Water bath canning is a wonderful and simple way to start preserving food that is shelf-stable for up to 15 years, without the need for refrigeration. This food preservation method is used for jams, jellies, pickles, salsa, and other high acid foods.
Canning may seem overwhelming, but it really is quite easy and safe. While pressure canning requires special equipment, water-bath canning does not! You just need a large stock pot and some mason jars.
If you've never canned anything before, water bath canning is a great way to get your feet wet. Not only is it a time honored way to have high quality foods on the shelf, but it makes an amazing gift too. This step by step guide will help you get started canning today.
Water Bath Canning for Beginners
Water bath canning, sometimes called Hot Water Canning, or Boiling Water Canning, is one of two methods for canning food at home. The other is called pressure canning, and is used for non-pickled vegetables, meats, soups, and other low acid foods.
Water-bath canning is only for HIGH acid foods, such as tomatoes, fruits, and pickles. As a result water bath canning is perfect for jams, jellies, and pickled vegetables- their naturally high acid level helps to preserve them safely and doesn't need the high pressure of pressure canning.
Water-bath canning should not be used for canning meats, beans, chili, corn, and other low-acid foods. Instead, those foods require a higher pressure in order to reach a high enough temperature (240°F) to kill harmful bacteria. Low-acid food requires pressure canning for safe preservation.
Water Bath Canning Safety
Before you jump into canning your own foods, it's important to know exactly how to do so safely. So let's talk about watch bath canning safety, including how to sterilize jars for canning, how to properly create a good seal, what do to if your canning jar doesn't seal fully, and more.
Sterilizing Canning Jars
You'll need to wash your jars before using them for canning. I like to run them through the dishwasher on sterilize, but you can also wash them by hand in hot, soapy water. If your jars have been in the pantry, clean, you will just need to heat them before canning.
Ensuring a Good Seal with Canning Lids
Make sure that you use new metal, or plastic reusable canning lids to help ensure you achieve a proper seal on your canning jars.
Most metal lids are not recommended for reuse - even though some people still do it. The reason being that when you remove the lid from a canned jar it requires the lids to be bend a little bit in order to release the seal. Once it's bend, it will not be good for canning again. If you reuse single use metal lids, you may end up with jars that do not seal properly.
However, if you previously used the metal lid on a jar that was NOT canned (storing dry goods or something), then you can use it again for canning.
Use Approved Recipes
This is a point of contention for a lot of "rebel canners" and I totally understand! There may be family recipes that have been passed down that everyone has used for generations - that's fine, use your judgement!
But in general, use recipes that have been tested and approved for canning. All of the recipes on this site and in the Complete Guide to Water Bath Canning are approved recipes!
Cleaning the Rims
Once you have filled your canning jars, you'll need to make sure the very top edge of the glass canning jar is completely clean. Any residue, fat, or sugar that remains on the rim when the lid is applied could prevent a seal from forming. To combat this, simply use a clean towel, dipped in boiling water to wipe along the top of the jar until it's clean.
What to do if the Canning Jar Lid Doesn't Seal
Thankfully, it's very easy to see if the lid on your canning jar has sealed. Once the jar is cooled, simply press down in the center of the lid - if it pushed down, you don't have a seal. It should be fully depressed in the middle and should not move with pressed.
If this has happened to you, you can either re-process the jars after removing the lid and cleaning the top of the jar (and washing the lid), or you can stick the jar in the fridge and use it first.
Should You Flip Your Jars Over After Canning?
While this is a common practice, it is not necessary and can even cause your jars to not seal properly.
Flipping the jars over after canning can put pressure on the lid and cause the food inside to leak under the not-yet-sealed lid and create a barrier. Thus causing the seal to fail to form!
Instead, simply use the recommended time for water bath canning and the let them sit upright for 12-24 hours before checking the seal.
Items Needed for Water Bath Canning
There are a few items you will need before getting started...
- A large pot - This is for the actual canning process. Make sure that it is tall enough that you can place your jars inside and still be able to fill the pot so that there is at least 2 inches of water above the top of the jar.
- Another large pot - This is for making the food itself, whether it is jam, jelly, pickles, or whatever, you will need another pot! It needs to be fairly large since the food may bubble up quite a bit. Make sure it's large enough to keep the food from overflowing!
- A Canning Tool Set - This set should include a canning funnel, a canning knife (to remove air bubbles) and a jar lifter. The tools as a set are extremely affordable and ensure that you have all the tools you will need to pack your food for both water bath canning and pressure canning.
- Complete Guide to Water Bath Canning - This book is an amazing resource for tried and true, time-tested canning recipes. Even though I've been canning for over a decade, I still reference it every single canning session!
Once you have everything gathered up, it's almost time to do some water bath canning!
How to Water Bath Can: Step By Step
Now let's take a look at the step-by-step process for canning using a water bath. These steps will be same, regardless of what you are canning, however, it's important to refer to the recipe for the food you are preparing for water bath canning.
Before you start, make sure you have done the following:
- Have your supplies and produce on hand
- All jars, lids, and bands should be clean, either via a dishwasher or washed in hot water with soap
- Make sure your bands fit (wide mouth and regular mouth bands are not interchangeable)
- Check for any nicks or cracks on the rim of the jars or the jar itself, discard the jar if any are found
- Metal lids should be new (never canned with) or reusable plastic lids
- Print or obtain the specific directions for the recipe in question. Processing times will vary by food type.
Once you have completed all of those things, here are the general steps for water bath canning!
While preparing your food, heat the water bath canning pot over medium heat. The pot should be filled about halfway with water and brought to a simmer. Keep the water simmering until all the jars are ready to go into the canner.
Prepare the food you intend to can according to the recipe instructions. Once your food is ready to go into the jars, take your clean jars and fill them with the prepared food to the recommended headspace.
Note: Headspace is the amount of room left at the top of the jar. So a 1/4" headspace would mean that the food should only come up to 1/4" from the top of the jar, and no higher or lower.
Once your jars are filled to the right level, use a plastic spatula or canning knife to gently go around the inside edge of the jar to release any trapped air bubbles. Press in slightly as you move along the length of the side, all the way around the jar.
Wipe the top rim of each jar with a clean, damp cloth to remove any food reside. This will help ensure a proper seal as mentioned above.
Place a lid and band on each jar, tightening the band to "finger tightness". You want it to be secure, but you don't need to really bare down on it when tightening. Just tighten it well, but don't overdo it.
Using a jar lifter, put lidded jars in the canner, spacing them so that the jars don't touch each other.
The jars need to be covered by water, about 1-2 inches above the lids. If you need more water, just add it in! Adding warm water is best, so as hot as your sink will go is fine.
Turn up your stove and bring the canner to a boil. You'll start the timer once the water is boiling. While every recipe is different, you’ll usually boil the filled jars about 10-20 minutes. Check the recipe timing!
Once the time is up, turn off the heat and let the water cool for about 5-10 minutes.
Remove jars from the canner by using the jar lifter and set them on a towel or rack. As they cool, you should hear the jars “ping” which means the jars have properly sealed.
DO NOT turn the jars on their lids, as talked about above.
Leave jars undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours to cool before storing. The bands will loosen as the jars cool, DO NOT retighten them, as this may interfere with the sealing process.
After jars are completely cool, double check the seals. Unscrew bands and press down gently on the center of each lid. If you don’t feel any give, the jar has properly sealed. If lid springs back up, the lid didn’t seal.
Put the jar in the fridge and eat within 2 weeks, or reprocess the jar again after removing and cleaning the lid and rim of the jar.
Store with a fully loosened band or leave the bands off completely.
Best Water Bath Canning Recipes
Ready to dive into the world of water bath canning to fill your pantry shelves and delight your family? Here are a few of our favorite water bath canning recipes for you to try next!
- Canning Cranberry Sauce
- Canning Strawberry Jam
- Canning Sweet Pickles
- Canning Roasted Tomato Sauce
- Canning Homemade Applesauce
- Canning Apple Butter
- Canning Peaches
- Canning Apples
- Canning Apricot Jam
- Canning Blackberry Jelly