Getting Started Canning Green Beans at Home
Wondering how to can green beans at home? Maybe you have questions about canning safety or you wonder if it’s cost-effective to can green beans. Or perhaps you’re not sure where to start at all. I canned 25 quarts of fresh green beans in two days this year and I’m going to share everything I learned from the experience, including whether canning green beans was worth the time and money.
Warning, this is a two-part post. There’s lots of information to get through and canning is not a subject for brevity. I tried to write concisely but it’s a lot to get through. If something isn’t clear, shoot me an email or drop a comment. Part One (below) covers the equipment you’ll need, how to decide how many jars to put up and the actual canning process.
Part Two Is Canning Green Beans Worth It? breaks down the costs, in both time and money, and discusses whether canning green beans is worth it.
What do you need to can green beans at home?
First, and this is literally the most important piece of information on this entire post, you MUST use a pressure canner to safely can green beans. No matter what you may have read or been told, or what your great-granny might have done, current safe canning guidelines are very clear that pressure canning is the ONLY way to put up green beans without risk of spoilage or botulism.
Why do you need a pressure canner to can green beans?
Green beans, like most vegetables and some fruits, are low acid foods. Low acid foods do not inhibit the growth of the botulism once they are canned. Because of this, they must be processed under pressure in order to reach a temperature of 240 degrees, which kills botulism spores. Water bath canning, which is safe for jams, jellies, fruits and tomatoes, relies on boiling water to sterilize and seal jars, but boiling water alone simply cannot reach a high enough temperature to sterilize low acid foods. So beans need to be pressure canned in order to be shelf-stable and free from botulism.
I’m writing this in 2020 and it’s almost impossible to buy a pressure canner because of Covid-19. Due to this, you might need to blanch and freeze green beans instead, if you want to put them up this year.
What else do you need for canning green beans?
Besides a pressure canner, you need:
- Glass canning jars, either pint or quart sized – I prefer to do beans by the quart, it’s more efficient
- Brand new canning lids, wide or regular mouthed, depending on your jar opening – I prefer wide-mouth jars, easier to pack
- Raw, fresh green beans – the beans should be in perfect condition and should have the stems and strings removed. It’s best to break beans into 1-2″ pieces so they fit in the jars more easily
- A very large stock pot
- Canning/picking salt – I use Morton’s, you can buy it here.
For a list of small canning tools and other helpful items, check out What You Need for Canning Food.
How many pounds of green beans do I need for canning?
I grew green beans this year, but I don’t have enough garden space to put in enough plants to generate a giant pile of green beans all at once. Because of this, I knew I would have to buy fresh green beans if I wanted to can them. Research suggested that for every quart of beans I wanted to can, I would need two pounds of raw beans.
That is a lot of beans, friends. In the picture above, that’s one single pound of Romano green beans.
How do I figure out how many quarts of beans to put up?
Start by working backwards. If you regularly eat green beans, try to figure out how often you eat them (i.e. weekly, a couple times a month, daily, etc). Based on that, figure out how many bags or cans you eat in a week. Then multiple that by the number of weeks you’d like to be able to “shop” from your food storage.
Based on our usual habits, I knew that my husband and I generally eat a two pound bag of green beans per week, so I assumed we’d want a quart of beans per week over the winter. We plan to put in early spring vegetables and eat those instead of relying on either canned or purchased vegetables, so I figured we would need canned beans from September through early April. That’s (very) roughly 25-30 quarts of green beans.
Well. I couldn’t quite see buying 60 pounds of green beans all at once and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get enough canning jars (I’m writing this in 2020 when canning supplies are super scarce due to Covid-19). So I decided to aim for about half of that. Which is still a LOT of beans.
How to Can Green Beans
If the idea of using a pressure canner and having to buy bushels of raw beans hasn’t scared you off, the great news is that the actual process of canning green beans is pretty easy.
Start by cleaning all of the raw beans. The easiest way to do this is to dump them into a very clean sink and let them soak in cold water for a couple of hours. The beans should be free of any soil, insects or debris. Depending on the size of your sink, you may need to clean them in batches.
TIP – use the bean water to water your garden or plants – just fill a pitcher or watering can out of the sink after you’ve removed the beans.
I actually chose two different varieties of beans, so I had 12 pounds of roma beans (they’re flat instead of round) and 12 pounds of “regular” beans. That made it easy to just split my beans into two groups for cleaning and processing. After I let my beans soak, I used a large colander to scoop them out.
How to make processing beans manageable
24 pounds of beans is, as mentioned, a lot of beans. The key to canning anything efficiently is to work in batches and to complete tasks in stages. I put 12 pounds of beans in the sink, then I immediately processed all 12 pounds. Processing means I cut off both ends and then cut the beans into 1″ pieces. Some people just break off the ends and snap the beans with their hands but I use kitchen scissors. If your beans have strings, you’ll need to remove those, too. It’s much easier to just buy or grow stringless beans if possible.
It doesn’t matter how you take off the ends or break them down but it’s a darned tedious process so find a way to do it that doesn’t make you miserable. Personally, my fingers get very sore after breaking beans, and scissors make the process much easier for me.
The actual canning process for green beans
As you’re nearing the end of processing your beans, go ahead and fill your stock pot with water and let it start coming up to a boil. Put a lid on the pot, it will help the water boil faster. At this point, get your pressure canner set up and ready – refer to your owner’s manual and follow manufacturer’s instructions.
Your canning jars must be warm before you fill them. The pressure canner and the stock pot take up most of the stove-top, so I just put my empty jars in the oven and set it to “keep warm”. That warms the jars without taking up any extra space. You can also warm jars by using a pot of warm water, but as mentioned, that takes up premium space. Although your jars, lids and bands must be very, very clean it is not necessary to sterilize them. Clean and warm is fine.
Hot pack or cold pack?
There’s two methods for actually packing the beans into the jars, hot pack and cold pack. Both are safe, so it’s a matter of preference.
Hot pack – Place the raw, processed beans into the stock pot and bring to a boil for five minutes. Pack the boiling beans and water into the warm jars. Leave a 1″ head space in the jar. Remove air bubbles with a wooden chopstick or bubble tool. Wipe the rim of the jar, then put on the lid and tighten the band.
Cold pack – Place uncooked beans directly into the warm jar. Once the jar is full of beans, ladle in boiling water. Like hot packing, leave 1″ of headspace, remove bubbles and apply lid and tighten band.
Some people feel hot packing jars allows a few more beans per jar. Others feel cold packed beans are less mushy. I’ve done both methods and I prefer the cold pack. I found it easier to pack the jars tightly when the beans weren’t scalding hot. I do have a little hack for this part, though – after I fully pack the jars, I fill the jars most of the way with boiling water and I wait a minute or two. The beans quickly blanch in the boiling water, and I can usually fit in few more per jar.
No matter how you do it, pack in as many beans as possible but not so many that you’re mashing the beans or that you don’t leave enough head space.
What about the canning salt? Why do I need canning salt?
If you wish, you can put a teaspoon of canning salt into each jar. This is optional but I highly recommend it. The flavor of the beans will be dramatically improved. As a kid, I did not like green beans and it’s because my grandparents skipped the salt when they canned (it was the 80’s, my family were all convinced salt and butter were deadly).
Unless you have a safe, tested canning recipe, you can’t add anything else to the jar. Beans, water and salt, that’s it. Adding other things can potentially keep the pressure canning from bringing the jar contents up to the necessary temperature.
Loading the Pressure Canning and Heating the Jars
It’s show time! After hours of playing with these beans, it’s time to put them up. I’m not going to dig super deep into using a pressure canner – you should refer to your specific canner’s manual for that.
Your canner should have a rack that goes into the bottom. If it doesn’t you’ll need to buy one because it’s not a good idea to sit jars directly on the canner bottom.
Check to see what the maximum load is for your canner and pack that many jars. Funny story – my canning rack has neat compartments for four quarts, so I just assumed one canned in four quart loads. Nope. My canner (a Presto from the 1970’s) holds 7 quarts. Check your manual, you’ll kick yourself if you find out you could have been working more jars per load, trust me.
There’s also a minimum load, two quarts. Don’t run your canner with less than two full quarts.
Load your canner, close it up and follow your canner’s directions to start building pressure.
Once the desired pressure is reached, maintain that pressure for the appropriate amount of time, per this chart from the National Center for Home Food Preservation
That’s the basic process for selecting, processing and canning green beans. If you are new to canning or new to pressure canning, I would encourage you to seek out more in-depth information on canning from experts. With canning, safety is paramount and you really can’t be over-informed.
Here are two of my go-to experts:
Melissa K. Norris, Pioneering Today – she’s a canning expert who offers free resources as well as classes.
Jill Winger, Prairie Homestead – also a canning expert with free resources and classes.
Both Jill and Melissa have podcasts and YouTube channels, as well. They know their way around a canner AND they’re really good at teaching what they know.
I also rely on the Ball Canning Book, it’s a great resource and this updated edition also has some really interesting and tasty recipes.
In Part Two, I talk about whether I think canning green beans is worth the time and money. Check out my honest assessment and see if you agree.
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