As you begin your home canning journey it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the necessary equipment and canning jargon. Not to mention, so many home cooks like gadgets! It’s hard to tell what equipment you really need, what will make your job easier, and what is simply extra. Whether you are looking at ways to preserve your garden harvest or preserve the food you purchase in bulk at the farmer’s market, I’ll help you determine the right tools needed as you prepare for your first canning season with my canning supplies for beginners list.
Home Canning Methods
There are two canning methods used by home cooks water bath canning and pressure canning. Water bath canning and pressure canning serve different canning needs. They require different types of equipment to get the job done.
Choosing the correct processing method is important. The reason that a home cook needs to be mindful of proper home preservation techniques is to ensure that the food you preserve is safe to eat. Home canned foods that are not processed properly can lead to botulism, which is a deadly form of food poisoning. Botulism is caused by a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. Acidic foods naturally prevent the growth of botulism spores. These foods can be processed in a water bath canner at a lower temperature. Foods low in acid, need to be processed at a much higher temperature that can only be achieved in a pressure canner. However, the good news is that botulism caused by home canning is rare. Be reassured, that if you follow safe canning practices, the food you preserve will be safe for your family to eat.
A pressure canner is a specially designed piece of home preservation equipment. It’s used to process low-acid foods which include all vegetables, meats, soups, and broth. If you intend to preserve any of these types of foods a pressure canner is a required piece of equipment.
All American and Presto are the two most common brands of pressure canners. While All American is largely considered the best, it’s also a very expensive canner ranging from over $300 to $500. I have been using Presto Pressure canners for a few years now and I am extremely happy with them. They are widely available at a significantly lower price point. If you can swing it, I highly recommend getting the larger 23-quart pressure canner. I have both a 16-quart and 23-quart Presto pressure canner. The large capacity allows me to can twice as many pint jars as the smaller canner. This makes a huge difference when the garden harvest begins to come in. If you will be canning on a glass cooktop, be sure to choose an induction-friendly canner.
There are two kinds of pressure canners, a dial gauge canner and a weighted gauge canner. They do the same job, but they work slightly differently. I have a complete post here that discusses this in more depth.
Successful Canning 101
Confused about the differences between a water bath canner and a pressure canner? Not sure if you need a dial gauge pressure canner or a weighted gauge pressure canner. Check out this post to learn more!
Water bath canners are used to process foods that are naturally high in acid. Some recipes include ingredients such as added lemon juice, citric acid, or vinegar. These ingredients adjusts the acid level making them appropriate to preserve in the water bath canner as well. Jams, jellies, fruit juices, tomatoes, salsa, pickles, relishes, and some sauces are safely preserved in a water bath canner.
A water bath canner is essentially a large pot with a lid. The pot is deep enough to submerge half-gallon jars completely into the water with the recommended 1 to 2 inches of water above the jars. What sets a water bath canner apart from a regular large stockpot is the lifting rack. The lifting rack is designed to lift the jars in and out of the boiling water. The rack has specially designed handles that rest on the side of the water bath canner. This allows the jars to be only partially submerged. This is great for loading the canner and then allowing the jars to adjust to room temperature before removing them from the canner to prevent thermal shock.
My water bath canner is a simple design, and very affordable. While I do use and recommend using a water bath canner you can use any large pot that you can submerge the jars into. Be sure to add a rack on the bottom to prevent glass jars from breaking due to direct heat.
Alternatives to Using a Water Bath Canner
Some homesteaders recommend using your pressure canner pot as a water bath canner. It already has a canning rack in the bottom and it is large enough and deep enough to process quart jars. While this certainly works and makes a lot of sense that you won’t need to store two large pots, I personally really like having a water bath canner with a jar lifting rack. Since pressure canners use only a small amount of water, the included rack simply covers the bottom of the pot, it doesn’t lift or lower the jars. The jar lifting rack especially helps when it comes to preventing thermal shock to the jars and prevents burns as you move jars in and out.
If I had to choose, I would consider this as an option to get me through. If you choose to use a pressure canner in this manner, there is no need to secure the lid, and don’t add the pressure regulator. Simply fill with enough water to submerge the jars and bring the water to a rolling boil.
Water Bath Canning: Steps to Success
This step-by-step guide takes you through the entire water bath canning process. Learn to:
- Sterilize your jars
- Properly fill jars
- How to use 3-piece canning jars
- Inspecting the seals
Step-by-step photos and video!
Proven, Reliable Science Based Recipes
The internet is an awesome source when searching for recipes in general, but when it comes to home canning, reliable recipe sources matter. As beginner canners, it’s best to follow approved and tested recipes to ensure the food you preserve is safe for your family to eat.
Home food preservation is a science! The method you process your home canned foods is determined by the pH level of the foods you preserve. In general high-acid foods can be processed in the water bath canner, while low-acid foods must be canned in the pressure canner. However, some foods are processed based on the acidity of the total recipe, not a single ingredient. Any alterations to the recipe, change the acidity level of the food you are canning. Those simple changes could make the approved canning recipes you started with no longer acidic enough for safe canning in the water bath canner. For this reason, carefully evaluate the source of any canning recipe you choose.
Reliable Canning Books
As a beginner, I have unknowingly canned a few “rebel” canning recipes myself not knowing the importance of the recipe source. While there are several reliable canning recipe sources, my favorite canning book is The Complete Guide to Home Canning published by the USDA and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. While this book is available for purchase, it’s also available as a FREE download. This is my go-to guide when it comes to home canning.
The other commonly recommended canning book that you can be reassured has provien, scienced based canning recipes is the Ball Canning Guide. As a leading canning jar manufacturer, Ball is widely known for its safe canning recipes and practices.
As you advance in your canning journey, you may choose to try recipes you find through alternate sources. Over time canning recipes have changed based on science-based evidence. However many of those old recipes still circulate. When home cooks use canning methods that are not in line with the current canning standards, we refer to this as “rebel” canning. Each experienced home cook should carefully evaluate the recipes you chose when processing your food items. As a beginner, I highly recommend you choose recipes from well-known reliable sources to ensure you are following the safest canning standards for your family. As you become more confident and familiar with canning, you may knowingly choose “rebel” canning recipes and practices. While this is certainly up to each cook to choose what is best for their family, as a beginner, stick to reliable sources to get you started.
The latest on Youtube:
Canning jars also known as mason jars are glass jars made especially for canning. They are designed especially to handle the higher temperatures required for safe home canning. When purchased in a set, they usually include the three-part jar system which includes a jar, a single-use metal canning lid, and a metal ring. While the jars and metal rings are reusable, the metal canning lids are not. Metal canning lids are designed for one-time use. New lids are required each time you process food in the jars.
Canning jars come in a variety of sizes. The most common size jars that most home cooks use are pint and quart jars. However, they also come in quarter-pint jars and half pint jars commonly used for jellies and jams. Pint and a half jars are my favorite. They are halfway between a pint and a quart jar. Often a quart is too much for the two of us, but a pint is too small. Pint and a half jars are just right! Unfortunately, they are hard to find and usually expensive. Canning jars also come in half-gallon sizes. Half-gallon jars are only approved by the USDA for water-bath canning juice. Personally, I use them mostly for dry storage or rice, pasta, wheat berries, and loose-leaf tea.
Canning jars come in two styles. Regular mouth jars have an outer diameter of 2 3/4 inches. Wide-mouth jars have an outer diameter of 3 3/8 inches. The larger mouth opening makes it so much easier to fill and wash canning jars, especially for those of us who hand-wash everything! When purchasing new jars, I always buy wide mouth jars because I like them best! However, I never pass up free canning jars in good condition regardless of style!
No matter the style of canning jars you choose, you will need canning lids and metal rings to match the jar style you will be using. Canning lids come in two kinds, metal one-use canning lids and reusable canning lids.
Metal canning lids have a sealing compound on the bottom edge of the lid that allows the metal lid to seal to the rim of the jar. There are USDA-approved reusable canning lids made of plastic that have a separate reusable gasket.
Reusable canning lids do require a bit of TLC to use properly. My recommendation to new home canners, learn how to can first and then invest in reusable canning lids as you become more proficient at the process. I currently use both kinds of canning lids, but am transitioning to using only reusable canning lids. While they are an investment, they save money over time. Check out this post to learn more!
Choosing the Best Canning Lids
Metal one-use canning lids are a canning standard. However, reusable canning lids approved by the USDA are available. Learn how canning lids work and the types of canning lids that are safe for all home canning. PLUS, I share a cost comparison to see which is the most economical option.
Essential Tools Needed for Canning
The best part about canning is that while a few of the canning tools are canning-specific, many are common tools you likely already have in your kitchen. Personally, I am not a gadget person, however, my daddy always told me that the right tools make the job easier and he was right! As you begin your canning adventures, there are only a few tools I recommend as canning essentials.
No matter the type of canning you choose, either water bath canning or pressure canning, you will be handling a lot of very hot jars, full of hot food, that you have spent a lot of time making. A jar lifter allows you to safely handle each and every jar without fear of burns or mishaps. A jar lifter has long handles that can reach into a pot of boiling water while keeping your hands safe. They also have vinyl-coated clamps that allow you to grab ahold of wet jars without slipping.
While some cooks believe that you can get by using kitchen tongs rather than investing in a jar lifter, I disagree. Kitchen tongs won’t allow you to get a firm grip on a wet canning jar. Dropping a jar into boiling water not only puts you at risk of burning your hands but you will likely also be splashed with hot water on your body and possibly your face. Jar lifters are very affordable and a must-have item for any home canning.
Canning funnels are specially designed with a large opening that fits inside a regular mouth jar. They can be purchased as a plastic or metal funnel. Some are very basic, others can add a strainer to them or have a special rim that is set on the rim of the jar. Canning funnels are a handy tool any time you need to fill a canning jar, no matter if you are canning or just filling a jar with rice for dry storage. The best thing about using a canning funnel is it keeps the rims of your jars clean. Contaminating the rim of your jar can prevent jars from sealing properly, a canning funnel makes filling canning jars quick and easy.
Long Handled Ladle
Likely you already have a ladle in the kitchen and any ladle will do when it comes to canning. However, if you do a lot of canning, a long-handled ladle that won’t drop into the large pots is helpful. My stainless steel ladle has a hook on the end of the handle that makes it even easier to hang on the side of a very deep pot. Canning ladles also usually have a large ladle, which means less scooping.
A headspace tool is used to measure the required headspace left at the top of every jar you fill. It usually doubles as a bubble popper tool, used to remove bubbles from canning jars. While you can certainly work without it, it helps to make sure you leave proper headspace at the top of your canning jars. Headspace is required to ensure your canning jars seal properly. While I would consider this an optional purchase, many canning supply kits include a headspace tool and it is useful which is why I included it on the list. If you don’t have one, a plastic knife or a wooden chopstick makes a great bubble tool, a regular plastic ruler can be used to measure headspace.
While vinegar isn’t a tool, it’s used in a variety of ways while canning. If you have hard water, adding white vinegar to your canning pot will help prevent the white mineral from building up on your canning jars and canners. It’s also used to clean the rims of your jars before adding the lids. Any contamination left on the rims of your jars can prevent the jars from sealing. Vinegar is food-safe, won’t have any effect on the canning process, and is efficient in cleaning the rims before adding the lids. If you will be using it in the recipe, 5% acidity is recommended. It’s a must-have for any home canning!
Other Tools I Recommend
With any work in the kitchen, you will use many basic tools you likely already have. Wooden spoons, potholders, clean towels, and clean washcloths are common kitchen tools you will likely reach for. Thare are really only two other tools that I recommend for specifically for pressure canning. Both were additional purchases for my pressure canner, but I find them invaluable.
The first is a weighted pressure regulator. This pressure regulator transforms my dial guage pressure canner into a weighted gauge pressure canner allowing me to relax a bit while I pressure can. I used to literally sit in the kitchen and watch the dial as I pressure canned on my electric stove top.
The weighted pressure regulator self-regulates the pressure in the canner, jiggling and releasing steam to maintain the proper pressure inside. While I still keep a close eye on my pressure canning, I can hear the gauge jiggling. If it’s jiggling too fast, I know I need to reduce the heat, if I can’t hear it jiggling, then my pressure canner is no longer at the required pressure and needs immediate attention.
Interior Canning Rack
The other add on purchase I added to my 23 quart Presto Pressure canner was a second rack. My canner was designed to hold two rows of pint jars. The second row of jars is stacked on the rims of the jars below it, offsetting the upper jar, so each jar rests on the two jars below. While this works, it’s a pain. The rack was very inexpensive and allows me to quickly and easily load the second row of canning jars.
Recommended Canning Tools
Looking for canning tool recommendations. Check out my Cooking Shop!
Other Canning Tools
While there are other tools you may find in canning supply kits, I don’t find them essential. A magnetic lid lifter is a common item found in canning kits. In previous years, canning lids had to be simmered before use. When this was common practice a magnetic lid lifter was very useful. However, the manufacturer’s recommendations have changed and this is no longer needed, therefore a lid wand is now unnecessary. A jar wrench is a common tool used to properly tighten the metal rings to finger tight. As you turn the jar wrench, it automatically releases when the ring is sufficiently tightened, it helps prevent over-tightening which can prevent the jars from sealing. While I have one, since it came in a canning kit, I find this to be very gadgety and unnecessary.
As you begin canning more and more, you may find you want to expand your kitchen tools. An apple peeler-slicer as well as a good food mill are useful tools when canning, however, they are not tools that every new canner needs to run out and purchase. Start with the essential tools and build your stash of kitchen tools over time.
Find this post helpful?
Share it on Pinterest
Enjoy Your Canning Adventure
While home canning may seem like an old-fashioned skill, it’s making a comeback as more people are seeking quality food without the chemicals and additives used in the commerical food industry. While canning may feel intimidating, it’s not hard at all. It’s a great way for any family to preserve quaility food. Whether you live in an apartment, in a house in the suburbs or on a large homestead, you can begin canning right where you are and make a big difference in the quality of the food your family consumes. This basic canning supplies for beginners list is meant to be a guide to get you started without breaking the bank. Happy canning!
About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.