In the last week or so, I’ve gotten half a dozen individual requests from people, asking me to tell them what they should buy for someone who wants to start canning in small batches.
Working under the assumption that a list of essentials might be useful to lots of people, I spent a little time this morning rummaging through my kitchen, pulling out my favorite pieces of equipment. These are the things I use regularly, and replace immediately when they break or are lost (things get left behind when you do as many traveling demos as I do).
Starting from the left and then moving clockwise…
- A basic microplane zester. I prefer this model to the one with a handle, because it has a slightly larger grating area and can be set across the top of a bowl or pan. I use this at least once during every canning project for citrus zest, fresh ginger, nutmeg, or garlic.
- A stainless steel wide mouth funnel. It’s sturdy, dishwasher safe, and will never melt if left too close to a hot burner.
- An instant read digital thermometer. I like this ThermoPop, because it’s works quickly and is reliable, but is a more affordable option when compared to other ThermoWorks products.
- A canning rack, like this Blossom Trivet. My love of this trivet is well documented.
- Paring knife! On the high end, I like this one from Wusthof. A more affordable but excellent option is this OXO one.
- A good jar lifter is vital. I find that for this tool, basic is best.
- Vegetable peeler. These generally make good stocking stuffers, because most people don’t think to replace them, but are always happy to have a new, sharp peeler.
- I use my potato masher all the time when making jams, fruit butters, and pizza sauce. I’ve used a number over the years, and think that this one from OXO is among the very best.
- Silicone spatula. Flexible and fully encased in silicone is the way to go. This one from Mastrad is the best and most affordable I’ve found and I like it so much that I own half a dozen (so that I never have to fish a dirty one out of the dishwasher).
My canning pot list is a bit simpler. For really small batches, I use a 12 cup 4th Burner Pot. You can stack two wide mouth half pints or three wide mouth half pint Collection Elite jars in it. It’s also great for heating pickle brine, warming stock for risotto, hard boiling eggs (stack ’em right in the basket), or making a few servings of mulled wine.
To process larger batches, I use a 12 quart stock pot. Most of the time, I reach for this one from Cuisinart. It’s light weight, durable, and can hold up to seven pint jars. However, it’s not the best for processing quart jars. If you think your gift recipient will be doing a lot of quarts, this Le Creuset 12 quart stock pot is a good choice. It’s a bit pricier than the Cuisinart, but is a little taller and skinnier, which means it holds four quart jars with ease.
When it comes to giving a pan for jam making, I suggest you do a little gentle investigation before plunking down money on a spendy piece of cookware (this goes for the canning pots I mentioned above, as well. Many people already have a stock pot that can serve as a canning pot in their kitchen). However, if you know the state of your intended recipient’s kitchen, you want to get them a piece of cookware made from either stainless steel or enameled cast iron.
Any time you’re working with foods that contain high amounts of acid (and all preserves destined for preservation in a boiling water bath will be high in acid), you want to a pan made from non-reactive materials. That’s because the acid present in the food can leach a metallic flavor from reactive metals and spoil your preserves. Non-reactive cookware won’t do that.
Additionally, I don’t suggest non-stick cookware for preserving. If you read the instructions that come with non-stick pans, you’ll find that they recommend that you never use that style of cookware with high heat. When you make jams, jellies, and chutneys, you will be cooking at high heat in order to reach the desired consistency.
Here are the small batch pans I reach for most…
- A Le Creuset 11 3/4 inch skillet. This is a heavy, expensive pan. I got mine at the Le Creuset outlet in Lancaster County, which made it far more affordable than the ones online. You can also often find these at Marshall’s, HomeGoods, and other discount home stores.
- A stainless steel, 12 inch skillet. The one I have and use all the time is this tri-ply Tramontina model. However, according to Cook’s Illustrated, they have changed the styling of that skillet and it’s not as functional as it once was. All-Clad makes a nearly identical pan that works beautifully, but it is expensive. A more affordable option (recommended by Cook’s Illustrated) is this Emeril by All-Clad pan.
- A large, straight-sided saute pan. I have this All-Clad one, but again, it’s not a cheap pan. I got it at Cookware & More, which made it a little less expensive. Of course, because they’re an outlet store, their stock will vary.
Here are my favorites for bigger batches…
- A 5 1/2 quart Dutch oven. I have an orange Le Creuset one that I adore, but once again, it’s not cheap. If it’s out of your budget, get yourself to a West Elm. They have a 5 1/2 quart enameled cast iron Dutch oven and the black one is on sale for $49.99. I bought one recently and have used it a lot. It’s a solid piece of cookware (and I mean solid, that sucker is heavy!).
- A low, wide 8 quart pan. Of all the pieces of cookware in my kitchen, this may be the one I reach for the most. I have an All-Clad model that I got at the outlet and it’s a workhorse (though I got the Masterchef model, which I would not recommend. It’s got a brushed aluminum exterior that discolors in the dishwasher). A more affordable option is this one from Sur La Table. I have that one in my class kit and it’s been a really durable piece of cookware.
Finally, what small batch canning kit is completely without a cookbook or two to guide the way? If you’re interested in getting a personalized copy of either book, drop me a note and we can make arrangements!
Oh, and please do know that this post is studded with affiliate links. I make a few cents when you make a purchase using one of those links. Just wanted to make sure you knew!
A great comprehensive list! The only other thing I find so handy is a pair of good quality of silicone oven mitts. Those contents of those stockpots and pans are so hot and steam burns are nasty. Not to mention that you can actually put your silicone-covered hand in the water for a second to ensure jars are upright, etc.
I’ve already put that spatula in my Amazon Wish List!
I have one similar and I love it, it doesn’t show stains and your can use it as a scooper and a scraper. I an glad to have found one like it again!
Thank you for the recommendations, Marisa. May I please ask you a couple of questions about the 4th Burner Pot?
How many half-pint jars can you process at a time in the 4th Burner Pot? How many quarter-pint jars? Is it okay to stack them? Or do you have to do separate batches?
After you ladle the hot jam into your hot jars, how long can they sit on the counter until they go into the water bath?
Robyn, the 4th burner pot will hold 2 wide mouth half pints or 3 wide mouth Collection Elite jars. And it is okay to stack them. Unfortunately, you can’t fit more quarter pint jars into the pot. It will still only hold 2 of them. And I try to put my full jars into the canning pot fairly quickly. You really don’t want to have the full, unprocessed jars out for more than 4-5 minutes.
Thank you for responding. Can you stack regular-mouth half-pints or quarter-pints in the 4th Burner Pot?
So, if you were doing 4 jars for example, you would need to keep the jam hot in its cooking pan and the jars hot, while you process the first batch?
Really appreciate all your expertise!
Robyn, because of the size and shape of this pot, it will not work to stack regular mouth half pints. If you use them, you need to process them one by one. You can stack the quarter pint jars, but it only works well with two jars, so you’re not getting a lot of jars in the canner in one go. You can fill all the jars, and then process them sequentially. When I do this, I put a towel over the waiting jars so that they keep their heat, and then add a couple of minutes to the processing time, to make up for any cooling that did occur.
Thank you! I appreciate the explanation. Smart tip! As always. 🙂
p.s. regular mouth jars
You would love the “Jam Pan” at Williams Sonoma. It’s 8 quarts of heavy stainless, has a lip for pouring, and a bucket style handle to help lift and pour. It is divine for canners. The inside has a series of measures, so you can judge when your jam has cooked down to so many cups. It has it all. Made in England I believe.
I would really like to purchase a pressure canner for stocks & such. Do you have a recommendation?
Yes! My favorite is the 16 quart Presto. It is affordable, holds seven quarts, and does an excellent job.
Love this list! The only thing I might add is some tea towels. Well, I guess most people already have them. 🙂 But I like it for setting my jars on after pulling them out of the water.
Is it Ok to can an item that has already been canned?
It’s not typically advised.