Canning 101: Water Bath Canning

Water bath canning is probably the most popular form of canning. You can water bath can in any pot that you are able to submerge your chosen size jar under a rolling boil. They require less attention as well. That’s not to say you can walk away, but you don’t have to monitor the pressures inside your pot.

Water bath canning is also popular because many people like to give out jams and jellies as gifts during holidays. Probably because it is simple to do and  requires little in extra equipment.

Things you will need to water bath can:

  • Water canner: This is perfect for high acid foods such as fruits, jams and jellies, pickles, etc. A large pot will work. Must be capable of covering jars with at least 1 inch of water at a rolling boil and ability to keep jars from contacting bottom of pot directly.
  • Glass canning jars: These are what you are canning in. Despite the name canning you are actually using glass jars, not tin cans.:)
  • Lids and bands: Most new jars come with a lid and band already, but as you use up your canned food you will need new lids. The jars and bands are reusable countless of times provided they are free of chips or dents. Always start with new lids also called seals.
  • Funnel: A canning funnel or wide-mouthed funnel will save you much frustration trying to get your food into the jars. I would not can without one. I prefer the type with the measurements on the side, also saves headaches.:)
  • Jar Lifter: Another item you don’t want to do without… This gets the jars into and/or out of the hot water of the canner. They also help to move the jars around when filled with hot food. When you pull jars out the contents will still be boiling, so this is essential in my book.
  • Common kitchen utensils, such as wooden spoon, and ladle: Anything you will need to cook your recipe and get it in a jar.

Optional Items

  • Lid Lifter: Not so necessary any more. New theory on canning is that you do NOT need to pre-heat your lids/seals prior to canning. But if you prefer, you can use this to get the lids from the hot water bath.
  • Sure tight – Brand Tool: for tightening rings prior to canning, or removing bands once full seal is achieved. Also good for those with arthritis.

Basic Steps to Water Bath Canning

(from Ball site, with my own notes added)

READ through recipe and instructions.  Assemble equipment and ingredients. Follow guidelines for recipe preparation, jar size, preserving method and processing time.

  • Note: I  end up with not enough jars when I make a recipe. If the recipe calls for 6 jars I will warm 8. Nothing is harmed and you aren’t left trying to figure out how to warm your jars while keeping your food warm and not scorched.

CHECK jars, lids and bands for proper functioning. Jars with nicks, cracks, uneven rims or sharp edges may prevent sealing or cause jar breakage. The underside of lids should not have scratches or uneven or incomplete sealing compound. Bands should fit on jars. Wash jars, lids and bands in hot, soapy water. Rinse well. Dry bands.

  • Note: The new method is to not warm lids in simmering water. If this is what you are used to, go ahead, but it is considered no longer necessary.

HEAT home canning jars in hot water, not boiling, until ready for use. Fill a large saucepan or stockpot half-way with water. Place jars in water (filling jars with water from the saucepan will prevent flotation). Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Keep jars hot until ready for use. You may also use a dishwasher to wash and heat jars. Keeping jars hot prevents them from breaking when hot food is added. Leave lids and bands at room temperature for easy handling.

  • Note: I have limited stove top space and I tend to can A LOT of food at once. My water canner takes up 3 of my 5 burners. Because of this, I heat my jars in one of two ways.
    • In my water canner: I put my jars in my water canner while it heats up to a boil. I used them straight from the canner and when they are filled I put them back in for processing
    • OR, I put them in a 250° F oven for at least 20 minutes.

PREPARE boiling water bath canner by filling half-full with water and keep water at a simmer while covered with lid until jars are filled and placed in canner. Be sure your rack is resting on the rim of the canner or on the bottom, depending on the type of rack you are using. You don’t necessarily need to purchase a boiling water bath canner if you don’t already have one at home. Most kitchens have pots that can double as boiling water bath canner.  A boiling water bath canner is simply a large, deep pot equipped with a lid and a rack. The pot must be large enough to fully surround and immerse the jars in water by 1 to 2 inches and allow for the water to boil rapidly with the lid on. If you don’t have a rack designed for home preserving, use a cake cooling rack or extra bands tied together to cover the bottom of the pot.

  • Note: I leave my rack at the bottom of the canner and use the jar lifter to maneuver jars into and out of the canner.

PREPARE tested preserving recipe using fresh produce and other quality ingredients.

REMOVE hot jar from hot water, using a Jar Lifter, emptying water inside jar. Fill jar one at a time with prepared food using a Jar Funnel leaving head space recommended in recipe (1/4 inch for soft spreads such as jams and jellies and fruit juices; 1/2 inch for fruits, pickles, salsa, sauces, and tomatoes). Remove air bubbles, if stated in recipe, by sliding the Bubble Remover & Headspace Tool or rubber spatula between the jar and food to release trapped air and ensure proper head space during processing. Repeat around jar 2 to 3 times.

CLEAN mason jar rim and threads of jar using a clean, damp cloth to remove any food residue. Center lid on jar allowing sealing compound to come in contact with the jar rim.  Apply band and adjust until fit is fingertip tight. Place filled jars in canner until recipe is used or canner is full. Lower rack with jars into water. Make sure water covers jars by 1 to 2 inches.

  • Note: I like to spray my wet towel with vinegar to help clean the rims.

PLACE lid on water bath canner. Bring water to a full rolling boil.  Begin processing time.

  • Note: Do not start time until a rolling boil is achieved.

PROCESS jars in the boiling water for the processing time indicated in tested preserving recipe, adjusting for altitude (see altitude chart). When processing time is complete, turn off the heat and remove the canner lid. Allow jars to stand in canner for 5 minutes to get acclimated to the outside temperature.

REMOVE jars from canner and set upright on a towel to prevent jar breakage that can occur from temperature differences. Leave jars undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours. Bands should not be tightened as this may interfere with the sealing process.

  • Note: I usually  cover my jars with a towel as my home is drafty. I am not sure how the jars would react to a cold breeze. This may not be necessary. Just something I do.
  • Note: You should know your jars are sealing when you hear the lids make a “ping” sound. I always get a little excited when I hear that sound. Means I did something right. 🙂 This can happen quite quickly on some, but take longer for others. Be patient to let all jars have a chance to seal.
  • Note: Do NOT touch or push on the tops of the lids until you are sure they are all sealed. Pressure on the lid can cause a false “ping” and may not seal properly.

CHECK jar lids for seals. Lids should not flex up and down when center is pressed. Remove bands. Try to lift lids off with your fingertips. If the lid cannot be lifted off, the lid has a good seal. If a lid does not seal within 24 hours, the product can be immediately reprocessed or refrigerated. Clean mason jars and lids. Label and share then store in a cool, dry, dark place up to 1 year.

  • Note: Be sure to label with date and name of item. You will find that after you have done a lot of canning you will have similar items.  Tomatoes vs spaghetti sauce comes to mind.
  • Note: I have also found that my canned food last longer than a year. Use your best judgement.


So there you have the basics, along with my thoughts on various steps. Let me know if you have any tips or tricks in the comments below, and feel free to link to any of your favorite recipes.


2 thoughts on “Canning 101: Water Bath Canning

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