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Canning "How To"

How to Can

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit
To preserve fruits, vegetables, and other foods, you'll need to learn about canning. For the canned food to last safely, it's important to be extra careful about hygiene.


  1. Wash your hands thoroughly and keep them clean throughout the process. Wash them again before resuming work if you sneeze, visit the bathroom, or handle non-food items during the process.
  2. Sterilize a dozen mason jars by boiling them in water for 10 minutes. If you are at high altitude, add an additional minute for each 1000 feet above sea level. Then, place them upside-down on a clean towel and drape another towel over them until you are ready to use them. You may not need all 12 jars, especially if you are using larger jars, like pints, but it is much easier to prepare too many than too few.
    • Why all this emphasis on cleanliness? The basic principle of canning is to kill all the microorganisms that spoil food, then to seal the jar tight to keep them out.
  3. Fill the jars, leaving 1/8 inch of empty space, or "head space", at the top.
  4. Wipe the rims and threads of the jars with a clean, damp cloth to remove any residue or drips. Make especially sure to clean the top surface where the seal will seat.
  5. Boil about an inch of water in the bottom of a medium saucepan and remove it from the heat. Place the seals into the water. Push them down so that they sink, and try not to stack them on each other, so that they heat evenly. Allow them to soften for a minute or two. You can do this step while you ladle and wipe rims, if you time it right.
  6. Place a softened seal on each jar. A magnetic lid wand will help you get them safely out of the boiling water. To release the seal, set it on a jar and tilt the wand. If you don't have a lid wand, you can use a small pair of tongs.
  7. Screw a clean ring down over the seal and tighten it with snug hand pressure. Don't tighten so much that you press all the seal material off of the rim.
  8. Lower the jars onto a rack in a water-bath canner or large stock pot. If you use a large stock pot, place a rack or other spacer on the bottom so that the jars do not rest directly on the bottom of the pot. Add enough hot water to cover them by 1-2 inches. You can measure it to the first knuckle, as shown.
  9. Cover the canner and bring the water to a gentle boil. Boil for 10 minutes, adding 5 minutes to the processing time for each 3000-foot increase in altitude.
  10. Remove the jars from the boiling water. Jar tongs are a secure and safe way to do this, or you may be able to raise the entire rack in a water-bath canner. Place the jars on a clean towel to cool.
  11. Allow the full jars to cool for 24 hours in a place free from drafts. You may hear the metal lids make a loud plinking sound. That is simply the contents cooling and creating a partial vacuum in the jar.
  12. Check to make sure that the jars have sealed. The vacuum created when the contents cooled should have pulled the "dome" lid down very tightly. If you can press the center of the lid down, it did not seal. It should not spring back. If any jars have not sealed, you can place a fresh lid on them and process them again or refrigerate those jars and use the contents soon.
  13. Wash the jars in cool, soapy water to remove any sticky residue on the outsides. You can remove the rings at this point, since the seals should be holding themselves on securely. Allow the rings and jars to dry thoroughly before replacing the rings, to prevent rust.


  • You can sterilize jars by putting them in your dishwasher on the "hot" cycle.
    • Rings and jars may be reused. Sealing lids must be replaced since the soft sealing compound deforms with use.
    • Discard any rings that are dented or overly rusty.
    • If you're reusing older jars, visually inspect them for cracks or chips. Run a finger gently around the rim to make sure it is smooth and undamaged.
  • Store sealed jars on a shelf, avoiding excessive exposure to heat or light. Refrigerate after opening.
  • Label your canned goods with the year, at least. Also consider writing the contents, since apple and peach can be hard to tell apart a month later. Write your name, too, if you are giving the jars as gifts. You can use a sticker or a permanent marker. Either way, make sure the surface is thoroughly dry. Mark your jars on the seals if you want to reuse the jars easily.
  • If you are left with a partial jar at the end of a batch, you can either add it to the next batch (place it in with the fruit at the beginning), place it in a smaller jar, or refrigerate that portion and use it immediately. It's a great opportunity to sample your hard work.
  • Consult the latest USDA guidelines or Ball or Kerr books for process times according to jar contents and size, especially if you use an old recipe. Processing times have changed over the years because we have learned more about safety and, in some cases, because foods are being bred differently.


  • "Open-kettle canning," a once-popular method of sealing jars by inverting them so that the hot contents create the seal, is not considered safe. Paraffin methods are also questionable. It is best to use metal lids and process the jars for the recommended amount of time in a boiling water bath.
  • Home-canned foods can harbor deadly diseases if they spoil or are mishandled. Always process foods for the recommended duration, clean and sterilize jars properly before use, and discard any jar of food that is not sealed. Also discard any jar with contents that smell wrong or appear moldy or discolored.
  • Avoid placing cold glass into hot water or vice versa. Sudden temperature changes can shatter the glass.
  • While you might save jars from purchased products that fit a canning jar ring, real canning jars are best. They are designed with thick enough glass to withstand repeated processing and hand canning. Use those saved jars to store dry goods or your penny collection, instead.

Things You'll Need

  • Don't let the length of this list scare you. You'll need jars, jar tongs, and a funnel. Most of the rest belongs in a well-stocked kitchen, anyway.
  • 6-8 quart saucepan or pot.
  • One dozen mason jars, your choice of half-pint, 12 oz, or pint.
  • Mason jar rings and seals. New jars come with these, or they may be purchased separately.
  • Jar tongs (to remove hot jars from boiling water securely).
  • Magnetic lid wand or small tongs.
  • Water bath canner or large stock pot.
  • Wire heat diffuser, if cooking on electric stove.
  • Long-handled wooden spoon.
  • Colander.
  • Canning funnel.
  • Ladle.
  • Apron (optional but recommended).
  • Small spoon for skimming foam. A soup spoon such as those used at the table is about the right size.
  • Small bowl to deposit the skimmed foam.
  • Old but clean towels.
  • Kitchen timer.
  • Dish pan and dish soap.

Sources and Citations

Article provided by wikiHow, a collaborative writing project to build the world's largest, highest quality how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Can. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

Safe Home CanningEasier said than done? In order to assure you are safely canning foods, make sure you are following the right procedures, and taking the right advice.
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Leave 1/8 inch of head space.
Leave 1/8 inch of head space.
Photo by Jack Herrick and Dvortygirl
Wipe the Rims
Photo by Jack Herrick and Dvortygirl
Soften Seals
Photo by Jack Herrick and Dvortygirl
Using a magnetic lid wand
Photo by Jack Herrick and Dvortygirl
Screw on Clean Ring
Photo by Jack Herrick and Dvortygirl
One to Two Inches Below the Water Surface
photo by Jack Herrick and Dvortygirl
Use jar tongs if possible
Photo by Jack Herrick and Dvortygirl
Allow to cool

The Photos Appearing on This Page

Making strawberry jam. Taken by Jack Herrick and Dvortygirl, 23 June 2007, and appearing on WikiHow.

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