DIY

Build an Outdoor Canning Cooker

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PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
Be sure that the 55-gallon drum is clean and free of chemicals, and that it has a bung hole with a screw-type cover at each end (most drums have a large opening at one end and a smaller one at the other).

If you can’t take the heat, get yourself out of the
kitchen and . . . build a super canner!

Summertime and indoor canning go together like-well, on
especially hot days, kind of like fire and brimstone. But
look: What’s that odd-looking device you see in the photos?
It’s cooled by nature itself . . . and able to process up
to 45 quarts at a time while its owners sit sipping iced
tea in the shade! It’s inexpensive! It’s easy to build!
It’s a Super Canning Cooker!

Building an Outdoor Super Canning Cooker

To make your own outdoor canning cooker, gather together
the materials listed here. Be sure that the 55-gallon drum
is clean and free of chemicals, and that it has a bung hole
with a screw-type cover at each end (most drums have a
large opening at one end and a smaller one at the other).

Now cut the drum and other components as specified. You can
use a hacksaw to section the lengths of water pipe and
angle iron, but if you don’t have a torch or arc welder to
cut the drum and metal grating yourself (and to weld the
leg-support components together), you’d best find a friend
or a metal shop to do the job for you. In any case,
remember to retain a little more than half of the drum,
enough so — when the canner is filled — the water
level will cover the tops of quart canning jars by an inch
or two. Also, be sure that the large bung hole, which
you’ll use to drain the canner, will rest at its lowest
point when the canner is mounted on its legs.

Next, make the leg supports by welding each of the 5 inch
pieces of water pipe at an angle of about 45 degrees to a 3 inch
piece of angle iron (see Photo 1 above and in the image gallery). Then drill two holes in
each of the supports, and bore a matching pair of mounting
holes at each of the canner’s four outside corner edges.
(The exact location of the holes at each edge isn’t
particularly critical, as long as all four pairs are
positioned consistently.)

With that done, you’ll be ready to attach the supports to
the drum, using the quarter-inch bolts. Don’t forget to put
a flat washer under each bolt head on the inside of the
drum and a spring-lock washer under each nut on the
outside. And before you tighten the nuts and bolts, be sure
to caulk the joints on both sides thoroughly with silicone
sealant (I use GE Silicone Clear Household Glue and Seal),
to prevent leaks. Spread the goo under the flat washers and
between the leg supports and the barrel’s sides.

Once the brackets are caulked and fastened in place, dress
up your Super Canning Cooker a bit with a good coat of
high-temperature black paint. Then go ahead and slip the
EMT legs into their supports. Now slide a radiator-hose
clamp around each leg, and open each clamp enough to allow
you to thread the link chain through all four clamps. Screw
one clamp in position about halfway up the leg (or a little
less; see Photo 2 in the image gallery) . . . pull the chain tight to the next
clamp . . . fasten that clamp in place . . . and continue
around the canner until you’re back where you started.
Loosen that clamp, make sure both ends of the chain are
threaded through it and pulled tight, and screw the clamp
down again.

Now put the metal grating in place inside the canner-it
should rest nicely a few inches above the bottom. And
finally, though it’s optional, you’ll probably want to make
a cover for your Super Canner, to help hold the heat in.
Nearly any appropriately large, flat piece of metal will
do. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Avoid using aluminum or galvanized
metal.)
I made our lid from a scrap piece of corrugated
roofing and attached a wooden handle fashioned from a 2 by
4. I strongly recommend a handle, since the canner’s cover
can get hotter than a fast-food grill. In any event, you’ll
want to be sure to keep a pair of pot holders handy
whenever you fire up your cooker.

Speaking of firing up, all you need is some kindling
and — once the blaze is established — a few
good-size logs. (If you heat with wood, chances are you’ve
already accumulated a pile of hard-to-split, knotty pieces
that are too large for your stove; well, now they can be
put to good use under your Super Canner!)

Each time you’re finished using the cooker, be sure to let
the water cool before removing the bung-hole plug to drain
out the liquid. On the other hand, don’t keep the water in
the canner for an extended period, or the bottom may rust
out. If you must drain the canner when the water is still
hot, use long-handled pliers to loosen the cap, and unscrew
it slowly, or the water could gush out and burn you.

When the canning season is over, touch up any exterior
rusty spots with spray paint, give the inside and the
grating a light coating of WD-40 lubricant, and remove the
legs and chain and stash them in the barrel. Your canner
will be prepped for storage, ready and waiting to make cool
work of putting up next season’s garden produce!

List of Canning Cooker Building Materials

(1) 55-gallon drum, cut as shown in Photo 3 (see Photo 3 in the image gallery)
(1) 18 inch by 31-1/2 inch piece expanded metal grating
(4) 3/4 inch by 30 inch electrical conduit (EMT) (4) 1 inch by 5 inch water
pipe
(4) 1-1/4 inch by 3 inch angle iron
(8) 1/4 inch by 1/2 inch bolts
(8) 1/4 inch nuts
(8) 1/4 inch lock washers
(8) 1/4 inch flat washers
(1) tube silicone sealant
(2) cans black spray paint
(4) radiator-hose clamps to fit 3/4 inch EMT
(1) 12-1/2 foot length of small link chain