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Home Canning Tips | Lessons Learned

Canning Foods at Home | Tips

The following is a list of tips for home canning. Feel free to add your own in the comment section below.

Water-bath versus Pressure Canner

A water-bath canner should only be used for high acid foods such as fruits, pickles, jams & jellies. A pressure canner MUST be used for low acid foods including vegetables and meats for food safety (higher pressure = higher cook temperatures to eliminate dangerous toxins).

Large Canning Jars

Avoid using canning jars larger than a quart. Home canning technology cannot guarantee that larger quantities will be sufficiently heated through for enough time (food in the center of a large jar may not get hot enough for food safety).

Jar Rim Check

Run your finger over the top of the canning jar rim and check for nicks. Even the tiniest nick makes the jar unusable for canning because a nicked jar rim won’t seal reliably.

Keep a binder with your notes

Write hand written notes on what you’ve done, recipes used, etc. It all helps when you refer to it the next time you are home canning.

For A Good Seal…

Wipe the top of the jar with a cloth dabbed in vinegar. This will remove any gunk to ensure a good seal.

Lids soaked in hot water

It is currently recommended not to boil the lids. Rather, heat water in a shallow pan just prior to boil. Soak lids to soften the seal.

Remove Rings After Canning

Optionally, some people do this. After the jars have cooled and the lids have sealed (popped), remove the rings. This will avoid the possibility of rust developing on the jar & threads. It will also reveal if a jar lid loses its seal during storage and pops open (health hazard). Whereas a ring threaded over the lid will prohibit that visual observation until it’s actually opened for use.

Stacked Jars | Storage

Use original boxes that the jars came in. Older cases came in nice boxes. Newer cases now are only half a box (the bottom half – while the top is plastic wrapped). Or stack jars individually but with dividers in-between layers. You might use cardboard for this.

Labels and Dates

Use a strip of artists tape on the box to label (sharpie) what’s inside, and the month/year. Artist tape removes easily for the next batch, which may be different ingredients. We also sharpie the month/year on the lid of each jar.

Opening The Pressure Canner

Wait until it cools and pressure reaches “0”. NEVER ‘release’ the pressure from a pressure-canner, even slightly, the contents inside the Jars will boil from the pressure change and ooze the contents past the Lid/Ring making for failed seals 99% of the time.

Tightening The Rings

Do not over tighten the rings, over-tight rings will make the jar hold the pressure that needs to be released during Pressure Canning, again causing failed seals. Adjust ring till it first bottoms against the lid, then turn 1/3 turn more. That’s it. There’s a great tool for this, which we have in our canning toolbox:

Wash / Wipe Jars and threads after cool down

I have found that some foods may leave a residue on the threads and outside the jar after pressure canning. So after they’ve cooled, I remove the rings and wipe down the whole jar with a wet cloth soaked mildly with soap. Wait until dry before replacing rings.

Pressure Canning Tomatoes

The USDA has classified tomatoes as low-acid for canning, and is currently recommended to pressure can rather than boiling water bath method. With that said, historically, people have used the water-bath method for decades. Personally, I pressure can my tomato sauce.

Only can foods that are in good condition

In other words, don’t try to can any food that’s “off”, or on the verge of going bad. It will ruin your batch.

Don’t place canning jars directly on bottom of cooker

Place a wire rack or the standard canning-pot metal disk on the bottom of your canner. Otherwise the jars might break from direct contact with high heat.

Don’t be afraid of canning

It’s perfectly safe and easy. The more you do it, the simpler it seems. Just follow the recipes from well known sources. The most well known and reliable canning reference is the Ball Blue Book . I also reference the following guide, Complete Guide to Home Canning by the USDA .

Another popular reference guid is this one:
Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

The least expensive, yet good quality pressure canner:
Presto 23-Quart Pressure Canner and Cooker

Continue reading: The All American Pressure Canner is The Best

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38 Comments

  1. My new less redundant sign on.
    Tomatoes… Make sure there are NO rotten/bad spots what so ever in the batch. Will ruin the whole process. Wish I had a dollar for every tomato I smelled just to be sure! Acid tomatoes are a must. Careful of some hybrids which have more sugar and less acid. A jar of hot tomatoes will seal if turned upside down and not even put in a water bath. Learned this from my ex mother in law. Should only be considered with the acid tomatoes and very clean jars. Works and could conserve energy. A Foley Food Mill is great for juices and purees.

    1. Mrs. U, the Italians (friends’ mothers) used to wrap a quilt or heavy blankets over and around their freshly filled tomatoes in pint jars. They did a hot pack and the seals were completed by leaving the cans alone as they “processed” over the course of a day or so. I have never done this as I am not that patient and I like my pressure canner, but I do have a friend who does this. Of course, we didn’t have so many hybrid tomatoes way back when either. The families had their own seeds passed on down through the generations most likely higher acid content. My friend does not have those seeds now as he didn’t think it was important, although now he wishes he did.

  2. I have canned for over 40 years and never did boil lids. I boiled the water and then inserted the lids.
    I read online from several sites the new lids are only guaranteed for 12 months; great that I have shoe boxes full of lids bought years ago from the Amish stores.
    I also have never removed a lid from a jar until I use it.
    I had a friend that used a folded drying towel on the bottom of her stock pot when she canned 4 jars.
    Nice tips and reviews for us oldies.

  3. We’ve kept a notebook describing the technique used for each batch but now we have also included taking photos as well.

  4. Those of us who “Can” need to pass on the skills and knowledge to our young’uns. Canning is becoming a lost art.

    I’m planning an outdoor kitchen so we can “can” more often in the summer. We end up giving away too much of our garden yield simply due to the fact that canning simply heats our kitchen and house up way too much in the summer!

    Even so, we try to get in at least 2-3 big canning days in the summer and dedicate at least 1 or 2 in the winter…

    Awesome article for the beginner canner!

  5. Depending on where you live…If you live in the country do not keep the jars in cardboard boxes as they attract mice, which attract snakes. We store much of our canned products in the basement and found out too late mice chewed the boxes for nesting. By the time we figured out what was going on the basement was infested with mice. It was a very painful lesson. I now store jars inside clear plastic containers with latched lids which keeps the jars clean and critters out. I also put a small bag of silica gel cat litter in each container to keep them dry. We don’t use any cardboard containers any more.

    1. Excellent advice regarding the potential mice problem! I use clear plastic containers (Heavy Duty Sterlite) for lots of other storage. Never thought of it for canning jars (knock on wood, I don’t have a mouse problem at the moment!)

  6. I simply love pressure canning! The only product that I seal using my water bath canner is jam.
    We have lots of home-canned applesauce and I used a water bath canner to preserve the sauce. I have read that many apples aren’t acidic now, so the older applesauce is only used in cakes and muffins now….just being ‘safe’.

    We have 4 canners: 2 water bath and 2 pressure canners. My fav, by far, is the All American.

  7. The DW and I love to can our produce from our garden. My favorite is Elderberry jam, hers is Pickled Beets. Planted two Plum trees last Spring, will do Plum Jelly in 2-3 years when they fruit.

  8. I have 2 of the big canners for quart size jars and one for pints only. One of the big canners was my Mamaw’s making me the third generation to use it. My oldest boy is wanting to start canning but I can’t give up this treasure just yet, but he will eventually get it.
    I pressure can everything except pickles. I have tried water bath canning other things and lost a lot of it.

  9. tip: when you wipe the jars right before you put your lid on, wipe it with a paper towel wet with vinegar. The vinegar cuts any grease if canning meats and helps the sealing process. I’ve never had a fail since wiping with vinegar !!!

    1. Thanks for the suggestion. I always have to clean my jars with vinegar anyway due to hard water. I still have problems with seals, however. I use an All-American 930 and both Tattlers and regular lids. Most of what I can is fruit in its own juice, soup, and chili. I have tried many things: hot/cold pack; heating the water slowly/quickly; increasing the headspace to 3/2″ for quarts, 1″ for pints; using more/less water in the canner; tightening the lids more/less; starting my 10-minute vent time immediately after shutting the lid on the boiling canner vs. waiting 10 minutes before starting my 10-minute vent time to ensure complete venting. Still, I lose about 1 in 8 seals. Any ideas?

      1. Make sure the lip of the bottle is completely clean, and not chipped or cracked. Check your lids and make sure the seal is intact. Also if these are new lids check to make sure that there is enough of a gasket and that it’s not narrow–with a narrow gasket ring you can be as little as a 16th of an inch off and not have the glass in contact.

        The vent should not be closed until the canner has been actively venting (full on steam blowing out of the vent) for 7-10 minutes. This creates the vacuum in the canner that is required for sealing and will often take more than 10 minutes just to reach full steam.

  10. I have a newer presto and an all American from an estate sale. I can everything from meat to vegetables and no problem. I do have a question, my coil oven is wearing out in the basement and I have a new glass top in the kitchen. Has anyone canned on Glass top and is it hard to to control pressure on a propane camping stove? Looking for alternatives to my old stove.

    1. Km, It used to be that the glass top stoves couldn’t handle the weight. I read more and more success stories with people using them now. Maybe the mfrs have changed their glass to accept more weight from pots & pans (specifically, our canners)? You might want to do some online research on your specific stovetop, then go to the forums.Maybe contact the mfr directly? Sure would be nice for the folks w/ those stovetops!

    2. Check your glass top stove’s manual. Mine is about 10+ years old, but does say I can use any flat bottomed canner. Which means my pressure canner is OK (All American), but not the water bath canner (granite ware). I haven’t used the AA this season because I’ve been doing small batches of water bath stuff (pickles, etc), and I used a stock pot with a flat bottom.

      Did get a two burner propane camp stove to use as a backup, but haven’t tried it yet.

    3. Get a new “coil” (burner?) They’re not too expensive and they’re easy to install. Usually you just have to pull out the old and push in the new, though some models have a screw to prevent accidental loosening. The model number of your stove is probably on the back, and you can look up the necessary part online.

  11. I started using Tattler lids/rings several years ago and they are great and last. The initial purchase is expensive but since they are reusable (unlike metal lids) they pay for themselves down the road. You just wash them real good at each use and make sure not to knick or cut the rings when you remove them. You can buy replacement rubber rings and in a SHTF situation having lids that you can reuse over and over will be a great asset.

  12. Another tip, if using lids that have been stored a while…or unknown time.I was told to condition lids by bringing to a heat with one teaspoon of baking soda in the water… i usually bring mine to a boil… I know the directions have changed on the lids, but this works and i rarely have one that doesn’t seal after using this tip WITH the one on wiping lids with vinegar cloth.I do a lot of meats, meat broths.

  13. I’ve spent today making and canning Ghee.
    Question: What do you all do with the milk solids?

  14. Almost everything that can be said about canning has been said, so how about this; I suggest you have two canners as it takes so long for one batch you can be working on the next.

    1. Chevy
      Your funny.. !!

      I can with 2 All American, model 930, 14 qts and 4 model 915, 7 qts.

      Ain’t no time, nor room for another. ROFL.!!!

  15. – DW is the canning expert, learned from her gran and mom. Me, I’m just the strong back/weak mind/willing assistant. When we have tomatoes to can, we pressure can them. Afraid we won’t be putting much up this fall. I’ll be shelling pecans for the freezer is about it. They’ll keep about the same as they would in the shell, but are more convenient for DW to use this way.

    My mom, gm, and great-grandmother used to all get together and bring all their canners when we would have a good garden year; the house would be full of heat and steam and good food for a few days. Good memories.

    – Papa S.

  16. I have been canning for many years. Somehow along the way I missed an important piece of information. I knew to increase pressure for higher altitude when using a pressure canner. I’m at 3000 feet. I didn’t realize that I was suppose to increase processing time when using water bath canner. Now I know and do. Never too old to learn. Also, I still water bath tomatoes but I do add lemon juice or citric acid as recommended. I guess that’s still an accepted method. Will have to check that out. Information is constantly changing.

  17. My wife does 90% of all the canning. I’m an eager and willing assistant. We mostly use the side burner on our propane grill. I cut lumber into two additional legs under that burner. Pressure canners are heavy and can be dangerous, if ya don’t pay attention and know what you’re doing. Doing it outside serves two purposes; 1. If something bad were to happen, it’s outside and not nearly as hard to clean-up. 2. Keeps most of the heat outside. Still have to boil water and such indoors, but definitely worth it.

    We’ll definitely be cutting into our supply of spaghetti sauce. My wife makes the BEST EVER! Our pathetic garden is barely supplying enough tomatoes for eating. There will NOT be any for making all her normal goodies. Surprisingly though, the jalapeno plants are producing well. I need to make more “magic dust.”

    The wife does pressure canning and water bath, depending on what she’s canning. My garden is AWFUL this year!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  18. How long does your home canned food last? Well lets just see.

    Opened a qt jar of stew meat, just like the day I canned it, 1996

    Carrots, just fine, a little mushy, 1996

    Whole kernel corn pints, tough and chewy and tasteless, 2011

    Green beans, qt, tasted fine, a little soft, 2005

    Pulled pork, un-seasoned, just fine, 2009. Seasoned, just fine, 2009. Qts

    Salsa, perfect, pints 2015

    Qts of stewed tomatoes with peppers, onion, garlic, just fine, 2015

    Qts, whole unpeeled spuds, firm and tasty, 2009

    Our home canned foods will last a long time, if you do it right.

    Lard, pts, just fine, 2006

    1. Stand my Ground;
      I do believe I agree with you 100%.
      I find it amazing that a “Store Bought” can of low quality food will last what? 2 years before the Best By Date? yet I have also eaten and very much enjoyed my own canned foods -10 years old…..
      Hummmmm wonder if this is their intention to ruin food the way they do?
      AND do NOT get me started on “Fast Foods” aka “Take Out” and frozen Pizza.

    2. Stand my Ground
      I just LOVE this list! We eat ‘old food’ too.
      Food that has been preserved in glass will always have a longer shelf life (and taste much better) than anything preserved in a metal!

      We just can’t say enough good things about home canning!

      Eustice Conway calls home canning “jars of freedom”. He water-bath cans his quarts of venison on top of his wood cook stove. I suspect he is cooking his jars for a much longer duration, but the jars probably don’t get to the recommended pressure for meats. I saw this via a YouTube video he produced. I am sure it’s the ‘old’ method, but that’s one old method that this Throwback won’t try! lol

  19. I hot water bath can all my tomatoes. I just add a tablespoon of lemon juice to each pint jar. Never had a problem with them going bad. I also just hot water bath my pickled beans and dill pickles too. Made 3 gallons of salsa last weekend, and hot water bath that too. It’s usually good for 3 yrs. or so, but never last longer than about 1. Yum! Still have another batch to make this weekend.

  20. I don’t can, but when I have a larger place, and time to learn I hope to take it up, and can essentials in bulk as both a way of preparing for disaster, and saving money. I also just think it’s a good skill to have, even if you don’t use it.

  21. I have used 2 quart canning jars for years. The trick is 2 stop the timer halfway through the process an ad 1/4 of the time before continuing.

    Also if you have any worries at all about the acid level in the foods that you’re canning, add little ascorbic acid powder to each jar. If you’ve never done this before do it to a single jar first and finish the processing for that single jar. You may have to add a little sugar to your recipe to offset the taste of the acid. Doing so will not decrease the acid level.

  22. Pickle-Lily

    Similar to pickled eggs, pickle-lily found prominence in the mid-1800s as a way to preserve basically anything that needed saving over the winter. A pickling solution was prepared in a cask or jar, then vegetables were dropped in throughout the season. A number of modern equivalents of these Civil War staples can be found on grocery store shelves today, including cocktail onions, dill pickles, and pickled beets.

    Just wondering, how strong of a “pickle solution” would be needed to be able to preserve veggies like this? over time, for a number of months….Assuming it may be stronger than the average pickle solution?

  23. I canned smoked salmon but did not achieve any pressure. Is is still safe to eat it If I put the jars in the freezer and open it later

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