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Sep 8, 2008 05:10 PM

pressure cookers vs pressure canners

Ok, I'm a little confused. I understand from researching online that pressure cookers can only be used to can using the water bath method, but not for low acid canning. My question is, can a pressure canner be used as a pressure cooker? Or is it ONLY for low acid canning?

I had ideally wanted something that could do both. I only make stews and roasts in winter, and tend to can in the summer, and wanted one machine to do both things, both to save costs and storage space. Do such things exist, and if so, any recommended brands?

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  1. this is a site that might help you:

    There's also a book on "pressure cooking for dummies" that might help

    I have 2 pressure cookers that i love, but i don't do any canning any more. In those days, I used a regular water bath canner

    1. A pressure canner is just a really big pressure cooker. It may have gadgets that facilitate canning--a rack that holds the jars off the bottom of the cooker, a basket that holds the jars, etc., but the mechanism isn't any different.

      But if you want to can quart jars, you're going to need at least a 16-quart model. And that kind of size is going to seriously hurt your versatility. In the first place, it's just way too big for day-to-day cooking. Most people find 6 to 8 quarts to be an ideal pressure cooker size. And because the canners are so large, they're almost always made of aluminum (steel would just be too heavy), which creates problems if you want to make an acidic sauce. And talk about storage space problems--my 30-quart canner wants its own parking space in the garage. (Okay, it's not quite that big, but you get the picture.)

      So if you want to can the occasional pint or half-pint jar, a regular pressure cooker can do double duty. But for serious canning, you need a separate canner.

      I'd start with the pressure cooker. 6-8 quart, stainless steel with a sandwich bottom for braising. I love my Kuhn Rikon, but they're kind of expensive. Fagor and Magafesa also make good cookers that cost somewhat less. Although many people still use them, I'd avoid the first-generation jiggle-top cookers still sold by Presto, Mirro, and Hawkins (India). They work, but they lose a lot more steam, so you have to start with a lot more water than with the modern spring valves.

      Using a minimum of water is ideal for pressure-steaming, which will have you using the beast a lot more in the summer. A chicken, a couple of pounds of potatoes, or a bunch of artichokes will be ready in just a couple of minutes, so you heat the kitchen up a lot less than if you use conventional methods. And if you shred that chicken and make it into tacos or enchiladas, you can make a batch of pinto beans to go along side them in half an hour or less. Which is what I'm doing as we speak. (Mmmm, flat chicken enchiladas with green chile sauce...)

      16 Replies
      1. re: alanbarnes

        thanks for your detailed response, Alan.

        Basically, I'm relatively new to canning, but last summer I canned 30 pounds of tomatoes (some as sauce, some whole but peeled) in three batches, using the water bath method in a pot on my stove. I used pint jars, not quart jars.We ate all the tomatoes over the winter, and loved it.

        So this summer, I want to do it again (at least 40 pounds this time!), and some pickles. Which I know can both be done in a water bath, but I was hoping to speed up the process (40 minutes boiling on the stove is very steamy, and the electricity costs are notable) and also experiment with low acid foods (I'd love to can my own tuna, for example, as well as meat sauces).

        Do you think I'd stil need a 16-quart model for pint jars? And am I right in saying low acid canning cannot be done in a pressure cooker, and can only be done in a pressure canner? Doesn't anyone make a device which is both?

        1. re: Gooseberry

          We're new to canning, too, only we started this summer. So, we're a year behind you. We have both a pressure canner and a waterbath canner. We also have a pressure cooker. Agree with Alan that the pressure canner is too big for cooking and the pressure cooker is too small for canning.

          I am a firm believer in using the pressure canner to speed up the process of canning even those high acid items (such as tomato sauce, whole tomatoes, and salsa) vs. using the waterbath canner. However, I will say, we haven't had any luck finding any recipes for canning salsa or whole tomatoes using the pressure canner! All the recipes we've found so far are strictly for a waterbath canner. Maybe I'm just a goober or haven't looked extensively enough or whatever, but we now have 3 books on canning and have visited lots of University Extension websites and just haven't found pressure canner recipes for those two items: salsa and tomatoes. (Tomato sauce, yes.) So, my advice is, if that's your primary purpose in buying a pressure canner, make sure you know of some recipes first (and then post a link to them for me, please! HAHAHA!) If the only recipes you can find for the things you want to can call for a waterbath canner, no point in buying a pressure canner. But, yes, if you're going to do any low-acid canning, you'll need to do that under pressure (I'll defer to someone else as to whether that has to be a pressure canner or if a pressure cooker would work, too.)

          Apologies if this isn't a direct response to your question, but it's something that surprised me that I thought I would pass along in case it made a difference.


            1. re: alanbarnes

              Awesome, thank you! Interestingly enough, the link you provided does not provide a pressure canner recipe for salsa, only a waterbath canner recipe. But, it does get me a pressure canner recipe for the whole and stewed tomatoes, etc. so I'm getting closer to realizing my dream of ultimate canning efficiency!

              Thank you!


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                Check out the "Mexican Chile Pepper Sauce" recipe. Looks like salsa to me.

                1. re: alanbarnes

                  Oh, terrific! Thank you. I will try it!


          1. re: Gooseberry

            A pressure cooker and a pressure canner are the same thing, except for size. So low acid canning can be done in a pressure cooker. But there are two problems

            The first is the number of jars you can fit in the cooker at a time. A typical pressure cooker will hold 2 or 3 pint jars. So you'd have to do 14 to 20 batches to process 40 pounds of tomatoes. That's one long weekend in the kitchen. Fagor makes a stainless 10-quart pressure cooker / canner that occasionally gets put on sale for $30 at It's a little bigger than ideal for day-to-day use, but it will handle 4 pint jars. So you're down to 10 batches. If you want a compromise, this is it.

            A 16-quart canner is designed around the shape of a quart jar; the interior is three times the width and a bit taller, so it'll hold 7. It will also hold 10 pints, but the 22-23-quart models are your better bet on that front; they cost about the same as the 16s, but are just a little taller, allowing you to stack pint jars two high, so you can process 20 at a time. For maximum time and energy efficiency canning pint jars, the 23-quart is the way to go.

            The second problem is that processing times are calculated using full-sized pressure canners. Food canned in a pressure cooker will cool down more quickly because there's less thermal mass, so you won't kill as many bugs using a 6-quart cooker as you will using a 16-quart canner. You can certainly can in a pressure cooker, but there's a no data out there to tell you how long you have to process food before it's safe.

            By the way--when it comes to a canner, ignore all my advice about the pressure cooker (stainless, sandwich bottom, second-generation pressure control). It's probably best to buy a name brand (Presto, Mirro, etc.) so that you can find replacement parts in the future, but an $80 aluminum jiggle-top will do the job just fine.

            ETA: Mirro may be a problem for quart jars. Apparently a recent redesign shrunk the inside so that 7 quart jars don't fit. Brilliant, eh?

            1. re: alanbarnes

              Thanks Alan. This is exactly the sort of info I need.

              In terms of canning in batches, the past summer (of 30 pounds of tomatoes' fame!) I did it in three batches (10 pounds at a time) over the course of the summer. looking at my notes, 10 pounds tomatoes equalled 6 1-pint jars, because I roasted the tomato halves before canning (for richer flavour, and instant sauce use). So didn't have as many jars to process as I would have if cold packing the jars (which is what I assume your estimated yields are based on).

              So if I kept the same schedule with my next tomato canning project, I would need to run two batches of three pint jars through a pressure cooker at a go. While you correctly point out this is not the most efficient system (compared to getting a big ass canner), it is probably worthwhile considering I'm just canning for two of us, and not terribly intensely, and would like to use a pressure cooker for cooking as well. Which means I would still need a SS sandwich bottom etc. machine.

              So in conclusion, I should try get a largish pressure cooker which fits 3 pint jars (would I need a rack, to keep them secure during pressure cooking?), and is good quality (second generation, etc) so I can also use it for pressure cooking. And before I do all this, I must check that I can find instructions on canning in a smaller cooker. Does that sound about right?

              1. re: Gooseberry

                Sounds like you've got it. Good luck!

                1. re: alanbarnes

                  one last question: do I really need a rack? I've been water bathing all of my jars in a pot without a rack, and using a jar lifter to get them out. Can I continue doing this with low acid canning in a pressure cooker, or do I HAVE to buy a rack? Thanks.

                  1. re: Gooseberry

                    You definitely need something to keep the jars up off the bottom of the canner; glass heats up more slowly than metal, and jars are liable to crack unless they're sitting on something. Otherwise, I don't know whether a rack / basket serves any practical purpose other than allowing you to lower the whole batch into the water at once.

                    1. re: Gooseberry

                      you can use a trivet, a dish towel, a cooling rack, or just about anything else that will keep the stuff off the bottom.

                      1. re: vanillagorilla

                        thanks. I suspected as much. A dish towel it is, then...

            2. re: alanbarnes

              30 quart canner! How do you have enough room on your stove top, especially with all the other things you have to have boiling on your stove?


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                All canning (and most summer cooking) is done on the back patio on propane burners. Heating up the house is a bigger issue than stovetop space.

                Appropos of nothing, I punched the model number of the canner into a website (the pressure regulator appears to have gone AWOL) and it turns out it's a 23-quart, not a 30-quart. Still and all, it's BIG.

                BTW, if you're pressure-canning you don't need so much other stuff boiling on the stove; the heat is high enough that there's no need to pre-sterilize the jars, lids, or rings.

              2. I would not use a pressure cooker! Pressure-canned foods must be processed at a precise pressure for a precise amount of time. I know of no pressure cooker that displays the amount of pressure being produced.

                2 Replies
                1. re: pikawicca

                  Huh? My Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker has a stem that pops up as pressure builds, with lines marked to indicate the amount of pressure. My pressure canner, on the other hand, just has a weight that jiggles when the selected amount of pressure (5, 10, or 15 pounds) has been reached.

                  I disagree that pressure-canned foods must be processed at a "precise pressure for a precise amount of time." Extra pressure or extra time will not compromise the safety of the processed food. Regardless, though, it's my cooker, not my canner, that displays the amount of pressure being produced.

                  1. re: pikawicca

                    Not a big deal at all. Most pressure cookers will tell you in the manual what pressure they achieve. The 6qt fagor is a popular choice, and it creates 15psi. It's obvious when using the thing when you get to full pressure. All pressure cookers are going to get to at least 240F which is what you need. The fagor hit's 250.

                    If you were truly worried put in a thermometer and take the temp. It's a fairly trivial calculation to turn temp into pressure.

                    The reason to use a pressure canner is for the size. A 6qt pressure cooker simply can't hold very man jars, or even a single tall jar.

                  2. The original comment has been removed
                    1. I also am new to canning and I am so confused. I want to can salsa. It seems almost impossible to do it safely. I would be terrified to eat my own canned salsa. I have a pressure COOKER and from a reply it seems like that would be okay. Am I wrong? Also, Can I use my own homemade recipe for salsa and then use my COOKER to create the heat needed to kill any botulism that might be present? Thanks.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: vllamas08

                        Please don't be terrified; that makes it harder to take in the information you need to make safe decisions. There is a fair amount of information to understand, and it can be confusing early on.

                        For salsa, I'd strongly recommend to begin with a recipe that is tested for safety, and get practice at the canning process, before thinking about working with your own recipe.

                        Pressure canners are pressure cookers, but not all pressure cookers have the ability to be used safely as pressure canners. What pressure does your pressure cooker reach, and what is its capacity? Have you used it enough for other cooking to be confident and comfortable with your ability to keep it at full-but-not-excessive pressure? {If not, try some of alanbarnes' recommendations above; you'll get experience with your p.c., with a bonus of cutting down on the heat in the kitchen!}

                        1. re: ellabee

                          I'm in no way an expert, but have used, to good effect, the following two resources:

                          - and the USDA canning book they produce
                          - - Nice forum that ALSO has informed members eager to help.

                          Primarily use my Presto 16-quart pressure canner for canning stocks (chicken, beef, crawfish) but have also used it to make some really tasty recipes - The Italian Beef in the Presto recipe book turns out nicely.

                          Downside, then, is that I have to handwash the beast. Much more intensive than just rinsing it out subsequent to a canning session.

                          1. re: ellabee

                            Most pressure cookers sold in the USA use 15psi. That's especially true of brands like Presto. There are some low cost imports that only go to 10psi. Check the bottom or manual.

                            1. re: paulj

                              I read in my book a sentence that says" processing times at 15 pound pressure" so I'm guess that means 15psi? As I said earlier my cooker is a 5qt phiippe richard pressure cooker.

                              1. re: paulj

                                It's not just low-cost imports that only go to 10 lbs psi; some high-cost imports also top out there, such as the old-fashioned clamp-style Fagor and Magefesa cookers, both from Spain. On the other hand, those are supposedly good for making fried (or "broasted") chicken, which shouldn't be attempted at 15 lbs psi. The Europeans don't seem to have adopted the US standard of 15 lbs psi, and even many high-end European cookers of modern design have a top pressure of around 12 lbs psi. Does anyone know why? I'm curious.

                                1. re: Miss Priss

                                  15 psi is 1 bar, roughly atmospheric pressure. Of course pressure given relative to atmospheric. In any case it is a nice 'round' number, and it isn't surprising that some manufactures would adopt it.

                                  My guess is that the European and American markets were, until the past couple of decades, entirely separate, so developed their own standards. The American standards may have been influenced more by canning practices, including guidelines developed by federal government and state extension services. However large home canners have a dial gauge, so can be operated at a variety of pressures.

                                  The lower pressure common in Europe is better when cooking more delicate foods, including fish. But it could also have been the practice of one manufacturer that came to dominate the market.

                                  Europe and the USA have different electricity standards, different electric plugs, and different railway gauges, so it isn't surprising that there a differences in pressure cooker standards.

                                  1. re: paulj

                                    Thanks for sharing your thoughts; they certainly make a lot of sense. By the way, on re-reading my post, I see that it comes across as rather US-centric. Let me clarify that I didn't intend to suggest--nor do I believe--that the Europeans should have adopted the US standard.

                              2. re: ellabee

                                I use my pressure cooker quite often but I've only used it for beans. I have no problem/fear using it. How can you tell if it's at an optimum pressure or over pressurized (excessive pressure)?

                                1. re: vllamas08

                                  You follow the instructions in the owners manual.

                                  A web search for this 'brand' (only at JC Pennys?) shows that it often is missing a manual, or an on line manual is hard to find.

                                  is the manual for a pressure cooker distributed GSI Outdoors. The handles, lid, and pressure regulator appear to be the same, suggesting the same manufacturer. This is the 'rocking regulator' type of PC. Cooking times are the same as ones given in a US standard Presto cooker.

                                  better manual source?

                                  The correct 3000 ft instruction is: adjust the cooking times when using above 3000 ft (the manual gives the adjustment rate).