10 Steps to Water-Bath Canning

By: Carolyn Malcoun, EatingWell Senior Food Editor

How to sterilize jars and can preserves, pickles and more in a water bath.

canning beets in a water bath

Got the canning bug? You can safely store fruit butter, jam, chutney and pickles in your refrigerator for a few weeks (jams can be kept in the freezer for up to a year). To store pickles at room temp, though, you need to can them. Processing preserves in a boiling water bath ensures safe storage at room temperature for up to a year. Follow these step-by-step instructions.

Related: Healthy Jam & Jelly Recipes

Equipment Needed

canning set

  • Canning jars with lids.
  • Large pot with a tight-fitting lid: either a boiling-water canning pot with a wire canning rack or a large, deep Dutch oven plus a round, metal cooling rack that fits into it. The wire rack helps prevent the jars from breaking.
  • Flexible, nonreactive spatula (rubber or plastic) for releasing any air bubbles trapped in the preserves. (Trapped air bubbles may cause damage to the jars.)
  • Canning funnel to make filling jars easier.
  • Jar lifter to safely move jars in and out of the hot water bath.
  • Lid wand (with a magnetic tip) to help remove lids from hot water.
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Home canning equipment, like the set pictured here, is available in hardware stores and online at amazon.com and canningpantry.com.

Step 1

Wash canning jars, lids and bands in hot soapy water. Rinse well.

Step 2

sterilizing jars for canning

Place jars in a large pot and fill the pot with enough water to cover the jars. Bring to a simmer (180°F) and simmer for at least 10 minutes—this will prevent the jars from breaking when filled with hot preserves or when transferred to the boiling water bath. Keep the jars in simmering water until ready to fill. You can also wash and dry jars in the dishwasher; keep jars in dishwasher with the door closed (to keep them warm) and remove them as needed.

Step 3

Dry the bands. Place new lids (you must use new lids each time you do canning; bands can be reused if in good condition) in a small saucepan, cover with water and bring to a simmer (180°F). Lids must be simmered for 10 minutes to “activate” the sealing compound that helps achieve a vacuum seal. Keep lids in simmering water until read to use. (Do not boil: simmering the lids in water hotter than 180° may interfere with proper sealing.)

Step 4

filling jars with jam

Fill hot jars with preserves to within 1/2 inch of the top of the rim.

Step 5

run a spatula around the jar to remove air bubbles

Run a rubber spatula around the inside of the jar to release any air bubbles.

Step 6

Wipe the rim well to ensure a good seal.

Step 7

Place the lids and bands on the jars. Tighten bands just until you feel resistance (you don’t want to overtighten the bands).

Step 8

adding jam jars to a pot of simmering water

Fill a boiling-water canner (or large, deep Dutch oven fitted with a round, metal cooling rack) about half full with water. Bring to a full simmer. Lower the filled jars into the simmering water one at a time with a jar lifter or use a canning rack to lower all the jars into the water at once. (If your canning pot does not have a canning rack, a wire rack on the bottom of the pot is recommended to prevent the jars from breaking.) Check the water level. If the water does not cover the jars by 1 to 2 inches, add boiling water as needed. Bring to a rolling boil, cover the pot and boil for 10 minutes if using 4-, 8- or 12-ounce jars or for 15 minutes if using 16-ounce jars. (Check individual preserve recipes for more specific processing times.) Let cool for 10 minutes before removing the jars from the pot.

Step 9

Let jars cool on a cutting board or towel with 2 inches of space between each jar for 12 to 24 hours.

Step 10

testing the top of a jam jar lid

To check the seals, press down on the center of the lid. If the center of the lid doesn’t pop up, it’s sealed. To double-check the seal, remove the band and very gently try to remove the lid. If you can’t remove the lid, you have a good seal. The jar isn’t sealed if the lid pops up when you press down on the center of the lid or if you can remove the lid easily. Refrigerate any jars that didn’t seal for up to 3 weeks or freeze for up to 1 year.

SOURCES: Ball Blue Book of Preserving and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Jams, Jellies and Preserves by Yvonne Tremblay.

Watch: How to Pickle Any Vegetable

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