Complete Water Bath Canning Guide - How to Can at Home
Water Bath Canning Guide - Getting Started with Home Canning
By Chef Austin
Canning at home isn't too difficult when you have all the right canning supplies. Whether you're canning green beans from the summer garden or making strawberry jam to enjoy during the colder months, Everything Kitchens has the perfect tools for you to stock your pantry. Depending on what you are canning will determine which process of canning you'll want to go with. Check out our quick guide to get you started canning at home with the right supplies.
Why Water Bath Can Food?
If you love pickles, jams, jellies, and canned fruits, water bath canning is right for you. All of these foods are high acid foods; the acid in these foods (or added acid from vinegar, like with pickles for example) will keep the food preserved and safe to eat once canned in a boiling water bath. Water bath canning is easier to learn and operate compared to pressure canning, so this is a great method to learn first if you aren't ready to dive into pressure canning.
What is Water Bath Canning?
In water bath canning, water is brought to the boiling point of 212°F. High-acid and acidified - 4.6 pH or less - canned food is then submerged into the water for a period of time (determined by tested recipes). At this temperature, molds, yeast, and some bacteria are destroyed in high-acid foods and the canned food can remain shelf stable for up to one year.
Spreads & Sauces: Fruit jams, fruit jellies, and tomato sauces like marinara or salsa
Pickled & Fermented Foods: Pickled beets, pickles, relishes where vinegar is added and fermented foods like sauerkraut
Chef Austin's Tip: Low-acid foods 4.6 pH or higher such as vegetables like green beans, meats, and soups must be pressure canned. Check out ourPressure Canning Guide to find out more.
Required Water Bath Canning Supplies
Here is a quick list of everything you will need to get started with home canning. If you want to know more about these essential canning tools, check out our Getting Started Canning article for a more information on each of these supplies and other kitchen tools that will help you get canning at home.
Ball Canning & Recipe Book - Make sure you're using a tested recipe that will stay preserved and safe. Many tomato-based sauces will can in a water bath, but they have to be balanced at the right acidity - too many low acid foods like onions, peppers, and mushrooms will disrupt the pH level (amount of acid in the food). At that point, a tomato sauce recipe will not process safely in a water bath. It would need to be pressure canned or risk the growth of bacteria that can cause unpleasant things like botulism from improperly processed ingredients. This is why it is so important to use tested recipes when canning.
Plenty of Time - Make sure you have ample time to prepare all of your harvests and to can multiple batches of canned goods.
Additional Food Prep Tools:
Top 10 Home Canning Supplies & Tools - Above is the absolute essential supplies to start canning, but your canning experience can go smoother with some basic food prep tools. Check out our Top 10 Canning Tools article to make peeling bushels of apples and chopping a peck of peppers much faster and easier plus a deeper look at the tools above.
Step-by-Step Water Bath Canning Tutorial
Prepare your recipe:
Whether you want to put up the summer peaches or make pints of salsa to enjoy all winter, you'll need to prepare these recipes in advance (and make sure to use a tested recipe!). Peel those peaches, get the pickling spice ready, make your hot brines or syrups, blend up the salsa - whatever you are going to can, make sure it's ready to be packed into your glass jars.
Prepare your jars:
You'll want to start with clean jars. Simply wash jars, lids, and bands with hot soapy water and then dry with a clean cloth. Set out a large towel on the counter, close to your canner, to set your hot jars on as they are removed from the water bath canner. Be sure not to touch the underside of the jar lid or inside of the jar to prevent the spread of bacteria.
Prepare and operate your canner:
Once your recipe is prepared, it's time to prepare your water bath canner.
1. Fill your water bath canner a few inches from the top with water and bring to a simmer (180°F). Place the canner rack into the bottom of the water bath.
2. With a jar lifter, fully submerge empty canning jars into the water bath canner - you can keep them here until you are ready to start packing. This is keeping the jars hot, so when you put hot food or liquid into them, they will not break from thermal shock.
2a. If necessary, sterilize your canning jar. If your recipe cooks for 10 minutes or longer in the water bath, you can skip the sterilization process.
According to the National Center for Food Home Preservation "Empty jars used for vegetables, meats, and fruits to be processed in a pressure canner need not be presterilized. It is also unnecessary to presterilize jars for fruits, tomatoes, and pickled or fermented foods that will be processed 10 minutes or longer in a boiling-water canner.".
If your recipe calls for less than 10 minutes of boil time, follow the directions below:
"To sterilize empty jars, put them right side up on the rack in a boiling-water canner. Fill the canner and jars with hot (not boiling) water to 1 inch above the tops of the jars. Boil 10 minutes at altitudes of less than 1,000 ft. At higher elevations, boil 1 additional minute for each additional 1,000 ft. elevation. Remove and drain hot sterilized jars one at a time. Save the hot water for processing filled jars." For more info, check out their website here.
3. With a jar lifter, lift a hot jar out of the water and carefully pour the water back into the canner. Place the jar on a dry towel lying on your counter. A cold counter (especially marble) will cause thermal shock and possibly crack the jars. A towel on the counter will prevent thermal shock.
4. Place a canning funnel onto the jar and fill the jar with the prepared food according to the recipe. You may want to use an oven mitt to handle the hot jars.
5. Check for headspace with the headspace and bubble freer tool. Your recipe may tell you the correct headspace - here is a general guideline for headspace in water bath canned foods:
1/4" Jams & Jellies
1/2" High-Acid Food
6. Use the bubble freer to remove any trapped air by placing it in between the food and side of the jar. Gently move the food away from the side of the jar to release any air that may be trapped. Check for headspace once more and add additional food or liquid if necessary.
7. Wipe the jar rim with a clean damp rag. Any food on the rim can cause the seal to not function properly.
8. Using the magnetic lid lifter, place lid on the jar. Do not touch the bottom of the lid as this can transfer bacteria to your food. Install the band and screw on until fingertip tight.
9. Place filled jars into canner rack until canner is full. Jars should be fully submerged and covered by 1" of water - if they are not, add more hot water. Place lid on canner and set to stove burner to high heat to bring water to a boil.
10. Once water is boiling, start a timer for your food according to your recipe. Once the timer goes off, turn stove burner off and let jars rest in water for five minutes.
11. With a jar lifter, remove the jars - keeping them straight up - and place them on a large towel on the counter. Do not retighten the metal bands. Let jars cool, undisturbed, for 12 hours.
12. Test jars for a vacuum seal. The lid should not be easily moved. Use your finger to press into the middle of the lid. If there isn't any give when you press down the jar is sealed. If the lid pops up when you release your finger, the lid is not sealed.
13. Remove the metal band, wipe down with a clean damp cloth, then hand tighten the band back onto the jar. This is preventing rust by removing any water that may be trapped in the lid band.
14. Be sure to label each jar with the contents of the jar and the date your food was canned. Store in a cool, dry, dark place. For best tasting results, eat canned food within one year.
Chef Austin Merath is Everything Kitchen's Culinary Wizard, Kitchen-Gadget Reviewer, and New-Product Tester. He studied under chefs in College of the Ozarks' Culinary Program. It's his job to make sure you choose the kitchen tools that are right for you by testing the best we have to offer. When not cooking, Austin is tinkering with computers or exploring the Ozarks with his wife Amy. Click here for his full bio.