Know what to look for or you'll be wasting time and money
Buying Used Canning Equipment
by Pat Veretto
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Simple Dehydrators and Other Ways to Dry Food
Learn to Preserve Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables
Whether you're looking for used canning jars, used canners or other second hand canning equipment, know what to look for or you'll be wasting time and money buying inferior or even dangerous equipment.
Look for jars made especially for canning. Canning jars are thicker and made to withstand extreme temperatures over and over, unlike jars made for one use. You might want to take a chance on mayonnaise or pickle jars you've saved yourself, but don't buy them from someone else for canning. It's not very frugal to pay someone for something they got free, but more importantly, you won't know how the jars have been used or treated. Rough treatment will weaken glass just like it will anything else.
Always check the rim of any canning jar before buying them. Run your finger or thumb lightly along the rim to see if there are rough or uneven spots. If you feel a snag, uneven area, or chip, don't buy the jar because it won't seal.
Very old canning jars (before World War I) may have turned varying shades of purple, due to manganese dioxide used in manufacturing. While these are interesting and look great with a bouquet of informal flowers or sitting on a windowsill filled with marbles, they're not so great to can in. Since they are old, they could shatter in the heat and pressure of a canner, and the chances that their rims contain tiny nicks and imperfections are much greater than with newer jars. If you like them, buy them. Just don't can in them.
You may run across blue canning jars during your second hand shopping. They were colored to help protect the canned foods, since light deteriorates color and nutrition. Since blue jars haven't been manufactured for some time, only use the ones you find for storage of dry goods.
Pressure canners and cookers are not the same thing but they operate the exact same way. They come in sizes from easily handled 4 quart size (which are too short for anything but pint jars) to 23 quarts (which are big enough for a large family and tall enough for gallon jars). Most people need something in between and there is a lot of "in between" in pressure canners. Eight to twelve quart size pressure canners are probably used more than any other sizes. Which size you use is up to you. Decide based on how much produce will be available at one time and how much you want to can.
When you look for a used pressure canner, there are several things to look for:
- Is the gasket smooth and rubbery? If it's slick and hard, it may not seal. If it's gummy or very soft, it won't hold a seal. If it's stretched out (it should be a little hard to put on and take off), it won't seal. You can replace the gasket and they're not expensive, but if you want to use the canner the day you take it home, check the gasket very carefully.
- Is the pan itself perfectly round? If it's warped or dented, it's no good at all for canning. The lid won't fit properly.
- Is the lid perfectly round? This is the same problem as a warped or dented pan. It won't work.
- Make sure the pressure release plug is in good condition. This is a small hole in the lid that is filled with a material that will stand pressure up to a certain degree. It's a safety valve of sorts. When the pressure rises above that degree, it will pop free and spew the contents all over the ceiling, which is much better than the pressure cooker exploding all over you. The plug should be smooth and completely sealed in.
- Avoid pressure canners with only dial type pressure gauges because they need to be checked for accuracy every year. Weighted types of gauges don't go out of adjustment (there's nothing to adjust), so just be sure they're not warped and that they are very clean and fit the spindle well.
- A big plus is having an owner's booklet. If the pressure canner you find doesn't have one, try contacting the manufacturer.
Boiling Water Bath Canners
This is the easy one. Anything that's deep enough to cover whatever size of jars you want to use by at least three to four inches can be used to can foods in a boiling water bath.
However, it's hard to find pots big enough to hold six or eight quart jars plus several gallons of water, so most of us look for those pots sold as "boiling water bath canners." They're usually graniteware, but sometimes stainless steel or even aluminum, but they're all lightweight and big.
They come with racks to keep jars from bouncing around in the boiling water, but if you can't find one with a rack, you can improvise by using towels in the bottom of the canner, and even scrunching the towels between jars if you need to.
While it's not critical that lids and pots be perfectly matched (they don't need to seal), beware of a pot or lid that's obviously out of round. That tells a story of hard use and can shorten the life of either due to stress on the material. Hairline cracks can widen and, in the case of graniteware, the surface will chip off, leaving areas to rust.
Miscellaneous Tools and Toys
Since the heyday of canning before and during the Second World War, they've come up with all sorts of interesting and sometimes helpful paraphernalia for canning:
- A magnet on a stick is an easy way to get those lids out of hot water. You can buy one or make one by fastening any magnet to a knife, wooden dowel, knitting needle or stick. Or you can just use a regular set of tongs to pick them up.
- A jar lifter is a wide tong type of tool that fits over the neck of a jar to pull it out of hot water. This can be handy if you don't have a rack for a boiling water bath canner so you can't pull the whole rack of jars out of the canner. In all other instances, you should use potholders to move hot jars. They're easier to grip the jar with and that's much safer.
- Ladles are the same utensil as your soup ladle. There's no need to buy anything special to dip food from a pot to a jar.
As you can see, you don't really need much beyond a canner and jars (and lids!) when it comes to equipment.
When you shop second hand, look everything over carefully and make sure that what you buy will do the job. Canning equipment especially should be carefully inspected. While canning food when it's abundant and cheap only makes frugal sense, if you buy equipment that won't do what it's supposed to do, not only do you lose money, you could be in for disaster. Poor equipment can mean dangerous explosions or leaks as well as ruined and potentially life threatening food.
Reviewed August 2017
Pat Veretto is a work at home grandmother who has homesteaded, homeschooled and happily lived frugally most of her life. She currently freelances.
Take the Next Step:
- New to canning? Learn these canning basics. Or take a look at these great canning tips for beginners.
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