Having the right tools will make canning easier and safe. Here’s the absolutely essential items you must have to can food safely:
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What Do You Need to Can Food at Home?
You can start canning food with very few specialized supplies. Here’s the absolute essential things you need for home canning:
FRESH FOOD – that may seem really obvious, but it’s important to use very fresh, excellent food in canning recipes. This leads to the best possible food but it also helps ensure your canned goods will be flavorful and shelf-stable.
If you don’t garden, buy freshly harvested produce and ingredients at a local farm, farmer’s market or roadside stand. Or make friends with people who garden, we often have way more produce than we can handle ourselves!
TESTED CANNING RECIPES – Unfortunately, you can’t just chuck ingredients into a jar and call it good. In order for food to remain shelf-stable and free from dangerous bacteria, it must be prepared, processed and handled according to a recipe that has been tested for safety.
Look for safe canning recipes in books, as well as online. Please only use recipes from reputable sources, there is a lot of misinformation on the internet, and canning is no exception. Sorry, much as I LOVE vintage cookbooks and old family recipes, canning safety has come a long way even in the past two decades.
You need to use updated techniques and recipes that follow current standards. Keep in mind that some practices used to be common but that doesn’t mean they were actually safe.
Want to make canning easier?
Grab your copy of my printable canning planner and have your best canning season yet!
Here are the best books about canning and food preservation:
The first two are classics, though the All New Ball Book is a very recent updated edition. It’s my favorite canning book. In addition to providing sound instruction, it has really interesting recipes and it offers guidance on how to use the food you’ve canned in other recipes. If you only buy one canning book, that’s the one I recommend.
How to Choose Canning Jars, Lids and Bands
CANNING JARS, LIDS AND BANDS – The specific size of jar and style of lid (wide or regular mouth) depends on the recipe.
Wide mouth lids and bands fit wide mouth jars – these are usually easier to fill when canning larger items like pickle spears or whole tomatoes. You can use either size mouth interchangeable, though.
Jars come in half-pint, pint and quart, for the most part. Typically, jam and jelly are preserved in half-pint or pint jars. Pickles are usually pint or quart. Tomatoes, green beans or meat is often canned by the quart. Most recipes will work for either jar size and will have information on how many jars the recipe will yield in all sizes.
You can reuse jars and bands from year to year but you cannot reuse canning lids. The lids have a sealing compound under the liner and once it has been activated by heat, it forms a seal. After the jar of tasty canned food is unsealed, the lid is useless for canning. It is fine to use to keep the jar covered and you can wash and re-purpose used lids you just can’t use them to can again. I wash my used canning lids and use them to close canning jars that won’t actually BE canned.
What about reusable canning lids?
Tattler makes fantastic lids that CAN be used over and over again for canning. These are a great option to reduce waste. They are a little pricier upfront, but in the long run they come out cheaper. It’s ok to just add in a few each year and build your supply up. The Tattler lids work just like regular canning lids. Learn more about reusable canning lids and how many times you’ll need to use them to recoup the cost.
The canning lid shortage: Where can I buy canning lids if there’s a shortage? (updated March 2021)
2020 saw an increase in canning and it became harder and harder to find jars and lids as the year progressed. While many manufacturers are starting to restock, inventory is still limited in many places. Seasonal demand means lids are harder to find in July than in the spring even without increased demand. It’s a great idea to stock up early, especially if you can purchase your lids in bulk.
In the interest of looking for alternatives for this year, I tried out these lids.
Unlike Ball brand lids, which are made in the US, these lids are made in China. They are slightly thinner but otherwise feel very similar. I canned a test batch of jam with five of these lids and one Ball lid and could find no differences in the jars. These lids are sold in packs of 48, so it might be a good idea to buy a pack or two to have on hand in case it’s hard to find lids. They are also a bit cheaper per lid.
Update August 2021 – I’ve used these lids multiple times over the summer. They work fine for the most part but I have had some of them not seal. Not a lot but enough that I only use them on food I won’t mind re-processing – ie, broth or stock, jams, sauces. I use the Tattler reusable lids or Ball brand lids for things like pickles or vegetables that will get mushy with a second processing time.
Please note you MUST only use canning jars, lids and bands for pressure or water bath canning. Other types of jars are simply not rated for the heat and/or pressure. I am all about reusing jars from store-bought items but NOT for canning.
Yes, I’m being very emphatic. That’s because canning is hard work and I don’t want to see you lose your batch to weak jar. And I really don’t want you to become ill if your canned food spoils from not being properly sealed. Cutting corners and breaking rules if fine for some things, but NOT canning.
What Do You Can In?
For Water Bath Canning: A large, heavy pot with a lid. The size doesn’t matter, to a point. You need to be able to fit a jar (on a canning rack) in the pot and cover the jar with two inches of water, which will then boil. Aim for a stock pot that is at least six inches taller than your tallest jar, but larger is fine. If you have a large stock pot with a lid, you’re probably good to go.
Fore Pressure Canning: A pressure canner with gauge. A pressure cooker is not a pressure canner, though you can cook in some pressure canners. Reputable brands for pressure canners are Presto (that’s what I have) and All-American. Don’t skimp here, buy a really well made pressure canner from a company with an excellent reputation. Expect to spend a little change to buy a good pressure canner. It’s an investment that will last you for decades if you take care of it. My Presto is two years older than I am and still works like a champ!
Stock up on your canning supplies without breaking your budget: HOW TO SAVE MONEY ON CANNING SUPPLIES
Other Canning Essentials
These are all really useful but it is technically possible to can without them. Still, they’re all pretty inexpensive, so I recommend purchasing the follow canning tools if possible.
A CANNING RACK – This is just a metal frame that sits on the bottom of your canner (water or pressure) and holds the jars. When canning, the jars shouldn’t sit directly on the bottom of the canner because the heat can shatter them. Canning racks hold the jars in place and keep them off the bottom. I have a reversible canning rack and it’s excellent for processing four quarts or six pints but unfortunately it’s out of stock. This canning rack is also excellent quality.
JAR LIFTER – Another item that you can strictly speaking do without but let me tell you, it’s worth it. When I canned my first batch of jam, I didn’t have a jar lifter. Although I was able to make it work with tongs, getting a jar lifter made the job SO much easier. I also didn’t burn myself once I bought a jar lifter. This lifter, has great grippiness and it’s easy to use.
CANNING FUNNEL – I also did not have one of these the first time I canned and I regretted it immediately. It’s critical to fill canning jars to the right spot and having a canning funnel makes the job far easier. It’s also way less messy. Buy this canning funnel and thank me later when you’re NOT wiping hot jam off your counters!
BUBBLE POPPER & HEAD SPACE GAUGE – When canning, you need to leave a specific amount of room in the top of each jar. This margin is referred to as ‘head space’ and it varies with the canning recipe. You need to pop any air bubbles that formed when filling your jars, and this handy tool lets you pop bubbles and check your head space. It’s a neat gadget, but by no means strictly essential.
Great Online Sources for Safe Canning Recipes
Melissa K. Norris, expert canner and homesteader
The Prairie Homestead – hosted by the awesome Jill Winger
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Do I Need Other Canning Tools?
Like anything, it’s possible to spend a lot of money buying ‘stuff’ for canning. There are fun things like cute jar labels and there are specialized tools like bottle brushes that you may want to pick up at some point. But if canning is a new endeavor for you, start with simple, basic recipes and buy or borrow only what you truly need to give it a try. If you find you love canning, you can always start acquiring tools!
Pickling spice? What’s pickling spice? Check out how easy is it to Make Your Own Pickling Spice.