Learn how to can your own food and preserve summer's harvest at home with this beginner's guide to canning!
After a recent Instagram post sharing my venture in canning Hatch chiles this August, I was asked for a canning tutorial, so I thought I'd share one with you on the blog. Canning is one of those things that seems intimidating at first (especially if you've got a food safety or microbiology background and know all about the foodborne illnesses that can come along with ill-preserved food), but once you actually do it a few times, it's easier than you think.
I've been canning food since college, starting with jams, and then branching out into different sauces like spaghetti sauce and enchilada sauce for convenience, then preserving roasted chiles or pickled artichokes. Canning food at home saves me tons of time when it comes to cooking dinner (since I can reach for a homemade jar of pasta sauce instead of starting from scratch), reduces food waste and let's me enjoy homemade, real food (like low sugar jam) all year long. If you're looking to try your hand at canning, here is a quick guide to get you started.
Beginner's Guide to Canning
First a few terms that will make this tutorial make a little more sense:
- Lid - The flat circle part of the top that goes on top of the jar first.
- Band - The round part that screws on after the lid is placed.
- Headspace - The amount of empty space you leave from the top of the filling to the top of the jar.
- Waterbath - Method of canning for high acid or high sugar foods like pickles, tomato sauce or jams. Filled cans are boiled in a large stock pot filled with water for a set amount of time.
- Pressure Canning - Method of canning for low acid foods, like meat and vegetables. A pressure cooker reaches a higher temperature needed to safely preserve low acid foods.
- Finger-Tight - Tightness of screwing on the band reached by just using your hands.
- Processing time - The amount of time you need to boil or pressurize jars of food to ensure bacteria is killed and food can safely be stored.
Tools you'll need:
- Glass preserving jars with bands and new lids
- Large saucepot with a lid and rack that fits inside for waterbath canning, or a pressure cooker for pressure canning.
- Headspace tool
- Wide mouth canning funnel
- Jar lifter
- Common kitchen tools for preparing your recipe
1. Determine the method of canning you'll need to use.
- The recipe you're using should state which method you'll be using, or you can read this article to help you determine the best method.
2. Prepare your jars.
- Discard any jars with cracks or nicks.
- Wash jars and new lids in very hot, soapy water and dry well. You can also sanitize them in the dishwasher. Keep jars hot (180°F) until ready to use. I keep them on a tray in the oven set to 180°F. This will keep them from bursting when you fill them.
- Lids can be kept at room temperature on a clean surface.
3. Prepare your canning method.
- If using a water bath, set the rack on the bottom of the pot. Fill it about halfway with water and keep it at a simmer, covered, until you place the jars inside.
- If using a pressure cooker, place the rack inside and fill with 2-3 inches of water. Bring water to a simmer.
4. Prepare the food to be canned.
5. Fill jars with prepared food.
- Use oven mitts or jar lifter to handle hot jars.
- Use the funnel to pour food (or boiling liquid) into jars to prevent splashing, leaving the desired headspace called for in the recipe.
- Use a long, skinny tool, such as a wooden skewer, or a rubber spatula to remove any air bubbles by sliding the tool between the jar and the food. You can also purchase a special bubble remover tool.
- Wipe the rims clean with a clean damp cloth (I like to use a little vinegar on the cloth).
- Center the lid on the jar, then screw the band onto the jar until it is finger-tight.
6. Process your jars.
- Place jars into water bath or pressure canner using the jar lifter.
- For a waterbath, the water level should be 1-2 inches above the tops of the jars. Place the lid on the pot and bring to a rolling boil. Once boiling start the timer and process for the time called for in the recipe. Once processing time is done, turn off the heat, remove the lid, and let cans sit for 5 minutes before removing.
- For a pressure canner, place jars on a rack in the presser cooker. Ensure water level is 2-3 inches high. Place cans on the rack. Lock the lid in place, turn heat to medium-high and allow steam to escape through the open vent for 10 minutes before closing the vent. Allow the cooker to come to recommended pressure and start the timer for the recommended processing time, maintaining recommended pressure the entire time. Once processing time is done, turn off heat and let pressure return to zero naturally. Once depressurized, unlock vent and open lid away from you. Let cans rest for 10 minutes before removing.
- For recommended processing times of different foods, refer to the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning.
7. Remove jars and test for proper sealing.
- Use the jar lifter to remove jars to a towel on the counter. Leave jars for 12-24 hours. Do not retighten bands, as this may interfere with the sealing process.
- After 12-24 hours, check for proper sealing. When you press the lid down, there should be no flex (it should not move down or pop up). Remove bands and lift lids with your fingers. If lid remains attached, it is sealed properly.
- Store properly sealed jars in a cool, dark, dark place up to 18 months or as described in the recipe.
- Immediately refrigerate any unsealed jars, or discard.
Like I said, it will get easier the more you practice. You can search my sauces and spreads recipes for tons of home canning recipe ideas!