Canning 101: A Beginner’s Guide

Are you interested in learning how to start water bath canning at home?

half pint jars being filled with hot jam

Canning is a great way to preserve your garden produce and enjoy it all year long. It’s also a fun activity that the whole family can get involved with! You don’t need any fancy equipment, just some jars and lids, and we have everything you need right here on our website.

Once you learn how easy it is, we know you won’t be able to wait for summertime so that you can fill your pantry with delicious homemade jams, pickles, tomatoes, and more! Plus, there are many benefits like saving money by buying in bulk from local farms or growing your food if possible. And who doesn’t love having fresh-made goodies around when the snow starts flying? Canning will make winter feel like summer again.

Canning seems so overwhelming when you first think about it or watch someone do it, and it’s messy. And why are there so many pots?

If you get confused, remember this: all we are doing is making a recipe, pouring it into jars, and boiling the jars. Ther There’s more do to it, of course, but those are the basics.

What do you actually 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.)

Supplies you will need:

  • Glass canning jars with NEW lids 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.

I’ve cI’veled a list of the supplies you need for a beginner with a few tricks to cut down costs.

Step-by step canning 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.

empty mason jars heating in oven

Sterilizing the jars is no longer a necessary step, according to Ball. When you get your case of jars, they will explain on the box if any sterilizing must take place.

If you decide to sterilize, here are your steps. Simply cover the jars in hot water in your stockpot, boil for at least 10 minutes. The jars are very hot, so please be careful when lifting out of the stockpot.

You do have to at least heat the jars, which 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.

jar lids and rings in simmering water

Prepare food and fill jars.

Once your jars are sterilized and ready, the next step is to create your recipe and fill your jars.

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,” some 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

jr of jam being removed from 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, allowing it to boil for 10 minutes if using jars under 16 ounces.

If using 16-ounce jars, boil for 15 minutes.

Some recipes might have a specific processing time, so please double-check and follow your recipe.


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.

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.

Look for reputable sources such as the classic Ball blue cook or one of these canning recipe books.

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.

Canning for beginners, tips and tricks

Frozen Fruit

I know the idea of canning your produce is super stylish right now. But gardening is a huge time commitment that you might not be sure of. Or maybe some of your crops didn’t entirely turn out, so how do you make your excellent jam?

Frozen fruit! Even tomatoes! They’reThey’ret, after all.

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.

No matter how hard you try, I’m surI’mou will get a splash of something somewhere.

For once, skip the fresh lemon juice.

Freshly squeezed lemon is always the best, except for when canning. There’sThere’s an exception to the rule, and this is it.

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.

Have fun!

Try different recipes and enjoy the learning process. Don’t get hung up on all the steps and tricks.

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

Click here to subscribe By on September 29th, 2021

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