and not cover the whole jar. Set the pressure canner lid in place and twist so the handles lock.

Processing Your Food in a Pressure Canner

You will then need to vent the pressure canner. Use the gauge and turn the heat to high and allow let all of the steam come out of the vent pipe for 10 minutes. Then bring the heat down until the weight makes a steady rattling sound.

Set the timer for however long the recipe requires. Once the time is up, turn off the heat. Wait until the safety valve drops down to zero to remove the lid. Allow the jars to cool in the canner for 10 minutes. Then remove and let cool for 24 hours (Source).

Pro Tip: Altitude impacts the amount of pressure you need to use when pressure canning. To better understand how altitude impacts canning, read my article, How Altitude Impacts Canning | How to Adapt Canning Recipes Based on Your Altitude

Water Bath Canning

Water bath canning is arguably the easier canning method. It takes less time than pressure canning and is a little less intimidating. In fact, you don’t even have to have an actual canner to water bath can! To learn more about how to can without a canner, check out my article, Is Canning Without a Canner Possible?

Water Bath canning should only be done on highly acidic foods. Some foods commonly canned with this method include tomatoes, berries, fruit, and pickled vegetables. This is why water bath canning is used to make jams, jellies, and pickled veggies. The natural acidity in these types of foods allows them to be safely canned without the use of high pressure.

Water Bath Canning Supplies

In order to water bath can, you need some supplies. This canning method requires a boiling water canner.

This is a large, deep pot that the jars can be completely submerged in. You will also need a rack that fits inside the bottom of this large pot. This stops the jars from resting directly on the bottom of the canner, which could lead to the jars cracking from the heat.

Note: In my article, Is Canning Without a Canner Possible, I explain how to use a large pot instead of a water bath canner. If you don’t already have a large enough stock pot or rack to put the jars on, then I recommend picking up an actual water bath canner. You can buy a water bath canner inexpensively here on Amazon.

Lastly, you will need canning jars. These jars can be any size. Some common canning jar brands include Mason, Ball, or Kerr.

These jars need to be equipped with clean, rust-free metal bands that screw onto the rim of the jars. You also need single-use metal canning lids. Many canners recommend that you also purchase a canning funnel such as this one on Amazon. This funnel stops foods from spilling when you are pouring products into the jars.

Pro tip: I used to buy Ball or Kerr jars and lids from Amazon. Unfortunately, there are now unethical people selling knock off jars and lids on Amazon. These knock offs don’t work very well, so I now purchase my jars and lids from Lehman’s. Both Ball and Superb are good canning lid brands.

The Water Bath Canning Process

To begin canning, heat the jars in a large, separate pot of boiling water for ten minutes. Remove and dry the jars.

Then fill those jars with your product, using the funnel to reduce spillage, while the jars are still hot. Leave the appropriate amount of space at the top of the jar.

Pro tip: To understand how headspace works, read my article, What is Headspace in Canning?

Put the lid on the jar and then screw on the band. Screw the jar tightly, but not too tight.

Pro tip: To understand how tightly to screw on the band, read my article, How Tight Should a Ring be When Canning?

Place the sealed jars on the rack in the boiling water canner using tongs. Make sure the jars are completely submerged. Boil the jars for 10 minutes.

Remove the jars and place them on a rack or towel to cool. As they cool, you should hear the jars “ping.” This means they have properly sealed.

Leave the jars for 12-24 hours. Once they have cooled, check the seals. Unscrew the bands and press down on the lids. If you don’t feel any give, the jar has sealed properly (Source).

Types of Food for Each Method

MeatPressure Canning
PoultryPressure Canning
SeafoodPressure Canning
Vegetables (Corn, Potatoes, etc.)Pressure Canning
Fruit/BerriesWater Bath
Tomatoes/SalsasWater Bath
Pickles/RelishesWater Bath

Safety of Pressure Canning

When canning food, a big worry for most people is the potential illness and diseases that can be acquired if canning is not done properly. Foods, such as meats, vegetables, and other foods with low acidity are especially at risk of bacteria that can be deadly if not correctly killed during the canning process.

Pressure canning has the ability to can low acid food safely because of the high temperatures that a pressure canner can reach. These temperatures are impossible to achieve if you are using the water bath method.

If you are overly worried about the safety of your canned goods or are uncertain about what method to use on a certain type of food, consult the National Center for Home Food Preservation. When it comes to pressure canning Vs. water bath, it’s the best resource to tell you which option is best for the food you want to can.

Here are some of my favorite canning tools

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful as you strive to stock your pantry with delicious home-canned food! Here are some tools that I use as a canner that I’m hoping you’ll also find helpful. These are affiliate links, so if you do decide to use any of them, I’ll earn a commission. Please know that these are the tools that I actually use and recommend and believe in 100%!

Nesco Smart Canner: You can see that many of the posts on my site show me using the Nesco canner. This is by far my favorite canner to use, and because of that, it’s the one that I recommend. Note that the Nesco and Carey Smart Canners are the exact same thing. So, if you go to Amazon and see that Nesco canners are out of stock, but the Carey is available (or cheaper!), then by all means buy a Carey. As long as you have either a Nesco or Carey, you can follow along with what I demonstrate on this blog.

Tattler Reusable Lids: I use both Tattler and Harvest Guard reusable canning lids. They are both American made, made by the same family. I prefer to buy my Tattler lids from Lehman’s, since they are a small, family-owned company. You can get Tattler lids from Lehman’s here, but if you prefer to buy from Amazon, you can get them here.

Metal Canning Lids: I have always been a fan of Ball canning lids. However, due to cheap knock offs on Amazon that claim to be Ball lids, I no longer purchase them from Amazon. You can get them from Lehman’s here. Another solid brand that Lehman’s sells is Superb. They are thicker and seem to have better quality gaskets. Here are the regular mouth lids and here are the wide mouth lids.

Norpo Canning Tools Boxed Set: I love this set of canning tools because it truly includes all the basics that you need, whether you’re water bath or pressure canning. Occasionally I’ve lost one of the items in the set and to replace it, had to buy it separately. It’s definitely more cost effective to buy the entire set.

The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving: This is the first canning book that I purchased, and it’s still the one that I refer to most often. Especially when you’re first learning to can, it’s important to use trusted recipes and instructions that you know are safe. This book provides some great canning recipes to get you started, and also gives a lot of great “how to” canning information. When in doubt, look it up in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving!