Canning for Beginners

Canning has been a commonly used method of food preservation since the early 1800s. It's one of the best ways to preserve large quantities of produce from a bountiful harvest, and nothing can rival the flavor of homemade pickles, preserves and other canned goods.

However, proper safety guidelines must be followed to ensure that canned goods remain safe to store and eat. Failure to follow best-practice canning guidelines can result in food spoilage and foodborne diseases. Using proper home canning supplies will help prevent any rotting. In addition, be sure to follow the specific instructions of your recipe as well as one of the two main variations of the canned food process. Read on for details on both, and you’ll be on your way to canning extraordinaire!


Water bath canning is ideal for high-acid foods such as pickles, vinegars, salsas, jams and jellies, most fruits and tomatoes with acid added. The acid in the food helps to kill bacteria, adding an extra layer of protection to keep it from going bad. This makes the simpler water bath canning method safe with these types of foods.

To can food using this method:

  • Heat canning jars in water that is hot, but not boiling. You may also use a dishwasher to wash and heat the jars. Keep the lids and bands at room temperature. Be sure to use fresh lids for canning, and inspect the jar and bands for any flaws that might damage the seal. 
  • Fill a large stock pot half-full with water, or enough water to fully immerse the jars. Insert a canning rack in the bottom of the pot. This will prevent the jars from rattling against the bottom of the pan. Bring the water inside the pot to a boil. 
  • Prepare your jam, pickles or other tested canning recipe, following the directions exactly. 
  • Using a jar lifter, remove the heated jars from the warm water, emptying the water inside. Fill each jar with prepared food, leaving between ¼ and ½ inch of headspace at the top of the jar. You can use a bubble remover tool to remove air bubbles in the jar. 
  • Wipe the rim and threads of the jar with a clean, damp cloth. Center a fresh lid on top of the jar, and apply the band. Tighten the band. 
  • Place the filled jars into the canning rack and lower them into the pot. The jars should be covered by 1 to 2 inches of water. 
  • Place a lid on the pot and bring the water to a full rolling boil. Once the water has reached a rolling boil, process for the amount of time indicated in your canning recipe. 

Once the jars have been processed, remove them using the jar lifter and place them upright on a towel. Leave them undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours. You will hear a "pop" noise as the jars cool and the lids seal. If a lid did not seal, refrigerate the product to eat right away or process it again with a new lid.


Pressure canning utilizes a pressure cooker to heat canned goods beyond the temperature of boiling water. Water boils at 212° Fahrenheit, but food must be heated to a temperature of 240°F in order to kill off all dangerous pathogens. For this reason, a pressure canner is the only safe solution for canning low-acid foods such as meat and vegetables. 

Many of the steps for pressure canning are the same as the water bath method: You will prepare your tested recipe – following the directions exactly – and pour the food into jars that have been washed, heated and kept warm. Once you’ve filled the jars, follow these steps:

  • While you're preparing the food, fill the pressure canner with 2 to 3 inches of water, brought to a simmer over medium-high heat. 
  • Place the jars in a rack in the pressure canner. The water level should be 2 to 3 inches high on the side of the jars. 
  • Leaving the vent pipe open, lock the pressure cooker's lid in place. Keeping the heat at medium-high, watch until a steady level of steam escapes the vent. After 10 minutes, close the vent. 
  • Adjusting heat as necessary to maintain recommended pounds of pressure, process the jars according to the guidelines on your recipe. 

Once the cans have been processed, remove the heat source and let the cooker stand for 10 minutes before removing the pressure gauge. Tilt the lid away from yourself when removing, and allow the jars to sit for 10 more minutes with the pressure canner lid removed. After that, you may remove the jars to a towel-covered counter and wait 12 to 24 hours for the lids to seal.

Canning requires some care and planning, but the result is a supply of delicious foods from your very own kitchen for the coming months. Try out these canning basics – and if you have any canning tips of your own, feel free to share them in the comments below!


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