I get all kinds of emails that say something along the lines of, “Cery, what do I absolutely NEED to have to get started with home canning? Just the canning essentials.”
So in the interests of saving all those lovely people time (cuz I don’t always have a chance to write detailed answers in a timely manner, and I don’t want to be that blogger) I decided to write it all up so that I can direct everyone with questions here.
Canning is one of my favorite self-sufficiency skills. It can be practiced by pretty much anyone pretty much anywhere. There is a small initial investment, but after that it doesn’t cost much at all, especially if you are growing your own fruits and veggies.
The only things that have to be replaced every year are the flat lids, and those are really cheap. And whatever you are canning, of course! 🙂
And if you shop smart and get your produce in bulk at the peak of the season that becomes relatively inexpensive as well.
The satisfaction you get from lining your pantry shelves with food is absolutely worth the time it takes to get it all processed. And the feeling of security that having those jars of food brings is priceless! You can go here to read about why I think having a full pantry is so important.
I feel like I should warn you though, that canning is kinda the gateway to a lot of other self-sufficiency skills. So, you’ve been warned. 🙂
As with any kitchen adventure, canning requires assorted knives, and spoons, and cutting boards, and measuring spoons, and measuring cups, and the list goes on. Most of these things you probably already have in your kitchen. This list of canning resources is for things you may not already have around, or didn’t even know were available.
I have things broken down into “Have to Haves” which are actually the canning essentials and “Nice to Haves” which make thing easier.
So let’s get started!
“Have to Haves” Canning Essentials
First and foremost is, of course, and actual canner. Duh, right?
There are 2 basic types of canners. Waterbath canners and pressure canners. Not a pressure cooker, a pressure canner. Very different things. You can cook in a pressure canner, but you can’t can in a pressure cooker. That’s such a weird sentence…
You can actually use any deep pot as a waterbath canner. If you can have at least 2 inches of boiling water above the top of the jars it’s deep enough to use. So if need be you can use your pressure canner as a waterbath canner because those are pretty deep.
There are a few variations in pressure canners. There are canners with rubber gasket seals and some without. And there are canners with pressure gauges and some without.
The other major difference is what they are made out of. The less expensive ones are made of aluminum, while the more expensive ones are made out of stainless steel.
They all do the exact same thing. So just pick the one that fits your budget.
Aluminum Pressure Canner with Rubber Gasket Seal
Stainless Steel Pressure Canner without Rubber Gasket
That’s canners covered.
The next most important thing is canning jars. Also called Ball jars or Mason jars. They are pretty much all the same. Except for the pretty little jelly jars. They have quilting or other fun designs on them. 🙂
Please don’t use anything other than jars that are made to be processed in a canner. They could crack or even explode during processing. And ain’t nobody got time for that! Too much wasted food, not to mention time! Just say no.
Canning jars are relatively inexpensive and can be used for years, even generations if you treat ‘em nice. You can also find the really cheap sometimes at garage or estate sales.
Jars for canning come in sizes all the way from 4oz jelly jars to half gallon jars. Although the half gallon jars should only be used for canning grape or tomato juice and nothing else. They are also really great for storing things and making fermented stuff like pickles and sauerkraut. But I digress.
Canning Jar Sizes
Here are the sizes that canning jars come in:
- 4oz jelly jars
- 8oz jelly jars
- 12oz jelly jars
- Half pint
- 1 ½ pint
- Half gallon
The jelly jars are all “regular mouth” which means the opening is 2.75 inches across. The 1 ½ pints and the half gallons only come in “wide mouth” which is 3.38 inches across. The half pints, pints, and quarts come in both regular mouth and wide mouth. Which means that you will need 2 different sizes of lids. The good news is there are only 2 sizes!
I use mostly pints for fruits and veggies and meats. Quarts I use for chili and beans and pie fillings. I use the half pints for pizza sauce and ketchup and cocktail sauce and things like that.
Pretty Jelly Jars
Pint Canning Jars
Canning Jar Lids
Canning jar lids come in 2 different types. Single use and multiple use or reusable lids.
Single Use Canning Lids
The single use lids are 2 metal pieces, the thin “flat” lid and the ring or band. They can be found in both gold and silver colors and sometimes you can find some that are decorative with lots of colors.
When you buy new jars, the lids are included. You can also buy boxes of the flat lids, or boxes of both rings and lids. Which comes in handy if you’ve scored some jars at a garage sale!
The flat pieces have a ring of sealing compound around the edge that softens during the prep and processing and creates an airtight seal on the rim of the jar.
And while some people will tell you that they are safe to reuse, you never really know if you’ve gotten a good seal or not. They are designed to only be used once, so again, just say no.
Reusable Canning Lids
The reusable lids are made by the Tattler company. The “flat” lid is made of a food grade, BPA free plastic. They come with separate rubber rings that fit between the jar rim and the lid and create the seal. And the third piece is the same metal ring/band that you use with the other lids.
The process to use these lids is just slightly different than the others, but still quite simple. They are more expensive initially, but will pay for themselves over time if you can frequently because you won’t need to replace them every year.
You can also find stainless steel rings/bands. The advantage to stainless steel rings is that they won’t rust or corrode like the regular rings can over time.
2 Piece Canning Lids
The last absolutely must have item is a jar lifter. This is what you take the jars out of the canner with after processing. The jars will be really hot and in the case of the water bath canner, covered with boiling water. Not something you want to do with your bare hands.
Jar lifters have plastic or wooden handles and a rubber compound on the other end that will help grip the jars so everything is safe and easy to move.
I suppose you could leave the jars in the canners until they are cool, but especially in the waterbath canner, that will result in over processed, mushy food. And seriously, who wants that?
When you take the jars out of the canners they are still pretty hot as I mentioned above. To protect the jars from thermal shock you should never put the jars on a cold counter top or in a cold draft.
Towels to the rescue! I keep old towels that are stained or otherwise not company worthy for my canning adventures. And I use old towels because if I use nice towels they could very possibly become stained and not company worthy.
You need to put 2 or 3 layers of towels on the counter top to protect the jars. And if it’s cold you should cover them with another layer to protect them from drafts.
It would be such a shame if all that work ended with the jars cracking or exploding on the counter! 🙁
So, that’s all the must haves covered. Let’s move on to the nice to haves.
“Nice to Haves” Canning Essentials
Very first on this list is a lid lifter or magnetic wand. This little gem is simply a plastic rod with a magnet on the end. You stick it into the pan of hot water your lids and rings are in to lift them out. It’s simply magical!
I canned for 30 years before I ever knew these beauties existed. And let me tell you, I wouldn’t go back to using a pair of kitchen tongs unless my life depended on it! So much faster and easier with the lid lifter!
The next thing on this nice to have list is a canning funnel. Canning funnels are made specifically to sit on the rim of both regular and wide mouth canning jars. Not only does it help get stuff in the jar, it also helps keep stuff off of the rim of the jar ( and the sides of the jar) so it’s easier to clean off before you put the lids on.
You can actually can without a funnel, but it sure makes the process go faster. And faster is a good thing in canning!
Bubble Remover/Popper Thingy
Now we come to the canning bubble remover/popper thingy. One of the things you need to do when you’re canning is make sure that you get the air bubbles out of the jars before you process them. You want to make sure that you have the correct headspace between the contents of the jar and the lid.
If you have bubbles in the jar, you will end up with the wrong amount of headspace. That can no only waste space in the jars, but the bubbles could cause the contents bubble up and out as the air expands. Not good.
As an added bonus, most of these gadgets have a measuring tool on the other end that allows you to see how much head space you actually have. You can, of course, simply use a thin knife to run around the inside of the jar to release the bubbles. But this is a pretty handle little gadget!
The only other thing that you might want to have is a bunch of pretty labels for your jars. Certainly not necessary, but kinda fun to have. Especially if you are going to gift the things you’ve canned.
I actually usually use a sharpie to write on the lid of jars I’m going to keep. But if I’m going to be giving stuff away I either buy pretty labels or I use a free label making program online and print them out myself.
So, just to re-cap:
Have to Haves
- Canning Jars
- Canning Lids
- Jar Lifter
- Old towels
Nice to Haves
- Lid Lifter/Wand
- Canning Funnel
- Bubble Popper Thingy
- Pretty Labels
So there you have it! Everything you need to have or might want to have to jump into the home canning game! While certainly not an exhaustive it will absolutely get your canning jam on. (See what I did there? Lol)
Did I miss anything? Do you have a favorite canning helper that I didn’t include? Let me know in the comments below.