Canning 101: Should You Use Steam Canners?

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I’ve gotten a few questions about steam canners recently, and so I thought I’d take a little time to share what I know about this style of canner.

For those of you who don’t know, a steam canner is a devise that looks similar to an old fashioned cake carrier. It consists of a shallow pan, a fitted rack and a high domed cover. It is typically advertised as an alternative to the boiling water bath canner (it is not the same as a pressure canner).

Currently, steam canners are not recommended for home use by either the USDA or the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Their reasoning is that steam isn’t as effective at transmitting heat through to the center of the jars as boiling water is. It’s this heat penetration that ensures both the safety of your product (it kills off any possible contaminants) and the efficacy of your seal.

What’s more, the vast majority of canning recipes just haven’t been written for steam canning. While it may actually be an effective method for canning, the bulk of canning research has been done with a boiling water bath canner. This means that we just don’t know how long it takes to process jars in a steam canner for safe storage.

As I did the research necessary to write this, I came across a post on the Utah State Extension Service website on the topic of steam canners. While it doesn’t go so far to endorse them, it does offer a great deal of useful information on best practices if you have determined to use one.

My feelings about steam canners are fairly simple. I don’t use one and I have no intention to seek one out in the future. I like the fact that boiling water bath canning can be done without any special equipment (my favorite canning pot is my all-purpose stock pot with a cake cooling rack in the bottom). Additionally, I believe there are enough risks in life without introducing extra variables into my preserving practice. I know boiling water bath canning is effective and dependable. Why deviate?

How about the rest of you? Ever used a steam canner?

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107 Responses to Canning 101: Should You Use Steam Canners?

  1. 51
    Brenda says:

    I have been using a steam canner for about 5 years and would not go back to water bath. Too hot and steamy in the kitchen. I have had no problems but only can jam, jellies, pickles and kraut.

    • 51.1
      Lori says:

      please let me know how long you process jams/jellies. i am dying to try this out, as i just feel it would use less energy and of course not make the house so hot? i think i will stick to water bath for my peaches, however. do you also know anything about steaming for applesauce?

      • Tania says:

        Lori, our steam canner came with a booklet with recommended processing times depending on what you are trying to process. You have to add 1 minute more to the recommended processing time per 1,000 feet of elevation above sea level if the processing time is 20 minutes or less and add 2 minutes extra per 1,000 feet above sea level for processing for more than 20 minutes. That said, for applesauce, hot packed, they recommend 20 minutes whether a pint or a quart size.

        We canned a lot of peach jam this year and for hot packed peach jam it’s 20 minutes for pints (or anything less than a pint) and 25 minutes for quarts. I am doing concord grapes now and these only need to be processed for 15 minutes (pints or quarts). For pure fruit juice, it’s only 10 minutes (pints or quarts). For my elevation (~1100 feet above sea level), I add 2 minutes extra to these processing times. If you don’t know your elevation, type into a Google search “elevation above sea level, your hometown and state”.

        Two years ago I forgot to sterilize the jars before I canned my blueberry jam. I was paranoid about it going bad, but I still have one jar of it left in our basement cool room and I’ve checked the lid and it’s still good! We had a poor blueberry crop this year because of damage from the spotted wing drosophila fruit fly, so we will savor that last jar of jam from 2 years ago! (Total crop failure in 2012 from multiple late frosts that killed the blossoms.) This is to drive home the point that we have been very pleased with steam canning. The main thing is to make sure the steam jet emanating from the pot reaches the required flow length (8″-10″ for ours) before you start to time the processing, and the flow of steam must remain steadily in this range for the duration of the processing. Too much flow will rock the top of the steam canner – if this happens, you have to reduce the heat a little until the flow is in the optimal range and start timing all over again because if the top rocks off and steam escapes from other than the two flow holes, you’ve just lost a lot of heat.

        It’s not rocket science. Once you get the hang of it – and you’ve got the right kind of stove burners that can handle the weight and span of the steam canner – it is quite straightforward. We sterilize our jars in the oven for 15-20 minutes at 200 F before filling them and bring the lids to near-boil in a separate pot on the stove. So far we’ve had very few losses over decades of canning – and you will get some losses even with water bath canning. Just don’t eat it if the lid is not sealed!

      • Faith says:

        I did 50 quarts of applesauce this week. I process for 20 minutes. Love my steam canner. Would never go back to boiling water bath.

  2. 52
    Janice says:

    I’ve been using my steam canner for 30+ years…every summer, for all kinds of fruit and tomatoes. No problem. It’s much quicker, cooler and more economical than water bath. I would never go back. Love it.

    • 52.1
      Ronda Beveridge says:

      Janice I would love a recipe for salsa in the steamer! How long you process etc. I’m having a hard time find and time frames for how long to steam and what to do! rondabeveridge@gmail.com

      • cap710 says:

        Did you find your answer yet? I know its been awhile but just ran into this. I AM KNOWN AS THE SALSA QUEEN lol let me know

        • wanda clark says:

          With tomato and salsa time coming I will tell you what I did for canning with my steam canner. For pints I can for 40 minutes and for quarts 45 minutes. Make sure you have steam coming out your vents before you start to time. I do all jams and jellies also and today did pickles. I too would never go back. Have never had any spoilage. My applebutter is always in demand.

      • Lucy says:

        I steam mine the same length of time as the water bath from the start of the steam coming out of the vents in the lid.

    • 52.2
      Jacki says:

      I was taught by my mother with only a steam canner. She passed this last year so this is my first year without her. I am having a hard time remembering how long we processed everything. We did, pickles, jams, salsa, you name it. I think my times are ok, I just miss the popping sound of the jars. Please share your times. Thank you

  3. 53
    Lori says:

    I have used a steam canner for a few years and LOVE it! So much faster and cooler. I have used a steam canner for anything you would use a water bath for!

  4. 54
    Marci Bumgarner says:

    I have just purchased a steam canner, I like the idea but it did not come with any recipes for anything really. I am interested in a pickled bean and dill pickle recipe. My main concern is time frames needed for steaming versus hot water bath. I appreciate any information that can be given, thank you

  5. 55
    Sue F says:

    I just bought a steam canner and I can’t get the water to boil in it. I only have a smooth top stove could that be the problem or doesn’t the water boil. Need help. Thanks

    • 55.1
      Marisa says:

      Sue, I don’t actually recommend steam canners. However, the water should be boiling for it to be used safely. Is your burner significantly smaller than the size of the steam canner base?

    • 55.2
      Colleen says:

      Is it a glass top stove? They are not recommended for glass top flat stoves.

      • Shelley says:

        Sue, I learned about the glass stove tops the hard way too. I had everything all ready for canning and couldn’t get it hot enough!! If you don’t have another burner option, I figured out that straddling my steamer over two of the hot plates and turning them both on will get it to boil. Probably not recommended but its what I do.

        • liz says:

          I have a glass top range & it works great with my steam canner & pressure canners – I sell preserves for a living and swear by my steam canner!

    • 55.3
      Lucy says:

      I have a smooth top stove as well and yes, it seems to take a while longer to boil but yes it will and needs to boil. Once the steam comes out of the vent holes, you start timing.

  6. 56
    Ellen says:

    Here are some times for fruits, tomatoes, etc..

    http://www.paulnoll.com/Oregon/Canning/canning-bath-times.html

    I actually use my pressure canner for tomatoes, though. I’ve not had any problems with jars not sealing or decreasing quality of food by using my steam canner. I keep my jars hot in the dishwasher or oven (set at 220), and keep everything uber clean.

  7. 57
    Dawn cox says:

    Hello there I would like to know when using a hot water bath to seal either jams, jell”s or chutney should the jars be completely emerged in water, also should the jars go into the bath at the beginning of the hot water bath or when the water is hot .
    With thanks
    Dawn cox

  8. 58
    LiziB says:

    I have been canning for about 8 years now and have canned everything from salsa to crab-apple jelly. I love my steam canner and can’t imagine switching. I have never once had anything go bad or any jars explode. Easier and much cooler. They are the best.

  9. 59
    Martha Butler says:

    I love my steam canner as a matter of fact I have 2. As a “shorter” person wb was difficult to retrieve from pot. Steam canning is much easier and just follow instructions and time correctly and it’s all good!

  10. 60
    Nicole says:

    I love my steam bath canner!!! It is so much faster than water bath because you don’t have to wait for a huge pot of water to boil. People have been safely using steam bath canners. If the extensions would look at the science behind it, then they would realize their error. They haven’t tried it, so they don’t know. A steam bath canner will get the atoms moving inside the jar just the same as a water bath canner if the same amount of heat is adminstered internally. My parents generation was raised on them. Don’t be scared to use them.

  11. 61
    Chris says:

    I bought my steam canner in the 1970’s and have used it ever since. I use it for all my fruit both hot and raw pack. Never had a problem or spoiled jar of fruit. Works well on my smooth top electric stove. I follow the times for water bath canning but make sure that I a full head of steam before timing.

  12. 62
    Tom says:

    When canning high-acid fruits and pickling, steam canning saves a LOT of water. When processing the jars, all you’re really concerned about is a good seal and steam will provide that. My jares are already sterilized and kept in the over at 250′ until filling. If cold packing – like pickles, I pull them out and let them cool down a bit. But the jars are sterile, the food going in is usually boiling hot so all I really want is a GOOD SEAL. Steam provides it just fine for me. Less water, same processing time and they’re “clicking” as you’re pulling them out of the canner.

    I wouldn’t go back to HWB for fruit if you paid me! Jams and jellies for the last 5 years – Haven’t had a single problem.

    Think if it this way – it’s a mini- pressure canner! Then again,you don’t need the pressure for high acid.

    2 inches of water compared with 5 gallons? Guess what I’m gonna choose.
    Works GREAT for me, but I would NEVER RECOMMEND IT TO ANYONE ELSE! ;-) hehe

  13. 63
    Tom says:

    Been using one for 5 years now. Processing time is the same (I always go 5-10 minutes longer – just cuz) The jars are popping as they’re coming out! Good seals – just like HWB. But there’s no lime buildup on the jars or in the canner. Best $90 I ever spent.

  14. 64
    Cheryl Schoelles says:

    I have been using the hot steam canner for over twenty years. I think it is the best thing since sliced bread. I have never lost a jar and I can see the contents are boiling and popping as I remove them. I use standard time and add ten minutes just to be sure. It is also important to have a good head of steam before starting your count. The steam should be a jet about 8″ to 10″(inches). When canning salsa or tomatoes I add powered Vitamin C to ensure the acidic level is high. Wipe the Jars clean before storing and enjoy. You can get powdered vitamin C at most groceries during canning season and any time at a health food store. The C is not noticeable to the taste and adds a little healthy goodness to my products. a bit of extra vit.C is a blessing.
    I live with disabilities and lifting a water bath canner was very hard to do and also dangerous….all that hot water to spill or drop. As I age ,I find the steam canner has become a necessity, it is so light in comparasion to the water bath. For me it is the only way I can still preserve food.I live in CA so water is also a major issue here and the steam canner is quicker to heat(energy) and uses very little water(conservation).

  15. 65
    Tim says:

    hi everyone I got this all american electrical steamer 25 x model and I like to know if I can use it for canning I also have a regular all american canner 30 court but I read somewhere that the electrical steamers are only meant for medical,dental sterilization things of that nature so can I use it for canning. Thank you

    ot

  16. 66
    Sara says:

    Steam actually transfers heat more efficiently than water, the reason being that latent heat is released the moment steam condenses, which results in much faster heating than with sensible heat (hot water). However the USDA still advises against the use of steam canners, not because of ineffectiveness of steam heat transfer but for lack of research on safe processing times.

  17. 67
    Jan says:

    What is the physical difference between the steam canner and the old pressure canner? (I have never seen one) In other words, couldn’t you just put two inches of water in your pressure canner and put the lid on to generate steam? Thank you.

    • 67.1

      Jan, Have you gotten a response to your question?. I agree with your thinking about using a old pressure canner and let the steam come out the top. If this would work I wouldn’t have to invest in a steam canner. Please let me know if you have learned any information to the contrary.
      thanks, Scott

      • Becca says:

        I’m looking to buy a canner for my glass cooktop… I’ve been using a friend’s steam canner and I love it. I want to buy one for myself but was thinking some day I might want to get a pressure canner too (for non-acidic foods). I thought the same thing about the pressure canner. There are some multi-use canners available that do water bath or steam canning (just turn over the rack so it sits taller). The reviews say that water sputters out of the lid on the Victorio model I was looking at on Amazon. I figured if I splurged and got a pressure canner I could just steam cook the contents in the pressure cooker. I would think the water wouldn’t sputter as much that way too.

  18. 68
    Kath says:

    I have used a steam canner for 30 years. It is SO much quicker, easier (and more energy efficient) than heating up all that water and lifting heavy jars in and out of a deep water bath. Just follow the instructions included with the steam canner — generally the timing matches that of a water bath. It’s important to start timing only after there’s a steady flow of steam coming out of the canner. In most cases, as soon as I lift off the lid of the steam canner, the jar lids start to pop, indicating they have sealed. I use also sterilize the jars inside the steam canner.

  19. 69
    Colleen says:

    HAHAHA! The USDA! Do you really trust that source? GMO’s and chemicals are safe but canning with another form of hot water is not?

  20. 70
    Debra says:

    Does anyone can green beans in their stream canners? My mother-in-law swears by it but everything I read says only to pressure cook green beans..?? Any thoughts?

    • 70.1
      Fran says:

      Green beans are low acid and must reach 240 degrees to kill potential botulism and be safe for storage. I don’t think the contents of jars in a steam canner will reach 240 degrees and stay there for the proper amount of time. Please, be safe, use a pressure canner for green beans. Botulism is nothing to play with.

  21. 71
    Cherie says:

    I got my steam canner 4 years ago. I have not used the hot water bath or pressure canner since. I absolutely love it ! Saves time, water, electricity, AND not so heavy to move. I have done peaches, pickles, tomatoes, beets, pumpkin , squash, and many other things. I don’t believe everything the USDA or any other government agency says. I have recommended them to anyone I know who cans.

  22. 72
    beth rogers says:

    I just ordered a fresh tech canner.im wondering if I can use it for canning green beans carrots ect.or just fruit and things you use the boiling water bath method for.i believe it uses pressure to cook.

    • 72.1
      Marisa says:

      The Fresh Tech canner can only be used for things that go in a boiling water bath canner. It does not generate enough pressure to do low acid foods.

  23. 73
    Jill says:

    I have used mine for over 30 plus years. I process the same as a water bath canner. I do everything. I have never had a problem. I purchased a second so I can process more at a time. The only way to go. Salsa is our favorite

  24. 74
    debbie quick says:

    I saw steam canners at ace hardware. I had never heard of this form of canning. I like the concept. And it sounds promising. I have fybro and water bath is not possible with my health restrictions. I have cookware that has lids with a hole on top. Could these not be used instead of purchasing special equipment?

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