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How to Use a Steam Canner

Learn everything you need to know about steam canning. This article explains what it is, how to do it safely, and why it might be great option for you!

What is Steam Canning?

Many people have never heard of steam canning. Steam canning is a particular method of canning where an atmosphere of steam is created to process the foods being canned, instead of using pressure or a hot water bath.

Steam canners remind me of a big cake tin. The bottom that holds the water is relatively shallow and holds a rack for the jars. The lid is a large dome that goes down over the jars.

What are the Benefits of Steam Canning?

Steam canning is my favorite way of processing things like jellies and salsas for several reasons.

Steam Canners use less water.

Because there is only about 2 ½ quarts of water used (it varies by model) the canner is much lighter. The weight alone of a traditional hot water bath canner can be prohibitive. Persons with back issues or who do not have the strength to carry that heavy pot will find steam canning much more doable.

Heavy hot water bath canners can also be very hard on your stove. If it is a glass top stove, or if the stove isn’t durable enough, it could damage it. I have actually had my stove top bend under the weight of a canner in the past.

Steam Canners Use Less Energy

Another great benefit is that it takes much less energy to bring the canner to temperature than it does a great big pot of water, as used with the hot water bath canning.

The smaller quantity of water prevents your kitchen from getting heated up as much. You can pour the water out right away, as it cools quickly. No waiting for ages for the pot to be cool enough to be safe to move. This is great for summer – when a lot of our canning takes place.

Steam Canners are Easy to Use

There’s no lowering jars into boiling water – or lifting them out. I don’t know about you, but lowering my rack of filled jars is almost as nerve-wracking as when it comes time to pulling them out. Reaching in to the hot canner and trying to grab those little handles and lift out the rack of jars can be daunting. I am always afraid I am going to drop it and splash scalding water all over the place. I actually did once, and miraculously didn’t end up in the ER.

The rack in the canner is much more level than a traditional canner rack. When you lift out a jar rack from the hot water bath canner, the jars often shift, tilt, or sometimes even fall over. This risks your seals and leads to more seal failures. The smooth rack in the steam canner allows even the notoriously tipsy, small jelly jars to stay level.

pickled peppers in the steam canner

Is Steam Canning Safe?

Yes! Steam canning is perfectly safe if, like other canning methods, it is done properly.

For a long time, there were many reports that steam canning wasn’t recommended because there wasn’t enough data to deem it safe. However, several years ago the University of Wisconsin did extensive research on the process and gave the stamp of approval!

What Foods can be Steam Canned?

Steam canning can be used to processes foods that are naturally acidic – with a pH level of 4.6 or lower. Foods like apples, peaches and many other foods. It can also be used to process acidified foods like pickles, jams and salsas.

Essentially, if a food is safe for hot water bath canning, then it is likely safe to be steam canned. The exception would be if the processing time exceeds 45 minutes for where you live.

The reason for the time limitation, is because the steam is continually venting and the water boiling. Unlike with a water bath canner, you cannot add additional boiling water to the canner as it is processing.

Strawberry Jalapeño Jam - the best jam you ever tasted. Make it and see. Get the recipe from Cosmopolitan Cornbread
Strawberry Jalapeno Jam

How to Steam Can Safely

Choose the Right Foods and Recipes

Remember: Only acidic foods that are safe for hot water bath canning, can be steam canned. Foods that are not acidic – like meats, soups, beans and others – that must be pressure canned, cannot be steam canned.

Only use tried and true recipes. Use recipes that have been tested and deemed safe for hot water bath canning, and are for quart, pint or half-pint jars. Recipes chosen should also have a processing time for 45 minutes or less. Any recipe that requires a longer processing time, will need to be done in a traditional hot water bath canner.

How to Use a Steam Canner - What it is, how to do it safely, and why it might be great option for you!

Heat the Jars

Jars should be pre-heated and filled with hot liquid, whether it is raw or hot-packed foods.

Maintain The Appropriate Temperature

Jars have to be processed at 210-212°F. If the lid begins bouncing or spitting water, lower the heat of your stove enough to stop that action but still maintain the correct temperature. If the stove is too hot, and you boil the water dry, the food will not be properly processed and is unsafe.

Some steam canners do not have gauges and the temperature has to be monitored with a thermometer where the steam is venting. Personally, I think that is risky. I would not use a canner like that.

The steam canner that I use has a gauge built into it that shows you without a doubt, when your canner has reached the required temperature. It even has readings for different elevations, so there is no questioning if it is the proper temperature or not.

Processing Time

Processing time does not begin until the steam canner has reached the appropriate temperature. The lid cannot be opened and you must maintain the appropriate temperature the entire time. Processing time is the same in a steam canner as it is in a hot water bath canner. The time must be adjusted according to the elevation for where you live.

Once the processing time has finished, turn off the heat. Then carefully remove the dome lid – tilt it away from you so you don’t burn yourself with the steam.

Honeysuckle Blossom Jelly from Cosmopolitan Cornbread.
Honeysuckle Blossom Jelly

Finishing Up

Use a jar lifter to transfer your processed jars to the surface where you will allow them to cool – whether a cooling rack or a towel-lined counter. The jars should cool naturally, away from drafts for at least 12-24 hours.

That’s it!

As I said before, steam canning is my favorite method of non-pressure canning. I rarely use my traditional hot water bath canner anymore, because the steam canner is simply so much easier to use!

Give it a try, I’m sure you will agree!

In the video below, you can see me go through the process of making Strawberry Jalapeño Jam using a Steam Canner.

How to Use a Steam Canner - What it is, how to do it safely, and why it might be great option for you!

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