Food Canning Guide: Why, Types, How To Get Started

Canning food at home has been a way to preserve food for quite a long time now. 

Maybe you have been to someone’s house and noticed a line of glass jars in their pantry, filled with an assortment of different food items. 

food canning guide

Every year it seems, canning is becoming more and more mainstream. 

People whom I thought would never do it have been asking questions about the process and even buying their first set of canning supplies

If you are here reading this, more than likely you are curious about getting into canning as well. 

In my experience, one of the main reasons people do not get into canning is that it seems scary, or difficult. 

Let me put you at ease by stating from the get-go that canning food at home is not scary nor is it difficult. 

But many people still do not know what it is, where to begin, or why it is even something a person would do. 

To answer those questions is the reason this article was put together. 

Sit back, relax, and I hope you enjoy this easy to follow guide on how to get started in canning food. 

Starting Out Canning Food

Before you run out and start buying up canning supplies, it is a good idea to understand what canning is, the two different processes, and why people do it. 

What is Canning?

Canning food at home is similar to commercial canning, you know, the cans of soups, stews, sauces, and vegetables that you buy at the grocery store. 

The idea of canning is rather simple. Food is placed into a container and cooked at high temperatures. After cooking, the container is sealed shut. 

The high temperatures kill any bacteria that are present in the food and the air and watertight seal prevent further bacteria from entering the container and spoiling the food

Generally, most commercial canned food also contains a lot of salt. Bacteria cannot grow or thrive in a salty environment which is why it is used as a preservative. 

This same method of heating a container and sealing it with food inside can be done at home but in a slightly different manner. 

When it comes to canning at home, there are two methods to choose from and it is important to know the difference between them.  

Water Bath 

The water bath process uses a large pot to boil water while the jars of food are inside. After a certain amount of time, the jars are removed to cool.

During this cooling period, a vacuum is produced in the jar that sucks the lid onto the rim and creates a seal. 

This tight seal prevents bacteria from getting into the jar and spoiling the food. 

What is important to know about the water bath method is that it is meant to be used with highly acidic foods. 

The reason for this is that the jars are not subjected to a high enough temperature to kill bacteria. Bacteria do not grow as easily in an acidic environment which is why this method is used with that type of food.  

Pressure Canning 

Pressure canning requires a completely different setup. A pressure canner is composed of a specialized lid that clamps onto a pot. 

Other than clamps, the lid also has a pressure gauge as well as pressure relief valves.

The jars of food are placed inside the pot and the lid is tightly secured on top. As the pot heats the pressure inside rises and produces steam.

Pressure canners produce temperatures higher than that of the water bath method. This in turn can kill bacteria. That is why this method is used for foods with low acidic levels, such as meat.  


Which One Should I Use?

Now that I have explained the differences between the two methods, your next question is probably, “Which one should I use?”

Most beginners start with the water bath method of canning because it is easier and costs less.  

But ultimately, you need to determine which foods you will be canning the most. 

Here is a shortlist of some of the most popular foods to can in a water bath or a pressure canner. The list was obtained from the Ball website

Water Bath Canning

  • Fruits and fruit juices 
  • Jams and jellies 
  • Salsas 
  • Tomatoes 
  • Pickles and relishes 
  • Chutneys, sauces, pie fillings 
  • Vinegar 
  • Condiments 

Pressure Canning 

  • Meats 
  • Poultry 
  • Salsas 
  • Vegetables 
  • Chili 
  • Seafood

If you are certain that you will only be canning foods out of one of the above categories, then that is the canning setup you should invest in. 

Size and Versatility 

There are two more aspects of the different methods that are worth considering. 

These pots are generally quite large and may require the use of two burners on a stovetop. When using two separate burners for a large pot, a gas stove works better over an electric one.

Sufficient counter space will also be needed for preparation, canning accessories, and an area for the jars to cool. 

Pressure canners are more expensive than a water bath pot, but the upside is that they can be used as both a pressure canner and for the water bath method. 

Remember, the water bath method only requires a pot in which to boil water. So, a pressure canner will double as a water bath pot. 

A pressure canner is more versatile but will cost more.

If you know someone that is into canning, I suggest asking them if you may try out their equipment to see which method you prefer. 

Otherwise, if budget is not a concern then I would suggest purchasing a pressure canner because both canning methods can be used, making it more versatile. 

Buying Supplies

Once you have decided which method you want to use, it is time to get your supplies. But where are canning supplies sold?

As mentioned earlier in the article, canning has become more popular, meaning the supplies are now offered at more stores. 

Many big box stores that sell food and kitchen supplies, will also sell canning supplies. 

Even some smaller grocery stores that do not sell complete starter kits, sell jars and lids. 

Of course, all canning supplies can be researched and ordered online as well. 

However, if you want to put in the extra effort and save a few bucks, canning equipment may be found at garage sales or secondhand stores.

To make it more enjoyable I would recommend buying a complete starter kit. These kits come with several tools that make the process much easier.

Here is a list of canning supplies you will need. 

  • Canning funnel
  • Lid Lifter
  • Jar Lifter 
  • Jar Wrench 
  • A tool for removing air bubbles
  • Glass jars 
  • Metal Bands
  • Lids 
  • Water bath pot 
  • Pressure Canner
  • Canning recipe books are also extremely helpful to have

Why Should You Can?

I remember a conversation I had years ago on this very topic. 

The other individual thought that canning was a waste of time and money because they could go to the grocery store and buy cheap canned goods. 

I understand where that person was coming from, but to me, there is a little more to canning than simply cost.

Save Excess Food 

Many gardeners have a difficult time eating everything that they grow before it spoils and must be thrown away. 

Canning is an excellent way of preserving excess food rather than letting it go to waste. 

Seasonal Food

Because we have access to an abundance of food year-round, it is easy to forget that food grows seasonally and may not be offered in some locations.

For example, tomatoes do not grow during the winter, but people still enjoy eating them no matter what time of the year it is. 

By canning your tomatoes, they can be saved and enjoyed at any time. 

Healthier 

Canning food gives a person greater control over the nutritional content of the food they consume. 

Much of the food offered at grocery stores is unhealthy for a variety of reasons, which is a topic saved for another day. 

Suffice to say, growing your food and buying fresh meat from local establishments allows a person to can healthier foods at home. 

Emergency Preparedness 

Not having a fully stocked pantry of food is a rather modern approach to living. 

This may be due in part to the lack of storage space available to some urban dwellers. However, I think it has more to do with our access to an abundance of food and the unshakable confidence many people have in the supply chain.

But nothing is infallible, the least of which is the food supply chain. 

During times of food shortages, increased prices, or a breakdown of the supply chain, a home canner will be at ease knowing that they not only grow food but can preserve it as well.

Storing Canned Goods

A general rule of thumb is that canned goods have a shelf life of one to two years. This may depend on the type of food in the jars as well as the storage conditions. 

After the food has been properly sealed, it is a good idea to write the date it was made on the jar. This way you will know how long a jar has been on the shelf and to rotate it out before it has sat too long. 

Some people use sticky labels that they write on and then attach to the jar. Another option is to use a marker. 

A sharpie marker can be used to write the date on the lid or on the glass jar itself. Do not worry about writing on the jar as the marker is easily washed off with warm water and soap. 

After the date has been recorded, jars should be kept in a cool, dry location, and away from direct sunlight. 


Pros and Cons of Canning Food

Pros 

  • A great way of preserving food, especially excess food from a garden
  • An affordable way of preserving food at home
  • A huge variety of recipes and meals available
  • Healthier option over canned goods bought at the store
  • Allows for food to be enjoyed year-round
  • Provides a way of storing food for emergencies

Cons 

  • Requires time to harvest the food, prepare it, can it, and store it
  • Depending on the brand, pressure canners may be expensive to purchase.

FAQS

Q: Is canning dangerous?

A: In my opinion, the process of canning is no more dangerous than any other cooking one does on the stove. 

I believe this question pertains more to when using a pressure canner. I think people are fearful of this method because they think the pot might explode.

This was somewhat true of old pressure canners as they lacked certain safety features.

 However, new pressure canners have two to three safety features. 

The first is a pressure gauge that indicates the internal pressure of the pot. 

The second is an audio device that makes a sound when steam passes through it, sort of like a teapot.

Lastly, there is a relief port that steam can escape from should the pressure become too high. 

Q: What canning supplies can be reused?

A: The pot and all the tools such as the jar lifter, wrench, lid lifter, etc. are all reusable. The glass jars and metal bands are also reusable. 

The lids however are a different story. 

Traditionally, canning lids were made to only be used once. This had to do with the sealing compound found on the underside of the lid. 

However, now there is a reusable canning lid that is being marketed that can supposedly be used several times. But there is some debate as to their effectiveness.

When in doubt, only use lids once to prevent food spoilage.  


 Wrap Up 

Canning is a great way of preserving food at home that is both affordable and easy to do. 

From growing food, harvesting it, preparing it, creating recipes, and processing it all through canning, this is an activity that the whole family can get involved in.

Are you an experienced canner or just getting started? Sound off in the comments below and let us know your thoughts on this method of food preservation. 

Thanks for reading!



Written by Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. Recently, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide and Paracord Projects For Camping which is scheduled to be released March 2, 2021 Read more of Bryan's articles.