How to Start Canning Food

Updated on March 13, 2018
Learning how to can food is simple and useful.
Learning how to can food is simple and useful.

Why should I consider canning my own food?

The short answer: Getting started with home canning is simple and can be a great skill to learn. It's very practical for quite a few reasons.

  1. It is economical, especially if you have access to large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables. It is a great way to keep fresh foods from going to waste. You can always have a stocked pantry when you can food at home.
  2. It can also be very healthy. You can eat fresh food all year long when you have it canned. There are no preservatives or chemicals like there are in commercial food. You know exactly what is in your food and where it came from.

Home canning is easy and safe as long as you have a good canner and are careful. Start canning today with this guide and helpful tips.

What foods can be canned?

Foods that can be canned:

  • Fruit
  • Jams/jellies
  • Vegetables
  • Soups
  • Chili
  • Salsa
  • Meats

Foods that can't be canned:

  • Breads
  • Cakes
  • Dairy products

Homemade jelly with labels to sell or use as gifts
Homemade jelly with labels to sell or use as gifts | Source

What is the shelf life of home-canned food?

Official canning guides will say that canned food is good for about one year after canning. However, most people eat the food for years or even decades after they first canned it. There have even been canned foods eaten after 100 years.

  • Food will turn colors after about six months to a year, but it should be okay if it was sealed properly when canned and no bacteria got into the jar.
  • Don't eat from cans that have mold growing in them.
  • Canned food lasts longer in cool, dry places and away from sunlight.

How to Use Canned Food

There are oodles of reasons to can food at home.

  • Jarred food can be used as unique homemade gifts for Christmas and other special occasions. Jams, jellies, salsa, and soup are especially good for presents. Make decorative labels for the jars to add a special touch.
  • Canned food can be sold and marketed. Sell your special chili or vegetable soup or other food for extra cash.
  • Jars of food are also great for fundraisers. Sell jam to go with the baked goodies at baked sales.
  • Store them for an extra food supply. You will always have food in the house in case of snowstorms and emergencies.
  • Cans of food are great for college kids and people who need food that can just be heated up.
  • Home canned food can be healthier and less expensive than store-bought cans.

Canning essentials: pressure cooker, jars, lids, and bands
Canning essentials: pressure cooker, jars, lids, and bands

You Will Need:

  • A canner/pressure cooker
  • Mason jars
  • Lids
  • Jar lifter (optional)
  • Labels (optional)

A Note About Supplies

Canner

Canning can be an economical way to store food, but you do have to purchase the supplies to get started. If you'd like to try this but aren't sure you're interested enough to invest in a canner, borrow one from a friend. Can a few things to see if you like it and if it is going to be a viable appliance for you. Then, purchase your own if you think you will can often. Canners can also be bought used—just make sure they seal properly and aren't rusted.

Jars

Mason jars can usually be found in department stores. They can be reused again and again, so you only have the initial investment unless you need more jars or yours get damaged. The bands for the lids can also be reused.

You can buy used jars. Check Ebay, Craigslist, and yard sales. The main thing to be careful of when buying used canning supplies is to check the condition of the items. You don't want rusty bands or broken or cracked jars.

Lids

Most canning experts don't recommend reusing lids (flats) because they become dented and won't have an airtight seal the second use.

Jar Lifters

Other supplies like jar lifters are very handy and make the process easier, but they aren't necessary.

Canned green beans
Canned green beans

Basic Instructions

The basic procedure for canning food is actually easier than you would think. The essential steps are the following:

  • Prepare the food to go into the jars.
  • Clean and sanitize the canning supplies.
  • Add the food to the jars.
  • Cook them in the canner under pressure or boil them in a water bath (high-acid foods)
  • Allow the jars to cool, and you're done.

This will have some variation depending on what you are canning and your specific canner. Be sure to read the instruction manual for your canner. There are tons of variations on canning instructions. People have passed on their canning knowledge from generation to generation. Find a canning recipe that works for you and the food you are canning. Most canners come with a recipe guide also. See the step-by-step instructions below!

Sanitize the lids and bands by boiling them in water.
Sanitize the lids and bands by boiling them in water.

1. Sanitize the Supplies

Thoroughly wash the canner and all of your canning equipment. Boil the lids (flats) and the bands in a pot of water on the stove for about 10 minutes to sterilize them.

Wash the fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
Wash the fruits and vegetables thoroughly.

2. Prepare the Food

Wash the fruit/veggies several times to make sure they are clean. Prepare the fruit, vegetable, or whatever you are canning.

  • Break the beans
  • Remove stems
  • Cut the fruit

Fill the jars with the food leaving an inch or more of space at the top.
Fill the jars with the food leaving an inch or more of space at the top.

3. Add the Food

At this point, the instructions will vary depending on what you are canning and what recipe you are going to follow. Some people boil the food for a few minutes before filling the jars. Other people add it cold (this is called cold packing).

Fill the jars with the food, leaving a couple of inches of space from the top. Don't pack the food too tightly or else it won't heat properly.

Add water to the same point.
Add water to the same point.

4. Pour in Water

Pour water into the jar up to about the same point the where the food is. An inch or inch and a half of header room is good.

Get out trapped air by moving the food with a utensil.
Get out trapped air by moving the food with a utensil.

5. Remove Trapped Air

Remove the trapped air by moving the food with a utensil.

Add a few inches of water to the pressure cooker.
Add a few inches of water to the pressure cooker.

6. Add Hot Water

Add about three inches of hot water to the canner. Make sure you have a rack in the bottom of the canner so the jars aren't sitting directly on the bottom.

  • Check your instruction manual for your canner's specific directions

Put the lids on the jars making sure the rubber seal lines up with the jar.
Put the lids on the jars making sure the rubber seal lines up with the jar.

7. Place on the Lid

Put the lid on the canner and seal the lid, making sure it is secure.

Screw the bands on the jars.
Screw the bands on the jars.

8. Seal With the Band

Screw the bands on the jars to seal the contents inside.

Carefully place the jars in the cooker.
Carefully place the jars in the cooker.

9. Place Jars in the Canner

Carefully place the jars in the cooker.

Put the lid on the pressure cooker and make sure it seals correctly.
Put the lid on the pressure cooker and make sure it seals correctly.

10. Seal the Cooker

Place the lid on the pressure cooker and make sure it seals correctly.

Put the cooker onto the oven and allow it to heat.
Put the cooker onto the oven and allow it to heat.

11. Heat the Cooker

Move the canner to the stove and put it on high heat (or whatever your recipe calls for).

Add the weights after steam has escaped continuously for 10 minutes.
Add the weights after steam has escaped continuously for 10 minutes.

12. Wait for Steam

Let it cook until steam starts escaping from the valve in a continuous stream for about 10 minutes. Then, add the weights that add pressure to the canner by trapping in the steam from the valve. When the weights (jiggers) start rattling, you let it cook for the specified amount of time.

The valve will pop up with the steam.
The valve will pop up with the steam.

13. Let It Work

When it's done, turn off the heat, remove the cooker from the eye, and let it cool down and completely vent before touching it (about 45 minutes). Carefully remove the weights and let any more steam escape for another 10 minutes. Open the lid away from you.

Don't touch the jars with your bare hands! Carefully lift the jars out when they have cooled.
Don't touch the jars with your bare hands! Carefully lift the jars out when they have cooled.

14. Lift the Jars

Lift the jars out of the cooker and sit them in a safe place to cool for about 8-10 hours.

The finished jars cooling.
The finished jars cooling.

15. You're Done!

Check the lids to make sure the jars have sealed properly. Your jars of home canned food are ready to go!

Intro to Canning: How to Can Green Beans

A Note of Caution

Many people are afraid to can their own food because they hear horror stories of pressure cookers exploding. You don't have to be scared—just cautious. Most modern canners have built-in safety features that prevent accidents like that. As long as you follow the proper directions for your canner, there is little cause for worry.

Canning Poll

Why do you want to start canning?

See results

Old Wives Tales

Many old wives will tell you to consult the Farmers' Almanac to find out the best days for canning based on the moon phases and astronomy.

Questions & Answers

    Comments

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      • techygran profile image

        Cynthia 

        5 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

        what a wonderful how-to article! Thank you! I'm actually going to try this.

      • jdw7979 profile image

        John David 

        5 years ago from Middle America

        This will come in handy.. Thanks!

      • cocopreme profile imageAUTHOR

        Candace Bacon 

        6 years ago from Far, far away

        greeneryday - Canning is a great way to keep food from going to waste. Thanks so much!

        TFScientist - Thank you! It is simpler to do than most people think. But it does require time and attention.

        billybuc - Good luck when you are ready to start canning. Thanks!

        mbergo - Thank you!

      • mbergo profile image

        mbergo 

        6 years ago from Porto Alegre, Brazil

        Elaborate and great tips. Not really thought of canning before.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        6 years ago from Olympia, WA

        Very useful information....we are not ready to can this year, but this helps greatly as we prepare to do so next Fall. Thank you for some great information.

      • TFScientist profile image

        Rhys Baker 

        6 years ago from Peterborough, UK

        Not something I have ever considered really! Your hub explains the salient points very well - I loved the picture guide. Probably not something I would have the patience to do myself but definitely useful nonetheless.

        Voted up and useul

      • greeneryday profile image

        greeneryday 

        6 years ago from Some tropical country

        Great idea to preserve fresh food from getting wasted, really interesting and definitely going to try this canning technique later, thank you for writing such an informative, and easy to follow step by step instruction. Voted up for awesome.

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