Home Canning 101

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By The Paula Deen Test Kitchen

It is true that canning and preserving took a hiatus for a few decades.  With the advent of supermarkets and expanded varieties of jams, jellies, pickles, and canned produce, you could buy anything you wanted.  But, today we are experiencing a revival of eating minimally processed and organic foods. With home canning, we can capture fruits and vegetables at their height of flavor and peak of nutrient development.  Whether we purchase them at farmer’s markets or harvest them ourselves, we can preserve them as jelly or jam on the same day to retain that treasured fresh taste. We can pluck tomatoes off the vine at their developmental zenith and they will contain greater concentrations of nutrients. From farm-to-table, home canning is the optimum way to capture and preserve fresh taste and maximum nutrition of summer produce.

Doing it right is important, but if you have the equipment ready and break the process into steps, your first time will be a success.  You will have confidence that you have sealed the jars safely for long-term storage, and go forth on a quest to try a new canning project!

What You Need

Hot, Water-Bath or Pressure Canner? The canner itself is the most important piece of equipment. All high-acid foods go into a hot-water-bath canner.  That means fruit products such as jams, jellies, preserves, marmalades, chutneys, fruit butters, and anything pickled with vinegar like pickles and relishes. Tomatoes are high in acid and are canned in a hot-water-bath canner. (You can use a large stockpot with a lid, but you must have a rack in the bottom to keep the jars away from direct heat.)

Low acid foods, such as non-pickled vegetables (except tomatoes), dried beans, meats, and poultry, must be processed in a pressure canner.

Both methods heat the ingredients in the canning jar enough to create a vacuum and kill off any potentially harmful bacteria. 

Other Basic Equipment:

  • Canning jars, lids, and screw bands: Use only Mason jars, in sizes suitable for the product and your family’s needs; they come in half-pint-, pint-, and quart-sized.  Lids can be used only once; there is a chance they might not seal properly the second time around.  Screw bands can be reused; make sure they are clean and dry before storing.
  • Large spoons, slotted spoons, and soup ladles for mixing and filling jars
  • Sharp paring knives and a vegetable peeler for preparing the produce
  • Canning funnel for filling jars with hot liquid
  • Magnetic lid lifter or tongs for lifting sterilized lids from boiling water, keeping lids from being contaminated by fingers
  • “Jar lifter” for lifting hot filled jars from the hot water bath
  • Table knife or narrow plastic spatula for getting air bubbles out of jars
  • Kitchen timer
  • Kitchen towels for wiping the jars clean after filling and cooling hot processed jars.

Helpful Hints Before You Start

  • Use only peak produce; cut off and discard defects.
  • Fill jars with same-sized food pieces for even processing.
  • Keep workspace and equipment very clean to reduce the risk of contamination in your food jars.
  • Know how high you live above sea level. The higher you live, the lower the boiling point of water.  Hot-water-bath processing time has to be increased to offset the lower temperature.  For altitudes higher than 1,000 feet, increase processing time as follows: 5 minutes for 1,001 to 3,000 feet; 10 minutes for 3,001 to 6,000 feet; 15 minutes for 6,001 to 8,000 feet; 20 minutes for 8,001 to 10,000 feet.


Canning Steps

Step 1: Be Prepared
Read the entire recipe and familiarize yourself with the instructions.  Assemble equipment and ingredients.

Step 2: Check and Clean Equipment
Check jars for nicks, cracks, or uneven rims that will prevent sealing or cause breakage.  Lids should be unused and clear of scratches; sealing screw bands should fit on jars.  Then wash all in hot, soapy water and dry thoroughly.

Step 3: Heat the Jars
Keep jars hot to prevent them from breaking when filling with hot food: Fill a large saucepan halfway with water; place the jars in the water and make sure they are completely submerged.  Bring the water to a simmer, and keep jars in the simmering water until you are ready to fill and seal them. Alternately, you can use a dishwasher to wash and heat the jars.

Step 4: Heat the Lids and Screw bands
Keep lids and screw bands hot in a small saucepan of simmering water until ready to use.  Do NOT boil. 

Step 5: Prepare the Canner
Prepare the hot-water-bath canner by filling halfway with water; bring to a simmer and maintain simmer, covering the canner, until the jars are filled and added to canner.  Make sure the rack is properly positioned in the canner.

Prepare the pressure canner by filling with 2 to 3 inches of water.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat; bring to a simmer and maintain simmer, covering the canner, until the jars are filled and added to canner.  Follow manufacturer’s instructions for usage.

Step 6: Prep Ingredients
Prepare the recipe using quality ingredients.

Step 7: Fill Jars
Fill one jar at a time: use a jar lifter to remove a hot jar from hot water, pouring out the water inside the jar. Fill it with the prepared food using a funnel, leaving the headspace recommended in the recipe. The rule of thumb is: 1/4 inch headspace for jams and jellies; 1/2 inch headspace for fruits (including tomatoes), pickles, salsa, and sauces; 1 inch headspace for low acid, pressure-canned fruits. If there is too much air space between the food and the lid, a discoloration in the top of the product may result.

Step 8: Remove the Air Bubbles
Remove air bubbles that are trapped between pieces of food by sliding a table knife or plastic spatula between the food and the jar. Wipe the rim and threads of the jar with a damp cloth to remove any residue.  Lift a lid from the hot water; center the hot lid on the jar allowing the sealing compound to come in contact with the jar rim.  Apply the screw band, and screw onto the jar just until resistance is met.

Step 9: Place the Filled Jars Into the Hot Water
Place the jars, as they are filled, in the canner until all jars are filled or the canner is full.  Check the water level in the canner: for the hot-water-bath canner, water should cover the jars by 1 or 2 inches. For the pressure canner, the water level should be 2 to 3 inches high or what is recommended in the manufacturer’s instructions.

Step 10: Process
Hot-water-bath canner: Place lid on canner.  Bring water to a full rolling boil and begin the processing time indicated in the recipe, adjusting for altitude.  When the processing time is finished, turn off the heat and remove the canner lid.  Allow the jars to stand in the canner for 5 minutes.

Pressure canner: Lock the canner lid in place, leaving the vent pipe open.  Turn up the heat to medium-high and allow the steam to escape.  When there is a steady stream of steam escaping, allow to vent for 10 minutes to make sure steam, not air, is left in the canner.  Close the vent and process using the method described in the manufacturer’s instructions and the recommended pounds of pressure and time indicated in the recipe.  When the processing time is finished, cool the canner by removing it from the heat.  Let the canner stand, undisturbed, until the pressure returns to zero all by itself.  Wait 2 minutes and remove the lid as instructed by manufacturer.

Step 11: Remove and Cool
Use the jar lifter to remove the jars from the canner.  Place them on a towel to prevent breakage when the hot jars come in contact with the countertop. Let them stand, undisturbed, 12 to 24 hours. Do not attempt to retighten screw bands.

Step 12: Check Seals
Make sure all jars have sealed by testing the seal: Remove the screw bands and press the middle of the lid.  It should not pop up or spring back when you remove your finger.  Also, the lids should not lift off with your fingertips.  If unsealed, immediately reprocess or refrigerate and eat right away. 

Store the processed jars in a clean, cool, dark, dry place for up to 1 year. The ideal temperature for storing canned food is between 40 degrees F. and 70 degrees F. 

Get started with a canning kit!

Put up some of your own canned goodness today using Paula’s recipes:

Canned Tomatoes
Strawberry Balsamic Jam
Blackberry Jam
Raspberry Fig Preserves
Suzie’s Peach Pickles
Green Tomato Chutney
Strawberry-Apricot Preserves
Blueberry Lemon Preserves

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Reader Comments:


Paula I missed the way you canned your tomatoes could I get you to e=mail it to me please?

By melba perry on January 03, 2014



By BETTY CRAIG on July 25, 2013


Paula,I love watching you & have all but 1 of your books.This is not about canning but about growing Chives.lol I can't grow them. I have tried seeds as well as the plants.I can get them to get started but then they look like stringy hairs. lol I keep them in the sun,tried half sun & half shade. Nothing seems to work. I have tried to grow them 3 yr's straight. Can you tell me what I'm doing wrong? I do not over water them. Thank you very much.smile Carolyn

By Carolyn Holcome on July 16, 2013


Paula,I love watching you & have all but 1 of your books.This is not about canning but about growing Chives.lol I can't grow them. I have tried seeds as well as the plants.I can get them to get started but then they look like stringy hairs. lol I keep them in the sun,tried half sun & half shade. Nothing seems to work. I have tried to grow them 3 yr's straight. Can you tell me what I'm doing wrong? I do not over water them. Thank you very much.smile Carolyn

By Carolyn Holcome on July 16, 2013


Paula, I love all your cooking shows. I think the world of you and your family. I pray for you at this time in your life of whats going on. Trust in God. I know He'll see you through it. A big fan of Yours! God Bless You! Robin Knapp

By Robin on July 12, 2013


Thank you for the lessons on canning. I am growing my own vegetables and I always wanted to can my tomatoes. Thank you for the steps on canning.

By Dorothy Jelleyman on July 12, 2013


Dear Paula, LOVE all your yummy recipes. I am an old time canner doing between 600 -2000 qts of home canned/frozen food each year for the past 45 years and noticed that while canning those perfect tomatoes [sometimes mine arent so perfect looking] that a metal knife is being used to remove the air bubbles.Some of my canning jars actually belonged to my grandmother and some of the credit goes to the rubber spatula or better, a wood spoon, so the glass never gets scored to allow breakage. Again I love your new "YOU" and appreciate the teaching you are doing to the young generation. Great Grandma from Kentucky

By dixie scheiderer on September 06, 2012


Dear paula I have tried several of your receipes and they have all been great I watch your cooking show all the time. Someday I want to come down and meet you in person. Right now I'm helping my husband to get better from a riding lawn mower turning over backwards on him he spent 1wk, in ICU on a vent, 2 wks in a rehab hospital, hopefully on septembet 7, 2012 he will get the brace off

By shelia Armbruster on September 03, 2012


need help, after 3 weeks in the brine,my dill pickles brine was cluody. Is it ok to still use the brine and continue with the water bath? thank you Nancy

By Anonymous on August 27, 2012


Ms. Paula, You look beautiful darling, inside & out. Thank you for your wonderful representation of Southern women. You are truly someone we young'uns can look up to.

By Jennifer on August 27, 2012


I was watching 2 different cooking show a few weeks ago. Both shows made jam. One cooking show did not put jam in a water bath to seal jars and kill germs. The other show processed the jam in water. One made pepper jelly and the other made a fruit jam, strawberry I think. Why would you not process the pepper jelly in a water bath? Jan Rudolph

By Jan Rudolph on July 21, 2012


Where were you when I was learning this mess on my own thirty years ago..lol i canned 37 Qts of tomatoes 74 jars of salsa, over 100 jars of varied wild fruit jellies, So I think I'm good, but good people have help. itis a lost art..

By Anonymous on July 20, 2012


I never can dried beans. I find that once dried, they have a long shelf life.

By Anonymous on July 20, 2012


Paula - you inspire me - I have been experimenting with my salsa recipe. For a more chunky salsa I add canned diced tomatoes right before they go into the jars as I have found that my tomatoes I grow cook down to much for the texture I want. I must be doing something right because I cannot keep enough stocked up. If you are interested in my pepper onion relish recipe I will share it with youa all... just let me know if anyone wants it.

By Shannon Curtis on July 20, 2012


I wash my jars well & then heat my oven to the temperatue of the item I am canning, about 175 to 200 degrees. This dries the jars & preps them for canning.

By Diana Steelman on July 20, 2012


How do you can peaches. How can you keep the peaches from floating to top of jar.

By Anonymous on July 20, 2012


Everyone needs to get Tattlers. They are a reuseable canning lid. Wonderful things. Some of mine have been used 5-10 times, I`ve read of some over 10 years old and still going strong. No connection to the company,except as a pleased customer.

By nancy on July 20, 2012


I'm wondering why we don't see tomato preserves on the shelves or any receipes for them anymore??? Could you please give us a good receipe for some good ole tomato preserves. Canning them ofcourse!!!!! My momma did it but that was 30 yrs ago!! I love you Paula!!!

By Ruth Prifogle on July 20, 2012


I have used the Pickled Okra recipe, which my family and I love to eat, and it turned out so good that this year I doubled the amount of plants I am growing in my garden this year. But I also am growing cherry peppers and banana peppers and do not know how to pickle them. Do you have a recipe or any suggestions? By the way I also tried in the same issue that I found the Picked Okra, was the Refrigerator Bread and Butter pickles they also turned out so good. Thanks for all the great and easy recipes, I love them

By Annie Marshall on July 19, 2012


Paula,I made strawberry fig preserve using your fig preserve recipe and it turned out great Thank you so much for sharing your life and recipes with me.By the way I love my Paula's cooking Bible,my son got it for me on mothers day.O by the way I took some of the Vidalia onion honey mustard dressing and soaked my steaks in it,thy turned out really tender and good. Thanks for all you do and stand for.Your in my Prayers!

By charlotte Jackson on July 12, 2012

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Paula, I love watching you and your family. I miss seeing your show, I watched you everyday. My son lives in Charleston S.C. He took me to the Lady & Sons to eat. Oh my goodness! People are always telling me that I look just like the cooking lady Paula Deen. I always tell them that you are my hero. May God Bless You Mary Ann
Mary Ann Tharp in A Summer of Burgers on August 15, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Add a few spoonfuls of parmesan cheese to the flour and cornmeal breading and it kicks the tomatoes up another notch. Bev
in Crispy Fried Green Tomatoes on August 15, 2014 at 10:33 am

I just bought Paula's Peach Salad Dressing and wondered if anyone has a good recipe that they use it in?
Melissa in Taste Testing 101 on August 13, 2014 at 8:36 am

Congrats Bobby. Loved the family picture miss you Paula on TV will be watching online. Jack is getting big. Looks like his mom but Matt aka moose has your face. Your eyes cheeks hair even falls to his face like yours except to the left. Good luck on your next venture. You give us other 60+ yr women strength to move on. Keep up the good work.
Carol Bryant in Love at Last on August 11, 2014 at 6:12 pm