How to Can Tomatoes, no matter what kind you're growing

Step-by-step tutorial on water-bath canning tomatoes, no matter what kind you're growing.

How to can tomatoes, even if they're not paste tomatoes

I'm swimming in tomatoes right now.

Okay, not literally, but I have a whole bunch of them - five dozen or more spread out on the kitchen counter in various stages of ripeness.

The first step in canning tomatoes is to remove the skins or peels.

I was bemoaning this fact to a friend, who told me to can those tomatoes. But they're not paste tomatoes, I said. I had a combination of beefsteak, salad tomatoes and even cherry tomatoes.

My friend said it doesn't matter, there will just be more liquid in the jars. Turns out she cans "regular tomatoes" all the time.

You can can tomatoes, no matter what kind you're growing. They don't have to be paste tomatoes.

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So I did, the very next day. I couldn't let all those sun-ripened, delicious tomatoes go to waste. 

This has been a stellar year for tomatoes here in Oklahoma; I've never had a crop this prolific. They're beautiful, perfectly shaped, no cracks, and no blossom end rot.

So canning them was the most efficient way to preserve them for future use.

Sterilize your jars first

Before you start canning, use one of these two methods to sterilize your canning jars:

1. Wash the jars by hand in hot, soapy water. 

Rinse well, then put them in a water bath canner or large stockpot filled with warm-to-hot water. The water should be at least one inch above the tops of the jars. 

Bring the water to a boil, and boil the jars for 10 minutes. 

Turn off the burner and leave the jars in the hot water until you're ready to fill them. 

Before filling, empty the jars, then turn the jars over on a kitchen towel to let the water run out.


2. Run the jars through a cycle in the dishwasher. Most dishwashers have a "sterilize" cycle. 

Then use the Heated Dry option and leave the jars inside the dishwasher until you're ready to fill them

Prepare an extra jar or two

I always prepare an extra jar or two, just in case I realizethat one has a rough spot on the rim, or I notice a crack in a jar. 

Sometimes I have an excess of tomatoes (or whatever I'm canning) that just won't fit in that last jar. I fill up - or partially fill - an extra jar and put it in the refrigerator to be used within a day or two.

Remove the tomato peels

The next step in canning tomatoes is to remove the peels.

This is my least favorite part of canning, but I have a secret!

I've learned that if I put the tomatoes in the freezer overnight, then run them under hot tap water, the skin slips right off very easily.

Seriously, this really works. Give it a try!

But - if you didn't put them in the freezer yesterday - you can peel them the traditional way. Here's how:

How to peel tomatoes the traditional way

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Poke the tomatoes with a sharp knife to make a slit in the skin.

Add a few tomatoes to the boiling water, no more than one layer of tomatoes at a time, and blanch them.

Blanching means to dunk the tomato or other fruit or vegetable in boiling water for a short time to loosen the skin.

So, add your tomatoes to the boiling water. This will lower the water temperature and it will stop boiling for a few minutes. 

Once it returns to boiling, start timing the blanching process. After about 30 seconds or so, you'll see the peel beginning to curl up. 

Remove the tomatoes from the water with a slotted spoon and immerse them in ice water for a few minutes to stop the cooking process.

The peels should come off pretty easily after this, but if you still have trouble you can blanch the stubborn tomatoes again.

Add the tomato peels to the compost pile (You can read about composting at that link, which is the most eco-friendly way to get rid of kitchen waste if you don't have chickens) - or give them to your chickens, or dehydrate the peels and then powder them. Tomato powder is a great addition to soups and stews. It thickens and flavors the liquid, and of course adds nutrition and vitamins too.

Using the raw pack method to can tomatoes

After remove the peels from the tomatoes, cut out the cores and quarter the tomatoes with a sharp knife. I use the cold-pack (or raw pack) method - which means it isn't necessary to cook the tomatoes before canning.

Add 1/4 teaspoon of citric acid to each pint jar (1/2 teaspoon for quarts). You can use bottled lemon juice instead at a rate of one tablespoon per pint or two tablespoons per quart jar.

Tomatoes are a borderline low-acid vegetable, so we have to add some acidity to make them safe to water-bath can. If you wish to add salt, this is the time to do so.

Fill the canning jars

Using a canning funnel, pack the tomatoes into the jars and squish them down a bit. Then fill the jars with boiling water, leaving a half-inch of head space.

You can learn more about head space in my post on canning hacks. Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp cloth to remove any food residue.

Warm the jar lids in simmering water for a few minutes, and add a warm lid to each jar. Top with a ring and finger-tighten (don't tighten them too tight!).

Start canning

Using the jar lifter, add each jar to the water bath canner that you've partially filled with warm-to-hot water. The full jars will displace water, so don't start with your canner full of water.

Use boiling water to bring the level of water two inches over the tops of the jars. (To measure, touch the jar top with a plastic or wooden spoon handle. Pull out the spoon and you'll be able to see how deep the water is.)

Turn up the heat under the water bath canner. When the water comes to a rolling boil, cover the pot and begin timing. Process pints for 35 minutes and quarts for 40 minutes. Be sure to adjust the time if you live more than 1,000 feet above sea level.

When the timer says you're finished, remove the top of the canner by tipping it up on the side opposite your face. A stream of very hot steam will rise and you don't want your face in the way! Then carefully remove the jars with your jar lifter, lifting them straight up (don't tip them). Place jars on top of several thicknesses of folded towels. As they begin to cool you should hear PING, PING, PING as the jars seal. What a lovely sound!

Let the jars cool

Leave the jars undisturbed for 24 hours, then check the seals by pressing lightly on the jar lids with your finger. If there is any "bounce" or "give," the jar didn't seal and should be refrigerated and consumed soon.

Wipe down the jars, add a label, and remove the rings before storing your jars.

How to use canned tomatoes

You can use these canned tomatoes in many ways. Strain them and make salsa. Add a jar to any dish that uses canned tomatoes, such as chili (you can find my recipe for chili seasoning here or my recipe for chili mac here). Saute onions and peppers and then add a jar of tomatoes plus spices, and cook it all down to make spaghetti sauce. It might need to cook down a bit longer than you're used to, since you didn't use paste tomatoes, but it will taste just as good!

Or saute some chopped celery and onions and add a jar of tomatoes for stewed tomatoes. Or pour off the water from the jar and then whirr the tomatoes in a blender to make tomato sauce.

How to can tomatoes, no matter what kind they are!

Remember, as long as you add citric acid or lemon juice to bring up the acidity, tomatoes can be water-bath canned. However, if you add any other vegetables such as peppers, onions or celery, etc., you must use a pressure canner.

Now you can enjoy the fresh taste of tomatoes all winter long.

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Related posts: 
Roasted Tomato Soup How to Can Apples Foods to Can in Winter

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How to can tomatoes, no matter what kind you're growing!  From Oak Hill Homestead


  1. I love the old days of canning it was a great time to get together with the women of the family and some men as well. This would have been a welcome recipe as it is different than the rest
    come see us at

    1. It would sure be nice to help when canning, Angie. I wish families lived close enough to each other that they could still do this.

  2. A very timely post. I am on a short trip away from my garden. I have a friend watering for me but not picking my produce. My tomatoes are starting to come in so I should have a big batch ready to can. I had a bad time with growing slicing tomatoes last year so this year I have six plants in containers away from my tainted soil. I have high hopes to can both sauce and canned tomatoes like you did. - Margy

    1. Hi Margy, I hope you're enjoying your trip and that you have a whole mess of tomatoes ready to can when you get back home. Enjoy!

  3. I always have a huge amount of tomatoes at the end of our growing season too. I am definitely going to try putting them in the freezer to make peeling them easier. That is always my least favorite part too.

    1. Freezing them first makes the process so easy, Tracy. Hope you're enjoying your RV adventure!

  4. I can every year, I end up making many quarts of Spaghetti sauce, but this year my tomatoes are a bust! its' been rainy days upon rainy days and not enough sun.. I don't think buying them will be financially worth it,so we may end up having to buy sauce and canned tomatoes this year. boo. thanks for sharing on our Celebrate 365 Farmers Market Recipe Inspirations week!

    1. I'm sorry to hear about your tomato failure this year; I hope next year is better!


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