Learning your way around canning supplies can be intimidating, but don’t let it scare you off. We’re here to help you conquer canning! Here’s everything you need to know about canning equipment, including the differences in jars and why those adorable vintage jars are no good for canning today.
Pint jars, wide-mouth jars, lid wands... Sometimes, just thinking about all of the equipment that goes into canning can be overwhelming. If you're new to canning food at home, or you just want to brush up before you start preserving your produce, you'll find all the info you need right here. Not sure what the difference is between wide-mouth and regular-mouth jars? We have the answer! Want to make sure you have all the right canning equipment laid out before getting started? Use this guide as a checklist! No matter what questions you have about canning supplies and equipment, we'll help you figure out what's what so you can start canning all of your fresh fruits and veggies today.
When it comes to canning jars, there's a variety of sizes out there, but not every jar was made for canning (we're looking at you, vintage jars). Depending on what you're planning to can, use these guidelines for selecting the right jars.
Quart jars: Use these for large foods, such as whole tomatoes, or for a generous amount, such as spaghetti sauce or soup for a crowd. The jars come in wide-mouth and regular-mouth styles.
Pint jars: The most versatile-size jar, these containers can hold nearly anything: smaller amounts of sauces, vegetables to serve a few people, pickles, and relishes. The jars come in wide-mouth and regular-mouth styles.
Half-pint jars: These jars sport straight interior sides that allow you to get every last bit out of each jar. Wide-mouth half-pint jars are shorter than regular-mouth jars. Some have a quilt or other design on the exterior.
4-ounce jars: These small jars hold amounts you'll use up quickly or wish to can in small portions. If you're making a big batch of jam to give to friends and family, these jars are a great choice!
Decorative jars: For refrigerator-pickled foods that don't require heat processing, decorative glass jars work fine. Just make sure you clean the jars in hot, soapy water and rinse well before filling them.
Vintage jars: Old canning jars with colored glass or spring-type lids are pretty collector pieces but they shouldn't be used in modern canning. They have irregular sizes, might crack, and don't seal properly. Skip using them for canning and instead display them on a shelf to enjoy.
Be sure to use only standard canning jars. They are tempered to withstand the heat inside a canner, and their mouths are specially threaded to seal with canning lids (you don't want to find your canned produce spoiled later on). Before using, inspect them carefully and discard any that are cracked or chipped. To remove mineral deposits or hard-water film, soak empty jars in a solution of 1 cup vinegar per gallon of water. Look for canning jars in hardware, discount, or grocery stores, or order them online.
Wide-Mouth and Regular-Mouth Canning Jars
Wide-mouth canning jars (pictured on the left) make it easier to pack whole fruits and vegetables into a jar. They're also great for foods like pickles because the wide mouth makes it easy to use a utensil (or your fingers!) to fish out just one pickle at a time.
Regular-mouth canning jars (pictured on the right) are the quart and pint jars with shoulders. Regular-mouth half-pint jars are taller than wide-mouth ones. Because these jars have a narrower mouth, they're great for sauces, soups, or crushed fruits and veggies (they're great for pouring!).
Screw Bands and Canning Lids
Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions when you're using screw bands and canning lids. Screw bands are crucial for securing lids to the jars during processing. Removing the bands after processing is up to you—while they're technically no longer needed, the bands do provide some cushioning between jars when stacked on shelves. Screw bands can only be reused if they're not bent or rusty. Look for bands and lids in hardware, discount, or grocery stores, though they're often sold with their matching canning jars.
Canning lids are designed for one-time use and are best purchased for the current canning season (some sealing compounds lose effectiveness when stored, so buying new lids just before canning is a good rule of thumb). Lids are sized to fit regular-mouth and wide-mouth jars. When purchasing new jars, lids and bands will be included, but you can also purchase lids separately. Just double-check that you're purchasing the size that will fit your jars. The red substance on the underside of the lid is the sealing compound; it helps seal the lid onto the jar.
Boiling-Water or Water-Bath Canner
A boiling-water canner heats jars to 212°F, which is enough to kill microorganisms found in high-acid foods (pH 4.6 or lower). The rack allows water to flow beneath the jars for even heating and has handles that allow you to lower and lift jars easily into the hot water. Canners come in different sizes and finishes. A traditional speckled enameled finish may chip and rust over time; if you plan on making canning into a hobby, high-end boiling-water canners are also available in sleek polished steel.
If you have a large stockpot that has a tight-fitting lid and holds several jars a few inches deeper than their height, you can use that as a canner. You'll still need a rack to set jars up off the bottom of the pot to allow water to flow under them and heat the jars evenly. This can be a good solution if you aren't planning to do much canning.
Use a boiling-water canner for fruits, tomatoes (if lemon juice or other acidic ingredient is added), pickles, relishes, jams, jellies, and marmalades. Because these foods have a higher acidity than vegetables, you don't need to process them in a pressure canner.
Want to can some extra garden veggies? A pressure canner is just the tool you need! Use this type of canner for low-acid foods (pH 4.7 or lower) like vegetables. It will include a heavy pot with a rack, a tight-fitting lid that has a vent or petcock, a dial or weighted pressure gauge, and a safety fuse. Pressure canners allow foods to be heated to 240°F or 250°F and to be held at that temperature for as long as necessary. Each type of pressure canner is different, so always review the manufacturer's directions before you start using one. Look for pressure canners wherever cooking equipment is sold.
Besides your jars and your canner, there are a few other tools that are essential for canning. You can usually find special kits to purchase that will include all of the necessary extra equipment like a jar lifter, a magnetic lid wand, and a funnel (this'll save you time from searching out all the supplies individually). Just like your other canning supplies, be sure to wash any utensils that will touch the food with soap and warm water before using them.
Safety first! This tool lifts jars firmly and securely in and out of hot water. Use two hands and squeeze firmly. You can also use kitchen tongs, but they are not as secure. A jar lifter is essential not just for taking your jars of food in and out of the canner, but it's also helpful when you're sterilizing the jars before getting started.
Not just any funnel will do for canning! Much wider and shorter than other funnels, these come in both wide-mouth and regular-mouth versions. They're invaluable for preventing spills when filling canning jars, and they make it much easier to guide your food inside the jars (particularly for sauces or crushed fruits and veggies).
When you want to get the most out of each jar, a canning spatula will help you do it. The notched end of this tool is calibrated to match the most common headspace in jars. It's somewhat flexible and has a tapered end, making it the ideal tool for slipping in along the sides of filled jars to release air bubbles.
Magnetic Lid Wand
This wand enables you to drop lids and rings into the canner's hot water to sterilize them, soften the sealing compound, and easily lift them back out. With this tool, there's no need to heat them in a separate pan. It'll save you time and make adding the lid to each jar a little easier.
- Always follow the directions exactly, processing foods according to the recommended time and pressure.
- To time processing correctly, start timing when the water has returned to boiling in a boiling-water canner or when the required pressure is reached in a pressure canner.
- Keep food safety in mind! Always inspect each home-canned jar carefully before serving. If the jar has leaked, shows patches of mold, has a swollen lid, or contains food with a foamy or murky appearance, discard the food and the jar.
- The odor from the opened jar should be pleasant. If the food doesn't look or smell right, don't use it.
- As a further safeguard, boil pressure-canned vegetables at least 10 minutes before serving.
Additional Items Needed
You may not need to use all of these items when you're canning, but they can certainly come in handy. Here a few extra tools you might want to have at the ready:
- Kitchen scale
- Cutting board, sharp knife, vegetable peeler
- Large kettle or Dutch oven and saucepan
- Colander, sieve, food mill, jelly bag, cheesecloth
- Wide-mouth funnel and ladle or large spoon
- Rubber scraper, plastic knife, or wooden spoon
- Clean cloths or paper towels
- Jar lifter, magnetic-tip lid wand, ruler
- Kitchen timer, hot pads, wire rack