Burning Issue: Canning on Portable Burners

Can I can on portable gas or electric burners?

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If you have a smooth cooktop and the manufacturer says not to can on it, then you might find yourself looking for an alternative. The alternatives for canning (if you have one of these no-canning recommended smooth cooktop ranges) are either to purchase and install a permanent set of electric coil or gas burners as a range top (without an oven) or to purchase a portable electric coil or gas burner. 

And that is where important decisions come in to play.  An installed range top requires the utilities to support it and can be quite expensive as a second range top. As for portable burners, they are not all alike and not all portable burners are appropriate for canning.  First of all, check the burner manufacturer's specifications and directions or contact their customer service department for more specific information about the appropriate use of a particular burner for canning.

We cannot endorse a particular brand, but here are a few basic guidelines for you to keep in mind when selecting a portable burner for canning purposes:

- 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 with a full, heavy canner resting on it. One we have tested was about 4 inches high off the counter top, on short legs that allowed air circulation underneath but was plenty stable.

- 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.  This is a common recommendation, but also make sure this is the recommendation for your canner brand.

- For electric burners, you want the wattage to be about equal to that of a typical household range large burner.  We have been successful bringing a boiling water canner to boiling with one that is 1500W/120V, but household range burners are more typically 1750W or higher and this kind of wattage may actually be a better choice if you can find it. We have not yet tried using a pressure canner on a portable electric burner.

- You want the burner to have housing that will hold up to the high heat under the canner for long heating periods, and not damage counter tops with reflected heat. We contacted a foodservice supply store to help us identify one like this; it cost us about $155. We used it successfully a few times to bring water to a boil, but have not used one repeatedly for canning.

- At least one pressure canner manufacturer advises not to can on any outdoor heat source. Your pressure canner can be damaged if the gas burner puts out too much heat. Higher BTU burners could also produce so much heat that the recommended come-up time for canning could be altered, potentially producing an unsafe final product.

- Again, check manufacturer’s directions and/or contact their customer service for more information about appropriate burners. When you are asking manufacturers about canning, specify whether you are asking about pressure canning (much more heat concentration) or boiling water canning. If the manufacturer's directions have been followed, and canning problems occur, then you must take it up with the manufacturer. 

November 7, 2014
National Center for Home Food Preservation