Not all pressure cookers are created equal. It might sound cliché but it is so true. Pressure cookers are designed for different purposes such as pressure cooking, canning and sterilizing. They also come in varying capacity sizes.
Different types of materials are used in the manufacturing process. Then each brand of pressure cookers is equipped with its unique design and mechanisms for regulating pressure such as a weighted top vs. a fully-enclosed system.
If you are looking for the best canner, expect another layer of complexity to the selection criteria. You see it’s not that easy to search online for 30 minutes or go to your local Wal-Mart or Target just to take one pressure cooker off the shelf, isn’t it? It takes knowing to buy the right type of pressure cooker with the must-have features so you can concentrate on canning rather than being aggravated by having the wrong tool for the job.
Let’s take a logic approach to see what the features you can’t do without in canning.
Pressure cookers/canners range from a few quarts to over 40 quarts in liquid capacity. For canning pressure cookers, you need to focus on the volume capacity of how many quart or pint jars you could fit in the cooker and whether you can load it up in single layer, double or triple layers with a rack between each layer.
The smallest canning pressure cooker needs to big enough to hold 4 quart jars. The bigger, the better. The size seems to be proportionated with the skill level of the person who does the canning. The median-sized canner is between 15 to 21 quarts. In the case of the 15 quart, you can easily fit 10 pint or 7 quart-sized jars in one batch and 19 pints or 7 quarts in a 21-quart canner. Please remember that every brand differs a little bit in the volume capacity even though they may all be labeled in the same size of liquid capacity.
Dimensions are also crucial in selecting a pressure canner. One reason is because you need to make sure there is enough clearance between the burner and the range hood. You need to have a little bit “work room”. So pay attention to the overall height. The diameter is another factor for you to decide whether or not the bottom of the cooker will fit into one of your burner sizes.
Pressure cookers are made of different materials. Therefore the weight variance is significant between one made of heavy duty aluminum and another of thin stainless steel. It’s a double-edged sword to expect a canning cooker made of quality and sturdy material, but on the other hand you need to think about how practical to lift it when it’s empty or fully-loaded. If you are short, there might be a challenge if the cooker is too high.
When we think about the construction of the canner, we refer to how the lid and the cooking pot are joined together to form an airtight seal. It’s a key factor in order to have pressure build in the cooking pot.
There are two types of sealing methods: One is to use a gasket (aka sealing ring) made of silicone rubber. The gasket fits underneath the lid.
The other way is called “metal-to-metal” seal where no gasket is needed. The lid and the pot are designed to clamp down together to create a perfect seal. There might be additional re-enforcement element such as wing nuts to be tightened down around the pressure cooker.
The handles on the pressure canner are not just for cosmetic reasons, they are necessities for you to lift or carry the canner around. Ideally you need to look for three handles, two on each side and one on top of the lid. The icing on the cake is if the handles are made of material staying cool to the touch.
As I mentioned earlier, typical pressure canners are made of either aluminum or stainless steel. There are pros and cons in each.
Aluminum is lighter, cheaper and conducts heat more evenly while stainless steel lasts for a long time, non-reactive to acidic foods and has a beautiful shine on the exterior. The best cookware is made of both materials where a wafer of aluminum is cladded in the bottom of the cooker sandwiched with two layers of stainless steel. This is how the best of both worlds is attained in one cooker.
The pressure regulator has seen the most evolutionary changes over the last few hundred years from the mechanical “jiggle” type to the fully integrated pressure regulation. In buying a pressure canner, it’s almost easier to resort back to the old-fashioned “jiggle” type where you can visually see and hear what’s going on in the canner.
In addition to having a weighted pressure regulator is a pressure gauge. You don’t have to guess what’s going on in the canner. The gauge lets you know with easy-to-read dials when each pressure level is reached and you can adjust the heat level to maintain the ideal pressure.
You want to look for canners with a primary safety valve to allow the excess pressure to escape. There needs to have a second line of defense such as an overpressure plug in case the primary one is clogged.
Pressure level variations may not be that critical in just pressure cooking as different recipes call for different pressure levels. But in pressure canning, it’s an absolute requirement to have the minimum pressure level in order to kill the bacteria in the foods such as poultry and fish. Such requirement is 10 psi (pounds per square inch) at sea level. But if you live in an area where the elevation is higher than 1000 feet, there is an additional consideration to offset the high altitudes because the internal canner temperatures are lower in these regions. The pressure level for the high altitudes needs to be 15 psi in order to destroy the bacteria in low-acid canned foods.
You can release the pressure at different speeds. The old fashioned way is to run cold water over the canner for a few minutes until the pressure inside the cooker escapes completely. This method is doable in theory, but it may be problematic in canning as the cooker is loaded with foods and jars besides water. It might be a real challenge to hoist a gigantic canner from the stove to the sink. Plus not everyone’s sink is that big to accommodate a 40-quart canner.
The natural release perhaps requires the least effort, but it does take a while, somewhere between 30 to 45 minutes depending on pint or quart-sized jars.
The newer design enables the canner to release the pressure by simply turning the dial to pressure release setting. This is called “automatic pressure release method”.
Since a well-made pressure canner will very likely last for a lifetime or more, you want to choose a pressure cooker brand that offers a longer period of warranty. The industry average is around 10 years. There are brands on either side of the spectrum.
Along the same line, the brand reputation should be taken into account as well. You want to choose a brand that’s going to stand behind their products and after-sale support such as replacement part availability for many years.
The price of pressure canners varies significantly from under $100 all the way to $400 or more. My advice is to choose quality and features over price as this is a long-term investment. Safety, functionality and ease of use should supersede price if all possible.
Now the million dollar question is which one to choose. If budget is not a constraint, the All-American Pressure Cooker/Canner 921 would be on top of my list. It combines quality, safety features, ease of use, and generous capacity size with a first-class customer care.
This canner withstands the test of time with its super durable hand-cast aluminum which weighs over 17 pounds empty. The 921 is made in Wisconsin, United States by Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry with uncompromising commitment to quality.
While many other manufacturers have moved their production facilities to overseas for cheaper labor and material costs, the Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry has been holding its steadfast position to manufacture the pressure cookers here at home.
The canning pressure cookers come with six different sizes from 10.5 to 41.5 quarts capacities. Whether you are a novice canner or a seasoned veteran, you can easily find a size that suits your individual needs. The 921 model can fit 19 pint or 7 quart jars comfortably. For your convenience, I’ve created a comparison chart with all 6 sizes and their respective specifications.
The exclusive metal-to-metal seal is so rare these days because it costs more with this design and it alleviates all the worries from you for not knowing when the gasket is going to be worn out. Worse yet, whether or not you might be able to track down a replacement part.
The All-American 921 is equipped with three different pressure levels of 5, 10 or 15 psi. No matter where you live, at sea level or above 7,000 feet, you can safely can the foods without any concerns that the critters might be propagating in the jars. If you are interested in the in-depth review, click here.
The All-American pressure canners are the gold standard in canning. The ratings across all different sizes are 4.5 or better. This alone is more compelling than any million-dollar ads that would have been run by the company.
So whether you are interested in trying your hands in canning or want to do more to squeeze every penny out of each grocery dollar and eat healthful foods, you can buy the All American canner with full confidence and pride.