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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172 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.

  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.

  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). […]

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