Canning Made Easy
New to canning? Have fun and preserve summer’s bounty with confidence using our water bath canning guide. We've included 20 water bath canning recipes for beginners!
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Canning guide photos by Olga Ivanova
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Preserving in the summertime conjures up images of country kitchens and calico aprons. But making that image a reality in your own home may seem as inaccessible as that vintage tableaux. Do you need special equipment? How do you know it’s safe?
If you’ve never canned before, it can seem complicated and mystifying. But once you understand the main principles of water bath canning, making a batch of jam or pickles is well within your reach. You CAN do it!
Below, I’m going to walk you through canning a batch of Super Easy Apricot Jam, but the canning process remains largely the same no matter what’s going into the jars. First, though, let’s cover a few basics.
Jump ahead to:
Common canning questions
You're canning-curious, and I bet you're wondering...
What is water bath canning?
Boiling water canning, aka water bath canning, is the most common method of home canning. You fill sterilized jars, screw clean lids on top, then submerge them in a pot of boiling water. The heat forces air out of the jars to prevent spoiling. It also seals the lids.
Is canning safe?
Water bath canning recipes are for preserving high-acid foods only, like fruit jams and pickles or chutneys with added vinegar, not low-acid vegetables like green beans or potatoes. (You need a pressure canner for those, and pressure canning is its own beast.) All of the recipes below are for high-acid foods, so you’re in the clear! (Still worried about botulism? See the CDC’s guidelines.)
What’s the point of canning?
A jar of jam or refrigerator pickles is good for a few weeks, but a sealed jar of the same food will keep for over a year. Canned food doesn’t take up space in your fridge or freezer. And home-canned jars of relishes, jams, and other goodies make great gifts.
How can you tell when jars are sealed?
Once you go through the steps of water bath canning below and take jars from the canning kettle, you’ll likely hear a metallic “pop” as suction forms on the lids and the jars seal. But not all sealed jars pop. To test for a seal, press down in the center of the lid; if it stays down without springing back, the jar is sealed.
Want to know more? Always use the most recent canning information you can find. For instance, older sources say to heat lids in water. But modern lids don’t need to be heated prior to canning — you just wash, dry, and go. A couple of canning sites we trust are National Center for Home Food Preservation and Ball.
Basic water bath canning equipment
Beyond some canning jars and lids, which you can pick up at a hardware store or grocery store or online, you don’t need to invest in special water bath canning supplies for your first few batches; you likely already have most of what you need at home. Here, though, are all the “nice-to-haves.” And see below for a few hacks.
Lids and bands: Threaded bands screw onto the jar. Lids (with a ring of sealing compound) seal the jar. You need both, and a case of jars comes with them. Bands are reusable; you can only use lids once (and then you can buy new lids).
Canning kettle: A canning kettle or “canner” is the name for the large pot used for the water bath. You can use any deep stockpot.
Canning rack: Jars can break if they sit directly on the bottom of the canner. A rack elevates the jars, acting as a buffer for heat and allowing water to circulate. You can buy a kettle that comes with a rack, buy a rack separately, or use an alternative (see hacks, below).
Ladle or metal 1-cup measure: Use this to scoop the mixture you are canning into the jars.
Headspace measuring tool: Different foods require different headspace (the room between the top of the food and the rim of the jar) in order to seal properly. With a headspace measuring tool you can check (the tool pictured above is also handy for removing air bubbles). Or see the hack below.
Jar lifter: The rubber grips on a canning jar lifter make it easy to pull hot jars out of the water bath. No jar lifter? See a handy hack, following.
Canning funnel: Not a necessity, but a huge asset. A canning funnel fits tidily inside the jar’s mouth to make filling a snap.
Paper towels: Use these to wipe the jar rims after filling them.
Potholders: Lids and handles on your canner get hot.
Cloth kitchen towels: Set your hot jars on these to protect your counter and absorb hot water.
3 canning equipment hacks
Just getting started canning? Check out these handy hacks for some of the equipment you need.
Instead of a canning rack: Use a round cake rack or cooling rack, the wire rack from an Instant Pot, or make your own canning rack by zip-tying jar bands together.
Instead of canning tongs: Wrap a few sturdy rubber bands around a pair of regular metal tongs to make DIY jar lifters.
Instead of a headspace measuring tool: Just use a ruler!
How to can food in a water bath canner, step by step
You’ve figured out your equipment and you’ve brought home some gorgeous summer produce. Let’s go through the steps to get it into jars, using the recipe for Super Easy Apricot Jam as the example.
A few tips before you get started:
Carve out time when you won’t be interrupted or rushed. That way you can focus on canning, not replying to text threads. In summer, aim to can in the morning, before the house gets stuffy.
Set up your kitchen. Canning is stress-free when you have space. Wipe down the counters and clear a spot for all the equipment you need. Gather your supplies so you don’t have to scramble when your food is ready to can.
Read the entire recipe. Some canning recipes call for combining ingredients overnight.
OK, let’s can!
1. Wash the jars, lids, and bands in hot, soapy water.
2. Fill the canner half to three-quarters full with water and heat it to steaming.
3. Sterilize the jars in the water bath. To do this, boil them on the rack in the canner (just the jars, no lids or bands) for 10 minutes. Some people prefer to run their jars through the dishwasher shortly before canning so washing and sterilizing are all in one step. Either way, keep the jars in the canner or dishwasher until you fill them.
4. Cook the jam. The Super Easy Apricot Jam has added pectin, which makes the cooking time very short.
5. Fill the jars. Use a ladle or one-cup measure. A canning funnel will make this step quick and tidy. Fill to the recommended headspace the recipe calls for, checking with a headspace tool or ruler. Headspace is the area between the top of the food and the rim of the jar; for jam, you want to leave ¼ inch clear. This allows for expansion of food in the water bath, and helps the lids form a vacuum.
6. Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp paper towel to clear off any food residue, which would prevent lids from sealing.
7. Set lids on the jars and screw bands so they are secure, but not super tight. Tightening bands too much can make the lids buckle in the canner.
8. Lower the filled jars into the steamy water bath with the jar lifter. Check the water level to be sure the jars are covered by at least 1 or 2 inches of water.
9. Bring the water bath to a rolling boil, then set your timer for the processing time specified in the recipe. Don’t set the timer until the water returns to a full boil. (Note: Processing times increase with altitude; refer to this guide.)
10. Remove the jars using the jar lifters. Set them on a dry cloth towel at least 1 inch apart.
11. Check for a seal. It takes hours for some lids to seal, while others “pop,” indicating they’re sealed, just moments out of the canner. To test for a seal, press down in the center of the lid; if it stays down without springing back, the jar is sealed.
12. Let the jars rest for 12 hours. This ensures a good seal. For long-term storage, it’s best to leave the bands off, particularly if you store jars in a humid basement (moisture can cause bands to rust).
13. Label and date the jars. Any unsealed jars can be refrigerated; use the contents within 2 to 4 weeks. Sealed jars will keep in a dark place at least 1 year.
Easy jam recipes for beginners
If you’ve ever wondered why it’s worth it to spend a Saturday in summer boiling a pot of homemade jam, just try opening a jar in the middle of winter. You’ll be transported back to the aroma and flavor of fruit at its peak ripeness.
Note that for jam recipes made without commercial pectin, if you don’t boil them long enough, once they’ve cooled, they’ll be runny instead of being spreadable. If that happens, enjoy the jam as a delicious fruit sauce.
Just as the name promises, this extra-easy recipe is perfect for newbies because it includes store-bought pectin, so the cooking time is short and you’re guaranteed the texture will be just right.
Apricots are around for just a flash. Harness their charm in this lovely jam. The recipe is different from the previous one because there’s no added pectin. You’ll need to simmer it at least 20 minutes for it to gel.
This is a seedless jam so it’s smooth and silky. If you like seeds, simply don’t strain them out.
You’ll notice lemon juice in this recipe; adding acid to low-pectin fruits like strawberries helps the jam set better.
Grape jam? Give it a try! As it cooks, it fills your house with the most bewitching aroma. And it makes the best PB&J in the world. Look for Concord grapes in late summer at farmers' markets and specialty produce stores.
Fruit butter recipes
Fruit butters are purees of cooked fruit simmered with sugar until they are thick and highly concentrated. Use them any way you’d use jam.
You won’t find any spices in this peach butter, letting the fruit’s flavor shine through.
Pressure cooking shaves a ton of time off making fruit butter. There’s no processing time given in this recipe; after filling the jars, boil them in the water bath for 10 minutes.
Perked up with orange zest and juice, this recipe will put a dent in a prodigious backyard plum tree’s output.
Slow cookers transform fruit butter from a hands-on chore to hands-off ease. For canning directions, look for the last note under the recipe.
Vinegar pickle recipes
Pickles don’t take a lot of effort. Stuff the jars with prepped vegetables, boil the brine, and then it’s showtime — though you often need to let them sit a week or so for the flavors to meld before they're ready to eat. Any pickle recipe for water bath canning needs to have a vinegar brine, as the following recipes do.
When you can pickles, it’s best to use canning salt (also called pickling salt). It doesn’t contain additives that can turn brine cloudy or make pickles dark. Regular table salt is safe to use, but it may affect the quality of your pickles.
Dill pickles are a summer essential! This basic recipe offers a few variations, like hot garlic and sweet dill.
These classic sweet pickles get their trademark yellow hue from a fat pinch of turmeric.
Canning beets is pragmatic. Canning pickled beets is fun. The brine is sweet, tart, and inky magenta — irresistible.
These are the kind of pickles that tempt you to snack every time you open the fridge.
If okra’s slime factor isn’t your thing, try pickled okra. It’s a whole new ballgame. These are excellent garnishes on Bloody Marys, on the side of a big plate of barbecue, or sliced and set on top of deviled eggs.
If your garden or CSA box is issuing more jalapeños than your home can handle, pickle them for an entire year of nacho toppings.
Vegetable relishes, chutneys, and salsas
Chutneys and relishes usually have both sugar and vinegar. They require more chopping than pickles, but the payoff is versatile condiments you can enjoy year-round with burgers and hot dogs, sandwiches, and cheese plates.
Salsa recipes for canning are more acidic than fresh homemade salsa. The acid helps preserve the salsa and keeps bacteria from growing.
This recipe makes a very manageable 3 pints, still plenty for many hot dogs…or batches of egg salad, or tartar sauce!
Slightly sweet with a little crunch, corn relish is a delicious topper for grilled burgers. It’s also a fine way to enjoy summer corn harvested at its peak.
If you're faced with an excess of green tomatoes at the end of the growing season, try this. It’s like a cross between ketchup and a savory jam, and excellent on grilled cheese.
Chow chow is a “kitchen sink” relish to make at the end of the gardening season. This recipe makes a ton and offers detailed step-by-step directions.
Canned salsa calls for lots of vinegar so it’s properly safe to preserve. Canning recipes made with tomatoes can be a bit of a project — time to enlist a helper for peeling and chopping!