Water Bath Canning Equipment
Over the past six years, I have fallen hard for preserving produce. Water bath canning holds a special place in my heart. When I first started peeling tomatoes and pouring jam into jars, it was incredibly intimidating. I would follow along in the shadow of an experienced canner, making sure never to learn too much, because I was terrified of being left to my own devices. I was like a kid at summer camp, listening to scary stories around the campfire. Botulism! Exploding jars!! Lids that don’t seal!!! These things kept me awake at night.
However, with practice came confidence. It wasn’t long before I was ready to stand on my own two feet, armed with reliable recipes and good equipment. I wanted to try salsa and pickles and pears! I wanted to process jars while my kids were napping. Then into the night. And get up early the next morning to finish that last box of peaches. I was hooked.
One of my big goals here at FLNW is to bring canning to the people! I want to walk you through the correct steps so you don’t feel intimidated about buying a canner or making jam or handling hot jars. Once you learn the techniques, you will gain the confidence needed to safely preserve (and serve) your own food.
To all the newbies out there, canning is not as scary as it seems. You can do this. I would highly recommend taking advantage of local resources, like an extension office or experienced canner, to help you get started. FLNW is one great community, full of knowledgeable home economists. To all the pros out there, I am excited by the things you have to teach the rest of us.
Canning season is here. Let’s get started!
We have several Canning Guides (with more to come!), but this post will start at the beginning: the equipment needed to safely can your own food. While it may seem like canning is some crazy hobby that requires tons of specialized equipment, the truth is that you can get started for under $50. Many of the needed items are already in your kitchen drawers and most of the equipment can be reused each year.
I titled this post “collecting” because some items can be found at secondhand stores, garage sales, Craigslist, or your grandma’s basement. Obviously, you want to consider the source and use common sense, but if handled correctly, canning gear has a long and useful life.
Jars can be reused and come in two sizes: regular and wide mouth. Wide mouth jars are a bit more expensive, but they are easier to fill, empty, and clean so they are my personal preference. I usually save my regular-mouth jars for foods that aren’t as fragile, like applesauce or whole tomatoes.
If you plan to can, you’ll need an assortment of jars (half pint, pint, quart, half gallon). Smaller jars are great for jams and sauces; larger jars are better suited for whole fruits and vegetables.
Take advantage of lower summertime prices combined with coupons to build up a collection that will hold the amount you can each year. Coupons are normally available in newspaper inserts, but they can also be found at farm stands. I picked up a stack of Ball & Kerr canning coupons at my local farmer’s market last week. Winco and Bi-Mart typically have the lowest prices on canning supplies. A case of jars will cost $7-10 (depending on size) before coupons and includes lids and rings.
Jars are often sold at secondhand stores or garage sales. Check them thoroughly before buying. If a jar is cracked, it will burst in hot water. If a jar just has a chip on the rim, it won’t seal correctly. You can just re-purpose these ones (I use mine for bulk food storage).
Lids and Rings/Bands
Canning lids also come in two sizes, regular and wide mouth, to match the jars. Lids can only be used one time, but rings/bands can be reused many times. Tattler makes reusable canning lids (Amazon) for less than $1/each which seems like it would pay for itself pretty quickly if you can every year.
Again, keep your eyes open in the summertime for great coupons or clearance on canning supplies. For brands, I buy Ball or Kerr interchangeably, depending on what’s cheaper. I try to pay around $2/box, before coupons, for lids.
Water Bath Canner with Rack
It isn’t necessary to have a devoted canner for water bath canning. As long as you have a large pot that will cover your tallest jar with one inch of water and still have room for water to boil, you are good to go. A rack is needed to separate the jars from the heat source.
When working with tiny half-pints, I will often just use a pot that is wide and deep enough for the jars. Old canning rings or a silicone trivet (Amazon) in the bottom of the pot work great as a rack. If you are just getting started, doing this method with jam would be a great way to ease into simple water bath canning.
I find it easiest to use a canner for pints and quarts. A water-bath canner (Amazon) typically holds 8-9 pints or 7 quarts at a time and can be purchased new for less than $20. I have seen them at garage sales and thrift stores for $5-10. Whether you buy new or used, a good canner is a great investment.
I didn’t include standard kitchen items like a sharp knife, cutting board, clean cloth, ladle, or rubber spatula. All of which are needed to prep your food and jars are probably in your kitchen already. Food mills and food processors are also super useful, depending on what you are canning.
For this list, I am just focusing on basic canning-specific tools:
- Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving – Everyone interested or involved in preserving food should own this book. The first time you read through a canning recipe, it will seem like a different language. Once you learn the terms, it will be a huge step toward confidence in canning. Following a recipe tested by a reliable source is key for food safety. Make sure to buy the newest edition available.
- Jar Lifter – As the name implies, this helps lift hot jars in and out of the hot canner. It is an inexpensive and indispensable tool.
- Magnetic Lid Wand – This tool helps get lids out of hot water (used to sterilize and soften the seals) and onto your jars. After burning my fingers far too many times, I finally broke down and bought one. For about $2. I’m either really thrifty or really dumb.
- Wide Mouth Funnel – Placed on a jar, this helps pour hot jams, sauces, or produce into hot jars without making a huge mess.
- Bubble Remover – You can purchase an actual tool to slide into your filled jars to remove bubbles. I just use a plastic knife or wooden chopstick.
Pectin is a naturally occurring substance found in fruit. Combined with sugar, it helps fruit gel and thicken when making jam or jelly. There are many different varieties available (no or low sugar, alternative sweetener, liquid, cook). Sometimes recipes will call for a specific pectin, but most of the time it is up to your own tastes and preferences.
Pomona’s Universal Pectin (Amazon), which is 100% citrus pectin with no preservatives, is more expensive but has the benefit of making jam or jelly with low amounts of any sweetener. I made Honey Apricot Jam with it last year. The texture is definitely different than using standard pectin, but I loved being able to skip the sugar.
Leave a comment! What advice or equipment would you add to the list?
This post may contain affiliate links. See the disclosure policy for more information.