Exploring Portable Burners and Other Options for Canning

Using a portable burner (hot plate) for canning is a “hot” topic. When consumers make a change in their range or cooktop from burners (gas or electric) to a smooth (glass) electric or radiant heat cooktop, the smooth cooktop may not work for canning. Many manufactures advise against it citing such issues as heat or weight cracking the cooktop, fusing the canner to the cooktop, or scratching. 

Consumers have valid concerns about damage to their cooktops when canning. The canner weight, the intense heat for long periods of time, and scratching all pose potential damage to a smooth cooktop. Further, electric ranges now have an automatic ‘on and off’ cycle to protect the cooktop from excessive heat which could result in under processing of the canned product posing a food safety risk. When the manufacturer recommends against using the cooktop for canning and installing a second electric coil or gas burner range is not feasible, it makes sense to consider a portable burner or another type of canner. However, portable burners are not all alike, and not all portable burners are appropriate for canning. The same is true for canners.

Portable Burners

As one ponders a portable unit, it is important to consider the kind of canning you wish to do—water bath, pressure, or both. Pressure canning is the only safe method recommended by the USDA for low-acid foods such as vegetables, meats and fish. Water bath canning is suitable for high-acid foods—pickles, most fruits, jams and jellies. The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) offers the following guidelines for selecting a portable burner for canning purposes:

Canner on portable burner
  • The unit should mimic a range burner as much as possible in size and heat intensity. One should be able to easily control the heat source to provide an even, consistent heat.
  • The burner must be level, sturdy, and secure. Look for enough height to allow air to flow under the burner, but not such that it will become unsteady or top heavy with a full, heavy canner resting on it.
  • Look for a burner diameter that is no more than 4 inches smaller than the diameter of your canner. In other words, the canner should not extend more than 2 inches from the burner on any side. For heating a typical 12-inch diameter canner, the burner should be about eight inches in diameter or the size of a large electric coil burner on a range top. (An electric range coil burner element has a diameter of 7.5 inches.)
  • For electric burners, the wattage should be about equal to that of a typical household range large burner, which is 1750W. The best portable electric heaters currently available run 1500W/120V. The BTUs of a gas burner should be 12,000 BTU or less.
  • The unit housing should hold up to the high heat under the canner for long heating periods, and not damage counter tops with reflected heat.

Portable Electric Burners

Most home or consumer units are too lightweight and have insufficient wattage to be used for canning.  Some commercial/restaurant quality units available closely meet the NCFHP recommendations; they are sturdy and provide 1500W/120V of energy. These UL-approved units come with either a cast-iron or a coil element. A cast iron element takes longer to heat but provides more strength than a coil element. 

Clemson University Extension offers two suggestions for portable burners. While no university testing has been done, canning groups have found commercial/restaurant units, such as those made by Cadco, Ltd (or similar), provide successful pressure and water bath canning results; these are single-burner units with cast iron elements. The manufacturer makes no recommendation for using the units for canning. 

Portable Gas Burners

The USDA or NCHFP does not recommend an outdoor gas grill for various reasons. However, a portable propane burner can be used outside as long as it is strong enough to support the weight of the canner, is used in a location away from wind, is well ventilated, can provide consistent even heat, and will not damage the canner. Some canner manufacturers advise against canning on any gas heat source. The high heat can damage pressure canners, especially those made of aluminum or stainless steel; using a portable gas unit may also void the canner warranty due to damage the heat may cause. Damage, warping, delaminating or fusing of the aluminum canner to the LP heat source, renders the canner non-functional. Further, NCHFP cautions that high BTU burners (over 12,000 BTUs) could produce so much heat that the recommended come-up time for canning may be altered to potentially produce an unsafe final product.  There are no recommendations for using a turkey fryer or a wok burner for canning; if used, consideration should be made of all the precautions mentioned.

Portable Induction Burners

An induction burner requires non-ridged, flat-bottomed cookware containing ferrous iron to work with the electromagnetic field below the surface of the unit. Since most brands of pressure canners are made of aluminum, they will not work on an induction burner. Water bath canners can be problematic, too. One manufacturer, Presto®, has introduced a canner with a stainless steel clad base that is suitable for pressure and water bath canning on gas, electric (coil and smooth-top), and induction cooking surfaces.  However, Presto® cautions that the canner may not work on all portable induction ranges; no specifics are given as to what makes a unit suitable. (See Presto® 23 quart induction pressure canner for more information.)

Other Canner Options

Digital canners. Digital canners like the Presto Precise®  is an option for both pressure canning and water bath canning. Per Presto® information, innovative sensors in the unit hold at the exact USDA processing times/temperature required for safe canning of low acid and high acid foods. Since Presto® did their own testing of the product, NCHFP cannot verify the company’s statements and recommends that consumers follow only the digital canner’s manual and not instructions from other sources.

NOTE: Electric programmable pressure cookers (EPPCs) or multi-cookers are NOT SUITABLE FOR CANNING. Pressure cookers and pressure canners are not interchangeable. EPPC units do not meet USDA guidelines for canning for various reasons (see Canning in Pressure Cookers).

Electric water bath canners. For those who only want to do water bath canning, an electric water bath canner may be an option. These are freestanding units specifically designed for ONLY water bath canning of high acid foods—fruit spreads, pickles, and most fruits. Heat sensors inside the canner maintain optimal temperatures for consistent canning results. The Ball® EasyCanner manufactured by Newell Brands is one such unit.

Steam or atmospheric canning. Steam canning is a method of preserving high-acid foods with a pH of 4.6 or below using steam. A steam canner can be used to replace a water bath canner if the processing time is 45 minutes or less. Using less water, steam provides the required temperature for safe processing with less energy. Steam Can It Right! Guidelines for Safely Using a Steam Canner for Home Food Preservation provides additional information about using a steam canner safely. Steam canning has only been tested with the “top hat” style steam canner.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and AnswerLine do not endorse or recommend any products mentioned in this blog. Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer.

For additional information on portable burners, please leave comments in the blog or reach out to AnswerLine.

Sources:

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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