One of the most traditional ways to stretch your food budget is through preserving food while it's fresh and inexpensive, so you can enjoy it later in the year. That holds true whether you're growing a lavish garden or simply taking full advantage of door-crasher sales at your local supermarket. Often that means freezing, but home canning remains popular and is even experiencing something of a resurgence.
To can your own food successfully at home you'll need a few things. One is a reliable source of instructions, like the Ball Blue Book or the USDA's Complete Guide to Home Canning. Another, obviously, is a supply of food. The remainder is canning supplies, from your canner itself down to the smallest accessories. Whether you're new to canning or dusting off your old water bath after years of disuse, we've got the lowdown on all the best canning supplies.
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What to Consider When Purchasing Canning Supplies
Your granny may have put up her jams in old mustard jars sealed with paraffin wax, but those jars weren't meant to take much heat and paraffin didn't provide a reliable seal. Similarly, jars with a wire bail and rubber seal aren't well suited for modern-day canning. To get up to speed, and stay in line with modern food safety practices, you'll need to review your purchases with a few specific points in mind:
Canner Type: What's your goal for canning season? That, more than anything, determines which things you'll need. If you're just putting up a few jars of jam, or canning tomatoes, fruit, pickles or salsa, a water-bath canner is fine. If you want to can all of your garden's produce, or meats, fish or poultry, or even prepared foods like soups and stews, you'll need to use a pressure canner instead (a pressure canner reaches higher temperatures, and can kill the bacteria that cause botulism).
Jar Type: Your choice of jars, similarly, is dictated by the things you want to can. For jams and jellies, wide-mouth jars are best (trying to get jam out of a conventional jar is a pain). Meats and fish are usually canned in short, wide-mouth jars, for the same reason. Canning large items such as whole or halved pears is easiest in quart jars, but pickles and most other things are fine in conventional pint-sized Mason jars.
Ambitions: How much canning are you planning? You'll need minimal supplies to make just a few jars of jelly, but putting up your entire season's harvest is a whole other thing. You may need a larger canner, or even two canners and a double set of canning accessories so you can handle the volume of processing it takes. A few searches will tell you how much yield to expect from your garden, or how many pint jars you'll need to make applesauce from a bushel of apples, so you can plan your purchasing—and workflow—in advance. It helps if you plan your garden so that not everything is ripening at once.
Canning pumps a lot of steam and heat into your kitchen in late summer, at what's already the hottest and stickiest time of the year. If possible, you might find it helpful to set up an outdoor "canning station" with a folding table and a gas-fired burner or countertop induction cooker. Both of those options also heat the water faster than most regular ranges can, which shortens the time you'll spend sweating over a steamy pot.
The Best Canning Starter Kit
Granite Ware Enamel-on-Steel 12-Piece Canner Kit
If you're just starting out and don't already have a canner, this set from Granite Ware gives you everything you need. Granite Ware's familiar enameled steel has been around for over 150 years (if you've only seen one water-bath canner in your life, it was likely theirs) because it's supremely durable and versatile. The big 21.5-quart canner holds 9 pints, 7 quarts, or a dozen half-pint jars at a time, plenty for most purposes. This kit also includes a blanching pot (most produce keeps better if it's "blanched" for a few moments in boiling water), a durable enameled colander, as well as the jar rack, jar lifter, jar wrench (for getting lids on and off), magnetic lid lifter, canning funnel and bubble-removing spatula. You can use the canner and blanching pot on most cooktops, including induction.
The Best Canning Accessories Bundle
Norpro Canning Essentials Boxed Set
If you already have your canner, all you really need in order to get started are the jars and a few handy accessories. This inexpensive kit from Norpro ticks all the fundamental boxes. You'll get a pair of tongs for placing large items in your jars, and a funnel for filling them with brines, jams, jellies or sauces. There's a jar wrench for getting lids on and off, a magnetic lid lifter for retrieving the lids from their how hot water bath, and a headspace/bubble removal tool for getting air pockets out of your jars and ensuring you've left enough space at the top (very important for forming a good vacuum). Other kits may offer more pieces, but these are the essentials you really need and will use consistently.
The Best Water Bath Canner
McSunley Water Bath Canner With Glass Lid
The enamel Granite Ware canner is a classic for good reason, but it's more or less a one-trick pony. Its relatively thin construction makes it prone to hot spots, and of limited use as a general-purpose pot. The McSunley water bath canner is a much more versatile tool. Like the Granite Ware, its capacity is 21.5 quarts, and it'll hold just as many jars. The difference is that the McSunley also works as a perfectly good soup/stockpot, which means you'll use it all year-'round. It also has a glass lid, so you can see when your water has returned to a boil and calculate your processing time accordingly. The handles are covered in heat-proof silicone, so you won't need to use oven mitts to move the pot or lift the lid. It's a pretty nice upgrade for anyone who's starting fresh.
The Best Pressure Canner
Presto 01784 23-Quart Induction Compatible Pressure Canner
You'll need a pressure canner if you want to can meats or low-acid foods such as green beans or squash, and Presto's pressure canners are some of the most popular on the market. This one is a nice upgrade on the company's longtime offering: It's still made of heavy-duty aluminum for good heat transfer, but its steel-clad base means this newer model is now induction-compatible. Induction will heat your water faster than all but the most powerful ranges, which means you'll do more canning in less time.
Otherwise, it's still the same big 23-quart canner that's been a workhorse for years. It'll hold 7 quarts, 10 pints or 13 half-pints, but if you add a second rack, you can double-stack pints and half-pints to get 20 and 26 jars, respectively, in one batch. That's a seriously efficient use of your time! Spare parts (especially the sealing rings, which do wear out over time) are readily available from Presto or other online sources.
The Best Canning Jars and Lids
Ball Mason Jars With Lids, 12-Count
Was there ever really a question about who would get the nod in this category? Ball jars have been around for well over a century, and they're the dominant brand for a reason. They're reliable, they're easy to find, and—while competitors may have lower-cost or higher-style offerings—nobody's product line is as broad and diverse as Ball's. They make regular-mouth jars in sizes from 8 to 32 ounces, and wide-mouth jars at up to a half-gallon. Jelly jars? Got 'em, from 4 to 32 ounces. Decorative jars too, in different colors, textures and shapes. There are even jars with an extra-long neck, leaving room to decorate with tags or ribbons. There's a similar variety of lids and bands, from utilitarian to highly decorative. You can't go wrong, and there are dozens of ways to be right.
The Best Upgrade Accessory
Southern Homewares Reversible Canning Rack
This is a tough call because there are so many options, but we like this reversible canning rack from Southern Homewares. Standard racks are "one size fits all," while this model has a side specifically for pint jars and one for larger jars. It holds each size in place quite comfortably, and allows for excellent water circulation. Even better, with this two-pack, you'll be able to double-stack jars in your canner for efficient high-volume canning.
Honorable Mentions: Getting the jars out of your canner is a crucial step in the process (you don't want to drop one after all that work!) and Ball's sturdy Secure-Grip Jar Lifter, with its solid construction and comfortable handles, is a nice upgrade from the standard-issue variety. Similarly, the Prepworks by Progressive Canning Funnel brings more to the table than its peers. With its double-wall construction and handy teacup-style grip, your hands will never get uncomfortably hot as you pour hot jam through it, and it has easy-to-read markings to let you know when you've left the correct amount of headspace.
The Best Time-Saving Accessory
Ball Dissolvable Canning Labels, 60-Count
One of the most tedious preliminaries to this year's canning is scraping and scrubbing last year's labels from your jars. Whether you do it one jar at a time through the year, or all at once as the harvest approaches, it takes up a lot of your time. These dissolvable labels let you cut to the chase: They wash off easily and leave no sticky residue behind. It's not just a time saver, it's a game-changer!
Honorable Mentions: If your food-preserving plans include lots of sauces and purees (tomato sauce and applesauce spring to mind), or if you prefer jams with the seeds removed, you'll save a lot of time and effort by getting yourself some kind of food mill/strainer. There are a couple of different styles: OXO's Good Grips Food Mill follows the traditional French format, forcing food through a straining or grating plate (like a food processor in reverse); while Norpro's uses a top-mounted hopper, a cylindrical screen, and a side-mounted handle to crank food through. Both are quality tools you'll use year-round, not just at canning time.
If you make a lot of jams or pickles, a good-quality kitchen scale can be a great time-saver. Measuring ingredients by weight is faster and easier than fussing with multiple measuring cups and spoons, as long as you have recipes that offer weights as well as volume measurements. The EatSmart Precision Elite is a good choice: It'll weigh in 1-gram increments for small ingredients, but handle up to 15 pounds at a time for large batches (entry-level scales mostly go to 7 or 10 pounds). Like a food mill, it's something you'll use throughout the year.