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Home canning for beginners

Have you ever considered home canning?  It’s probably easier and quicker than you think.  Let me walk you through the process step-by-step.

Home Canning for Beginners

Doing some home canning will let you take advantage of produce when it’s in season and serve it to your family year-round.  Plus you’ll save money!  Little glass jars of homemade jams and pickles also make great gifts.

If that’s not enough motivation, do it to impress your family and friends.  Just don’t tell them how easy it was or how I broke it down for you in this blog post.  Let them think you’re Martha Stewart’s hot granddaughter who knows how to run on a treadmill, play with her baby, and can at the same time.

That’s what I would do.

The first time I attempted canning, I did not want to invest a lot of money into supplies.  I bought the very basic necessities and everything worked out just fine.  If you want to start with the basics, here’s what you’ll need…

Basic Canning Supplies

  • food to can
  • jars
  • one or two dish towels
  • one or two big pots with lids (to boil your jars in a single layer)
  • one medium-sized pot (to boil your lids)
  • a magnetic wand to pick up hot lids
  • a pair of large tongs to pick up hot jars
  • a small rubber spatula to remove air bubbles
  • a wide-mouth funnel (optional, but very helpful)

canning supplies

I got my funnel, magnetic wand, and tongs in this basic canning kit from Amazon for $10.50.

canning kit

I also bought this book of recipes and canning instructions. (You can find the Ball Home Preserving book on Amazon here.)

canning book

My original plan was to try to can the basics…strawberry jam, apple butter, pickles, tomato sauce, and salsa.  The Ball book includes recipes for other foods that I never even thought of canning too – peaches in syrup, apple pie filling, apple juice, relish, barbecue sauce, and more.  I’m going to have a lot of fun canning this summer!

I bought glass jars (with new lids and screw bands) at my local grocery store when I bought the ingredients for my canning recipe.  (You can also buy 8oz glass jelly jars and 4oz glass jelly jars on Amazon, as well as pretty much any other size jar that you want.)

You can reuse your jars and screw bands over and over again, but you will need to buy new lids every time because their seal can only be used once.  (Think of it like a thin sticker that “melts” during the canning process and adheres to the glass jar.)

canning jars

Overall, my first attempt with canning was pretty cheap.  My canning kit + book + glass jars cost less than $35 total.  You can skip the book if you want, and just follow these steps that I picked up from it.

Basic Water Bath Canning Instructions

1. Clean your jars, lids, and screw bands.

Wash your jars, lids, and screw bands in hot soapy water.  Set your screw bands aside.  (The “screw bands” are the hollow circles used to screw the lids onto your jars.)

canning washing jars

2. Heat your jars.

Place your jars in a large pot.  (If you have a lot of jars, you will need several pots.)  Make sure you leave enough space between each jar so you’ll be able to pick it up with your tongs.  (I learned this the hard way.  The jars in the photo below are a little too close.)

For small jars (8oz and 4oz), add water to the pot until it reaches the top of the jars.  For pint-sized and larger jars, add water to the jars and pot until the jars are about 2/3 full.  Cover the pot with a lid and bring the water to a simmer over medium-high heat.  (You do not need to boil the jars.)  Keep the jars hot until you’re ready to use them.

I was using 4oz jelly jars to can the strawberry jam from my slow cooker cookbook.

canning heating jars

3. Heat your lids.

Place your lids in a medium-sized pot, cover with water, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  (Do not boil.)  Keep them hot until you’re ready to use them.

(I totally screwed up in this pictured.  You want the silver side of each lid facing up because that’s the side that’s magnetic and will stick to your magnetic wand.  Classic newbie mistake.)

canning heating lids

4. Prepare the food that you’re going to can.

(You can also skip this step and prepare the food ahead of time the day before – that’s what I do to save time.)

Here’s a photo of my slow cooker strawberry jam, cooking away in my slow cooker the day before I canned it. (It’s a super easy and delicious recipe from my newest cookbook.)

canning slow cooker strawberry jam

5. Fill each jar.

Work on one jar at a time.  First, use your tongs to pick up a hot jar from your pot.

canning tongs

Place your jar on a heat-protected surface, like a towel or wooden cutting board.

(I have faith that you can set your jar on a towel without a photo to explain.)

Place your wide-mouth funnel in your jar and scoop your food into the jar.  (The funnel helps keep things neat.)  Different foods require leaving different amounts of space at the top of the jar.  Pickles, tomatoes, fruit, and condiments need 1/2 inch.  Jellies and jams require 1/4 inch.

canning funnel

Slide a small, rubber spatula in-between the food and the side of the jar to remove air bubbles.

(Can we just pretend I’m wearing hot pink or some kind of fun nailpolish in this photo?)

canning removing air bubbles

Wipe the rim of the jar.

Use your magnetic wand to lift a hot lid from your medium-sized pot and center it on the top of your jar.

canning lids

Place a screw band on the jar and screw it on.  There is no need to muscle it or try to make it super tight.  Most canning instructions say “fingertip-tight” is just right.

canning finished jar

Put the jar back in the big, hot pot.

Repeat this process – filling one jar at a time – until all of your jars are full and back in the big pot.

6. Process your filled jars.

Add more water to the pot until it covers the jars by at least one inch.  Cover with a lid and bring to a full boil.  Boil the jars according to your recipe. (Most jams and jellies take 10 minutes.  I process my applesauce for 20 minutes and my tomato soup for 35 minutes.  I recommend buying the Ball canning book – pictured above – for awesome recipes and proper boiling times.)

canning process jars

7. Cool your jars for five minutes.

Remove the lid on the pot and let jars cool for five minutes.

8. Remove your jars from your pot and cool.

After 5 minutes, remove the jars one-by-one with your large tongs (without tilting them).  Place jars upright on a towel to cool.  Do not worry about water on top of the lids. (You don’t want to disturb the seal.)  Leave jars to cool for 24 hours.  If you hear little “popping” sounds, you did something right!

canning jars cooling on towel

9. Check your seals.

After 24 hours have passed, check your seals by removing the screw bands and pressing down on the center of each lid.  There should be no movement when pressed.  Jars that do not seal properly must be re-sealed immediately or refrigerated and eaten over the next few days.  (All of my jars sealed perfectly the very first time that I canned.  Yay!)

10. Enjoy, store, and share with friends!

Now you can store your canned foods or share them with friends.  First, wipe the jars clean.  Then you’ll want to store them in a cool, dark place, like a pantry or basement.

Before giving any away, whip up some of my DIY fabric jar covers.  So cute!

Your canned foods will last for at least a year! (Yes, this is my neatest handwriting.  Scary, isn’t it?)

canning labeled jar

Did I mention that my 3 year old helped me with my very first canning attempt?  It took me 31 years to try canning and my little girl had her first experience at age 3.

If you attempt canning with little ones, please be careful with the boiling water and hot materials.  My 3 year old was able to help by spooning the strawberry jam into the funnel and putting the lid on each jar.  She thought the magnetic wand was super cool.

canning cam

I love spending time with my daughters in the kitchen.

Here are some of my other blog posts that will help your family eat healthier:

Question: Have you ever canned anything before?

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Stay up-to-date with everything that I’m cooking by following me on Pinterest @kellymcnelis!

50 Comments

  • eileen says:

    Is the screwband the piece inside the lid?

    • Kelly says:

      Eileen- the screw bands are the hollow circles that you use to “screw” the lids onto your jars. The lids are the flat circles that sit on top of the jars. Does that make sense? The photo of me picking up a lid with a magnetic wand may clear up any confusion.

  • Kelly,

    What a fantastic article for beginner canners. It’s so encouraging to see that there are people that actually want to keep the art of canning alive and well. I really enjoyed the picture of your adorable daughter as well. Nice to meet you by the way. I found you on Pinterest, and I will be following your boards. Brandi

    • Kelly says:

      Thanks, Brandi! I just checked out your website and followed you on FB/Twitter/Pinterest/Instagram. Looking forward to getting to “know” you better!

  • Ashleigh says:

    This makes it seem so easy! I just canned Pickles for the first time last week because a co-worker had a ton of extra cucumbers. They aren’t ready to eat yet so I don’t know how I did, but ever since I really wanted to can more! Thanks!

    • Kelly says:

      Thanks, Ashleigh! It IS easy. 🙂 When I can 6 jars of jam, it takes less than 40 minutes overall, and most of that time is spent watching boiling water. You can do it!

  • Amanda Stokes says:

    I’ve heard that you should use a rack in the bottom of the canning pot so jars are completely surrounded by water. Did you do that and I missed it or did you bypass that step? I’m researching to begin my first attempt at canning!

    • Kelly says:

      I’m not an expert, but I don’t use a rack and I’ve never had an issue with my jars breaking or not sealing. Good luck with your first attempt! It’s really not that hard. I’ve canned tons of jam since first writing this blog post and I’m gearing up to can soup and my favorite tomato-based enchilada sauce. YUM.

  • Margaret says:

    This is a great article for beginners! However, what is the process to re-seal if a lid does not seal properly?

  • […] to tickle your taste buds. Wait…you have never canned before??  Yep..me neither.  So click here for a step by step tutorial.  Now you will become an expert canner and enjoy your apple-cranberry, […]

  • Beth says:

    good simple instructions. I’ve been canning for a long time (and agree with your enthusiasm!) and here’s another tip. If it’s not the middle of a very hot summer and you can stand to turn on your oven, heat your jars in a 200 degree oven instead of putting them in hot water. It keeps them hot — and you want them to be hot so that you don’t break your jars by filling cold jars with hot product – but means you aren’t making your kitchen steamy, and let’s you can without as many big pots. Also, if you use Pomona’s pectin, you can make jams with no sugar…..like summer in a jar!

  • Cheryl says:

    Thank you for the share! I always wanted to know how to do this and you’ve explained quite well.

  • Sunnymay says:

    My mom was so delighted by receiving a jar of homemade strawberry jam that I went out and got jars for my own jams and jellies. I’ll start this winter or jump into spring with this new project.

  • Connie says:

    I’ve heard that you can’t can on a glass top stove? Any tips on getting around that without ruining my cooktop?

  • Linda says:

    Thanks for renewing my interest in canning. I tried a different method and had a whole summer’s worth of canning spoil. It was so disheartening, that I said “Never again! “. New I’m thinking, sure, why not!

  • Rose says:

    Great tips. I attempted my first canning today. I used my bread machine. What a mess. Stove top next time. It also only made 2 jars of jam. Larger batches are the way to go. Thanks.

  • L.L. says:

    I have always wondered how they can the jard foods in the grocery store since the don’t use flat lids and bands. Do u know?

  • […] no expert on canning, I used the information found here. I enjoyed the canning process, although I think there is a learning curve to this, and I need some […]

  • […] by buying blackberries on sale this summer and canning your jam to eat year-round. I tried simple water bath canning last summer and loved sharing my preserved jams with my family and […]

  • Lanelle says:

    Thank you SOOO much for your post! I am wanting to start canning but had NO idea where to start! This was perfect 🙂

  • Joni says:

    I know this article is a few years old but I just found it from pinterest and I am ready to can now that I read this. I’ve always been intimidated and my mom never canned either. It all seemed so mysterious and practically medieval! You did a great job with your instructions and pictures to take some of the mystery out of it. P.S. I know lots of people who can but was too embarrassed to ask questions about it. 😉

  • Lily says:

    Hi, if i just want to put the jelly/jam in the fridge or freezer and eat with in like three weeks or less. Do i still have to do the hot water bath? Also if i dont do the hot water bath, do i still need to watit 24 hours before placing it in the fridge?

    • Kelly says:

      If you skip the water bath, I think you could store the jelly in the fridge for a week or so and in the freezer for up to three months. No need to wait 24 hours. Just wait until it cools.

  • Maria says:

    Today I accomplished making my first Strawberry Jam. Let me start off by saying THANKYOU for your wonderful tutorial. The step by step pictures were so helpful, made it super easy. I was nervous to try canning, but now I feel so silly for being nervous, its so easy! More time consuming then hard. Thanks again, this really helped me!!

  • Steve Keip says:

    A good basic introduction to canning, anything that gets people back to the old foodways is a good thing! Have you ever thought about doing an update? While all of your information is OK, not all of it is entirely correct anymore. Like all technologies, things change over time. Two that pop out right away are 1) Simmering the lids. Since they have changed the resin on the lid, they no longer recommend simmering them, this can in fact lead to jars that DON’T seal propperly. 2) For any product that is going to be processed in a BWB for more than 10 minutes, you no longer have to presterilize the jars. A real time saving step!

    I like how you show that it doesn’t take a lot of specialized, expensive canning equipment to can at home! You might also check out the National Canning and Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) website through the Univeristy of Georgia. They are the accepted standard and go-to for home canning, plus it’s a really fascinating site with a ton of recipes for not just canning.

    Keep up the excellent work, I like your blog a lot!

    SK

  • Katie Short says:

    I so appreciate that you are still answering questions on this post! What a responsible blogger lol. But, you’re the first person I’ve read who said they prepares food the day before! I’m excited at that possibility. The last bit of info I need is this: when you do that, do you reheat the product before putting it in the jars, or put it in straight from the fridge and then just process? If you get to this, thanks again. It’s rare that I see bloggers answer questions even a few months after the original post!

    • Kelly says:

      I haven’t canned in a while, but I’m pretty sure I just added it cold. I’m not sure that that’s the right thing to do though.

  • […] to be taken for granted. Plus it is also fun to help with the harvest. After harvest you can can your goods and have them year-round, eat them that day, or eat them as you harvest. There is also […]

  • Paula Nadels says:

    Hi Kelly
    Here a word from a Belgian reader. I hope my English is good enough for you to understand.
    I can lots of fruit each year, e.g. appel, peach, quinces, etc. I use left over jam pots and lids. I simply wash them in the dishwasher. It works fine!
    I usually make jam by cooking fruit and adding 90 % of the fruit weight in sugar. This gives a sugar content of more than 60 %, in wich is a perfect preserving solution. I fill the hot preserves into the jam pots, put on the lids, turn the pots upside down for 5 minutes, turn them right up again and let them cool fully. Then I put all the pots in the cellar and enjoy my home made jams. They will be good up to 2 years. Almost never see any signs of unwanted developments (like molding).

  • […] Preserving food is having a moment. It’s not only fun and super easy, but the bragging rights are so worth it. Now’s your moment to get jamming and make fresh preserves from all those stone fruits and berries filling your garden basket. Here are two recipes we loved that use a slow cooker (use jam within a week, or preserve by canning; instructions here.) […]

  • Gail says:

    I have not been canning for too long but usually successfully. This time I was again canning Apple mint jelly, using certo and the jars never jelled. Can I save the jars of jelly by canning the product again? I am not sure why it didn’t work this time and I hate to have to throw it all out. How do I make sure it sets up this time? I found out I love canning and your blog was very helpfulness! Hope you are still there to answer my question, I just found you.

  • Janis says:

    I have started making homemade marmalade in small batches, and didn’t know that you should boil the sealed jars after filling. I will start to do that now, although to be honest, we go through the marmalade in about one month so it is probably not really necessary. 🙂

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