When you are doing canning, which is pretty advanced “kitchen work”, you’d like to think that you have moved beyond more mundane cooking concerns.
Not so much.
Scorched mixtures to be canned
One of the things that can bite you, a lot, is a concoction scorching at the bottoms of pots as you prepare it to be canned.
In fact, you’re particularly vulnerable to this when canning. When preparing a mixture to be canned, you are far more likely to be making large quantities of it in a very large, full pot with varying heat levels throughout it — meaning, the top will just be warming up while the bottom is burning hot. You will also likely be juggling a million other concerns such as preparing jars and lids, getting the canner ready, etc. So you’re more likely to go longer between stirs, and thus get caught by sticking and scorching at the bottom of that pot. No one wants to can scorched mustard pickle with the scorched taste throughout. The scorched taste won’t go away during canning: if anything, the canning taste will intensify it.
Heat diffuser to the rescue
A heat diffuser can be a god-send. It’s a metal plate with holes in it that you set on top a burner, and then your pot on top of it. It diffuses the heat between the burner and the pot, ensuring that the pot’s bottom gets a gentle but still steady and even heat source. It’s practically impossible to scorch something with a heat diffuser in play.
This frees up your hands and minds to do all the other canning prep, worry free.
It’s ideal when you are cooking thick mixtures such as relishes, chutneys, jams, sauces, etc, prior to putting them in the jars for canning.
To be clear, do not use a heat diffuser when you are actually processing jars. For that, you want the canner pot to have direct contact with full heat. You would only use a heat diffuser when you are cooking the preparations in a regular, separate cooking pot.
The only down-side with using a heat diffuser is that you probably have to extend the simmering time of your mixture. Say a pie filling mixture that calls for simmering for 10 minutes in an open pot to thicken before canning. You may want to extend that simmering time to 20 or 25 minutes to achieve the desired thickeness, as it will be simmering more slowly and gently. But that little bit of extra time is usually always time you would need anyway to get everything else (jars, lids, etc) ready for the actual canning process to start.
Heat diffusers are very inexpensive, ranging from 5 to 10 bucks US, and will last forever. You can spend more on more expensive models, but reviews seem to suggest you don’t need to.
They will work on gas, electric coil, or electric glass-top stoves.
Most aren’t dishwasher safe — but we’ve never had occasion to need to even think of washing ours in over 20 years of use.