Canning 101: How to Can Food for Beginners

Canning can seem overwhelming when you first watch someone do it. Why are there so many pots? Am I going to poison my family? Shouldn’t I just buy the darn jam?

No, my friends. You can do this and I’m here to show you how. If you get overwhelmed, remember the basic steps.

  1. You make a recipe (jam, relish, whatever.)
  2. You put it in jars.
  3. You boil the jars to seal them.

There’s more to it, of course, but those are the basics.

canned cowboy candy in mason jars in marble counter
Check out this cowboy candy recipe, one of our very favorites

🍅 The benefits of canning

  • It’s affordable to get started. You don’t need any fancy equipment, just some jars, lids, and a big pot to submerge them in.
  • It saves you money over time. You can buy in bulk when things are on sale or in season. If you garden, you’ll save even more.
  • You’ll capture summer. Who doesn’t love having fresh-made goodies around when the snow starts flying? Canning will make winter feel like summer again.

🫙 Supplies you’ll need:

canning jars and accessories laid out on counter
you can find a kit with all these accessories very affordably on amazon.
  • Glass canning jars with NEW lids you must have new lids to reduce the risk of harmful bacteria. Used lids may not seal properly.
  • Large stockpot with lid and rack
  • Headspace tool, wide-mouth funnel, and jar lifter–A lot of times, you can find all three of these items reasonably cheaply in a set.
  • Ingredients for your canning recipe

A lot of times, you already have the stuff you need in your kitchen. It might take some ingenuity, but you can make it work.

🥣 What Can you can?

Pretty much anything. Now, if you’re a beginner, stick with water bath canning, don’t venture into pressure canning just yet.

Water bath canning is more beginner-friendly and doesn’t need much specialized equipment.

You only water bath can high-acid foods, such as fruits, jams, jellies, preserves, tomatoes, and fermented foods.

(Low acid foods need to be canned at a higher temperature, and this is why you’d use a pressure canner.)

Here’s a list of the supplies you need for a beginner with a few tricks to cut down costs.

🔪 The process

Canning can be an all-day affair, so to help speed up time, have all of your canning supplies ready for you to grab quickly.

Prepare jars and canning supplies.

jars in oven and lids in pot of boiling water

Sterilizing the jars is no longer a necessary step, according to Ball. Really!

The jars need to be clean and hot so they can handle the hot food when you put it in.

This can be done in hot water or in the oven at 200 degrees.

Sterilizing the metal lids and rings using the same method as the boiling water could potentially affect the rubber sealing rings resulting in a broken seal and possible contamination.

Just place the lids and rings into the simmering, not boiling, water for about ten minutes.

Check the box for any instructions from the manufacturer to ensure they do not have a recommended sterilization process for their specific jars.

Keep the jars and lids in the simmering water until you are ready to fill them with your food. The jars should be hot when putting the food inside.

Prepare Your Recipe

jam and rellsh in pot

Once your jars are sterilized and ready, the next step is to create your recipe and fill your jars. You must follow the recipe exactly. Making any changes may make the recipe no longer safe.

Fill the jars

jam jars being funneled into

Fill the hot jars with your preserves to within 1/2 inch of the top of the jars. Some recipes will require hot food, and some, known as “cold pack,” will not. (The recipe will let you know.)

Next, gently place a rubber spatula in the jar and run it along the sides of the jar to release any trapped air bubbles.

Wipe the jar rim well with a clean dishcloth to create a proper seal.

Place the lids and rims on the jars. Try not to overtighten; turn the lids until you feel resistance. This is known as fingertip tight, meaning that you could open the jar with just the strength of your fingertips.

Process Jars

jar being ilfted out of canner

Fill your water bath canner or large stockpot halfway with water. Bring the water to a simmer and then place the jars in the pot.

If you do not have a water bath canner with a rack, please ensure a metal rack is at the bottom of your pot, so no jars break once heated.

You can place each jar in the water individually with your jar lifter or lower all of them with a metal rack.

The water should cover the top of the jars by at least 1 to 2 inches. If not, you can place more boiling water as needed to reach your desired coverage.

Bring the pot with your jars to a boil and cover the top of the pot. Always start timing your recipe once the pot returns to a full rolling boil.

A note about processing times: most pint jars will process for 15 minutes, half-pint around 10, and. quart at least 20. But check your recipe to be sure.


Let the pot cool for 10 minutes before removing the jars. Place the jars on a clean towel or cutting board.

Give each jar at least 2 inches of space between each other for 12 to 24 hours before storing.

The jars need to rest as they seal. You’ll hear a weird sucking sound as they seal, and the tops will no longer flex at all.

Take the rings off and store your jars.

Let your jars cool completely before removing the rings and storing them in a cool, dark place. The USDA recommends no longer than one year for a shelf life of properly canned food. After you open a jar, you should refrigerate it and eat it within three to four days.

More safety considerations


Preventing botulism is the name of the game with water bath canning. Botulism is an illness caused by a specific bacteria, and this bacteria thrives in conditions with minimal acidic-high-oxygen environments. It does not have a taste or smell, or it’s difficult to detect in canned goods.

Yes, this is important and serious, but it does not need to be scary! Botulism CANNOT grow in an acidic environment, and this is why we add lemon juice or citric acid to many canned goods that aren’t acidic enough, and the lemon juice makes them safe.

Approved recipes

Over time, the ways to preserve food have changed. Grand Grandma’s spaghetti sauce recipe might not be safe for the boiling water bath method. Some varieties of produce have changed over the decades and have become less acidic.

Boiling water

Make sure you have brought your canner to a full rolling boil before you start processing your jars. If it stops boiling when you lower the jars in, you start counting the processing time when the water comes back to a boil.

High altitude caning

Your altitude, if high enough, affects the temperature at which water boils. If you are above 1,000 feet of elevation, please look for high-altitude water bath canning processing times.

Frozen Fruit

Have no fear if you just don’t have time to process your bounty from the farmer’s market.

Spread your fruits on a baking sheet and put them in the freezer for a couple of hours. Then once they are solidly frozen, place them in a gallon-sized ziplock and come back to them later.

Stick with the recipe

I can sometimes take creative liberties when following a recipe: little extra herbs here, and maybe not so much onion there.

However, it’s best to stick with the recipe when canning. Recipes are typically tested over periods of time, and anything extra could potentially throw off the acidity.

That could cause a not-so-great batch of pickles in four months or even one that’s not safe to eat.

If you’re you’re wholly sold on a recipe, look around. There are tons of sites dedicated to canning recipes and tips, and I promise you’ll be able to find one that fits you perfectly.

Always use the correct canning method.

I briefly mentioned pressure canning above and how that method is used for low acidic produce. Please be sure to use the correct procedure when canning.

Don’t assume you can water bath can a recipe if it calls for pressure canning methods.

The water would not be hot enough to properly kill all the bacteria for low acidic foods, such as vegetables and meats.

Try not to wear your Sunday best.

Canning is hard and messy work. Wear an apron and make sure you’re okay with the outfit getting stained.

For once, skip the fresh lemon juice.

Bottled lemon juice has been pasteurized and has a consistent pH. Unless the recipe specifically calls for freshly squeezed lemon juice, go for the bottle.

Store your jars without the rings.

The rings are no longer necessary once you’ve got a proper seal and the jars have rested.

Removing them is also a great way to check that you have a good seal on your jar. If you notice the jar does not have a good seal at any time, I’m sorry, but you must throw it out.

Keep the rings in a drawer, you can use them for your next canning session, and when you open a jar, you will need the rings to keep the jar closed.

📘 Related recipes

Have fun!

Canning is a great hobby and a way to make your homemaking unique to your family.

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