New to Canning? Start Here: Boiling Water Bath Canning

stock pot and trivet

For years, there has been a something missing from this site and that was a post that detailed the basics of boiling water bath canning. I didn’t do it in the very beginning and then, as time went on, I felt a little embarrassed about writing that kind of post so late in the game. Whenever people would ask me for it, I would refer them to other websites. However, I’m happy to finally be filling in that gap with this post here today.

pot with trivet inside

So, a little disclaimer to start out with. I’m going to detail my particular canning workflow. This might not be exactly how you do it in your kitchen and that’s okay. We all find ways to make it work with the tools, equipment and space that we have. In the end, the most important things are that you get your jars hot, that you fill them to the proper headspace, and that you process them for the amount of time prescribed by your recipe. There’s a good deal of flexibility in the rest of the details.

filled with jars

As I mentioned in the first post in this series, any pot can be your canning pot as long as it’s tall enough to hold a rack and your jars, and that it allows the jars to be fully submerged in the water. I like this one, but the best pot to use is the one already in your kitchen. Once you’ve picked out your pot, position a rack in the bottom. I have a silicone trivet pictured here, but any round rack, collection of old canning jar rings or a hand towel will work. Then put your jars in the pot.

filling with water

Then, fill up the jars and pot with water. I like to use the hottest tap water available, as it speeds up the boiling process a bit to start.

all filled up

It’s a little hard to see in this picture, but at this point, I only fill the pot enough to just barely cover the tallest jar I’m using. This should be more than enough water for the processing stage, because once you lower your filled jars in the pot, they will displace enough water to sufficiently cover the jars (sometimes, you need to remove a little water from the pot to prevent overflow. If this becomes necessary, use something heatproof, like a Pyrex measuring cup so that you don’t burn yourself).

white vinegar

It is always a good idea to pour a generous glug of white vinegar into your canning pot before you start heating it. This will prevent any minerals present in your water from depositing on your canning pot or jars. I don’t live in a place with particularly hard water, but I still do this because it keeps my pot in good shape and makes it easier to clean.

canning pot on stove

Now the pot is ready to go on the stove an come to a boil. I do all of this before I ever apply heat to my preserves. That way, the canning pot has a head start on my product and the jars will be nice and hot when I’m ready to use them.

lids

Here’s where my practice diverges a little from what the  canning books will tell you. Almost all instructions (even those printed in my cookbook), will instruct you to take out a small saucepan, place the lids in it, cover them with water and bring it to a very gentle simmer. While this is good in theory (you don’t want to over soften the sealing compound), I rarely do it in practice.

Instead, I watch my heating canning pot. When it reaches a boil, I turn it down to a simmer and drop my lids in. Everything stays nice and hot until I need to use it. The sealing compound gets to the perfect level of softness and I am a happy canner.

removing hot jars

When the product is ready to go into the jars, I slide the canning pot off the heat and pull out the jars with a handy jar lifter. Just a note: These jars are hot, but not sterilized, because I turn the heat down to a simmer as soon as the pot boils. This works because the filled jars get boiled for at least ten minutes (and often longer) during the processing step.

However, if your recipe calls for a processing time that is shorter than ten minutes, you either need to increase the processing time to ten minutes, or you need to actively boil your jars for at least ten minutes before filled, to ensure you have sterilized jars.

ready to fill

Now you fill up your jars.

filled jars

Before applying the lids and rings, wipe the rims with a damp paper towel (I use the hot water from the canning pot as my dampening water, as the heat helps remove any stubborn sticky spots). Then, center a lid on each jar and secure it with a ring. Don’t over tighten the rings, because there needs to be enough space for the oxygen in the jars to escape. The term for this level of tightening is called “finger tip tight” meaning that you only tighten as much as you can with the tips of your fingers. I always tell my canning students that you turn just until the ring meets resistance.

processing

Once all the jars have lids and rings, lower them into your canning pot. Make sure the jars are fully submerged and are covered with about an inch of water (you need that much to ensure that they won’t become exposed during boiling). Turn the burner to high. When the pot returns to a boil, set a a timer to the prescribed amount of processing time. You do want to maintain an active boil throughout the processing of the jars, but make sure you control your boil. If the pot is madly rolling, the chances that you will burn yourself increase. Turn it down a little, to minimize splashing and injury.

removing finished jars

When time is up, turn off the heat. If you have an electric stove that stays hot for a while, slide the pot off the burner. You don’t want the water to be rolling when you reach in with your jar lifter. Then, lift your jars out of the pot and place them on a folded kitchen towel to cool (if you have countertops made from marble, granite, stainless steel or some other surface that stays cool, the towel is really important so that you don’t shock your jars).

all done

Once the jars are out of the canner, leave them alone and let them cool. Hopefully, you’ll hear a symphony of popping and pinging lids. This is good, it means that the seals are being formed. However, don’t freak out if you don’t hear those noises. Jars sometimes seal slowly and quietly. Once the jars are cool enough to handle, remove the rings and test the seals by holding onto the edges of the lids and lifting up an inch or two. If the lids hold fast, the seals are good.

Sealed jars should be stored in a cool, dark place without the rings. If the jars are at all sticky after processing, make sure to wash them before you put them away. Any sticky residue can attracts ants and other pests, so make sure your jars are squeaky clean.

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229 Responses to New to Canning? Start Here: Boiling Water Bath Canning

  1. 101
    OMG!!! says:

    I have been pressure canning for a couple of years and just got my first nasty steam burn last night. I am currently trying your water bath method right now with some applesauce and I am hopeful for safer results!! Thank you for weeding out the “unnecessary” information and focusing on the more important stuff when it comes to all the steps of the canning process.

    • 101.1
      Marisa says:

      So glad to help! Sorry about the burn, though. That sucks!

    • 101.2
      dianne says:

      can you tell me if our pan does not cover the jar all the way with water. Can we put them on their side. Or do they HAVE to be covered with water. We used small jars the first time. Turned out great. Out of small jars. have only larger jars. Don’t want to buy anymore.

      • Marisa says:

        You need to have a pot deep enough to have the jars be fully upright and submerged. They will not vent properly if processed on their sides.

  2. 102

    […] While the tomatoes are simmering, prepare and sterilize jars for canning- I use this website for instructions: http://foodinjars.com/2013/07/new-to-canning-start-here-boiling-water-bath-canning/ […]

  3. 103
    sammy says:

    Hi, I’m hoping you can help. I have been canning jam using two piece lids and occasionally one will come out of the water bath having sucked in a bit of water. Sometimes they seal and sometimes they dont, but obviously the jam is ruined in either case.

    What causes this? I can find a lot of info on jars shooting product into the water bath (siphoning) but in this case it’s just pulling in water, nothing seems to be going out–no food on the rim or in the bath and headspace remains the same, but now with water where some or all the air should be.

    • 103.1
      Marisa says:

      The only way that the jars could be taking on water is if you’re not tightening the rings tightly enough. Try turning them a bit more.

  4. 104
    BBYanclan says:

    Oops, I made jars of jam 2 days ago but forgot to place them in the water bath. Is it too late?

  5. 105
    Anna L says:

    Thank you for this site! What a help for a new-to-canning cook. I have a canning lid question. I am new to food in jars and made my first batch of raspberry jam yesterday. Because I wasn’t sure how many jars would be filled by the recipe I prepared a couple extra jars and lids which I did not use. The jars I know I can sterilize and use but the lids i’m not sure about. I did heat up the lids in a simmering water bath but never applied them to a jar and never boiled them in a water bath. Can they be reheated and used for my next batch? Thanks in advance.

    • 105.1
      Marisa says:

      Yes, you can still use the lids you prepped but did not use.

      • Patty says:

        I reuse my used lids all the time. I do throw out any damaged ones after a difficult jar opening but since I discovered you can use lids over and over again I am a little more careful about opening my jars. Reusing your lids is a real money saver too.

  6. 106

    […] Prep 1-1/2 pints’ worth of jars for boiling-water canning (if you need a refresher, see Marisa’s step-by-step guide). […]

  7. 107
    Lauren says:

    Hi, I have a VERY beginner question. Why do you have to put either a rack, trivet, towel, etc in the bottom of the pot? Will it ruin the jars to have them sitting directly on the bottom of the pot? Thanks in advance!

    • 107.1
      Marisa says:

      You use a rack to prevent breakage and to allow the water to better circulate around the jars!

  8. 108
    Lisa says:

    Thanks for all the great information! Why should you store your sealed jars without the rings? I am assuming this is a very beginner’s question, but never knew this before. Thanks for your answer!

    Lisa

  9. 109

    After taking tomatoes out of the hot bath, they have the fruit on the top and about 2 to 3 inches of water at the bottom of the jar.
    Is this the way it is supposed to look?
    It looks like the water has been cooked out of the tomatoes and settled to the bottom.
    Will the recombine, or do I need to do something different?
    Thank you

  10. 110
    Al Schritter says:

    Where may I get a trivet, like the one you show in here.

    Thanks
    Al

  11. 111
    Mary White says:

    When I am dill pickles I pack the the jars as full as I can however after processing they seem to have floated up and I have about half an inch of juice at the bottom of the jar. What am I doing wrong?

    • 111.1
      Marisa says:

      You’re not doing anything wrong. Try using regular mouth jars, as the shoulders of the jars help keep the cucumbers below the brine level.

  12. 112
    Mary White says:

    I have had instances where my pickles are not crisp. In reading online articles it is suggested when this is the problem they have been processed too long. When water bath canning at what point does the processing time begin? Is there a certain temperature to use as a guide?

    • 112.1
      Marisa says:

      Keeping cucumber pickles crisp is a challenge. The processing time begins once the water returns to a boil. I tend to do cucumber pickles as refrigerator pickles these days to retain crispness.

      • Angela says:

        Someone told me this week when I was talking about maybe doing pickles, she told me if I can find a grape leaf to put it in each jar that something in the grape leaf keeps pickles crisp

  13. 113
    Ingrid M says:

    Hey,

    I’m new to canning and I thought I knew what I was doing and apparently, I might have just messed up my entire batch. I thought that the seal had taken once I could no longer press down on the lid. So, to remedy it I put my jar back into the water bath. Some jars took 3 attempts to get the lid so that I could no longer push down on it. Does this mean I possibly ruined the contents of that jar? I am doing dilly beans and pickles. Thanks

    • 113.1
      Marisa says:

      The texture of those pickles is probably pretty terrible if you’ve been processing them over and over again. Are you letting them cool for at least 12 hours before reprocessing? You need to let the jars cool completely before testing the seals.

      • Ingrid M says:

        Darn. No I didn’t wait. I just put them back in the water. Is the only way to test the seal is by taking off the band and seeing if the metal stays? Otherwise, do I just assume that the seal took until I test it? If it didn’t hold, do I just refrigerate? Thanks so much!

        • Marisa says:

          You need to let the jars cool fully before testing the seals. They only seal during the cooling process. Once the jars are fully cooled, you remove the bands to test the seals. If the jars didn’t seal, you just pop them into the fridge and use the contents within a month or so.

  14. 114
    karen says:

    i never knew you could reprosess the jars that never sealed. About how long do they keep if you don’t get them to seal properly?

  15. 115
    Jesse S says:

    I am new to canning and am going to try to avoid asking you if my pickles are safe because I know you can’t tell me, but I do have questions. I grew my own cucumbers and decided to make pickles (both garlic dill and bread and butter) based on recipes from your book ‘Food In Jars’. I used Ball pint jars and a regular stock pot with jar rings as my rack. I used Bragg’s apple cider vinegar and added raw garlic and fresh dill to the first batch and raw bell pepper and onion to the second. I processed them both the same, by pouring the boiling liquid (50/50 water and vin. + sugar added to the bread and butter pickle solution) into the jars on top of the raw vegetables. Some how I missed the part in your recipe about boiling the veg for the bread and butter pickles. I also did the same processing time for all- 5 min. boil. Some of the jars sealed right away, some took a while and a few still had a bump in the center of the lid. When I pushed the bump in, it clicked and did not pop back. I removed the rings 24hrs later and they passed the lid test. Some jars have contents completely covered with liquid while a few seem a bit low. Now, I know you can’t tell me if they are safe or not, but I am getting more worried with every article I read about botulism. Is it true that you can’t always see/smell if something is wrong and you’re better off trashing everything if you have any doubt?! Thanks so much for your time, and the great book/blog. I really would like to continue to can, but the fear might be getting the best of me.

    • 115.1
      Jesse S says:

      Ugh! I’m sorry, I just read a post of yours saying that botulism will not form in pickles due to the acid! Still, any words of advice you may have for me personally would be greatly appreciated!

    • 115.2
      Marisa says:

      Botulism cannot grow in high acid environments. You’ve submerged all those low acid vegetables in a high acid environment, so there’s no risk of botulism in this case. However, you should really stick with the recipes as written until you better understand what makes a recipe safe or not safe.

  16. 116
    Monet says:

    Help! I’m making jam for my wedding favors, and I’m using 2 oz food grade jars. The lids are one piece — no ring, no seal-lid. I’m having trouble getting them to seal… or else I can’t tell if they’re sealed. The lids don’t have mu ch give when I tested one on a jar right out of the box. I made sure my rims were wiped clean. Is it possible the lids weren’t hot enough?

    • 116.1
      Marisa says:

      Do the lids look even a little bit concave? If so, then they’re probably sealed. Beyond that, I really can’t help here.

  17. 117
    Jean says:

    I am relatively new to canning, other than pickles. I am making jam and wondering if I can wait until the end if the day to actually do the canning–the contents of the jars will have cooled before I put them in the water bath. Is that okay? Thanks!!

  18. 118
    Shane says:

    Can you put only 1 or 2 jars in your pot at a time, or does it need to be a full set?

  19. 119
    Tori says:

    I’ve been canning for a few years, and have never done the dumb thing I did today. I had just put a batch of candied jalapenos in their jars and lowered them into their water bath when I had company show up. We went into another part of the house after the water came to a boil and I started to set my timer, got distracted and forgot about the timer and the peppers until company left – an hour later! I can’t tell just by looking at the peppers in the jar, but do you think I just ruined three pounds of beautiful, home grown jalapenos or do you think they will survive 50 extra minutes of a boiling water bath? Are there any health concerns with over processing like this? Or is the biggest worry mushy peppers?

    Thanks, love your site!

  20. 120
    Frances says:

    I followed your canning method to can my apricot jam. I wasn’t around to hear the ‘ping’ after I removed the jars from the boiled water, but when I came back a few hours later, they had all depressed/sealed! *Thumbs-up* Thanks for writing this guide! I also mentioned this blog article in my post about apricot jam here: http://frances.menu/apricot-jam/

    Can’t wait to can something else!

  21. 121
    Nancy Armour says:

    My water in the pot boiled dry and my jars are stuck in the pot. What can I do to get them out? I made catsup.

  22. 122
    Tiffany says:

    I have a question. I am new to canning. And I thought cover the jars with the 1 to 2 inches of water meant the bottom of jar not literally over the top. Are my items that I have canned ruined ?

  23. 123
    Coby says:

    New to canning. Want to can a ginger-garlic sauce (also has other ingredients). Which method is the best – boiling water bath, pressure canner or some other method? Thanks!

    • 123.1
      Marisa says:

      If the acid levels have not been checked, it will probably need to be pressure canned. The best approach is to find some similar recipes and see what the recommended technique is.

  24. 124
    Kayla says:

    Hi, I just started canning jam this summer and your post has been very helpful!! However today when I was removing a jar it slipped a couple times (I have been using tongs because I am at a remote cabin for the summer and cannot get to a shop). When I finally pulled it out of the water and put in on the towel, it made a sputtering sound like air or water was escaping from under the rim. There was some jam around the rim of the jar that wasn’t there before placing it in the bath. I was heating up a second jar ready to transfer the jam and try again when I heard it pop! Do you know if it has been safely sealed? Or should I put this jar in the fridge?

    • 124.1
      Marisa says:

      That sputtering sound is entirely normal for a jar freshly removed from the canner. As long as it sealed, it is fine.

  25. 125

    […] found an incredibly helpful website called Food In Jars, with a superb tutorial for boiling water bath canning. The plethora of recipes is also a huge plus and I have definitely bookmarked it to peruse […]

  26. 126
    Jen F says:

    Hello! This information on your site is very helpful but I do have a question that I cannot seem to find an answer to anywhere on the Internet and am hoping you can help!!

    I have been canning for a couple years now and never have any problems. Today one of my jar of tomato sauce broke while in the water bath. Of course I freaked out and got all the jars out, emptied the water and replaced with new water. Now my questions is.. The jars were only in for about 5-8 minutes and they seem to have sealed while I was waiting for the water to come up to temp. Do I reprocess the good jars since they were not in the water bath for the required time or do I let them be since they did seal? I don’t want to break anymore jars or ruin anymore sauce.
    Thanks!!

    • 126.1
      Marisa says:

      So sorry to hear that your jar broke. It just happens sometimes. They other jars still need the full amount of time in the boiling water bath. The processing time isn’t just about getting a good seal, but also about ensuring that you’ve killed off any bacteria present.

  27. 127
    Marje says:

    I lost track of time and over-boiled my tomatoes…..will this cause problems?

  28. 128
    Kayla says:

    What happens if you forget about the cans you put in the boiling water. Are the contents still ok. In my case I put my pickles in at just under a boil and forgot about them for about 40 minutes.

    • 128.1
      Marisa says:

      Your pickles are probably going to be a little bit soggy after all that time in the canner. They won’t be unsafe, but they might not taste great.

  29. 129
    Paul says:

    One: there was one jar I didn’t prepare the canning method that just sealed itself; all I did was poor hot tomato sauce in it because I was gonna use that immediately. What happened?

    Two I took the lid off to because I the seal would pop up and down; after I sealed the fastening lid back on, the seal flattened(it didn’t pop anymore).

    Three: I didn’t use citric acid with plum tomatoes. Is that bad???

    Four:how do you reprocess if you didn’t achieve a seal the first time?
    I am doing tomato sauces.

    thanks

    • 129.1
      Marisa says:

      1. Jars can seal whether or not you do the processing step. However, the processing step sterilizes the jars and the contents, and so without it, the contents may not last long.

      2. I don’t totally understand the problem.

      3. Yes. You need to use citric acid or lemon juice.

      4. You’ll need to open up the jars, reheat the sauce, refill the jars, and process again using new lids.

  30. 130
    Sherree says:

    Good Day Marisa
    I have made jams in the past and not done the hot water baths after making the jam and I have heard that pop sound of the lids sealing. What is the difference in doing the hot water baths or not?
    Also I have found some small jam jars that have the lids as one piece. Are they as effective as the ones with the 2 piece lids? I am thinking that they should be as long as they seal like the others?

    • 130.1
      Marisa says:

      The boiling water bath helps create a stronger seal than you get without it, and it provides a sterilization step that enables the jam to last longer.

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