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.

Recently, the experts at Ball Canning announced that it’s no longer necessary to simmer lids prior to canning, as the Plastisol sealant doesn’t require softening. Instead, just make sure to wash your lids in warm, soapy water before applying them to filled jars. More information about this can be found here.

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, leaving the amount of headspace required by your recipe. If the recipe doesn’t tell you how much headspace to leave, go for approximately 1/2 inch. That’s typically enough for most products.

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. If your product is super sticky, a little white vinegar on the cleaning cloth will help).

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).

If you find that your product is leaking out of the jars when you pull them out of the canner, put the jars back in the water and let them cool gradually in the pot for five to ten minutes. One of the reasons that liquid loss occurs is that rapid cooling causes a powerful pressure differential that can forces product out of the jars. By letting your jars cool more slowly, you reduce the force of pressure and more product stays where you want it.

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

  1. 151
    Hadia says:

    Hi there. When canning with 125 ml jars, am I able to stack the jars in my canning pot for processing?

    • 151.1
      Marisa says:

      Yes. The easiest way to do it is to perch a flat, round rack on top of the first layer of jars. However, if you don’t have one, you can carefully set the jars on top of the first layer. Just make sure that all the jars are fully submerged.

  2. 152
    Lisa says:

    “Sealed jars should be stored in a cool, dark place without the rings”

    Sorry, without the rings? How come?

  3. 153
    alex says:

    Have you tried canning in an 8 qt pot? how many jars do you think it could handle?

  4. 154
    Julie says:

    What a coincidence I’m new to canning! 😄(Lol) but I have a few questions on what would not be safe to can. I’m mailing a package from US to the UK. It would take about 2 weeks for them to receive my package. I have been reading and noticed that there are a bit of nay to “Cake in the Jar recip” although I want to put brownie squares in the jars and seal it, would it still be safe?
    Also would it be safe to put homemade rice crispies (the cereal and marshmallows), and chocolates?
    Sorry for the long comment! Thanks!

    • 154.1
      Marisa says:

      You don’t want to seal baked goods in jars. It’s just not safe. I’d opt for a plastic container or a tin.

  5. 155
    Krassie says:

    I didn’t know about this step, totally new to canning. 3 of my jars, the tops I can push up and down, the rest of them I can’t. I’m assuming those are the ones that are sealed? Can I do this water bath after the fact, like 3 days later? It’s fruit preserves. Or should I open them, put the preserves in a pan and heat it up to boiling again and do it the right way?

    • 155.1
      Marisa says:

      If the tops of the jars wiggle, it means that they did not seal. If you want them to be shelf stable, you need to open up the jars, reheat the contents, warm the jars, and process them correctly.

  6. 156
    David says:

    Do really need a rack for canning or can you just put the jars straight into the pot?

  7. 157
    Kadee says:

    I just did my first canning project, and it was so much fun. The recipe I made filled more jars than I could process at once, and this is where I have a question. Last time, I boiled the jars, pulled them out, filled them with the hot jelly, put lids on, rings on, and put them back in the pot. Once it came to a boil, I let it go for 10 minutes, turned it off and let it sit for 5, and then took the jars out. Then, I put more jars into boil, then reheated the rest of the jelly to a boil, then completed the rest of the jars.

    I want to make more, but here’s my question, can I fill more jars than I can process at once, and let some sit for 15-20 minutes while the first batch boils? Or do I need to put them in to process immediately after I fill them, and fill them in two stages the way I did the first time?

    • 157.1
      Marisa says:

      Filling them in stages like you did is better. Though ideally, you’d have a canning pot big enough for the whole batch to process at once.

  8. 158
    Mae says:

    I have been giving my sealed jars a hot bath to sterilize after filling them with marmalade. However in many of them water has seeped in. Is this normal? How do I totally prevent this?

    • 158.1
      Marisa says:

      The water isn’t seeping it. It’s a little bit of water that has separated out from the marmalade. It should integrate back into the product within a few days.

  9. 159
    becky says:

    Used your recipe and steps for my first tomatoes salsa canning adventure. It worked like a charm and was so much fun. Question: after sealed jars cool, is it OK that the rings are loose?

  10. 160
    Robanero says:

    So.. I’ve always had this question about the boiling water bath. I like to make hot sauce and many recipes call for boiling the ingredients for a minimum of 20 minutes. Is it safe to skip that step and go straight from blender to canning if I leave the jars in the boiling water bath for 20 minutes?

  11. 161
    Jenny M-W says:

    Are the rings of the small jars slightly tough the outside of the pot to help them stay balanced? I have some trouble with jars tipping over. Or is that my rack or too strong of a boil?

    • 161.1
      Marisa says:

      It could be that the holes in your rack are too big. Typically when I do a boiling water bath process, I choose a pot small enough so that jars just fit, so that they’ll easily stay upright. It’s okay if the jars touch one another. You can also always use a couple empty jars to fill the space if you don’t have enough full jars.

  12. 162
    Debi O says:

    I made a large batch of clam chowder and used a water bath canning method to can the leftovers. Is this going to be safe to eat? If not, can I freeze clam chowder?

    • 162.1
      Marisa says:

      Nope. It’s never safe to use a water bath to preserve low acid foods like chowder. There’s no amount of time during which this could be a safe way to preserve that chowder. I would recommend that you throw it away.

  13. 163

    […] the mean time, you can find out more about boiling water bathing here or here or this home food preserving safety expert site. I will edit this one day with my own […]

  14. 164
    Jay says:

    Hi! Looking forward to canning fresh cukes this summer into garlic pickles. Thanks for all the info. Question: you mention a dish towel can be used for the rack in the processing pan. Would a white cotton wash cloth be acceptable to use as the rack? Thanks so much!

  15. 165
    Irene R. says:

    What would happen if I left the water boiling in the canner for more than the recommended 10 minutes? Or if I left the jars in the water more than 5 minutes after removing the cover?

    • 165.1
      Marisa says:

      It’s going to be the end of the world. However, longer times in the canner can impact the texture of pickles.

  16. 166
  17. 167
    Cindy says:

    I made peach jam in pint size jars. They didn’t completely set. The jam is thick but there’s still movement in the jars. Is this okay or should i do another water bath. How long do you need for a water bath using pint size jars?

    • 167.1
      Marisa says:

      Set doesn’t typically have anything to do with the boiling water bath process. Typically, jams packed in pints are processed for 10 minutes. If you live more than 1,000 feet in elevation, you need to increase your processing time.

  18. 168
    Barbara says:

    is it ok to give water bath after the jars are beginning to seal?

    • 168.1
      Marisa says:

      You really want to get them into the canner before they start to seal.

      • Meeshell says:

        I made 24 jars of blackberry jam yesterday without processing them in a water bath. All jars have sealed, but I am concerned that I did not process in the water bath. Do I have to empty all jars, wash and heat the jars, reheat the jam/contents back to boiling and then but the jam back in the hot jars with new lids? Or, can I just put the sealed jars of jam in a water bath for 10 minutes?

  19. 169
    Deanna says:

    I made some pickles today with the canning process that my grandmother uses. She packs the sliced cucumbers in the jar, then adds the boiling brine, making sure there are no air bubbles. The jars were sterilized in the dishwasher, and the lids and rings were in a pot of boiling, then simmering water. The lids and rings were put on immediately after wiping down the top of the jar, one at a time. They have all sealed. She said that she has never used a water bath with this process, and as long as they are sealed they are okay. Can I go back and do a water bath if they are already sealed, if it’s within 24 hours of canning them? Are they not considered safe to eat with the process I described?

    • 169.1
      Marisa says:

      Once they have sealed, you cannot go back and process the jars. The technique you used is not the recommended one, but as pickles are high in acid, if they go bad, the worst that will happen is that they will get moldy or funky. You won’t have any truly dangerous spoilage.

  20. 170
    Pam says:

    I made jams from your “Preserving by the Pint” book yesterday (which is amazing BTW! LOVE 2 jar recipes ♡). I realized as I was falling asleep that I forgot to bubble the jams though. I’ve done them all in 125 ml jars and they all have good seals with proper heads pace, but there are definitely small bubbles throughout the jars. Wondering how concerned I should be…thoughts?

    • 170.1
      Marisa says:

      No need to be at all concerned. We bubble jars more to help prevent siphoning during the canning process. As long as the seals are good and you did the canning process for the proper amount of time, all is well.

  21. 171
    Christian says:

    Why do you need to cover the jars with water? If you used only an inch or two of water, wouldn’t the steam of the boiling water be able do get the job done?

  22. 172
    Chelsea says:

    I made some chopped tomatoes yesterday and was unfortunately using the same pot for cooking the tomatoes down AND processing afterwards (I won’t be doing this again next time). I realized after reading some previous comments that the jars/product still being hot when they go into the water bath is important because otherwise they may not be processed long enough. I had some pints that were sitting out for maybe 60-90 minutes as I canned in batches. Fortunately, it’s been unbelievably hot outside and I didn’t notice them cooling down much. Are these still ok? Will it shorten the shelf life? I processed for the recommended 35 minutes and always wait until the water’s really boiling to start the timer. Now I know for next time!

  23. 173
    Marlys says:

    I just don’t understand. I have been making homemade jam for 50 years, the way my Mother made it while I was growing up. The jams were never water bathed, and we have never had a problem. She did water bath her syrup packed fruits however.

    All of a sudden several years ago, the recommendation to water bath jams came out. I don’t understand why it worked for so long without the bath and now it’s almost mandatory to water bath.

    What has changed?

    • 173.1
      Marisa says:

      The recommendation to water bath jams is more than 30 years old. Studies found that it better prevented the occurrence of mold and fermentation. What’s more, modern recipes are lower in sugar. Any reduction in sugar raises the chances of spoilage. A boiling water bath canning process helps prevent that.

  24. 174
    Jean Savary says:

    I made some jelly and proabbly boiled it too long as it was setting soon after adding to the hot jars, and now that they are cool, it is VERY firm. Is there anyway to reprocess theses, maybe adding water, boiling and then recanning or is that it for that batch?

  25. 175
    Jean Savary says:

    Also, how can I ensure a good seal. About 25 percent of my jars have play in the lid when cooled. And my last question, actually 2. I remember instructions to turn the jars upside down for about 10 minutes, then right them to finish cooling, but I don’t see that anymore as part of the instructions. I also remember to finger tighten the rings and then fully tighten at some point, but I also don’t see those instructions anymore. Is this all necessary?

    • 175.1
      Marisa says:

      You don’t need to invert the jars or tighten the rings. As far as the seal failures go, do this. Once the processing time is up, turn off the heat and remove the lid from the canner. Let the jars sit in the canner for an additional ten minutes. The extra heat will help encourage a better seal.

  26. 176
    Andrew says:

    Hello,
    I’ve been making a lot of cucumber pickles lately. When I process the jars, I haven’t been fully covering the jars in boiling water — the water typically only goes about halfway up the jars. The idea is to maintain a crisper pickle. The jars have fully sealed, based on the state of the lid. Is this still safe, or is there a reason to cover the jars fully?

    • 176.1
      Marisa says:

      The reason to cover the jars fully is that water transmits heat better than air. So by only submerging your jars halfway, you’re not getting a full heat penetration to the center of the jar and your chances of later spoilage increases. I’d suggest you look into low temperature pasteurization for your pickles. It’s an alternative method of processing that helps maintain crispness.

  27. 177
    Denice says:

    Hello I am new to canning. I used a tamale pot for by water bath. My jars are sealing wonderfully but there is a white film on the jars and lids. I’m thinking it has to do with my water. Was thinking of wiping them off with a vinegar solution after they are cooled for 24hrs. Can I add anything to the boiling water bath the next time to avoid this film?

    • 177.1
      Marisa says:

      That while film is minerals from your water. Add some vinegar to the pot (I mention this in the post above) to help prevent that mineral depositing.

  28. 178
    catherine ward says:

    my grandmother canned every thing using the water bath method. pressure canners didnt exist for consumers. we never got sick eating her canned vegetables. so why cant i do the same?

    • 178.1
      Marisa says:

      Because we know more about the science of food preservation than we did in your grandmother’s era. People got sick and died far more often in the past from contaminated food than they do now. Botulism is something you really don’t want to mess around with.

  29. 179
    Joan Carboni says:

    Hi, please be so kind as to let me know if it is alright to recycle jam jars for crab apple butter.
    The lids do not have rings and I am not sure how that will impact.
    Thank you so much.

    • 179.1
      Marisa says:

      What kind of jars are you asking about? I’m not really sure what your question is.

      • Anna says:

        I interpreted her question to mean – can she reuse commercial jam jars and lids to process and store her homemade crab apple butter?

  30. 180
    Ivonne Palmer says:

    While doing choke cherries in a hot water bath, the lids start to pop before the processing even begins. I go ahead and process them anyway. Will this impact the jelly?

  31. 181
    Darcy says:

    Hi! Great article 🙂 I’m going to try canning for the first time and I’m confused by this:

    “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.”

    If I’m lifting up the lids and inch or two, how are they holding fast? Wouldn’t that be removing the lids? I know I’m missing something here… I just don’t understand.

    Thanks so much!

    • 181.1
      Marisa says:

      If you’ve done your processing step well, the lid should be so firmly sealed to the jar that when you hold on to the lid, the jar comes with it. You’re testing to ensure that the seal holds fast.

  32. 182
    Seahare says:

    I lent my canning supplies to a friend and didn’t check to see if everything was returned before starting a batch of salsa for canning. The jar lifters aren’t among the returned supplies and I’m not confident enough or daring enough to try to lift a processed jar out of hot water with anything else. A test run with empty jars verified that. So, until I can get the lifters back in a day or so, can I refrigerate the cooked salsa (for safety) and then reheat before canning? I’m thinking I’d need at least 5 minutes of a full boil before filling the jars and/or verifying with a digital thermometer the reheated salsa reaches the same temperature?

    • 182.1
      Marisa says:

      Whenever you heat, cool, and again heat tomatoes, you break up their emulsion and end up with a product that separates. As long as you’re okay with that, you can proceed as you’ve described.

  33. 183
    Divena says:

    Do you have to hot water bath your canned salsa if the kids sealed by themselves

  34. 184

    […] These are the canning instructions I used: beginner’s guide published on ‘Food in Jars’. […]

  35. 185
    DCollins says:

    This is my first time canning, and I am in the process of making pickles. i followed the recipe I was creating with soak times etc, filled my jars with the pickle mixture, and ran out of time to complete the processing via water bath. I put my jars, with lids finger tight, in the fridge. What steps do you recommend I take to finish processing/ sealing in a water bath?

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