Canning Equipment Basics

My favorite canning pot

One of the great things about canning is that you don’t need a whole lot of special equipment in order to do it. Yes, you can buy specialty pots, with lifting racks and the capacity for six or seven jars, but when you’re just getting started, you can get by with nothing more than a large pot, some standard kitchen tongs and your jars.

The pot you see above has been my go-to canning pot for the last few years. I bought it at a thrift store in college for $2. The lid was missing a handle so my dad made one for me with a scrap of wood he had in the garage. This pot easily holds five wide-mouth pint jars or six half pints, which is often as much as I make in a single batch of jam or pickles. The primary thing you need in your canning pot is depth, you want to be able to comfortably submerge your filled jars so that water comes within a half-inch of the top of the jar.

The next thing you need is a sturdy pair of tongs. You use these to move the sterilized jars out of the water, put the filled jars into the water bath and then remove them again after the hot water bath is finished. It’s important that your tongs are strong and dependable, as you’ll be moving hot stuff with them. If using tongs worries you (you do need to be intentional in your grip when you use tongs to move hot, filled jars), many stores also sell specialty jar lifters. I have one of these lifters, and while I appreciate the very sturdy hold it gives me, it’s a bulky, single-use tool. I find that I return to the tongs more than I do the lifter.

Beyond those two most basic tools, there are a few things you can have that make the filling of jars easier. The first is a wide-mouth funnel. This channels your jam, marmalade or tomato sauce into the jars and keeps it off your countertops. Then, depending on what I’m canning, I’ll either use a ladle (stainless steel is preferable, because it doesn’t retain flavors) or a two-cup Pyrex measuring cup to fill the jars.

The main message I want to communicate here is that to get started in home canning, you really don’t need a ton of fancy equipment. If you do a few batches of jam and determine that it’s something you really enjoy, by all means, buy the big canning pot with the rack (and if you plan on canning more than 6-8 quarts of tomatoes this summer, I would recommend it). However, you can do a lot with a deep stock or roasting pot, a pair of tongs and some jars (you can reuse the jars and rings over and over again, but you will need to buy new lids each time, they are the only single-use part of the process).

That’s it. Go forth and can!

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17 Responses to Canning Equipment Basics

  1. 1
    Carolyn says:

    Marisa, you rock! The people have spoken, and you have answered.

    Last year we wrapped the grabby ends of our tongs in rubber bands for insurance against slippage. Other than the possibility of the rubber bands breaking in the boiling water (which, to my surprise, didn’t happen) and the ghetto look and feel, is there any reason that’s not a good idea?

    Thanks!

    Carolyn, you’re so welcome! And great tip about putting rubber bands on the tongs, that is genius! I can’t think of any reason what that’s not a good solution to the jar lifting issue. -Marisa

  2. 2
    maggie (p&c) says:

    Hmm.. not sure the links for funnel etc are working. Great post, thanks for doing it!

    Thanks for catching the link problem, Maggie. They’re all updated, so things should be working now. -Marisa

  3. 3

    [...] Food in Jars added an interesting post today on Canning Equipment BasicsHere’s a small readingOne of the great things about canning is that you don’t need a whole lot of special equipment in order to do it. Yes, you can buy specialty pots, with lifting racks and the capacity for six or seven jars, but when you’re just getting started, you can get by with nothing more than a large pot, some standard kitchen tongs and your jars. The pot you see above has been my go-to canning pot for the last few years. I bought it at a thrift store in college for $2. The lid was missing a handle so my d [...]

  4. 4
    michelle says:

    Thanks so much! I must admit that I use the jar lifter tongs because my kids are usually standing by the stove waiting for the results of all of our hard work, and I would never want to splash them so I invested in the dreaded single use item. I have to brag on my boys- we were at the garden center looking at plants and they started debating what would make the best dinner- we got flowers for grandma and squash, tomatoes, cantaloupe, strawberries, beans, corn and citronella for us! Maybe we should invite you to visit/help put up our bounty this summer!!!

    Michelle, there’s nothing wrong with using the jar lifter, and if it works well for you and gives you extra peace of mind, then I say terrific! Hey, depending on where you guys live, I’d definitely be up for a Saturday canning road trip. -Marisa

  5. 5
    Laura says:

    Thanks for posting this. I’m one of those folks that have always been intimidated by canning- but this makes it seem so doable!

    Laura, I’m happy to make it feel more accessible. Let me know if you have any questions as you get started! -Marisa

  6. 6
    Kiapita says:

    You don’t get cracked jars from putting them in direct contact with the bottom of the pot, which can get hotter than boiling water? I like to use a round rack for the bottom of the pot, to put a little space between the pot and the bottom of the jar. Maybe it’s more of an issue on gas stoves.

    Kiapita, I have never had an issue with cracked jars, but you’re right, it could be a gas vs. electric kind of problem. I do know that my mother will sometimes pad the bottom of her canning pot with a kitchen towel, but in recent years, she doesn’t do that as much. -Marisa

  7. 7
    michelle says:

    Oh, Marisa…..be careful what you volunteer for!!!! Logan (who is six) has been helping with lime marmalade today and would really like for you to visit…and help him make pineapple preserves. Robert (who is 8) asked if you are pretty. He also wants to know if you have any cute daughters to bring with you!!

  8. Michelle, I do like the sound of pineapple preserves. I think you’ve got a flavor genius on your hands there. Hmm, you can tell Robert that I am pretty but sadly, I don’t yet have any cute daughters to bring with me. -Marisa

  • 8

    I, too, have a great garage sale find as a canning pot, but if you’ve been unlucky in garage sales, IKEA has great deals on super-big pots. I think I got an enormous one that’s good for canning and making stock for $19.99.

    and I got nervous about putting my jars on the bottom of the pot so I finally made myself a rack out of old canning rings, tied together with kitchen twine. a great use for those rusting and bent rings, perhaps?

    Sarah, I think that’s a great way to reuse those old rings! And you’re right, Ikea is a great source for huge pots as well. -Marisa

  • 9

    [...] And lots of references: National Center for Home Food Preservation, Ball Book of Home Preserving, Canning USA This year Ball has everything you need to get started, but really all you need are some jars and some other stuff you may already own. [...]

  • 10

    [...] you dive in, check out this refresher on canning equipment from Food in Jars, one of my favorite blogs. She’s got lots of great advice on jams and all sort of preserves, [...]

  • 11

    [...] year Ball has everything you need to get started, but really all you need are some jars and some other stuff you may already own. Leave a Comment No Comments Yet so far Leave a comment RSS feed for comments on this post. [...]

  • 12

    [...] first time canning, you’ll need some supplies, although you may be able to improvise with stuff already in your kitchen. (And if you don’t feel like diving into canning at the moment, you could always pour it into [...]

  • 13

    [...] money I’ve already put into home brewing equipment, felt like a lot for yet another hobby. But you don’t need to buy an expensive set! So I bought this $12 set from Amazon because we didn’t even have tongs yet, and I needed [...]

  • 14
    Anna says:

    I just made homemade tomato juice from our heirlooms and it is delicious. Two colanders of large tomatoes, two carrots, one celery stick, 1/2 onion, dash of coriander, salt, pepper, tsp sugar, reduced to make two jars to can and one for fridge to slurp on now.

    I use a large pot and tongs like those in the picture on this site.

    I Love Canning! Next it is on to catsup!

    • 14.1
      Marisa says:

      Anna, I hope you added something acidic to your tomato juice (or used a pressure canner), because as it is, the acidity levels are too low for boiling water bath canning.

  • 15

    I read so many websites that made canning seem super complicated and then I found this post and you talked me back into it. I put up my 1st 8 quarts of pickles today without burning myself or blowing up my jars or anything. Thank you for your great tips! :)

  • 16
    Christine says:

    Super late to the party, but thought I’d comment anyway :)
    The only thing I’m preserving right now is jams, but I don’t boil my jars, I pre-heat them in the oven. (Balancing a tray of boiling hot glass jars from the oven to the bench is always a heart-stopping moment). I do boil the lids, though, to make them sterile and hot enough to seal properly.

    Have you any opinions on this as an alternative to boiling the jars?

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