Step by Step Canning Guide

The popularity of canning is certainly increasing and it is no longer considered a thing of the past. That said, the reasons why we are canning are slightly different.  Many of the reasons why I can are related to controling the amount of sugar and salt in our diets and eliminating artificial preservatives and other ingredients that I cannot pronounce from our diets. Conversely, generations past canned to fill their larders for a long, cold winter.

I would highly recommend investing in the following if you are planning to make canning a regular event. If you have the right tools, canning is really quite easy. I purchased my canning set for around $60 (pictures and pricing of products are from Canadian Tire). Make sure to have all of the equipment on hand before you start, as once you start canning you must work quickly.

  • Waterbath canner (approximately $25 for a basic 20 litre waterbath canner and canning rack)
  • Canning rack (approximately $15)
  • Jar tongs (approximately $8)
  • Magnetic lid wand (approximately $5)
  • Canning funnel (approximately $5)
  • Mason jars with lids and rings (approximately $8 a dozen)

waterbath cannercanning rackjar liftermagnetic wandjar funnelmason jars

Other items from around your home that you will need:

  • Small pot to boil the lids
  • Paper towel to wipe the rims
  • Oven mitts

You are now ready to start canning!  

The hardest part of canning is making sure that everything is ready at the same time – the food that is being canned, the jars sterilized, the water in the waterbath canner boiling and the water for the lids boiling.

Below is the method that I would suggest for canning jams, jellies, salsas or any other hot food that you are canning.

  1. Wash the canning equipment and utensils in hot, soapy water or run them through the dishwasher.
  2. Sterilize the jars by running them through the dishwasher (or use an alternative sterilization method of your choosing).
  3. Fill the waterbath canner with 2-3 inches of water if using pint (500 ml) or half pint jars (250 ml) or 4-5 inches of water if using quarts (1 litre).  Boil the water in the waterbath canner.
  4. Prepare the food to be canned (jam for example).
  5. Boil the lids in a small pot for 2 minutes.
  6. Using a glass or metal measuring cup and the canning funnel placed in the jar, pour the hot jam into the hot, sterilized jar leaving the appropriate amount of head space.  Do not add cold food to hot jars, or hot food to cold jars otherwise the jar will shatter which is obviously very dangerous.
  7. Remove the canning funnel and wipe the rim clean with a paper towel.
  8. Using the magnetic lid wand, place a lid on top of the jar.  Screw on the ring tightly and then loosen the ring it by half a turn.
  9. Place the jar in the canning rack.
  10. Repeat steps 6 to 9 until the canning rack is full or you are out of jam.
  11. Using oven mitts, place the canning rack into the waterbath canner and process for the required amount of time.
  12. Remove the jars from the waterbath canner using the jar tongs and set the jars on a flat surface. Do not touch the jars for 12 hours.
  13. Silence…. listen carefully!  Most of the time, when a lid seals it will make a popping sound, otherwise known as music to a canner’s ears!
  14. After 12 hours, check that the jars are sealed. If the jar is not properly sealed, the lid will go up and down easily and likely make a popping sound when the middle is pressed.
  15. Store the jars that have properly sealed in a cool, dry place.  Eat the food from the jars that have not properly sealed immediately.

Common questions:

Can the jars, lids and rings be used more than once?  The jars and rings can be used indefinitely, however the lids should only be used once.  You can purchase the lids separately, so it is not necessary to purchase an entire set again.

extra lids

How do I sterilize a jar?  Some canners would say that jars do not need to be sterilized if they are going to be processed in a boiling waterbath for more than 10 minutes, however I would say that you can never be too careful with food safety.  Dirty jars that have not been sterilized properly will infect the food inside and it will spoil very quickly and need to be thrown away.  I have sterilized jars using a number of methods:

  1. Placing the jars upside down in an inch of boiling water that is heating in your canner or a separate pot. The jars need to be kept hot to prevent breakage when they are filled with a hot product and placed in the waterbath canner for processing. The jars need to be sterilized by boiling in water for 10 minutes;
  2. Arranging the jars in an oven heated to 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. Do not let the jars touch each other or they may break; or
  3. Running the jars through the dishwasher and using the jars while they are in the “heated drying”. This is by far the easiest method and the method that I choose more often than not.

What is head space and why is it important?  Head space is the amount of room between the food and the top of the jar.  This open space allows a vacuum seal during processing.  If too much head space is used, the vacuum effect may not happen and the jar may not seal.  If too little head space is used, the food may bubble out of the jar and the jar may not seal.  Yes, there is a theme to this answer.

How long will canned food keep?  In general, canned food that is stored properly is good for at least one year. Canned food should be stored in a cool, dry place.

Can I preserve food without using the waterbath canning method?  Technically, yes some types of food do not require the waterbath canning method.  For example, both of my grandma’s rarely use this method when they make jams and jellies and they turn out just fine. I, however, had a disaster once and made 20 jars of jam without processing the jars in a waterbath and not one jar sealed. I could have cried! Since this disaster, I have processed everything in a waterbath canner and I would guesstimate my seal rate at 98%.

Can the waterbath canning method be used for canning meats?  Absolutely not! This is a recipe for botulism. Meats should be canned using a pressure canner.

Can the waterbath canning method be used for canning vegetables?  Absolutely not! This is a recipe for botulism. Vegetables (unless you are pickling them) should be canned using a pressure canner.

Well then, just what types of food can I preserve using the waterbath canning method? The waterbath canning method is appropriate for acidic foods such as fruits, pickled vegetables, jams, jellies and other sugary preserves and tomatoes with a little added acidity (for example lemon juice or vinegar).

I have attempted to share safe preserving methods, however, I make no promises. You alone are responsible for your health. Please be aware of current safety recommendations.

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