Tutorial: Hot Water Bath Canning

by Jenn @ Frugal Upstate on July 3, 2011

Have you been wanting to try canning your own food using the hot water bath method, but been too  intimidated to try?  I know I was for a long, long time!  Believe it or not, it takes me a while to wrap my mind around a new idea before trying it.  I like to read, research and mull something over for quite a while before I try it.

I know how hard it can be to take that first step and try something new, so  I decided to help encourage you all to try canning by doing a tutorial for this month’s Walmart Mom DIY challenge.

After all, what is more “Do It Yourself” than preserving your own food?  And with the renewed interest in growing and storing your own food as a way to help hedge against inflation-well, it seemed like a great fit.  Plus I buy all my supplies at Walmart every year anyway!

I’ve been using hot water bath canning for several years now and I promise you, it isn’t anywhere near as hard as it sounds!  Yes-there are multiple steps, and there are a few places you have to be careful to ensure food safety. . . but I promise you, YOU CAN DO THIS!

I’m going to walk you through this in very specific detail with lots and lots of photos.

Let’s start with your supplies:

The supplies you need for canning are pretty simple-and 95% of them are reusuable! You need a pot, a canning rack, jars, lids & rings (the first time you buy them you get all these together), a canning funnel, a canning jar lifter, the Blue Ball Canning Guide (really, you should buy this-how often do I tell you to spend money?).There are a few other things I use, but I’ll show you as I go along.A note on the pot: this can be a specially sold “canning” pot or a deep stock pot you already have. The important thing is that your canning rack fit inside and that it is tall enough to not only fit your jars, but to have 1-2 inches of water OVER the jars. If you are going to buy a pot new, I’d suggest buying one that is deep enough to fit pint jars at a minimum.

About the jars.  There are many different size jars out there-here you see from left to right, back to front a regular mouth quart jar, a wide mouth quart jar, a pint jar, a tall jelly jar, a regular 1/2 pint jelly jar and a small jell jar.

The newest recommendations for home canning and food safety recommend that you do not use anything larger than a quart jar-even with pressure canning the food in the center of the jar may not reach high enough temperatures.

Choose the size of your jar based on how fast you will use up the food inside.  It wouldn’t make sense to can carrots in a jelly jar if you have a family of 6-you’d need to open 3 jars just to make dinner.  On the other hand if you canned jam in a quart jar it might go bad before you used it all up!


Also note that jars come with two different size mouths–regular as seen on the left and wide as seen on the right. It’s mainly a matter of personal preference-the only time it matters which size you have is when you go to use your jars for the second time and need to buy new lids. . . make sure you buy the right size!

For this tutorial I am using homemade rhubarb sauce-basically rhubarb stewed with some sugar.  I followed the proportions listed in the Blue Ball Canning Guide.  Never “make up” your own canning recipes-it can be dangerous.  Follow a tested recipe or look up the item in the Ball book-it will tell you how much leeway you have.

It’s important to know that despite what your great grandmother did, everything can not be canned via hot water bath canning.  “Low acid” foods–most vegetables, some tomatoes, meat and more can’t be canned this way–the temperature of boiling water does not get hot enough to kill all the bacteria inside.

The Blue Ball Canning Guide lists which foods are low acid and which are not, you can also check a reputable web site such as The National Center for Home Food Preservation or your local Cooperative Extension Office website.  The addition of vinegar as in pickling or large amounts of sugar as in jams can render typically “low acid” foods safe for canning–but again, don’t make up your own proportions, find an official tested recipe.

Ok, on to the canning!  I am picking up this process at the end of any recipe using hot water bath canning where it usually says “leave X headspace and process for X minutes”.

The key to hot pack hot water canning is that hot food goes into hot jars. (There is a technique called raw packing-but that is more for pressure canning-I’ll cover that later this season when I have beans to can)

Jars in water

Take your clean jars and place them in your canning rack down in your pot. Fill the whole shebang with water and put on the stove to bring to a boil. I find it best to actually fill the jars with the water first then fill up around them–otherwise the jars float up and it’s just a bit more of a pain!Make sure your food that is going to be packed into the jars is being kept hot. I turn mine down to a simmer while I’m getting everything ready.

Meanwhile take your canning lids.  If you have brand new jars these probably were on the jars along with the rings.  If not-then you have purchased some new.  No matter what anyone tells you, you really need to use new lids every single time.  Even a slight bend in them will keep the jars from sealing correctly–or, even worse, they may appear to seal but later leak air and spoil.  Just spend the couple of bucks and buy the new ones.

How to Can with a Hot Water Bath Canner

The special thing about the lids is the rubber seal (that red part you see). When the seal is heated up it’s flexible. When you place it on top of a hot jar in hot water, the steam generated INSIDE the canning jar by being boiled is able to vent out without letting water into the jar, then when you remove the jar from the water and it cools, the air stays out and a vacuum is created inside the jar pulling the lid down onto the jar and causing a good tight seal between the rubber and the glass jar rim. As the rubber cools it makes the seal even more solid.

Long story to get to a short point-the rubber rings need to be warm when you put them on the filled jars! So I put them in a pot of water, bring it up to almost boiling and then turn it down to low until I need them. You will notice looking at the picture that I flip over every other lid when I put them in the water–this is to prevent them from sort of suctioning together while they sit in the water.

So my water and jars are in the big canning pot slowly coming to a boil. My food (rhubarb sauce) is simmering on a back burner. My lids are being warmed up on yet another burner. Now it’s time to make sure I’ve got everything else ready to go once the jars are hot.

I like to set up a little station right near my food pot.  I put down a towel to catch drips, get out my canning funnel, tongs, ladle, a spoon, lid rings and a wet clean washcloth.  I also put a big bowl off to the side (I’ll explain that in a minute)

full canning setup

Here is what everything looks like when I’m ready to go!

Now that I’m ready I’m going to double check my canning directions in the Blue Ball Canning Book.  For Rhubarb it says to pack it in the jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace and process pints or quarts 15 minutes.

How to Can with a Hot Water Bath Canner

Headspace is the amount of space left inside the jar between the food and the lid. Don’t mess around with this–they have figured out scientifically how much air the boiling food can force out of the jar. If you leave too much head space the air might not all vent out. Too little and food might boil out of the jar–and food on your glass jar rim means a ruined seal.Don’t freak about this–it’s easy enough to do right. You just have to pay attention. I don’t like to eyeball it so I make myself a cheat.

The two common headspace distances are 1/2 inch and 1 inch.  So I take a chopstick (or popsicle stick) and mark it at 1/2 inch and 1 inch with a permanent marker.  Now I don’t have to guess!

Now you wait until the water boils. Some good tunes at this point helps. I recommend Jimmy Buffet ;)

Great, my water has boiled and the jars are sterilized.  Use those two handles sticking up to lift the pot rack back up and set it on the edge of the pot.  I actually use the handles of two of my wooden spoons to do that, but you could use pot holders or whatever works for you.

How to Can with a Hot Water Bath Canner

Now you’ve got hot jars filled with hot water still sitting in hot water. You’ve got to empty them out so that you can fill them.

I lift mine carefully with a pair of tongs (you could use the special canning jar tongs).

How to Can with a Hot Water Bath Canner

Then I carefully dump the boiling hot water into the bowl I’ve set aside. You may need to use this water to help fill the pot again-so don’t dump it down the drain.

I move the jar over to my “filling station” and put the funnel in.

How to Can with a Hot Water Bath Canner

Now I ladle in the food and check the headspace.  This one is perfect at 1/2 inch!  I use a regular old tablespoon to remove or add a bit of food if I’m off the mark.

How to Can with a Hot Water Bath Canner

Now it’s time to check the rim. See that glob of food there? That’s bad. It will keep the jar from sealing. At the best you’d have to empty the jar, reboil everything and re-can it. At the worst it would appear sealed, you’d pack it away, and then when you went to open it you’d have bad food and have to throw it out.

So just take a minute and wipe the rim with your clean cloth.  I wipe the ring of every single jar I can–even if it looks perfectly clean.  Why chance it?

How to Can with a Hot Water Bath Canner

Now you grab one of the lids out of the pan they are being kept warm in. Set the lid down on your jar of food. And take a ring and screw it on. Just finger tight–ie just till it feels like it has started to tighten down. There needs to be a bit of leeway for the air to escape which can’t happen if you screw it as tight as it will go.A note about rings-they can be used over and over again, and it doesn’t matter if they look a little rusted or bent as long as they can be finger tightened down on the jar.

How to Can with a Hot Water Bath Canner

Now I pick up the completed jar with the special jar tongs.

How to Can with a Hot Water Bath Canner

and place it in the canning rack still suspended in the hot water. You repeat the process until all your food is in jars, or until you run out of space for jars in your canning rack. I always sterilize enough jars to fill the rack just in case. If I use less, oh well, no biggie.

I like to move the jars around so the weight is evenly distributed around the rack–it just makes it easier to pick up later.

How to Can with a Hot Water Bath Canner

Now lower the rack into the water. In order to properly process the food there MUST BE 1-2 inches of water OVER the jars. Mine was short, so I poured back in the water that I had poured out of the glass jars into the bowl.

Yup, 1 inch over the top (and almost to the top of the pot! Ack!).  Now it’s time to bring everything back up to a boil.  You CAN NOT START TIMING your processing time until everything is back up to a boil.

How to Can with a Hot Water Bath Canner

There we go, full boil. Now I time for 15 minutes per the directions in the Blue Ball Canning Guide.

When the time is up I lift the rack, then lift the food out and place it on a cooling rack (or you can use a towel) to cool.

How to Can with a Hot Water Bath Canner

Don’t move the jars for 12-24 hours to ensure a good seal-so make sure where you place them to cool is where you want them to stay.You should hear the sweetest sound known to a canner’s ears very soon-the “pop” or “ping” of the jars sealing. Ahhh. I love that noise. It makes me feel so accomplished!A few more quick notes.Although all these pictures show me canning on my smooth glass top range, I have to warn you that the manufacturers advise against this. If you have a smooth top range then you really need to read up on it and make your own decision.

We have hard water in our area so when I’m done canning I always find this mess on my canner (and rack, and even a powdery white film on my jars). That’s the minerals in the water, nothing to be scared of!  Now, one last thing to do before you can consider yourself done.  Once your jars have cooled for 12-24 hours make sure you label the jar with what’s inside and the date it was canned!

How to Can with a Hot Water Bath Canner

I hope that this tutorial helped de-mystify hot water bath canning for you.

Remember, I’m not a food safety expert!  If you have any questions at all about food safety, whether your jars sealed, if a recipe can be used for canning, if an item is low acid or not–please DO NOT TAKE ANY CHANCES!  Call your local cooperative extension office, research online, find someone who is much more of an expert than I am.  Believe it or not, certain types of spoilage (botulism) can kill with only a few bites.  NEVER EVER TASTE HOME CANNED FOOD THAT YOU HAVE ANY SUSPICION MIGHT BE BAD.

Not trying to be gloom and doom or anything–if you follow safe practices it really is easy and safe–I just want you all to be careful!

Post included in:  Get Your Craft on, Inspire Me Monday,

The Girl CreativeBecolorful Keeping It SimpleRunning with GlitterStrictly Homemade TuesdaySomewhat Simple

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Disclosure: This is a sponsored post I am participating in with the Walmart Moms. Walmart has provided me with compensation for this post. My participation is voluntary and opinions, as always are my own.
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