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Water Bath Canning Basics

water bath canning

Often referred to as the easy canning method, water bath canning is perfect for beginners. Read on as I walk you through water bathing, step by step. It really is easy!

What you need to get started.

First things first. A simple list of canning supplies you will need to get started.

  • Water bath canner with rack and lid.
  • Jars- Home canning jars, are the only jars recommended for home canning. They are made to withstand high temperatures used in canning. Standard jars come in regular and wide-mouth openings. They are available in many sizes including quart, pint, half-pint, and even gallon and half-gallon size.
Ball Mason Jars
My favorite Ball Mason Jars
  • Wet cloth to wipe rims of jars off before sealing with a metal lid.

Choose an approved recipe.

For safety reasons, the FDA recommends using an approved canning recipe. It is important that the recipe you choose for water bath canning has been tested to unsure that your food will be safely processed and contains the appropriate amount of acid to be canned in a water bath canner.

Clean and sterilize jars and lids.

Start with clean jars. Hand wash in soapy water and rinse well or put them through the dishwasher. Please wash brand new jars as well, you don’t know what has been touching them in the factory, warehouse or store. You can sterilize them in many ways. For instance, using your dishwasher with the sterilize setting, boiling them in a big pot of water, or heating them in your oven. There are many approved ways to get your jars ready to fill. Always, always, always keep your jars hot when water bathing. I keep mine hot by placing them in the water in my canner while I am filling jars. You can also keep them hot in another pot of simmering water, or in a warm oven. I sometimes use my ovens “keep warm” setting if I am doing large batches and need a lot of jars.

Prepare lids and bands.

Prepare your lids by washing in warm soapy water and simmering in a small saucepan. Have your bands ready nearby.

Canning lids simmering
Lids simmering.

Prepare you canner.

Fill your canner with water and get it warming on the stove. It is important to have enough water in your canner to cover your filled jars with at least one inch of water over the top of the jar lids. This can sometimes be tricky to estimate because large jars displace a large amount of water and smaller jars displace less. I have found that it is helpful to have too much water boiling, you can always remove some. If you have not enough water boiling, it can throw off your whole canning process because you have to keep the jars hot, until you can boil more water. Your water will need to be boiling by the time you are done filling jars with food.

Gather and prepare your food.

Once you have chosen a water bath canning approved recipe, start preparing your food as directed in your recipe. When it is ready, you are ready to move to the next step.

Watermelon Jelly cooking
Watermelon Jelly

Fill hot jars with hot food.

When your recipe is ready for canning, take out a hot jar, place your funnel on top and fill it with your food to the recommended headspace. This will vary with each recipe. Jams typically need only 1/4″ headspace. Pickled vegetables need more. Rely on your recipe to provide the appropriate headspace required. You measure headspace from the level of food in the jar to the lip of the jar. Measure your headspace with your headspace tool after you release the bubbles in your jar. This is an IMPORTANT step! When filling jars with food, air can get trapped in pockets or bubbles. If you don’t release these bubbles by running your bubble remover tool around the inside of the far and pressing the food in tightly, your jars food levels will vary and can cause siphoning, false seals or no seals at all. Please do not forget this step.

Filling jars with canning funnel
Filling jars with a canning funnel

Wipe rims and seal jars.

After you have filled your jars, removed all bubbles and measured your headspace, it’s now time to get them sealed. Take your damp cloth, and wipe the top rim of the jar off, removing any spilled food that could cause your jar not to seal. Using your lid magnet, take a lid out of the simmering saucepan and place on the jar. Screw the band on just to finger tight. Don’t screw it down too tightly!

Place jars in water bath canner.

Once you have the lids and bands on, you can place your filled jars in the rack in the canner as you fill the rest of your jars. This will keep them hot until all the jars are filled and you are ready to start processing them. Once all the jars are ready, you can lower the rack all the way down into the water, removing some water if it is too full to prevent overflow, until all the jars are covered with at least one inch of water. Place the lid on the canner and bring it back to a full boil. Once it is boiling, you can begin timing.

Jars in water bath canner
Loading jars into water bath canner

Remove jars from the canner.

Once you are done processing your jars, lift the rack to the top position and remove your jars carefully with the jar lifter one at time. Place them on a towel, a few inches apart to cool. You should hear them start to seal with the unmistakeable ping sound they make.

Allow jars to cool and seal.

Leave the jars alone, no touching, shaking, tipping. Allow your jars to sit undisturbed for 12 hours at least. Jars will ping as they seal. Sometimes they seal right away, other times not so quickly. However, they are very hot and can take a long time to seal. If they haven’t sealed within 24 hours refrigerate and use soon, freeze or reprocess.

jars of watermelon jelly cooling
Jars of watermelon jelly cooling

You’re done!

Easy wasn’t it? Now you can try your hand at pressure canning! I’ll walk you through it here. Once you get the canning bug, it’s hard to stop! What are you planning on water bath canning first? If you have any questions or comments, leave them in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you!

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