A Guide to Home Canning Tools & Equipment
The beautiful thing about home canning is it doesn't require the mass purchase of kitchen doo-dads that you'll only use twice a year. If you have a small kitchen, it doesn't have to be overrun with one-function-wonder gadgets, or if you're like me and are blessed with ample kitchen storage but suffer from a severe aversion to clutter, your OCD won't be set off by a whole closet full of stuff you only use twice a year. n fact, most of the equipment you'll use for preserving food at home are the same tools you use to prepare food at home everyday anyway.
Knives and bowls and spoons. Pots and pans and spatulas, oh my! I'm not going to lie, a good stock of these things can make life easier if you get into large batch canning or some of the more involved canning recipes, but to start out a couple of mixing bowls and a big pot on the stove can just about get you by. So what all do you need? Let's take a look.
CannersBoiling Water Bath or Pressure?
Most fruits and many of the most common home canning recipes can be processed in a boiling water bath, which only requires a pot big enough to accomodate your jars. While stores sell large pots intended specifically for this purpose, you may want to check the pots you already own for size. The pot only needs to be big enough to hold a makeshift rack (which you can make out of canning lid rings), your jars and enough water to cover the top of the jars by a couple of inches.
On the other hand, if you plan to process low-acid foods, such as green beans, corn or meat, you'll need a pressure canner. Luckily, if you're getting into pressure canning, you don't need to buy both a pressure canner and a pot for your boiling water bath recipes. A pressure canner can be used for boiling water bath canning, just make sure the lid isn't secured for boiling water recipes. I set mine on a little crooked so it doesn't seal and build pressure and it works just fine.
Speaking of those canning jars, they come in a variety of sizes. From eight ounce jars to half and even full gallons, there are many to choose from and once you get started, you'll probably use a few different sizes for your different recipes. The most important consideration you can make when choosing jar size is how quickly you expect your family to finish what you're canning after it's been opened. You don't want your hard work going to waste if half the canned foods end up spoiling in the refrigerator.
Quarts and pints are probably the two most common jars sizes used by home canners, half-pints and specialty jam and jelly jars come in second. The most common foods canned in pint and half-pint jars include jams, jellies, chutneys and relishes. Foods that are used in recipes or keep well once opened are more often canned in quarts; these include pickles, tomatoes and salsa.
Most jars also come in both wide and regular mouth designs. Wide mouth jars are best for things you'll be pulling from the jars or those things you'll want to scrape the last bits out with a knife. Jams, pickles, green beans and fruit butters, for instance, work wonderfully in wide-mouthed jars. Meanwhile, things you can pour out, such as spaghetti sauces and salsa, can be easily stored in regular mouth jars.
Lids & Rings
If you're just starting out and have bought new jars, each one will come with a new lid and ring. If you're using previously used jars however, you'll need to replace your lids and may need replacement rings as well. These can be purchased separately or together and come in both regular and wide mouth sizes as well. Be sure to buy the right size. Remember: rings can be re-used, lids cannot.
Funnel, Magnetic Lid Wand, Jar Lifter & Non-Reactive Spatula
While technically optional, a funnel, magnetic lid wand and non-reactive spatula made for helping release air bubbles in your canning jars before processing makes canning work much easier. The funnel helps to keep the edges of your jars clean while you're filling them with your foods and allows you to work faster. The magnetic lid wand helps to make short (and burn-free) work of pulling lids from the hot water soak they require before using. The non-reactive spatulausually plastichelps to gauge headspace and release air bubbles in jars before processing. And last, but not least, the jar lifter is designed to help lift your jars out of the hot water once they're done processing. At this point the jars and water are both very hot and the jar lifter makes it easy to lift them out without dropping a jar or getting burnt. This will reduce leakage and breakage. All four tools can be purchased as part of canning starter sets in most stores. Look near the canning jars.
Large Bowls, Pots & Pans
Many recipes require holding, mixing and even cooking down of some of the ingredients. Whether you're blanching tomatoes or mashing berries for jam, a few non-reactive (glass or stainless steel works great) mixing bowls and a couple large pots and pans makes short work of most canning recipes. These can be the same mixing bowls you use to make cookies and the same pots you use to whip up a quick spaghetti dinner; there's no need to buy anything new. Unless, of course, you don't make cookies and spaghettior anything else that requires mixing and cooking.
Most canning recipes use fresh produce, most fresh produce requires washing. A colander can help corral and rinse produce as well as drain ingredients in those recipes that require it. A colander with a base that keeps the food setting well-above the water and juices that are draining out below them is my favorite, but any colander will work.
There's a case to be made for good knives in the kitchen even in the absence of preserving food, but it's especially important when you start canning. From coring tomatoes to cutting green beans to de-boning a chicken, you're going to want a few of your favorite knives at the ready. A paring knife and a chef's knife will be enough to tackle most projects.
Books may be listed last in this post, but they're far from the least important. You can find a lot of canning information and recipes online, but the convenience of a book with all the information you need at your fingertips is unrivaled, especially when you're elbow-deep in cut green beans and can't remember at what pressure you're supposed to be canning them due to your home's elevation. Two good beginning books to choose from are The Ball Blue Book and The Ball Complete Guide to Home Preservation. Both cover home canning basics in detail.
Worried about home canning safety? Be sure to check out the first post in our series: Home Preservation Safety.
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