What do you need to can food?
Having the right tools will make canning easier and safe. Here’s the absolutely essential supplies you must have to can food safely. I’ve included recommendations for specific products, too. You don’t need a ton of special equipment to can food but there are a few things that you should have on hand, and a few others that will make canning easier.
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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. Canning isn’t difficult or dangerous but it’s important to have accurate information at your fingertips. Keep in mind that some practices used to be common but that doesn’t mean they were actually safe, or that we don’t have better, safer methods to use today.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation is the gold standard authority for safe canning recipes and best canning practices. When in doubt, defer to their guidelines.
And while websites are great, nothing beats having a few good book on hand.
The best canning books and books about food preservation
The All New Ball Book is 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. I really like their ‘meals in a jar’ recipes, which include some tasty variations on canned vegetables and meats. Remember, canning isn’t just a way to preserve food – it’s also a great way to prepare food in advance.
If you only buy one canning book, that’s the one I recommend. Click on any of the books to order your own copy through Bookshop. Buying from Bookshop means I receive an affiliate credit (at no cost to you), which helps cover the costs of producing content. Bookshop robustly supports local, independent bookstores.
How to Choose Canning Jars, Lids and Bands
Once you’ve got the food and the educational resources on lock, you need canning jars, lids and bands.
What canning jars, lids and bands are best?
Canning jars come in a range of sizes. The most commonly used are quarter-pint, half-pint, pint and quart.
The specific size of jar and style of lid (wide or regular mouth) depends on the recipe, and your own preferences.
Which size canning jar should you use?
Typically, jam and jelly are preserved in 1/4 pint, 1/2 pint or pint jars.
Pickled foods are usually packed by pint or quart. While some people do put up pickles in quarts, it’s harder to maintain crispness because bigger jars need to process longer in the water bath.
Tomatoes, green beans, potatoes and meat are often canned by the quart. Larger, bulkier food is just easier to pack into the bigger jars.
Most recipes will work for either quart or pint jars and will have information on how many jars the recipe will yield in all sizes. Once you open a sealed jar, the contents will be vulnerable to spoilage. For that reason, aim to pack your food in quantities you’re likely to eat quickly.
Which is better wide mouth or regular mouth canning jars?
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. Regular mouth jars are tapered at the top. You can use either size mouth interchangeably.
Wide mouth jars and lids are a little more expensive. They also take up a slightly larger amount of space.
Can you reuse canning lids? What about canning jars?
You can (and should!) reuse jars and bands from year to year as long as the bands aren’t rusty and the jars don’t have knicks or cracks. But you cannot reuse canning lids….unless they are legitimate reusable canning lids!
Single use 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 the canning lid to keep the jar covered in the refrigerator, though you’ll need to put a band back on to keep the lid in place.
You can wash and re-purpose used canning 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.
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 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?
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.
What Do You Can Food In?
It depends on what you’re canning. Low acid foods, like most vegetables and meats, need to be processed in a pressure canner. Foods that are higher in acid, like most fruits, some vegetables and pickled items, can be processed in a boiling water bath canner.
Do need a pressure canner to can green beans or other vegetables?
In general, yes. Always refer to the canning recipe you’re using. But there are NO safe canning recipes for low acid foods like green beans, potatoes, meats or fish. These absolutely must be processed under pressure in order to reach a high enough temperature to kill botulism toxins.
Are pressure canners dangerous?
Despite the stories of canners exploding, pressure canners are very safe to use. Yes, you’ll need to learn how to properly fill, pressurize and regulate your canner. But don’t be intimidated – using a pressure canner is honestly very simple once you’ve practiced a few times.
Picking a Water Bath Canner
You can use any 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 entire 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.
If you don’t have a large stock pot with a lid, then I highly recommend this water bath canner. The lid is clear, which is nice, and the entire pot is very well-made and sturdy. It comes with a canning rack, which is a nice bonus. You can, of course, also use it as a large stock pot when you’re not canning.
Picking a Pressure Canner
A pressure cooker is not a pressure canner, though you can cook in some pressure canners.
A pressure canner will have a weight or dial gauge and when sealed, will create X pounds of pressure, which raises the temperature of the contents past the boiling point.
My Presto is the 1973 version of the one I linked to above and it still works like a champ!
You can often buy used pressure canners in excellent shape on craigslist or ebay. Just check the seals, gaskets and gauges before using them!
Don’t skimp here, whether you buy used or new. 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.
The rest of the best canning tools
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.
Most of these canning tools have been around for a while. So it’s possible to find them in thrift stores, at rummage sales or through other secondhand sources. I prefer to buy used whenever possible, but I have included links to purchase recommended new versions of each item.
A CANNING RACK
This is just a metal frame that sits on the bottom of your canner (water or pressure) and holds the jars. 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. In a pressure canner, flat canning racks also let you stack jars, if your canner can accommodate two layers.
Make sure your canning rack will fit easily inside your water bath and pressure canner!
If you don’t have a canning rack:
It is possible to layer towels in the bottom of your canner to keep the jars from touching the bottom. Some people also place a layer of canning jar bands across the bottom of the canner to act as a buffer.
This canning rack is reversible – it holds four quarts or six pints. I use this same rack for most of my water bath canning.
These flat canning racks work nicely in most pressure canners. You can also use them in a water bath canner but your jars may bump around if the canner isn’t full. I use a flat rack in my water bath canner if the canner is full of quart jars since it lets me fit in one extra jar.
Another item that you can strictly speaking do without but let me tell you, it’s SO 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.
My jar lifter is VERY vintage, as you can see in some of my other canning posts. This is my pick for the best new canning jar lifter, if you can’t find an older model.
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 level (headspace) and having a canning funnel makes the job far easier.
It’s also way less messy.
BUBBLE POPPER & HEADSPACE 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. If you don’t have one, you can use a wooden chopstick or skewer to pop air bubbles.
Do I Need Other Canning Tools?
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. And there are processing tools, like a Food Mill, that can help you produce new or improved canned food.
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!
And, although I love canning and think #canningiscool, there ARE some drawbacks – more about the Pros and Cons of Canning Food.