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How to Overcome The Fear of Pressure Canning

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: July 28, 2022
How to Overcome The Fear of Pressure Canning

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At risk of being the last person to come to the party, I have been resisting the call to begin pressure canning.  It is not that I have not tried.  A couple of years ago I was ready to go; I had psyched myself up to learn, purchased a canner, some tools, and dozens of mason jars,

But then karma stepped in.  The pressure canner was too tall to fit under the hood of my range so back it went.  And I went into major procrastination mode for two years.  Let me be honest.  I have a healthy fear of pressure canning.  Yes, I can do pickles and jams but cooking under pressure?  What if something went wrong and the canner exploded or worse, I got botulism?

How to Overcome the Fear of Pressure Canning - Backdoor Survival

The time has come for me to get beyond all of that.  If you have the same concerns (okay, fears), let us step up together and overcome the fear of pressure canning.  Lucky for us, I have a number of blogging colleagues who are canning experts plus, many many readers who are willing to share canning tips. Knowing that, let us take the leap and make a commitment to learn how to can our own jars of homemade goodness!

First up on my own agenda? I purchased a pressure canner.  This time I was mindful of the size and measured first.  Did you even know that canners came in sizes?  Next, I rang up LeAnn Edmondson aka the Homestead Dreamer and asked her for some tips to help me overcome my fear.  Today I share them with you.

The Following is a Webinar I did with Mellissa Norris all About Pressure Canning at Home:

(please note any special offers are no longer valid as they were offered at the time of the webinar. Still worth a watch though!)

Overcoming the Fear of Pressure Canning

When I first got into canning, particularly pressure canning, I was nervous. Not so nervous that I would let my fear keep me from doing it, but a healthy dose of caution guided my every step. I was like most people who are new to pressure canning: my wild imagination conjured images of explosions, and shrapnel flying all over and through me that would lead to the headlines, “Newbie Killed by Pressure Canner Explosion.”

As with all things I decide to get into, it starts with research. I wanted to learn how to preserve the food that was growing in our first garden. One of the first things I learned about was the difference between water bath canning and pressure canning. Water bath canning is much less intimidating since you are effectively just boiling jars in a large pot.  I thought to myself, “Aha! if I learn water bath canning first, pressure canning will be much easier.”

A lot of first time canners go this route and it makes sense. Pressure canning is intimidating and unlike 100 years ago when pretty much every house had a canner in the kitchen, it isn’t the norm and not many people do it anymore. That means that most people just don’t know enough about them and a lack of knowledge causes trepidation and resistance to something new.

I joked that water bath canning is the ‘gateway’ to pressure canning, but there is real truth to that statement. Water bath canning is used on high acid foods (pickles, jams and jellies, etc.) and pressure canning is for low acid (vegetables, meats, etc.).  I liked the idea of making pickles so I decided that I would start there.

WOW! It was incredibly fun and very satisfying making those first batches of pickles. I then moved on to making jams and jellies and have expanded since. Needless to say, I was completely hooked and ready for the next step. Though I was still nervous about it, it was time to at least learn more about pressure canning and see if the fears I had were founded or if it was more of a fear of the unknown. The answer to that is both!

Sure, there are risks when it comes to pressure canning. There are also risks when stepping outside your front door, lighting a propane grill, and going to the gym.

If you know what you’re doing and understand what you’re working with, the risk is considerably lessened. When it comes to pressure canning, the more I learned about canners and how they function, the less nervous I was. Worry turned into excitement as I thought about all the possibilities that can come from having this one item in my food preservation arsenal.

There are several layers of safety built into pressure canners and you would have to take special measures to make them fail. I’m sure many of you are thinking about the Boston Marathon bombing that used pressure canners. Those boys went to some serious lengths to make it actually explode, the least of which was removing or disabling all the safety features that are built in, shown below.

Pressure Canner Safety Features - Backdoor Survival

Getting to Know the Safety Features of Your Canner

1.  Pressure canner lids lock in place. Even if there is pressure inside, it will not blow the lid off or come undone.

2.  For additional locking, once pressure has built up inside another lock kicks in which will not allow you (or anyone else) to open the lid while there is pressure inside.

3.  The gauge tells you what level of pressure you are at but in the event you stepped away and forgot (heaven forbid!), there is another feature called the knocker. Generally speaking, most knockers are rated for 15 pounds of pressure. When it reaches that level, the weight begins to rattle or ‘knock.’ This is an indication that “pressure is getting higher and you may want to check it.”

The only time I have ever seen or known of something that actually needed that much pressure to process was at higher elevations. Most people don’t need to go any higher than 12 pounds of pressure.

4.  The rubber plug is the last of the safety features and is the end-all, be-all of making pressure canning safe for just about everyone. Should your canner ever build up too much pressure to the point where it wants to burst, this handy little guy will come flying out and release the pressure instead.

I cannot stress this enough: you would have to actually go out of your way to make a pressure canner or cooker explode. So, unless you are intentionally trying to sabotage your canner, your worries can be laid to rest. You got this!

I highly recommend starting out with water bath canning. It can be done with a pressure canner/cooker, a ‘water bath canner,’ or simply a large pot with a good lid. It will help you gain confidence and start getting the muscle memory down for the process of sterilizing jars, warming lids, filling and sealing the lids, and of course, storing them away.

I can say from personal experience that there is little more I find as satisfying as pulling out jars of food that I processed myself. Opening your cupboard to be greeted by clear jars filled with the bright colors of carrots, green beans, and corn makes you feel secure. A taste of summer goodness from strawberry preserves or blueberry jam in the middle of winter is incomparable to buying it at the store.

The best part? You know exactly how it was processed and what is it in it.  Plus, you now have the skills to preserve food that can be stored and safely consumed even after a year or two. That is very empowering and liberating stuff!

Gaye’s Note:  To learn more about LeAnn and her website Homestead Dreamer, see About LeAnn Edmondson.

The Final Word

Now that my fear is abated, I have some additional challenges.  My garden is not large enough to produce food that can be preserved.  In addition, the farmers market’s in my area is ridiculously expensive.  By that I mean for a bunch of carrots and a single tomato.  Still, I intend to can my own soups, chilies, and, thanks Ms. Jimmie (you know who you are!), meatloaf.

As a warm up, as LeAnn mentions, I am going to make pickles, or, given that the cukes are not ripe yet, pickled something.  Sure, I don’t need a pressure canner for that but I want to familiarize myself with sterilizing jars and lids and dealing with the basic process of heat sealing.  I am going to use the basic recipe in LeAnn’s pickling eBook, A Primer on Pickling: Learn How to Pickle Food in a Single Afternoon! so if things go wrong, I can blame it on her.  Just joking of course because I really do not expect a blooper.

After that, I will move on to my pressure canning using my new All American Canner.  I am so excited about learning this new skill and hope you will join me as I share my progress, for better or for worse!

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

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 Below you will find the items related to today’s article.

All-American Pressure Cooker/Canner:  This is the canner I purchased for myself.  It is at the high end when it comes to canners and certainly is not the only option.  Mine is the 15.5 quart size – small.  On the other hand, it fits nicely under my range hood so I am pleased.

Presto 23-Quart Pressure Canner and Cooker:  This is another good option when it comes to pressure canners.  I initially purchased this Presto Canner but it was too tall.

Norpro 6 Piece Canning Set:  You are definitely going to want an inexpensive canning kit.  The wide neck funnel that came with this kit is used almost daily. I just checked and I can get an extra canning funnel.  Even if you do not plan to do any canning, your will want one of these.

The Organic Canner: Some of you might remember this book from a recent book festival.  The author, Daisy Luther, is going to be my coach as I learn how to can.  How cool is that?  I just wish she were closer so my “training” could be hands on.

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving: Many consider this Ball Canning Guide to be their canning bible.  I have the eBook version but if I really get into this, am considering the spiral bound version as well.

Simply Canning: Survival Guide to Safe Home Canning:  You can read more about Simply Canning here.  This is another good one to add to your canning library.

A Primer on Pickling: Learn How to Pickle Food in a Single Afternoon!: Want to follow along as I make some pickles? This short how-to by LeAnn Edmondson will get you on the right track.  Do not let it’s brevity deter you.  This gets you where you need to go without a lot of fluff.

Granite Ware Water-Bath Canner with Rack: I still need to purchase a water bath canner but need to get some measurements first.  I have a number of existing pieces of Granite Ware so this is going to be the way to go.  I was going to use an existing stock pot but don’t have a rack.  A standalone rack costs as much as the entire kit.  Go figure.

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36 Responses to “How to Overcome The Fear of Pressure Canning”

  1. I’ve been homesteading and pressure canning for over 5 years now. I’ve got pickled peppers in the water bath canner as I am typing this. Pressure canning is an addicting habit! I’ve “put up” all kinds of stuff from my garden…green beans, collards, mustard greens, spinach, tatsoi, carrots, potatoes, okra, tomatoes, and even bananas! I buy meat on sale and can that, too. It becomes second nature after a while, and not scary at all. Keep at it, folks! Also–I invested in 500 Tattler Reusable lids and highly recommend them. The only thing I had a small issue with was when I canned some meat using them. My guess is there may have been a bit of fat escape during the canning process that prevented a good seal. So I use regular lids for meat processing, just in case. I use the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving as a guide and I make notes in it (such as One gallon of whole green beans = 4 pints canned). Happy Canning!

    • My Master Food Preserver group has been trying the Tattler lids this year. Are you wiping the edges with a paper towel dipped in vinegar before you put the lids on? And are you leaving enough headspace? with meat products its usually One inch headspace.
      The group has noticed the Tattlers tend to loose suction after a while.

  2. Great post! Last year was the first year that we had a garden so I made the leap and purchased a pressure canner. The only thing I pressure canned was green beans. I was not so scared that it would blow up, but completely terrified I would kill everyone that ate the beans. They turned out fine and am hoping to add to my canning experience. I also bought the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. This book is phenominal. Love! Love! Love it!

  3. Great subject, I too am scared to death of pressure canning, but I am saving for one of the All-American canners and a hot plate to use with it. I have flat top stove and according to manufacturer can’t use pressure canners on it. My grandmothers canner blew when I was young and helping to put up tomato spaghetti sauce. It went all over the place. Her sunshine yellow 20’s kitchen looked horrible, as Grandpa said to her as he came in to help clean up, who’d ya murder in there? I think if Grandma hadn’t been so upset, she’d have been on the ground laughing. I know my mom, aunt and I were trying not to laugh out loud (and make her even madder). SO am VERY interested in your progress. I have only done hot water bath canning before.
    One suggestion, if you have a dishwasher (not Shelly) run the jars and lids in the dishwasher, If yours has a heated water button use that as well while running a full wash cycle. When washer is done, leave the door closed on the jars and use them one at a time. I found that it freed up the stove from having to have a simmering pot of water on it for the lids and rings and it kept the jars hot-warm and sterile.

  4. I have a All American canner, still sitting in the box from 2 yrs ago, scared to try it, Ive named it THE BEAST, because it looks so scary. You have inspired me to get it out, I just need someone to hold my hand…:)

  5. Just remembered something else, although you probably have been told before, ALWAYS remove the rings before you store your jars and NEVER store one jar right on top of another . If they do loose their seal, you do not want them to reseal.

    • Gloria,
      Why do you have to remove the rings? My mom never removed the rings only on the jam and jelly jars.

    • If you keep the rings on and loose the seal, the rings can reseal the jar leaving you in jeopardy for botulism. If you loose the seal you have to throw the food out! Don’t taste it, don’t cook it. THROW IT OUT!

    • If you do have a suspicious jar that you think is BAD its really dangerous to open it to check it out. Put on gloves and treat it like you would EBOLA! honestly call your extension office STAT! you need specific instructions on safe disposal. You cannot just open and dump in the sink or toilet, you risk spreading Botulism spores all around your kitchen.

    • I leave the rings on just loosen them..otherwise you end up with a huge box of rings.. also I like tattler reusable rings.. the big problem comes with storage of those big jars.. here is one alternative to that.. my suggestion is to label.. make sure you label each case with its contents and date.. and rotate..

  6. Gaye, I’m 70 years old (don’t tell anybody) and just started pressure canning last fall. A great source of information is the Washington State University County Extension office. Here in Spokane, they are GREAT! I canned chicken when it was so cheap last year (.89/pound) and pork as well. I has been great having meat ready for a quick meal or sandwiches all winter and still into the spring. I hope you get as much satisfaction as I have gained in seeing those jars on the shelves.
    PS: meatloaf? I want your recipe 😉

  7. HI Here is another tip that a lot of people don’t realize.. you can can using a programmable pressure cooker.. we got ours a couple of years ago and I swear use it every day for something. My new project is to do retort canning.. which you can also do in a programmable pressure cooker. what I have found to be true is to take your foil packs to be canned and make sure you put several in a basket stacked sideways this way in the process of pressure canning the seams won’t pull apart breaking the seal.// there are several models of the programmable and sizes the same as pressure canners.. here is a good basic guide to retort canning. It is similar to the guide for using the pressure canner… enjoy //

  8. Thirty years ago, first canning experience….
    Made huge batches of applesauce and apple pie filling after much note taking and instructions from my sister-in-law. I proudly called her to talk of my grand accomplishment and she mentioned to just make sure all my lids were sealed and were concave before storing away. I promptly made my way to the kitchen where my little jewels were cooling and pushed down all the lids!!!! I called her back and told her what I did (just so darn proud of myself) and she said ” now the last step is to throw them all out !!” How was I supposed to know they sealed themselves!! Fear of poisoning loved ones to death has plagued me since! I will dehydrate, but canning and especially pressure canning are beyond my capacity to overcome!!!!!!

    • Oh don’t be afraid of canning.. there is an excellent book for the beginner called.. Growing and canning your own food by Jackie Clay… here is the link to get it.. //
      I started to can just about ten years ago for a hobby and fell in love with it right away..the thing to remember is different foods need different temperatures and pressure to make sure any contaminants in the food are out.. If you follow the book.. you will learn quickly to love it.. the only problem I have had is in my pickles.. they always turn out soft not crunchy like the ones my mother canned.. I now have a different recipe for them so we shall see..

  9. Gaye – I had the exact same concerns about canning, and just bought a pressure canner (Presto 17 qt) as well! I haven’t actually used it yet… Can’t wait to hear how you progress – keep us posted!

  10. I was inspired to start pressure canning after reading Kathy Harrison’s “Just In Case”, and quickly modified recipes to can family favorites. I pressure can to rely less on the freezer, for stored convenience of our family recipes, and to enhance my skill set. I write down what I did, so that I can repeat the success (or avoid another failure), though I have never, repeat never, had a seal fail. As my gardening improves, I’ll use pressure canning to preserve my harvests. I have taught my daughter-in-law how to pressure can, and we occasionally spend a pleasant and work-filled day canning on-sale chicken thighs in quarts for her growing family. I canned cooked, crispy bacon to prove to myself I could. Be prepared to spend the entire day devoted to canning — from raw food prep, cooking, sterilization, packing, and maintaining proper pressure, to clean up and that satisfying (and quick!)sound of “pock!” of another jar sealing after removal from the canner. I had no mentor, but following directions sedulously produced safe and consistent results. Go for it!

    • I use a 23 quart Presto Pressure Canner, and have had no difficulties. I know that the All American canner is the gold standard, but getting started for $80 rather than waiting for a $250 canner made sense to me. My Presto can accommodate 19 regular mouth pints (stacked) or 7 quarts (not stacked).

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