Canning Equipment 101: The tools you need to start canning

I learned to can two years ago this fall. With a bit of experience under my belt, I feel the need to tell people who’ve never canned, but want to…it’s not that hard! It’s like regular cooking, but it takes longer and you have to be a little more careful of cleanliness. But way, way doable.

And I LOVE it. Eating food you preserved yourself is so rewarding, delicious and healthy. The ability to control your ingredients at this level is amazing–for example, I generally like jam without too much sugar, so you can still really taste the flavor of the fruit. And I like massive quantities of really good jalapeno jelly that’s just a touch on the hot side. And fresh peaches packed at their peak of flavor, then mixed with spices and left to marinate in the pantry. Mmmmmm. Want some? I made a lot. You should come over.

A bit time consuming, yes. But you really don’t need as much new equipment as you might think, and trust me, YOU CAN TOTALLY DO THIS. This post will explain the tools I use and why. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn, your kitchen already has most of the equipment right this minute. So keep an eye out for great produce, and start buying in bulk!

Required canning equipment

Canning jars, lids and rims

Canning jars, commonly known as mason jars, are created specifically for canning. They come in several standard sizes, including quart (4 cups), pint (2 cups), half pint (1 cup) and 4 oz (1/2c). The most common brands today are Ball and Kerr.

Standard sizes for canning jars: 4 oz, half pint, pint and quart

In case you’re curious, from left to right: blueberry jam, sweet holiday cherries, salsa and spiced peaches.

The size you choose will depend on what you’re canning and how much you’ll need to use at one time. I use half pints and 4oz jars for canning jams and jellies; pint jars for things like salsa and pie filling; and a mixture of pints and quarts for things like canned fruit and tomatoes.

You’ll also have a choice of two sizes of the opening at the top of the jar–regular or wide mouth.

Wide mouth vs regular mouth canning jar

You can use either type of opening for any canning recipe; the main difference is how easy it is to transfer food in and out of the jar. I like to use wide mouth jars when I’m canning large pieces of fruit, like peach halves, because they fit better through the opening. However, most of the time, the type I use depends on what I have on hand.

You can easily find canning jars at most grocery stores, hardware stores or big box stores. I prefer to look for canning jars at thrift shops, because they’re pretty easy to come by, although you need to be a little more patient in building up your supply.

Canning lids are in two pieces, by the way. A lid and a rim. Did you know you’re not supposed to keep rims on your jars after they’re sealed? They can start to rust after a while. True story.

Two piece lid for canning

IMPORTANT NOTE: You can re-use jars and rims, but you should use a brand new lid every time you can something. Replacement lids can be purchased with or without extra rims.

Water bath canner

(or large pot with a lid, and a rack)

I use a large kettle that’s made specifically for canning, known as a “water bath canner” which will can pint jars. I bought it at Menards for about $30, as I recall.

Water bath canner

It came with a rack that fits seven jars. I am able to can 4 oz, half pint and pint jars with this canner.

Jar rack for a water bath canner

If you aren’t ready to buy a canner, you can simply use a large stock pot for small batch canning like I did when I started out. In most cases, you’ll be limited to canning 4 oz jars and half pint quantities, but it’s great for learning (and for small kitchens). In place of a rack, you can attach several jar rims together with paper clips and place it at the bottom of the pot, which will keep the jars from resting on the bottom of the pot. It’s very important to have a rack in your canning pot; if your jars rest directly on the bottom of the pot, they can crack open.

I also have a larger canner that I bought at a killer garage sale for $5, which will accommodate quarts–these are more difficult to come by, so if you see one, snatch it up!

If you’re planning to can a food with low acidity, such as meat, corn and some vegetables, you will need a pressure canner. I’ve never done any pressure canning, so I can’t tell you if there are any extra tools needed. It’s on my list, though.

Jar lifter

While this isn’t technically “required equipment”, I’m putting the jar lifter in this section because it makes the process much easier, safer, and it generally costs less than three dollars. A jar lifter has a rounded end coated in rubber that will securely grab a mason jar when it’s in the hot water so you can transfer it out of the canner without it slipping. You could get away with using tongs with rubber bands around the ends, but having used both, I’d highly recommend investing in a jar lifter. You won’t be sorry.

Jar lifter

Things you probably already have

Most of the other equipment you’ll use for canning is already in your kitchen.

Dutch oven or large stock pot

This is used for cooking the food that you will be canning. When it comes to this pot, bigger is better. Mine is an enameled cast iron dutch oven, which is great because a) it’s large, which means lots of surface area for recipes that require that the liquid evaporate, b) the cast iron heats more evenly than other types of metal and c) the enamel cleans up really easy.

Dutch oven or large stock pot

A stir stick or chopstick

Have I stumped you on this one? What do you think it’s for?

Before sealing your filled jars, you’ll need to slide this little tool down the inside edges of the jar to get rid of little air bubbles. Chopsticks will do the job, I use one of these stir sticks–the one on the left is a glass swizzle stick (great name, huh?) and the one on the right is a naked lady drink stirrer that I brought back from a trip to Spain. As you can see, anything goes for this tool.

Stick for getting out air bubbles

A kitchen timer

Everybody has one. The hardest part is remembering to set it when you are supposed to. (I adore mine; you can get it here.)

Kitchen timer

Kitchen tools used for canning

Wooden spoon

For mixing jam and jelly and stirring salsa…

Mixing bowls

Various sizes, used for mixing ingredients and holding fruit while you cut, peel and such. (Vintage Pyrex is my favorite.)

Sharp knives

I consistently use a paring knife (the smaller one) and a chef’s knife when I’m preparing food for canning. The paring knife is for cutting off bad parts of fruit, peeling off skin and things like that. I use the chef’s knife for quartering and chopping.

Tongs

When you’re canning, tongs are like superman fingers for reaching into hot places without getting burned. I keep them handy for taking lids off pots and reaching into hot jars to readjust large pieces of fruit.

A slotted spoon

This is handy particularly for canning whole pieces of fruit or tomatoes where you need the liquid to drain off.

Lots of clean towels

Canning is messy! Wipe your hands, place hot jars on them so the jars don’t ruin your countertop, clean up messes, and so on.

A strainer and/or cheesecloth

Useful particularly for making jelly when you need to strain seeds out of your mixture.

Ladle

For transferring food into your jars.

Oven mitts

Mine are connected in one long piece, which is more handy than you can imagine….I can’t tell you how many times I think, “Now where is my potholder?” when I’m canning, because I drop it in random places in the kitchen. If the two mitts weren’t connected, I’d never find them. But that’s just me.

Nice to have

Canning funnel

This isn’t mandatory, but I would make a way bigger mess without it.

Canning funnel

Food mill or food processor

Nice to have on hand for some recipes.

In the pantry

You might not need these ingredients the first time you can, but I’ve learned that these items are commonly found in canning recipes. It’s nice to have them on hand, so that if you come across a great selection of fresh fruit at the farmer’s market, for example, you can just go home and can it without stopping at the grocery store.

Pectin

Pectin is used for helping fruit achieve the thicker consistency you need for jams and jellies. Not all recipes will use it (some fruits have enough pectin in them to make jelly without adding extra). Pectin is available in powder or liquid form.

Pectin

Lemon juice

Canned foods need to reach a certain acidity level to remain safely preserved when you’re canning with a water bath canner. Most recipes suggest using bottled lemon juice, because the acidity is regulated; the pH of the juice from a fresh lemon might be more unpredictable.

Vinegar and apple cider vinegar

Another ingredient that helps you reach the right acidity level.

Sugar or honey

The most common sweeteners for jams and jellies.

On my wishlist

Squeezo strainer (Affiliate link)A Squeezo strainer

I’ve made homemade ketchup, and any way you slice it, separating the usable liquid from the pulp is ROUGH. (Molly knows what I’m talking about). From what I understand, this tool would make it easier. It will also make some mean apple sauce. But alas, it retails for $200. I don’t currently have that $200. But someday, I will own one of these.

Metallic lid lifter

This is a total novelty item, but I feel like this would be nice to own. It allows you to pick up just one lid out of a bowl of hot water. As awesome as I think it is…I still can’t justify buying it. What do you think?

A pressure canner

Like I said before. So I can can (ha!) even more stuff.

A few helpful tips for beginners

  • Get all your tools and ingredients out before you start. It’s horrible to find out halfway through a recipe that you’re down to one box of pectin and you need three (happened to me once) or you realize that you can’t find your jar lifter and the jars are ready to come out.
  • Allow enough time for it! Canning is a fun activity, but there is no doubt that it is time intensive. The fun quickly fades away when you’re in a time crunch…suddenly, the whole thing gets more stressful. I have a general rule of no canning on weeknights–I have to save it for the weekend when I have uninterrupted hours.
  • This is one instance where you need to stick pretty close to the recipe, and only use approved canning recipes for preserving. There’s a whole science behind this, to make sure there is enough acidity in the food to keep bacteria from spoiling your food–don’t mess with science. Or food safety.
  • Can with a buddy! There’s a lot of work to do when you’re cleaning, skinning and chopping produce, cooking it and canning it. It goes by faster when you have someone to keep you company.
  • If you can, learn from someone with more experience than you. My aunt taught me how to can, and it’s immeasurably helpful to be able to ask questions when you’re new to this.

Have fun! To my readers who have canned before–is there any equipment that you use that I missed in the post? Let us know in the comments!Pin It

  • Awesome info! My husband and I are wanting to learn how to can and your post will definitely be helpful to us! Thanks!!

    • rosyblu

      So glad to hear it Linsey–this is a great time of year to start, with lots of fall produce being harvested!

  • Candice

    For the lid lifter, can’t you just go to the hardware store and find a telescoping magnet that works with the lids?

    • rosyblu

      I had never heard of that before, but I googled it–looks like the same thing!

  • Dee

    Helpful information! Question: Are there any adjustments in timing when using 4oz jars vs. 8oz for jam?

    • rosyblu

      Hi Dee–great question! Most of the canning recipes I’ve made say to put them in for the same amount of time. I always go by what each recipe says to do, however some canning recipe books will have charts with general instructions for each jar size (I use the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving).

  • Erickson

    Thank you for posting this. I love your double pot holder! Where did you find such a thing?

    • rosyblu

      You’re so welcome! My double pot holder came from the Orla Kiely for Target collection several years ago. I’ve had a hard time finding cute ones since then…I’ve even thought about adding some to the Rosy Blu Handmade shop!

  • Ashlyn

    My boyfriend and I are canning fresh berries we got at an orchard; your blog helped so much! This is a great task to do as a couple!

  • Duke

    As far as the Squeezo goes it is great when you have bushels of apples or tomatoes to can. It is a pain to clean and you have to stop many times to clean off the seeds and pulp that builds up on the screen which means dismantling several parts. Apples, peaches, pears, tomatoes must be cooked to soften so the plunger can force then thru the opening easier. It comes with 3 different screens with different size holes and they are super hard to clean thoroughly even with the wire brush I wind up using a toothpick or needle to push out seeds. But if you have bushels to do it is a lot faster. It must be clamped on a table. It comes loose often the longer you turn the handle so you need to keep retightening it to the table. I bent the pin after several tries to tighten. The jaws don’t open wide enough to accommodate every table. It is very messy, juice will squirt out and drip especially thru connection of cone and handle. You have to replace the red rubber gasket seal as it only lasts 2 seasons. The wooden plunger needs to be inspected for splinters. I bought mine in 1984, they could have made some needed improvements since then. U may decide to remove it from your wish list!

    • Hi Duke, thanks for sharing your experience! I actually picked up a used one this summer at a garage sale for $4 (holy steal of the century!). It’s a Victoria brand, not a Squeezo so it has more plastic parts. I’ve used it once and I love it so far—it saved a TON of time and labor when we canned tomato soup. Mine didn’t seem too messy, but it does take a bit to clean up…but I’ll take it, it’s better than what I was doing before!

  • crystal velasquez

    Thanks so much my boss ask my to can for him it my first time canning and im really excited about canning something new for me is always a great experience!