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

  1. 51
    Giusepepe says:

    Im new to canning and made my first batch of Jalapeno jelly after following your processing method. I would like to ask a question re my processed jars after they have cooled and sealed properly, I noticed droplets of water hanging in the lids while i was inspecting the jars. I would just like to know if they are still safe to consume? i warmed the lids before putting them on — am i doing something wrong with my processing the jars?

  2. 52

    […] and pour into containers. Store in the fridge or freezer. I got hardcore and canned it. Marisa has an amazing set of instructions for boiling water canning. She is the Yoda of all things preserved & pickled. This marmalade needs to process for 10 […]

  3. 53
    Robin says:

    Hi! I made some pepper jelly recently and as I poured the jelly into the sterilized jars and added the lids, one of the jars actually sealed up right away – I heard the ping of the lid and it was no longer popped up. I just put that one in the fridge right away without processing it, figured I made a mistake, but would I even need to process it since it seemed to seal up on its own? Is it possible they can seal before the water bath?

    • 53.1
      Marisa says:

      If both the jars and the product are piping hot, jars can absolutely seal right away without processing. However, it’s not a particularly strong seal and you can still process the jars in the water bath to ensure a fully sterilized product. They’ll unseal in the canner and then seal again once you take them out. The water bath will give you an optimum seal and does the job of killing off any bacteria present.

  4. 54

    […] to do sometimes. I sat down and read everything about canning in my Joy of Cooking, and read up on boiling water canning on Food in Jars. This was also supplemented by what Marisa (A’s mom) told me, namely that per her […]

  5. 55
    Mea says:

    Thanks for this information! I was looking up recipes for refrigerator pickles and kept seeing “seal in a water bath” at the end of the recipes. That confused me because that sounded like canning- which seems VERY intimidating!! but canned items last longer so I kept an open mind. This really makes it seem less scary.

  6. 56
    Mea says:

    OH! I wish there was a way to upload directly to pinterest so I can have this information at my fingertip!!

  7. 57
    Lori says:

    I wish I had found your website/blog before I made jam!! Yesterday I made loquat jam and followed a recipe I found online. It did not call for water bath processing after canning. I ended up putting them in the frig (about 5 hrs after cooking and canning) because now I’m concerned about using them. How long will they last if refrigerated?

  8. 58

    […] you have a big “spaghetti” size pot, you are good to go!!  New to canning go here or here to see directions or check […]

  9. 59

    […] have to be sterilized before filling. They just need to be clean and hot. The boiling water bath will serve as the sterilization step just […]

  10. 60

    […] water bath process the jars for 10 mins and allow to cool. Here’s a very practical guide to the boiling water bath process if you’re unsure what to […]

  11. 61
    Jeanette says:

    I submerged my strawberry jam in the boiling water to process, and noticed bubbles coming out from the jars. I guess I will know in a few minutes if water seeped inside. I hadn’t realized that you can’t reuse the canning snap lids!

    • 61.1
      Marisa says:

      It is normal to see bubbles escape from the jars when you first put them in the water. It’s actually something you want to see!

      • Stacy says:

        Thank you!!! Tonight was my first canning experience ever, using your directions, which are SUPERB!!! Placed my jars on old canning rings, which worked, but some of my jars kept tipping over (hope that is ok?)…I just kept standing them back up using tongs.

        I noticed the bubbles also and quickly grabbed them out, tightened, put them back in and still a few bubbles came up to the surface…so glad you answered this question and that it’s a good thing :)

  12. 62
    Murri says:

    I just made watermelon jam for the first time and the recipe said it would yield 10 half pints and I only got 5 half pints and I followed everything exactly like the recipe what could have happened

    • 62.1
      Marisa says:

      I have no idea. Maybe the watermelon you used had less water content?

    • 62.2
      michelle says:

      Just remember, when ever you cook before canning or putting in a jar, you product will always cook down. I thought the same thing when I first started canning, but watched a special on making jams and jellies – it will reduce by about a 3rd.

  13. 63
    Anita says:

    I made mixed berry jam today for the 1st time. I also canned for the 1st time today as well. I surprised myself and everything worked out, all my lids are sealed. Here’s my concern though, do I refrigerator the jam now or can I leave it out. The jam doesn’t seem as thick and this could be a recipe issue. I feel if I put the jam in the frig it will solidify more. Am I worrying to much? Is there anything else I need to do or did I screw up?

    • 63.1
      Marisa says:

      If you canned the jars, they don’t need to be refrigerated. The canning process makes them shelf stable. And as far as the texture goes, jam often takes a few days to thicken up. Give it some time.

  14. 64

    […] I’m still a little new at the canning process. I would not want to steer you wrong in anyway! But the recipe? The Green Tomato Salad recipe is perfection. I promise you that! The following link will take you to the method I used while canning this recipe: http://foodinjars.com/2013/07/new-to-canning-start-here-boiling-water-bath-canning/ […]

  15. 65
    Nora says:

    Could you tell me if you have to keep the lid on while the water is boiling, for the water bath? Thank you.

    • 65.1
      Marisa says:

      You don’t have to, but it does help the pot maintain a rolling boil better, because the heat is more contained.

  16. 66
    Lynne says:

    I just wondered why you store the jam without the ring?

  17. 67

    […] canning jars, as indicated by Food in Jars. Ladle the butter into the prepared jars and process in a boiling water bath for 15 […]

  18. 68

    […] if not processed in a water bath.   Use very clean and dry jars and lids.  See this post in Food In Jars for processing jars and lids to “can” this jam and a safe canning […]

  19. 69

    […] canned in a water bath which is safe, easy and doesn’t require lots of complicated equipment. Here is a great water-bath canning […]

  20. 70
    jeaneet says:

    I canned tomatoes for the first time yesterday and when I woke up today there were air bubbles in the jars… Is that normal… The bubbles sit between the tomatoes and the juice and the jars are sealed.

  21. 71

    […] Durham Seed Library. I’m still refining my pickle recipe, and hoping to score a second-hand boiling water bath canner from my in-laws’ house so I can take my food processing adventures even […]

  22. 72
    Gretchen says:

    Hi! I made apricot jam and realized I did not have lids so I put it in the jars and stuck them in the fridge. I would like to water bath them so they are shelf stable but the jam already set up nicely. Will canning them now after it has set ruin the set?

    • 72.1
      Marisa says:

      It should be okay to can them at this point. You need to empty out the jars, bring the jam to a boil and then refill the jars.

  23. 73
    Dana says:

    I was canning tomato sauce. When the boiling stopped after the water bath I noticed the water had evaporated and the jars were no longer covered. However the lids popped and sealed. Is it okay?

  24. 74

    […] included here a helpful Post that she formerly wrote, especially excellent for new users to the canning process. Patiently waiting for the peaches to ripen up a bit, picking the blackberries and preparing jam […]

  25. 75
    Adrienne says:

    hi, thank you for this! i am fairly new to canning and definitely needed these basic steps laid out for me. i just finished a batch of pickled cukes, water-bath style. two questions:

    -i totally forgot to tap out air bubbles. problematic?

    -you say to keep the processing time to five minutes because the hot water can soften the pickles. well, i did all the steps, put the jars on the rack, lowered it in, and saw all these air bubbles. i started the timer for 5 mins, then realized you meant start the timer when the water starts boiling again. but it took like another 5 full minutes (or more!) for the water to come back up to a boil. so really i processed them for like 10 mins. how exact does the time have to be? is there any chance of it being really problematic if you don’t process it for long enough? or for too long?

    thanks!

    • 75.1
      Marisa says:

      As long as the jars sealed well, the air bubbles aren’t an issue. But not removing them can lead to liquid loss.

      And you never start the timer for the processing time until the water returns to a boil. That’s why it’s important to have the water near to the boil when you put the jars in.

  26. 76
    Judy says:

    When I can tomato juice I get my jars and lids hot in boiling then I pour the juice in the jars and they seal on their own. Is this safe or do I still need to water bath them?

  27. 77
    Jeanne says:

    can honey be processed in a hot water bath?

    • 77.1
      Marisa says:

      It doesn’t need to be processed in a boiling water bath canner to be made safe. It is naturally antibacterial.

  28. 78
    Pam says:

    I just did A batch of salsa on my glass cook top. I started the ten min required processing time when the water started to boil….but it was not a “full roiling boil” which I couldn’t get to. Is this enough or should I refrigerate it? Thank you!

  29. 79
    Diane says:

    I have never hot bathed my jams as they are packed hot into hot jars. They all seal fine. But the more I read about jams and everyone seems to hot bath them I’m losing confidence that maybe I’ve been wrong. For the first time this year (out of many years) I had mold on the top of my apricot/pineapple jam. What is your advice.

  30. 80

    […] Can them: Freezing tomatoes will only preserve them for a 3-6 months. While canning is a lot more labor intensive, it will also preserve them for much, much longer. For beginners, there’s a wonderfully illustrated tutorial on canning over one Food in Jars. […]

  31. 81
    Jessi A. says:

    Hello! Just had my first apple butter and first canning experience… Once I had my jars cooling on the counter I got a little impatient, having not heard any ping’ing of the jars sealing… So I pushed on the tops slightly and they went down… and stayed down. Will me forcing the tops down get in the way of the sealing process? Do I need to reprocess or something? They are not totally cooled yet. Did I totally mess up all of my work?

  32. 82
    JustJeff says:

    I’ve just tried Canning/Preserving for the first time. I’m trying Candied Jalapenos. I’m dying to try them out, how long should I wait before I can open one of them.

  33. 83
    apryl barnes says:

    What does it mean to bring something to a hard boil?

  34. 84

    […] grandma’s grandma’s grandma used to do… look it up on the internet. I found this amazing site Food in Jars which gave me a crash course on what to […]

  35. 85
    Darlene says:

    I did not have enough mustard beans or corn relish to fill the last jar nor did I have a smaller one so I half filled the jar is this ok

    Ths

    • 85.1
      Marisa says:

      It is not ideal. There’s no way to vent all of the oxygen out of half filled jars and so they are at increased risk of spoilage.

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