Canning Tips and Tricks for Beginning and Intermediate Canners

Are you new to canning? Even if you aren't, I bet some of these canning tips and how to's are new to you, just like they were to me.

This post was updated in September 2022.

Years ago I attended a canning class hosted by our county extension office. Our instructor was Dr. Barbara Brown, Oklahoma State Food Specialist and featured presenter on OKLAHOMA GARDENING (OETA's popular Gardening television program).

At that time, I had been canning for several years, but just boiling water bath canning (BWB). I'd just purchased a new Presto pressure canner, and I wanted to try pressure canning first under Dr. Brown's watchful eyes before trying it on my own.

Yes, I was nervous!

Since I'd been canning for awhile, I knew a lot of these tips already, but I learned a few new tricks about water bath canning too. Perhaps you'll find these tips helpful as well.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means if you click on a link and make a purchase I might earn a small commission, but it doesn't affect the price you pay. Read my disclosure here for more info.

Canning basics

First and most important, Dr. Brown stressed that you should always use reliable sources for your canning recipes. 

Canning is a science based on principles of food safety. Processing times and pressure (if you're using a pressure canner) are extremely important, and the acidity of the food you're canning plays a large part in the recipe too.

Fruits may be preserved in a boiling water bath canner (BWB), but vegetables and meat must be pressure-canned using a pressure canner.

Why? Because fruits are high in acid which helps to preserve them. Vegetables and meat are low-acid.

Canning resources

Combining ingredients in a canning recipe changes everything. You should always use an approved recipe and follow it closely.

In other words, don't decide that you'll add onions and peppers to the batch of tomatoes you're canning. 

You can water-bath tomatoes, but if you add any other vegetable you must use a pressure canner. Plus the time to process the jars will be different. So to be on the safe side, stick to approved recipes.

You'll find a treasure trove of safety-tested canning recipes in the following resources:

Some canning tips you might not know

Canning jars and lids

  • Half gallon jars should only be used for high-acid fruit juices (apple and grape, NOT tomato juice)
  • If you're going to water bath process for less than 10 minutes, you should sterilize the jars in boiling water for 10 minutes before filling
  • When you simmer the lids ("flats") in hot water before putting them on your jars, alternate them (one right side up, the next upside down) so they won't nest together.

Canners and canning racks

To use a pressure cooker as a pressure canner, it must hold at least four quart-size jars on a rack. Anything smaller is too small to use as a canner.

If you want to use a stockpot or other large pot as a boiling water bath canner, the pot must be tall enough to hold the rack, the jars, and another 1-2" of water over the top of the jars, and enough space above that so the water doesn't boil over. 

The pot must also have a well-fitting lid.

Using a rack is extremely important in both types of canners (BWB and pressure canners). You need water to circulate under the jars during processing. 

You can substitute jar rings, or a round cake cooling rack in a water bath canner (measure the inside of your canning pot before ordering), or use the rack from your pressure canner in your water bath canner.

But you can't simply put a towel on the bottom of your canner instead of a rack. The water must circulate underneath the jars, and a towel won't allow that to happen. (Not to mention the fact that the towel will end up floating in the water. Don't ask me how I know that.)

To store your pressure canner:

  • Make sure the pot is dry
  • Add some wadded-up newspaper or paper towels to absorb any moisture that might be left
  • Put the lid inside a brown paper bag, then set it upside down on top of the canner
  • Keep the manual/instruction book inside the pot
  • Store in a dry place

Homemade apple jelly

Canning Salt

You can omit the salt from canned vegetables if you wish.

Do not leave salt out of pickle recipes. Omitting the salt will make your pickles soft.

Use canning salt or pickling salt when canning. Table salt will make your canned goods look cloudy.

Your altitude is very important

If you live more than 1,000 feet above sea level you must to adjust your canning times. 

To find your altitude, go to altitude at the National Center for Home Food Preservation. It will take you to a USGA site with topographical maps.

OR even easier, go to What Is My Elevation and type in your address. So easy! 

Canning tips you may not know.

How to measure head space

Head space refers to the empty space at the top of your canning jars. It's measured from the top of the jar to the top of your ingredients inside the jar. (Don't start measuring from the shoulders of the jar, start at the top.)

Although you'll see the judges at the county fair measuring head space with a ruler as they judge the canning entries, you don't need to use a ruler when filling your jars (unless you want to enter your efforts in your own county fair).

The point at which the screw threads begin is 1/4" from the top of the jar, and the end of the threads is 1/2" from the top.

There is a mark or ridge you can feel with your fingernail under the threads that is one inch from the top. 

How to get started

You'll find step-by-step directions to preserve fruits, vegetables and more to fill your pantry in this post.

And tutorials here:

And a great list of gift suggestions for home canners here:

Did you know all of these basic tips for canners? You'll find even more tips plus some ways to save money while canning safely in my collection of frugal canning tips here.

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These canning tips and tricks will save you time while canning.


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