Canning 101: What to do When a Jar Breaks in the Canner

broken jar

At 11 p.m. last night, I was in my kitchen doggedly trying to complete the canning project I’d started hours before. I’d made stock from a turkey carcass a friend had given me (knowing that I didn’t get a chance to roast a bird, this friend froze his remains for me after all the meat was picked away. I know such good people) and was nearing the end of the process. The stock was strained, defatted, funneled into jars and in the pressure canner when tragedy struck. A jar broke.

I had just put the lid on the pressure canner and was venting it before beginning to raise the pressure when I heard a quiet snap. Though it doesn’t happen to me often, the sound that a jar makes as it cracks is etched into my kitchen existence and I recognized it immediately.

After a few choice expletives (my grandma Bunny called it “work language” and would have certainly approved its use in this circumstance), I pulled the lid off the pot and surveyed the scene. The stock from the broken jar was draining out into the canner and there were several chunks of floating glass. I pulled the good jars and set them on a cutting board (wood is always better in this situation than cold countertops made from granite, marble, steel or even formica). Using tongs, I fished the broken pieces out of the pot. Lifting the pot off the stove, I poured its contents into the sink, rinsed the pot and replaced the necessary water with the hottest my tap could produce.

The pot went back on the stove over the highest heat possible with the lid on. My goal was to raise the temperature of the water back to near-boiling level as quickly as possible, so that my hot jars of stock didn’t have a chance to cool down too much before I was able to put them back in the pot. However, I didn’t want to put them back in before the water had a chance to heat a bit more, since I know that my hot tap water tends to be around 180 degrees and those jars were hovering right around the boiling point. The last thing I wanted to deal with was more broken jars.

When the water was nearly at a boil, I returned the five remaining quarts of stock to the pot and began the process of venting, pressurizing and then monitoring the pressure. It was after 12:30 a.m. when the processing time was up. I was grateful to be able to simply leave the canner to depressurize and cool on its own and headed to bed.

There are important things to be learned from this experience. Here’s what I think the key points are:

  • It’s vital to stay around your stove when canning, particularly in the beginning of the process. Had I strayed a few feet further from the canner, I might not have heard the crack of the jar and wouldn’t have known there was an issue until much later. This is particularly important when pressure canning, because a broken jar can turn into a projectile in the hot, volatile environment of the pot and damage the remaining jars. It also leaked all the stock out into the pot, which drastically changed my carefully controlled liquid level and could have caused issues during processing.
  • Don’t freak out when a jar breaks. Take a moment and a deep breath. You’re already dealing with boiling water and broken glass, don’t add frenzied behavior to the mix.
  • Use your head. Plot out how you’re going to tackle the mess before you start moving pots. You don’t want to be left holding a pot of heavy, boiling water without knowing where it’s going to land.
  • Get the broken glass out of the pot as soon as it is practical. This is particularly key when it comes to pressure canning, but it’s always a good idea. You run an increased risk of more broken jars if you leave it in there to bang around and it may also break into smaller shards. That turns clean-up into even more of a chore. However, if you’re doing a standard boiling water bath and it’s nearly done, you can let it go to completion and deal with the clean-up once the other jars are finished.
  • If you have to temporarily remove full jars from the pot before processing is finished, remember to take care with them. Protect them from heat shock by placing them on a wooden cutting board or towel-lined countertop. If your process was curtailed half way through, know that you’ll have to start your timer from the beginning when you return the jars to the canner.
  • Always look closely at your jars before starting a canning project. In this case, I was using older jars that had already taken a couple of trips through the pressure canner in their life with me. That jar’s lifespan was probably just nearing its end.

Now that you’ve heard my tale of woe, let’s hear your stories of canning misfortune. Have you had a jar break? How did you handle it?

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71 Responses to Canning 101: What to do When a Jar Breaks in the Canner

  1. 51
    Judy Cassidy says:

    Hi, I am very frustrated!! My husband bought me a new stainless stell anner last year, which I used for canning quart tamoes, not a problem. This year I am canning cherries and out of 15 qarts 4 broke while in the canning process, I checked to see if he wire rack was to close to the bottom of the canner but it has little legs to keep it up. Is my water to hot? I am using propayne heat. Never been a problem in the past. One jar I can deal with but 4!!!!! Something is not right. Any ideas???

    • 51.1
      Marisa says:

      Judy, it sounds like the issue is with your jars. There’s no way for the water to get too hot for canning, as water boils at 212 degrees and can’t get any higher. Are you using old jars? Or, are you putting cool-ish jars into a boiling pot? Whatever the reason, I believe it’s simply a fluke, as from your description, it doesn’t sound like you’re doing anything wrong.

  2. 52
    Josiah says:

    Just now tonight we filled our jars that were warmed in a pot of hot water, filled them with brine and cucumbers and placed them in the water bath while it was building up to a boil. We then lower the rack into the bath once we had filled all of our jars. The water soon was boiling.

    We heard the pop and one broke, 5 minutes later another broke. Two quarts out of seven broke and these were new preheat heated in hot water jars with hot brine in them so i don’t think temperature change was an issue.

    Any thoughts?

    I was really bummed because my wife and i put a lot of work into those two quart LOL

    • 52.1
      Marisa says:

      Are the jars new or old? If they’re new, I’d recommend contacting the manufacturer, as you should not be experiencing that kind of breakage. If they’re old, I recommend more carefully checking the interior of the jars for scratching and crazing. That can lead to breakage.

    • 52.2
      Heidi Gogins says:

      Hi,

      I was making squash pickles today and one of the pint jars broke in the canner. Since these were new jars that I preheated and filled hot, I think what caused the one jar to break was packing the sliced squash a little too tight in it. Any thoughts on that?

      • Marisa says:

        Heidi, sometimes jars just break. It could be that there was a flaw in the jar that led to the breakage. I don’t think it’s because you overfilled the jars.

  3. 53
    K. Zelenak says:

    I had a jar break tonight while canning tomatoes. Instead of pouring out the hot water from the water bath canner into the sink, I used that water to keep my tomatoes jars warm.

  4. 54
    Erin says:

    I had my first cracked jar tonight, I had quarts of peaches in and when I removed them a jar had a huge crack along the side, and of course that jar popped down and it was a race to unseal it before the pressure from the crack created a mini glass and peach explosion. Brand new jar too, what happened? And, we just have a cracked jar, no shattered glass, is it safe to eat the peaches tomorrow if I throw them in the fridge overnight?

    • 54.1
      Marisa says:

      As long as you can be certain that there are no glass shards in your peaches, they should be safe to eat if refrigerated. Sometimes jars just break.

  5. 55
    ellen says:

    Oh boy. Put the last quart of applesauce in my boiling water caner and heard that awful”ploofpt” explosion. Yep. A jar broke. The whole bottom fell out. I grabbed my jar lifter and pulled the remaining part of the jar out. I couldn’t get deep enough with my tools to fish the broken bottom out, so I just let the rest of the applesauce process for 25 minutes. Is there any chance that some teensy particle of glass could get into the applesauce of those jars?

  6. 56

    Thanks for posting this, Marisa.

    I had a jar blow out the bottom today making my favourite canning recipe once again — your Plums in Honey ( http://foodinjars.com/2009/09/blackberry-winner-plums-in-honey/ )

    I don’t know if the shock of the one jar breaking also damaged the other jars, but they have tiny cracks all the way down the sides of them. My plan is that once they’ve cooled I’ll move them to jars in the fridge and assume they’re not shelf stable.

    Argggh. Super frustrating, but really helpful to know that it’s not just me that’s ever had this problem!

  7. 57
    jean says:

    does it compromise other jars if 1 exploded in canner and I didnt know it until I got them out. I made jalapeno mustard, the jare was shattered just worried the particles got in my other jars

  8. 58
    Marlee says:

    I think there has been some bad jars being made lately..I had a brand new case of BALL quarts and had one break on me…ruined my canning rack…luckily the store replaced the whole case of jars so that made me feel better about the situation. I was surprised about the jar breaking though since it was a brand new one!

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