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FREE Canning Guide for Beginners

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Canning food can be intimidating if you’ve never tried it. But following some simple canning instructions, you can preserve your spring harvest for long-term storage.

Canning and preserving food is not as complicated as many believe. Once you try it, you’ll wonder why you didn’t try it long before now.

Wikipedia defines home canning as a method of preserving food in which the food contents are processed and sealed in airtight containers. And it provides a shelf life typically of 1-5 years, although with specific circumstances, can be longer.

Canning food can be a year-around money-saver and you’ll serve your family since you lose no nutrients or quality of your food, you are making your own convenience meals or fast foods that are nutritional.

Simple Canning Food Guide for Beginners

Many people believe that spring canning is the only time of year to do it. Home canning is can be a year-round occasion.

Canning the fall harvest and then canning venison or beef in the winter months during hunting season.

So how do you start canning at home? You’ll need a few simple supplies that will help you to get started.

Supplies needed to get started canning food

So what do you need to get started canning? There are, of course, some essential canning equipment or supplies needed for home canning.

  • Canning Jars
  • Jar Lids and Bands
  • Canning Tools / Utensils
  • Canner
  • Good Home Canning Book
jars of home canned food on shelves and long a water bath canner and pressure canner
Canning Food Guide makes home canning easy

How to Choose the Right Canning Jars for Canning

Using the right type jar is critical.  Some of the most popular brands are Ball, Kerr, and Golden Harvest.

Canning jars should be inspected to be in perfect condition for home canning food. They should be completely free of chips, hairline cracks, or small nicks in the rim of the sealing edge.

They also need to be “true canning jars. Years ago, people would often re-use commercial grade glass jars such as mayonnaise, peanut butter, and pickle jars. Unfortunately, these jars are not designed for home canning and are not safe to be used as such.

True canning jars have gone through a “heat process” in order to be safe for a long-term shelf-life and even against breaking.

Mason canning jars sitting on a wood surface
Varying styles of Mason Jars

The rim on a canning jar is also thicker to provide a good seal area.  Most commercial jar rims are thin and don’t allow enough room for lids to seal properly.

I know what you’re thinking, your grandma used commercial jars so why can’t you?  My granny did too.

I’ll be honest, when I first started canning and preserving food, I thought the same way.  After attending classes and getting an education on canning and food safety, I’ve changed my mind.  A great place to learn more about canning food safety is on the National Center For Home Food Preservation site.

Make Sure You Are Using True Canning Jars

In recent years, Mason jars for “decorative purposes” have begun to show on the market. These are not safe for canning. Make sure the jars you are using are intended for home canning.

Why are Canning Lids in Two Pieces?

Two-piece mason jar lids have a screw-band and a flat metal lid that contains a sealing compound made into the lid itself.  When applying the lid, simply tighten to fingertip tightness so the band fits comfortably on the canning jar.

The only purpose of the band is to hold the flat lid in place during the canning process.  They should be removed for storage.  If the bands are maintained they can be reused, but the flat lid is for one-time use only.

Several two-piece canning lids laying in a pile on a stone counter top
Two-Piece Canning Jar Lids

When the screwband is tightened down on the flat lid, it leaves enough “give” for air to escape when in the canning process, which prevents the jar from busting or exploding.  After it is removed from the canner, it will seal itself.

Do not tighten the screw-band when you remove the mason from the canner, though it’s tempting, this will break the partial seal that began inside the canner. Just allow it to remain loose and the flat lid will create a vacuum and “pop” to a good seal.

Why Can’t You Use One-Part Canning Lids?

Lids can be purchased in a couple of different versions.  One-piece and two-piece.  Only the two-piece have been approved for canning food for a long shelf-life.

I get this question often: Q).  “Can I use one-piece canning lids for canning?”  And the answer is – No. Once-piece lids are not designed nor approved for canning food or long-term food storage.  They are more specifically for hot-fill-hold purposes in a very well-controlled situation.

One-piece lids don’t allow for air to escape when the jar is under pressure which allows the lid to seal.  This can result in the jar not sealing or busting under pressure because air has not been allowed to escape.

What Canning Tools Do I Need for Canning Food at Home?

Canning utensils are extremely helpful in the canning process.  There are 3 tools specifically designed for canning food:

These can be purchased individually or as a set.

Jar Funnel – Wide mouth funnel that allows you to easily pour in sugars, liquids, foods, etc into jars without spilling.

Jar Lifter – Handheld lifter with rubber grip to safely grasp and lift hot jars out of the canner.

Headspace Tool / Bubble Remover – Can be used to remove air bubbles from the jar before placing them on the flat lid. Also has notches for measuring the amount of headspace between the food and the lid.  This space is important to allow for air pressure to build to cook the food.

Magnetic Lid Lifter – Since when you do home canning it is necessary to heat the flat lids in hot, not boiling water to soften the rubber seal. This helps it to seal to the jar rim better. The lifter magnet will lift lids, one at a time, out of the hot water and you can use it to place the lid on the mason jar.

Difference between a Pressure Canner and a Water Bath Canner

3 proven methods for canning food for long-term storage.  They are the Boiling-Water Method, Pressure Method, and Steam Method.  The type of canner you should use depends on the pH level in the food you are processing.  This chart from the USDA is a great chart for information on pH levels in foods.

Water Bath Canners

You can purchase water bath canners almost anywhere. I use this one that is Granite Ware Enamel on steel. Of course, you can also buy them that are stainless steel, which works well too. Whichever you choose, it needs to be deep enough to hold your jars and allow 3-4 inches of water above jar tops.

Jars do need to be fully submerged. The water needs to be at least 1 inch over the jar lid. This is to ensure a couple of things.

  1. Some of the water will evaporate during the boiling process. Having it this deep insures jars stay covered.
  2. The boiling process cooks the air out of the the jar, which prevents your food from spoiling. Having it covered completely insures that the jar cannot “suck” air into it when it is heating up and forming a vacuum.

1. 3 Parts to a Water Bath Canner

The water bath canner has 3 parts:  The base, rack, and lid

Base – Needs to be deep enough to allow for 1 inch of water over the lid and then an additional 2 inches for air space. This will help to prevent boil-over.

Rack – Holds jars up off the bottom and side of the canner, as well as keeps them in an upright position when boiling.

Lid – Keeps the temperature inside the canner consistent which keeps the water boiling during the whole process.

2. Foods that Can Be Safely Canned using water bath canning Method?

Foods having very little natural acid, a 4.6 pH level or lower can be processed using a water-boiling method.  This category contains the following:

  •  Fruits
  • Soft Spreads
  • Tomatoes
  • Pickled Foods
  • Jams and Jellies
  • Salsa
  • Chutneys and Sauces
  • Pie Fillings
  • Vinegars
water bath canner labeled with parts of it.

3. How to Properly Fill a Water Bath Canner

  • Fill canner to completely cover jars with water+ one-inch over top of lids
  • Put canner on stove eye on high
  • Pack hot canning jars with food according to canning recipe
  • Remove air bubbles and double-check head space
  • Wipe canning jar rims clean with damp cloth
  • Put on hot 2-piece mason jar lids and tighten to finger tight
  • Place lid on and watch for water to boil
  • Begin timer once water begins to boil
  • When timer ends – carefully remove from heat source
  • Lift lid away from you so you don’t burn yourself with the steam
  • Allow jars to sit for about 5 minutes in boiling water
  • Then, using jar lifter, carefully remove jars one by one and place on a towel on the counter
  • Do not tighten rings
  • Allow to sit undisturbed for 24 hours
  • After 24 hours, check lids for seal by pressing center of lid, it should be down, label and store

Pressure Canners

Many people fear the pressure canner and they should.  But with a little education – it can be a great tool to add to your homestead kitchen.

Pressure canners are just that – they build up high “pressure” inside to completely cook the food in the jars it contains. This kills off any bacteria that may be on the food or even on the jars themselves.  Always follow the manufacture’s guidelines when using a pressure canner. I use the Presto 16 Quart Pressure Cooker like this one.

Pressure canners are safe as long as you follow manufactures guidelines as well as the canning recipe in your recommended canning book.

If you are not comfortable with using a pressure canner, you can check with your local agriculture extension office your area may have a public cannery. If so, you can take your food there for canning and trained volunteers are available to help.

1. 5 Parts To The Pressure Canner

Lid – Canner lid locks into place to the base and is fitted with a rubber seal, safety valve, and vent pipe.

Gauge – This measures the pressure inside the canner.  There are 3 types of gauges: 3-piece, 1-piece, or dial.  It will come with your canner

Base– Holds the jars for processing and is deep enough not to obstruct the lid

Rack – Keeps the jars off the bottom of the base to allow steam to circulate all the way around the jars.

Rubber Seal – Located inside the lid. Change the seal every year. Check it closely for cracks or dry-rot. The lid locks tightly on the base and then seals and prevents losing pressure from the canner.

pressure canner with all parts labeled

2. What Foods Can be Safely Canned With A Pressure Canner?

Foods with a higher pH require a temperature higher than 240 degrees to fully cook or pressure canned.

Such foods are:

  • vegetables (seed detailed list below)
  • meats
  • poultry
  • seafood
  • Or any recipe that contains these foods such as stews and meat sauces.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends the following foods be pressured canned:

  • Asparagus, Spears or Pieces
  • Beans or Peas
  • Beets – Whole, Cubed, or Sliced
  • Carrots – Sliced or Diced
  • Corn – Cream Style
  • Corn – Whole Kernel
  • Mixed Vegetables
  • Mushrooms 0 Whole or Sliced
  • Okra
  • Peas, Green or English – Shelled
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes, Sweet – Pieces or whole
  • Potatoes, White – Cubed or Whole
  • Pumpkins and Winter Squash – Cubed
  • Soups
  • Spinach and Other Greens
  • Succotash
  • Tomatillos
  • Winter Squash and Pumpkins – Cubed

3. Pressure Canning Packing Methods

Raw Pack:

Fill jars with raw food and cover with boiling hot syrup, juice, or water. Pack fruits and vegetables tightly into the jar, because they will “shrink” during processing.

Hot Pack:

A process of heating food in syrup, juice, or water before placing it into jars.  Keep your food near boiling when filling and pack fairly loose into the jar.

4. How To Properly Fill A Water Bath Canner

  • Fill canner with about 2 inches of water
  • Place rack in bottom of canner
  • Fill jars with food, wipe off rims
  • Place 2-piece lids on jars – tight to finger tight
  • Put jars inside canner, when full, BLOW through the blow valve, on the lid, to make sure nothing is blocking it
  • Place lid on properly and tight
  • Turn stove eye onto high
  • Exhaust steam for 10 minutes
  • Then place on weight or close the petcock ( which ever your canner has)
  • Once weight begins to “giggle”, slowly lower heat, but not stopping the giggle
  • Lower heat as low as possible, but don’t stop the giggle
  • Process for the time called on recipe
  • Once timer ends – turn off heat and leave on stove eye
  • Let canner sit until completely cool and and the pressure valve has gone down
  • When it has ZERO pressure, loosen lid and carefully remove it – venting steam away from you
  • Carefully remove jars from canner using a jar lifter and place on a towel on the counter for 24 hours
  • Check lids for seal, Label and store

Steam Canning

I have never done steam canning myself. So I’m not real comfortable speaking about it in depth. To learn more about steam canning, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has this Preparing and Preserving Food At Home. It’s a great starting point to learn more.

How does Altitude Affect My Canning?

Higher altitudes have a lower barometric pressure affecting the temperature at which water boils.  What this means in both Water Bath Canning and Pressure Canning cook times must be adjusted in order to get the right temperature.  This Altitude Map will help you with finding your elevation.

For safe canning measures, adjust boiling-water and pressure processing methods accordingly to ensure safe canning temperatures and times.  Additional time or increase in temperature may be necessary.

Canning food and food preservation are great ways to become more self-sufficient.  Not only does it save on the grocery bill, but it is also more nutritious for your family.

Do you do food canning at your house?  If so, what do you store?

More Food Preservation Recipes

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45 thoughts on “FREE Canning Guide for Beginners”

  1. Hi, I am new here, but not new to canning. Years ago I use to can alot. Mostly veggies, my BBQ sauce and a few other things. Now I have taken my canning supply out of storage n hope to get back into canning. I just have the water bath canner. Reading some of things on here I am worried that I won’t be able to can pumpkin, or squash n a few other things because I can’t use a pressure cooker…I would like to be able to can chili, tomatoes sauce, and a few other things. Will this be a big problem?

    1. Hi Sheryle!

      Welcome!! I’m glad to hear that you are getting back into canning. It’s a great way to preserve food for your family that is so much better for you. For your concerns, I don’t want to discourage you, but yes, most of what you have listed in your question does have to be canned with a pressure canner to be shelf stable. Plain tomato sauce, is about all if it has no meat in it can be water bathed depending on the recipe. I’ve got several recipes on the site that are water bath canning and you can preserve so much with the canner you have.

      I do also want to make a note, you mention a pressure “cooker” and there is a difference between a cooker and a canner. For canning you will need use a pressure “canner” if you decide to go this route. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have and will be teaching canning classes here on our farm if you are within driving range of us.

      Feel free to email me at anytime. dianne@hshomestead.com with questions.

      So glad you are here – Happy Canning,

  2. Great introduction to canning! I have one question: under the water bath method section, you say that it should be used for low-acid foods. Shouldn’t that be high-acid? The examples are all foods I would consider high(er)-acid.

    1. Hi Barbara,

      This is a great question and I will do my best to explain it. The book is correct when it says foods lower in acid. On the pH scale, 7 is the center with 0 being acid and 14 being alkaline. Water bath canning is done with foods that are 4.6 or lower. Above the 4.6 should be pressure canned or they should have additional acid added to them, such as lemon juice or vinegar. I get really confused as well with the pH scale, so I often refer to this article from the NCHFP. Hope this helps, if not let me know. Happy Canning, Dianne

      1. How do you store your canned food, meaning with the bands or without? Do you turn the jars right side up or upside down? I’ve heard both scenarios. Thank you.

        1. Hi Linda,

          Great question! I’m guilty – I store both ways. With and without bands. Honestly, it depends on if I have space to store loose bands or not and whether I need them on other jars for canning. At times, I do and then by the end of canning season, I’m out of space and I don’t bother taking them off. The NCFHFP recommends they be removed. But this has nothing to do with the jar sealing, it is strictly to know if a seal becomes broken. The bands will also rust sometimes if left on the jar too. So keep this in mind as well.

          And the second part, I don’t turn my jars up side down, all my jars are stored right side up. The only time I turn a jar upside down is when I am putting a newly dehydrated food in a jar (dehydrated apples)– I turn it upside down for a couple weeks to watch for condensation – just in case it is not totally dehydrated. After a couple weeks, it is turned right side up. Let me know if this doesn’t help.

          Happy Canning,

    1. Hi Jan,

      WOW! I’ll take that as compliment. I’ve never thought about them. But they are a DIY project – I built them myself. And they are not adjustable. BUT – here is what I will do for you. Give me a few days and I’ll write a tutorial for you, and post it. You’d be really surprised what I used to make them. And then of course, I painted them. But I did measure intentionally to get the most storage space.

      Fair enough?

    1. Vladka,

      I get excited when I hear that someone is willing to try canning. I’m glad this inspired you and you are right – It is not hard! It just takes time and be patient. If I can help in anyway, please feel free to reach out and ask. I’m glad to help.


  3. Thanks for the great canning resource! Canning foods can definitely be intimidating, especially in the beginning. I made pickles a few years ago, but haven’t done any canning beyond that. I would really like to invest in a pressure cooker. I also had no idea that a ‘public cannery’ is a thing, but I will definitely be checking into it!

    1. Emily, I’m so glad you found it helpful. I remember when I began, it was fearful. I also like to hear that you are considering a pressure canner. It’s a small investment but it will last for years. I do hope your area has a cannery and if I can help in any way please feel free to reach out.

      Happy Canning,

  4. Glad to have found this post in my research for starting to can guide. I really want to start as it will save me time in the long term but always found it a bit daunting. This will help me a lot ! I will let you know how my first trials go 🙂

    1. I’m so glad you found it helpful. And yes, I’d love to know how it goes when you try it. Of course, know that you can reach out to me if you have any questions, I’d be very glad to help.

      Happy Canning,

  5. Great information. I can remember as a kid, my mom would can strawberry preserves. I’m fairly sure she used the water bath method. Strawberry preserves have me dreaming of spring .

  6. This is so helpful! I have been wanting to start canning for about a decade but am always so intimidated by the process. You’ve made it all seem very easy and doable! Thanks so much for the information!

    1. Kaylee, If you decide to give it a try, please feel free to reach out. I’d be glad to help. It sounds more complicated that it really is. It is just better to ere on side of caution so you keep your family well. Thanks for reading.

    1. Stephanie, Thanks! I grew up on a farm where my mother canned everything we eat and raised all our meat. I just chose to leave that life for many years. So when I got the bug in 2016, I wasn’t going in blindly, I just had never experienced it myself. It is a passion now and I love teaching others.

      Thanks for reading.

  7. This is not only a great article for beginners, but serves as a reminder for seasoned canning vets. It was through these posts that I learned I can remove the rings after my jars have cooled, which saves the wear, tear and rust on them. I’m going to bookmark this one!

    1. Oh Julie, thank you! I’m so glad it was helpful. And removing the rings is great, I agree about the rust. It makes them no good after so long too. It has saved us money since I no longer buy the rings often.

  8. This was a great article for me, as I am a beginner to canning. Your points about jar safety were well taken, as I first learned from my dad—and we just re-used jars too. I’m so glad I read this!

  9. Your post is very detailed and I know it will be helpful to new canners. Thank you for pointing out the new “decorative Mason jars” that aren’t safe for canning. I wasn’t aware of those.

    1. Nancy, that is wonderful you have passed it along to your daughter. I have done the same thing. I will be honest though, when my mom was canning as we were growing up, I wasn’t at all interested. I’m not 53 years old and just started canning 2015. I wish I had been interested in it when mom was doing it. It is fond memories though.

    1. Shawna you will love home canned food. It’s taste is totally different. If you have never canned before, I would recommend starting out with water bath canning. I’d be glad to answer any questions you may have. Contact me here, or send me a message on FB. Either way, I’ll be glad to help.

    1. I too grew up with a mom that canned everything. We had no idea what a grocery store was. I can remember the first time in my life when I saw a real gallon of milk. The cow had gone dry and my parents had to buy milk for a while. I had no idea it came in plastic jugs. The flavor was horrible. Same thing with canning homegrown food. It just tastes wonderful and so much better for us.

  10. Good list of instructions for beginners! It is very important to follow the newest methods approved for canning. I agree with you, just because our grandmothers did it doesn’t mean it is safe. There have been people who died using those methods!

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