Learning how to can your food is a great skill. This complete tutorial will walk you through easy canning, step by step.
The domain of our grandmothers was at home canning in kitchen. They preserved everything they possibly could to get their families through the long cold winters.
There has been a large resurgence of interest in canning. Last year you were hard pressed to find a canning jar or lid on the shelves!
The thing that most folks don’t realize is that canning your own foods is WAY easier than you think. With a few tidbits of knowledge, you too can be a pro!
Our grandmothers had it much harder than we do. They had old fashioned canning jars with glass lids and rubbers and many times, had to melt wax to pour over the food so that bacteria could not enter. Not to mention they had no running water and old stoves.
What exactly is canning?
Canning is the process of heating foods. Then adding them to glass jars and heating the food in the jars, for the proper amount of time. This process will kill any microorganisms that could be present in the food, making them shelf stable.
The process of canning has been done for many hundreds of years but has become vastly safer and easier the more that experts learn and pass on to us.
Different types of canning
There are two different types of canning. The method you choose will be determined by the acidity of the food itself.
Water bath canning
Water bath canning is preformed, as the name implies in boiling water to kill the microorganisms. This method is great for high-acid foods. These include berries, peaches, tomatoes and others. These foods have a high acidity (pH of below than 4.6). Many of these will still need an added acid (usually lemon juice, citric acid or vinegar).
Foods that are good for water bath canning
- jams, jellies and fruit butters
- tomatoes; such as tomato sauce
- some condiments
Pressure canning is done in a special pot that is made specifically for canning. A pressure canning pot is used for low acid foods (above pH 4.6). It has the ability to heat the foods in the jar to 240°F, rather the the 212°F that the water bath gets to.
**IMPORTANT** DO NOT mistake your Instant Pot pressure cooker for a pressure canner! They are two different tools!
Foods that are better to pressure can
- pumpkin, beets, beans, squash, potatoes or other low acid vegetables.
- meats such as poultry, beef, pork, fish and seafood and game meats. (venison, elk, antelope, moose, etc.)
Pressure canning is not any more difficult than water bath but does require the purchase of the special pot.
Pro Tip** If your garden is producing more than you can keep up with, freeze your produce first. Many foods can be frozen first then canned. For more information on freezing see here.
Step by step water bath canning procedure
- Before anything else you should get your water bath canner on to boil. Fill the pot about half way for pints and 2/3 full for quarts.
- Sterilize jars. There are 4 different methods to do this. NOTE: If process time (0-1000 ft elevation) is over 10 minutes, this step can be eliminated according to the National Center for Food Preservation. Lids should be washed in hot, soapy water.
- Use dishwasher on sterilize setting.
- Set jars in boiling water for about 10 minutes, this can be done right in your canning pot.
- Microwave jars on high for 1 minute. Use wet jar for this method.
- Place jars in 275° oven for about 20 minutes.
- Rinse produce.
- Follow recipe.
- When recipe is complete, load food into hot jars using a ladle and a wide mouth canning funnel, (purchased with canning tools.).
- Be sure to leave proper headspace (the space between the top of the preserves and the top of the jar). Headspace size should be included in any recipe you use.
- Use a knife, chopstick or bubble removing tool (from the canning tool set you purchase) to remove any air bubbles along the outside edge of the jar.
- Wipe top edge of jar clean with a damp towel.
- Apply the warm lid so that the sealing edge is centered on the jar. Screw on the bands. Do not overtighten.
- Carefully lift jars into boiling water with jar lifter. Be careful that you don’t have too much water in the pot or it will spill over. Jars should have one inch of water covering them.
- Set a timer and process for the specified time in the recipe.
- After processing for the specified time, turn fire off under pot (for gas stove) or remove pot from burner (electric stoves). Remove lid of canning jar. Allow jars to sit in hot water for about 5-10 minutes to slowly cool. (This will prevent siphoning – when liquid is squeezed out of jars, even if they are sealed.)
- After resting, remove jars from the pot with canning tongs and place on a kitchen towel. Allow them to remain undisturbed for at least 12 hours. You may hear some pinging from the jars. This is music to a canner’s ears. It means your jars are sealing.
- After the 12 hours, check jars for seal. Push the center of the lid with your finger. If the lid does not flex up and down, it is safely sealed. Next, to be positive on a good seal, remove band and gently try to remove lid with fingertips. If lid is secure, it is definitely sealed. If lid flexes the jar did not seal. It can be reprocessed again to try to get a seal, (with new lids) or jar can be stored in the refrigerator.
- Label jars and date them. Store in a cool place for about a year. Many preserves will last longer but it’s best to try and use them in a year.
Step by step pressure canning procedure
- Wash vegetables. Peel them if recipe calls for peeling.
- Prepare jars. Add salt to each jar, if recipe states. (optional step)
- Some low acid foods require par cooking. This is called hot pack. If your recipe specifies hot pack then par cook according to recipe instructions.
- Fill jars, leaving specified headspace. The use of a canning funnel will help keep the edge of the jar from getting debris on it.
- In some cases, you will add clean, boiled water, broth or other liquid to jar, leaving the headspace.
- Wipe rims of the jars with a clean, damp towel. Apply your lid. Screw on bands fingertip tight.
- Prepare pressure canner adding water to the bottom line.
- Add jars to the canner. Lock lid.
- Turn fire on high and vent the pressure canner for ten minutes.
- Then add the weighted or dial gauge pressure regulator. Bring the pressure up to specified pressure (psi) and maintain it there.
- Process for the specified times as per the recipe instructions. Always set a timer.
- Keep an eye on your pressure and make sure that you do not drop below the specified pressure at any time during the canning process.
- If your pressures drops below the correct pressure, restart your timer.
Why does elevation matter?
The easiest answer is that at higher elevations, water boils at a higher temperature, therefore so will the liquids that you are canning. Be sure that if you live above 1000 feet above sea level, you adjust your processing time by the specified amount! It is crucial to food safety.
How will you know if your food has gone bad?
Bottom line is use your senses.
- sight – if food color looks very “off” or you can actually see mold. Is the lid bulging or rusting? It’s best to throw it out.
- smell – Once the lid is off does the food smell “off”, or not like it should?
- taste – After checking the lid and using your other senses to look at the food and smell it, taste just a tiny bit. Does if taste off?
A common mantra among food experts and canners is “When in doubt, throw it out”. It is not worth getting yourself or your family ill. Botulism is still a serious threat to humans and nothing to fool around with.
Why should you learn how to can at home?
If 2020 taught us anything it’s that food supplies can be affected almost overnight in the case of emergencies (including upstate NY snow storms). No yeast, no fresh vegetables, no bread, no canned goods, no paper towels or toilet tissue. It was a bit disconcerting.
Did we panic though? Absolutely not. The pantry shelves of our basement are teaming with lots of farm fresh goodness. Jams, jellies, pickles, salsas, sauces. You name it.
Did it take a lot of time to can it all? No not really. If we found something on sale at a farmer’s market or the garden gave us bushels of tomatoes, we would can one batch at a time.
When you make foods shelf stable, you can also save room in your freezers too.
The other bonus to canning your own foods at home, is you reduce food waste and you can save yourself a whole lot of money.
Pro Tips for successful canning
- Use the freshest produce possible for canning for the best flavor.
- Always use clean tools and jars. Use new lids every time. Lids are single use only.
- Heat water in the water bath canning pot first. It can take up to 45 minutes to boil.
- Prepare and measure all of your ingredients before starting the recipe. Prepare all of the tools you will need.
- Process for allotted time the recipe calls for. Adjust for elevation.
- Always choose recipes from a trusted source. Home food preservation is more of a science and must be completed properly to avoid risk of contamination of the foods and make them shelf stable.
What you need
- Water bath canning pot
- Pressure canner
- Canning tool set
- quart canning jars
- pint jars
- half pint jars
- chef’s knife
- paring knife
- extra large bamboo cutting board
Additional useful tools
Do you need all of these specialty tools to get started? Absolutely not. You just need a large pot and jars and lids. Although, a canning tool set is immensely handy and may save you from lots of burns.
NOTE* If using a standard large pot, you will need something to keep jars from bouncing on to the bottom of the pot. There are many things that can work. a trivet, a kitchen towel, a round cake cooling rack, etc. Jars can also be wrapped in clean rags or kitchen towels to protect them from bouncing up against each other.
Want to learn how to grow your own produce for canning? If you love growing your own produce, these posts are packed full of information about how to get that big harvest by the end of the season! Don’t miss our How to Start a Garden Series!
Great canning recipes for beginners
- Cranberry pepper jelly
- Canning applesauce
- Jalapeño jelly
- Tomato Sauce
- Canning cherry pie filling
- Tomato Juice
- Whole Tomatoes
- Canning potatoes
- Can water for emergencies
Canning Foods at Home Made Easy
For jams and jellies
- Heat water in canning pot.
- Heat jars and lids.
- Prepare fruit.
- Execute steps as per recipe instructions.
- Ladle hot jam into hot jars leaving suggested head space.
- Remove bubbles with knife, chop stick or bubble tool.
- Wipe rim of jar with damp cloth.
- Affix lids in center of jar.
- Tighten bands but not too tight.