Beginner’s guide to canning

Water bath canning pot and jars of home canned food.

Beginner’s guide to canning

There are several ways to preserve food. Freezing, dehydrating and canning all help to keep food for long periods. Each of these food preservation techniques has its positives and negatives. They also require different tools to achieve the end result. For the moment, I would like to focus on canning. Canning is a great way to preserve food long term. One of the main benefits is you don’t have to worry about losing your food if the power goes out for extended periods of time – unlike with freezing. This beginner’s guide to canning will help you learn the basic idea behind canning and know what tools are necessary to can various foods.

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Types of Canning

There are two types of canning – Water Bath Canning and Pressure Canning. Knowing the difference between these two are key to properly canning your food.

Water Bath Canning

When it comes to water bath canning, this process is used for canning high-acid food. This means fruits, tomatoes, and pickles for the most part. Water bath canning is done in a large canning pot, or a regular pot can be used as long as it is deep enough. The process uses the heat of boiling water to kill any bacteria and to create a seal on the lid. Whether you are canning jams, jellies, pickles or basic tomato recipes, water bath canning is the way to go.

Water bath canner
Water bath canner.

Pressure Canning

Pressure canning is meant for low acidity foods, such as meats, soups, and vegetables. This type of canning is best to try once you have done some water bath canning. It is a bit more involved than water bath canning but allows you a wider range of food preservation. There are many horror stories out there about how scary pressure canning is, however, it’s best to ignore those. Pressure canning does require more work and attention, but in the end, it is quite easy.

Pressure canner
Pressure canner.

Equipment Needed

For the most part, the equipment you need to start canning is fairly basic. Whether you are water bath canning or pressure canning, you will need a jar lifter. This device allowed you to pick up hot jars from the canner and place them elsewhere to cool. The next item that you will need is the magnetic lid lifter, which helps to lift the lids out of the water before you place them on the jar. A canning funnel will allow you to fill a jar without getting food everywhere. Lastly, a measurer will ensure that all of the air is out of the jar and that the right headspace is used.

Alternatively, you can buy a canning essentials set which include all of the above, plus a few other items that can come in handy.

Water bath canning requires either a water bath canner or a pot deep enough to cover the jars with an inch of water. I recommend getting a water bath canner, as it will be deep enough to can any size of jar. Also, if you are using a standard pot, you will need some form of a rack in the bottom, as the jars should not be in direct contact with the bottom of the pot.

For pressure canning, you will need a pressure canner. These pots are specifically designed for pressure canning. The two common types are weighted canners and gauge canners. Which one you choose will depend on personal preference. Gauge canners need more attention, as you need to ensure that the pressure is maintained throughout the entire canning process. Whereas, with a weighted canner, the weight used determines the pressure within the canner. These canners should still be watched, but don’t need to be as closely monitored as the gauge canners.

Canning Resources

An important thing to know is proper canning recipes. You can find all kinds of canning recipes online, however, not all of them are tested. That is why purchasing a canning book is important. However, much like the internet, there are many canning recipe guides out there that share untested recipes. To ensure that you will be following proper recipes, I highly recommend the Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving or the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. Technically, these books are written by the same company. One is the Canadian edition (Bernardin) and the other is the American edition (Ball). You can also visit the Bernardin and Ball websites for additional canning recipes and information.

If you know someone who cans, the best way to learn is to ask them for help. Canning can seem overwhelming, but with a little bit of help and some practice, it will become second nature.

Things To Note

Only follow approved canning recipes. There are far too many canning recipes out there that do not use approved recipes or methods. If someone claims it’s safe because they have been doing it since their grandma started canning, then avoid that recipe.

Proper headspace is extremely important. If a recipe calls for 1/2 inch of headspace, then that is exactly what you need to leave in the jar. Not 1 inch, nor 3/4 inch, you must leave the right amount.

While you can cook in a pressure canner, you CANNOT can is a pressure cooker. This is important to know because many people assume a pressure cooker will work as a canner – in fact, many pressure cookers are mislabeled as being able to can as well. You must use a pressure canner.

If you have been thinking about learning how to can, now is the time. Take these tips and start your journey into food preservation. Make it your goal to learn this skill.

12 Comments

  1. This is a wonderful tutorial for people like me, who know nothing about it, to learn how to can properly. Thanks!

    1. Author

      I’m glad it has proved helpful.

  2. Oh man I’ve always wanted to try canning but always figured I’d mess it up! Thanks for sharing this info – maybe this is the year I try it!

    1. Author

      I totally get that. I felt that same way before getting into canning. Now I can’t wait for canning season each year. Definitely give it a try!

  3. I’m in the same boat as Chelsea above. Canning is something I have always wanted to try (real fruit in the winter! money saving tricks! food waste reduction!), but it sounds so intimidating. Your post made it seem much less scary than it actually is.

    1. Author

      That’s a big reason why I do it, to save money on groceries for the winter. Plus it’s a great way to preserve the garden without having to rely on the freezer. I hope you choose to give it a try. It will be well worth it.

  4. Great post!
    I have a pear tree in my backyard and have been thinking about canning as a way to persevere the pears. So this is just what I needed to get started.
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Author

      Oh, nice. There are a number of good pear canning recipes out there in the canning books that I mentioned. Glad to help!

  5. Love this! It’s so important to make the most of all food and not throw anything away. Some very helpful tips, thanks for sharing 🙂 x

    1. Author

      Exactly. Plus it’s a great money saver if you can produce when it’s cheap.

  6. These are some great tips! I have done both types of canning in the past and while I was wary of pressure canning for a while its such a handy skill to know and perfectly safe as long as you follow all the right procedures! You spelled everything out great for people just starting out!

    1. Author

      Thanks. Following the proper instructions is so important, regardless of what you are doing.

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