An Easy Guide to Canning Tomato Sauce

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Canning tomato sauce is such an easy thing to do. Don’t let a good home-grown tomato go to waste. Learn how to can tomato sauce with these detailed, step-by-step instructions. Using Roma tomatoes or other meatier tomatoes like San Marzano will give a thicker sauce. Juicier tomatoes will have to be cooked down more to thicken. Either will work.

Do you want to can tomato sauce with meat? Check out this recipe for spaghetti sauce instead.

Three canning jars with tomato sauce lined up next to each other outdoors.
Canning Basics Course to learn how to can fruit, veggies, and tomatoes.

Canning Tomato Sauce: Extended, Step-By-Step Directions

Wash tomatoes and remove stems and bruised portions. You’ll need to remove skins.

Removing seeds is optional. When I’m canning tomato sauce, seeds don’t bother me for things like spaghetti sauce or stews and chili. But I would not want seeds in something with a smoother consistency like ketchup or tomato soup. Depending on what your use is for the sauce, you may leave the seeds if you like.

I’ve described three ways to prepare your tomatoes for canning. The method you choose will depend on how you want to preserve it.

  1. Option one – Use a blancher to remove skins but not seeds.
  2. Option two – Use a food mill, which will remove both seeds and skins.
  3. Option three – Use a blender, which does not remove either skins or seeds. (actually not recommended)

I’ll explain the options for canning tomato sauce. Then you can continue at the bottom for ideas of how to use your tomato sauce. Or if you want to can it up just like it is without seasoning, I give full canning instructions below as well.

Blanching to Remove the Skins

This option will remove the skins but not the seeds.

This is easiest done in a blancher. If you don’t have one, you can just use a slotted spoon and a big pot of boiling water.

Holding a blancher basket filled with fresh Roma tomatoes.

Blanch 4 to 6 (or more if small) tomatoes at a time. This will always depend on the size of the tomato. In the example pictures, I am doing Roma tomatoes. I like them for canning because they are meatier than other tomatoes. They are smaller too, so I can fit more in the blancher.

  1. Wash tomatoes and dip in boiling water for 30-60 seconds or until skins split. You will often see the skins separating.
  2. When you remove the tomatoes, drop them immediately into sink or bowl of cold water to stop the cooking.
  3. Slip off skins and quarter tomatoes. The skins should just slide off in your hands. (Occasionally, I’ll use a knife on some stubborn spots.)
Roma tomatoes with their skins starting to split.
Peeling thin skins off of the tomatoes.

Canning Tomato Sauce Tip

I like to have two pots set up in my double sink. The one on the left is for the cold water to cool the tomatoes as they come out of the blancher. The one on the right is to slide the skins off into. The pots are lower than if you set them on a counter, which is easier on the arms, while the sink makes for easy clean up.

As you skin the tomatoes, slice them into a pot where they will be simmered.

Skinning & Peeling Tomatoes with a Food Mill

Another way of preparing your tomatoes for canning tomato sauce is to use a food mill. This is my preferred method. The food mill removes both the skins and the seeds.

First, wash your tomatoes in cold water, and then slice in half. Simmer the tomatoes to make them softer for the food mill.

Raw halved tomatoes in a stockpot.

It is easier to do this if you have some juice in your pan to start, so try this: Place a single layer of tomatoes in a pot. As it heats, use a potato masher to crush tomatoes to draw out the juices. When you have a bit of juice in your pot, continue slicing tomatoes in half and adding to the pot.

Simmering tomatoes down in a stockpot before canning.

When all tomatoes are sliced, simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until tomatoes are juicy and heated through.

Note: There is a reason for heating the tomatoes up as you slice them. Read more about tomato separation, other tomato canning issues and how to avoid them.

I used two large pots to simmer 30 pounds of tomatoes. With the tomatoes split into 2 groups, it is less likely to scorch.

Put tomatoes through the food mill. This removes all skin and seeds.

Running tomato sauce through a food mill to filter out the skins and seeds.

Use a Blender to Liquefy the Tomatoes for Sauce

This canning tomato sauce option does not remove the skins or the seeds.

Keep in mind that all tested recipes do state to peel the tomato before canning.

In my opinion –and I’ll repeat that it is my opinion— this is a quality issue. The peels in the jars are unappealing. But some insist it is a safety issue since the peels may have a higher bacteria count.

I have an older Ball book that has the option to use a food processor to make your sauce. That method would not remove the peels. This book is dated 2009. The recommendation is that you use a current canning book no more than 10 years old. I guess my old friend is now out of date!

So… you get to decide.

Current recommendations for canning tomato sauce are now to remove those peels completely.

This is an area where you need to make your own decision. I’ll give you the information I have, and you get to decide! :). I admit, I have just blended my tomatoes. I only did it once because I did NOT like those peels.

However now I know better so I do better. I peel the tomatoes.

It honestly does make your sauce or juice or whatever you are making better. The peels are terrible little rolled up things floating around the juice. The best option is to remove those skins.

Canning Tomato Sauce Recipe Instructions

Now you have sauce and are ready for canning. This sauce you just created can be used in recipes like stewed tomatoes or spaghetti sauce if you want. Canning tomato sauce unseasoned is a great idea. It is very easy to use for many recipes when you are ready to cook supper.

Try this time-saving canning tomato sauce tip. Another reason I love the food mill method.

Pouring liquid off tomatoes linked to tip page.
Link to handy canning tomato sauce tip!

First, bring the tomatoes to a boil. Use medium heat, stirring often to prevent burning. If you had especially meaty tomatoes and your sauce is thick, you may need to just stand there and stir.

It can be canned just as soon as it is hot and bubbly. IF you would like to have a thicker sauce, you can cook it down. Simmer, uncovered, to thicken. Cook until it reaches your desired consistency. Stir frequently to avoid burning! The amount of canned tomato sauce may be reduced by nearly one-half.

An easy way to do this is to place sauce in a slow cooker and leave the lid off. Let it cook until thickened.

Gather your canning supplies for canning tomato sauce:


  • 30 pounds tomatoes
  • Bottled lemon juice
  • Salt (if desired)

Do You Have to Add Lemon Juice When Canning Tomatoes?

For more information on why acidifying your tomatoes is important, please read: Canning Tomatoes Safely This article explains why you really do need lemon juice.

What's up? Canning tomatoes with lemon juice.

Processing tomato sauce

To process the sauce just as it is: Fill hot jars. Add 1 Tbsp. lemon juice to pint jars and 2 Tbsp. lemon juice to quart jars. Leave 1-inch headspace.

Follow pressure canning instructions. This is my preferred method and is what I’ve included below.

Be sure and adjust your processing to your altitude.

Processing Time

Be sure you are using the correct time with the correct method. Double-check…water bath? Or pressure canning? And be sure to use the instructions for your altitude.

For more information on why this is important, see this altitude adjustments page.

Pressure Canning Tomato Sauce

Process pints and quarts for 15 minutes, adjusting for altitude using the chart below.

Water Bath Canning Tomato Sauce

Process pints for 35 minutes, adjusting for altitude using the chart below.

Process quarts for 40 minutes, adjusting for altitude using the chart below.

Comments, Tips, & FAQs

How Long Does Home Canned Tomato Sauce Keep?

Home-canned tomato sauce keeps at least 12 months in optimal storage conditions, but again, that’s just a quality issue. Canned food doesn’t automatically spoil when 12 months hit! However, quality begins to degrade at that point, so make a point to use it up sooner, that’s all.

Freezing Canned Tomato Sauce

If you open a jar of tomato sauce and aren’t going to use it all in a timely fashion, you can certainly freeze leftovers for later. But usually, I’ll use most of the jar at once! (That’s why it’s important to decide beforehand whether you’ll use pint or quart jars, depending on how much you’ll use at once.)

If you are wondering about freezing the tomato sauce instead of canning. Then again yes you can simply pack in freezer-safe containers and pop them in the freezer. I’ve got more on freezing tomatoes here

Why Did My Tomato Sauce Turn Out So Thin?

Romas are most commonly used for the sauce. You can use other tomatoes too, but know they’ll be juicer and thus will require more cooking to make a thick sauce.

Can I Refrigerate Tomato Sauce & Can It Tomorrow?

Yes, absolutely. You can refrigerate the sauce as it is and then can it tomorrow. You will need to reheat the sauce, then jar it and process it as a hot pack as usual. Do not put the jars in the refrigerator. Store the sauce in a pot or container and fill hot jars with hot sauce tomorrow.

Why Do Canned Tomatoes Have Bubbles in Them?

When I jarred my tomatoes and took them out of the water bath, I see they have a lot of air bubbles. Is that ok?
Sharon’s Answer: When you say ‘a lot’ that can be pretty subjective. There may be some air trapped between the tomatoes but it should not be a lot. As long as the bubbles are not actively moving, like the tomatoes are fermenting, the air bubbles won’t hurt. Be sure you canned them with the correct processing methods. Read more about canning tomatoes here.

Can You Process a Half-Filled Jar of Tomato Sauce?

By: Deb
I have been canning sauce in quart jars for a very long time. Now with an empty nest, I only need pints. My problem is I have tons of quart jars and only a few pints. My question is, can I process half-filled quart jars of sauce?
Sharon’s Answer: No, you need the headspace to be correct in the jars, so half-filled jars would not work. You are better off going with pint size jars.

Botulism Risk in Tomato Sauce

Hello, I read your answer regarding Botulism and how we should use a canner to process tomato sauce. Last year I followed my husband and his grandfather’s lead and they neither added lemon nor processed with a canner. I hadn’t done my research last year – now I add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice to a litre of sauce therefore the pH enters the safe zone preventing the spore – found in soil – to produce the bacteria.

This said, how would contaminates from air or utensils change this? From my understanding, the spores may be present and boiling does not kill them – but changing the pH prevents this from producing bacteria. Did you mean that the contamination with air and utensils provide problems other than botulism?

Also, would heating the sauce to 185F for 5min before consumption kill botulism if ever the spores were to produce bacteria?

Thank you so much, Signed-my husband is Italian and thinks it’s overkill since his family has been doing this for generations-and I’m a concerned doctor.

Sharon’s Answer:
You really need to use tested methods for canning. Adding lemon juice if you are using a water bath is what is recommended. Don’t rely on the boiling after the fact.
As far as the debate with your husband…no advice here. 🙂 Just wishes for good luck.

Can you water bath plain tomato sauce?

Sure, The directions are included above in the recipe card.

Making & Canning Tomato Sauce

Step-by-step instructions for making and canning tomato sauce. Don't let those good homegrown tomatoes go to waste!
Print Recipe
Three canning jars of tomato sauce lined up next to each other outdoors.
Prep Time:3 hours
Processing Quarts (adjust for altitude):15 minutes
Total Time:3 hours 15 minutes




Blanching Tomatoes (Removes Skins)  

  • Wash tomatoes. 
  • Remove stems and bruises.  
  • Remove the skins by blanching tomatoes.
    Using a blanching basket, add tomatoes to boiling water for approximately 1 minute or until skins split.
    Place tomatoes in cold water to cool immediately, use your hands to slip the skins off.
  • Add peeled tomatoes to large stockpot and bring to a boil. 
  • Simmer (uncovered) until thickened, stirring frequently. 

Procedure for Food Mill (Removes Skins & Seeds) 

  • Wash tomatoes. 
  • Remove stems and bruises, slicing tomatoes in half. 
  • Simmer tomatoes to soften. Use a potato masher to crush the tomatoes to start juices flowing. 
  • Cool slightly and run tomatoes through a food mill to remove all skins and seeds. 
  • Simmer (uncovered) until thickened, stirring frequently. 
  • Now your sauce is ready for use. If you want to can the sauce just as it is, proceed using the directions below. You can also stop here and use the sauce in specific recipes, like spaghetti sauce. 

Procedure for Canning Tomato Sauce

  • Start by preparing jars and getting water in the canner heating. You want the canner hot, but not boiling, when the jars are ready to be processed.
    If you are new to using a pressure canner, see this article for full pressure canning instructions. This includes more detailed information and step-by-step instructions on how a pressure canner works.
    See full water bath canning instructions here.  

Hot Pack only

  • Add lemon juice to jar (1 Tbsp. per pint or 2 Tbsp. per quart).  
  • Add 1 tsp. salt per quart or 1/2 tsp. per pint (optional, but recommended). 
  • Fill hot jar, leaving 1” headspace. 
  • Remove air bubbles. Wipe the rim clean and place seal and ring.  Place jar in the warm canner. Proceed to fill all jars. Process according to directions below. 


Processing with a Water Bath Canner
Place the jar in the warm canner. Proceed to fill all jars placing them in the canner.
When all the jars are filled, bring the water in the canner to a boil.  When a boil is reached that is when you’ll start your timing.   Process for the length of time on the chart below.  Adjust for your altitude. 
 After your time is over, turn the heat off remove the lid and allow the canner to rest for about 5 minutes. Then bring your jars up out of the water.  Allow them to rest for another 5 minutes. Then remove the jars and place them a few inches apart on a thick towel to cool completely.  Leave them alone for about 12 hours.  
When they are cooled remove the metal bands, check the seals, label the jars and store them away! 
Processing Times for Water Bath Canner (Hot Pack) 
Altitude – Pints – Quarts  
  • 0-1,000 ft – 35 minutes – 40 minutes 
  • 1,001-3,000 ft – 40 minutes – 45 minutes 
  • 3,001-6,000 ft – 45 minutes – 50 minutes 
  • Above 6,000 ft – 50 minutes – 55 minutes  

Processing with a Pressure Canner
Place the jars in the warm canner. Proceed to fill all jars placing them in the prepared hot canner. 
Put the lid on the canner leaving the weights off.  Bring to a boil. Watch for the steam to start coming out the vent pipe in the lid.
Allow the steam to ‘vent’ for 10 minutes then put the weights on. Use the proper weight for your altitude (check the chart below) This is when pressure will start to build.  
When the pressure reaches the pressure required for your altitude (check the chart below) that is when you’ll start your time.  Process for the full time indicated, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain the correct pressure for the entire time.
When the processing time is completed turn off the heat. Do not remove weights yet. Let the canner sit undisturbed until the pressure comes back to zero. Do not try to speed up the cooling process.
Remove the weight and wait 5 minutes.
Open the lid to allow steam to escape. (carefully don’t let it hit your face or arms!) Leave the lid setting on top of the canner slightly ajar and wait 5 minutes.
Take the lid off the canner and remove your jars. (optionally you can wait another 5 minutes if the contents appear to be bubbling so hard it is coming out of the jars)
Put the jars a few inches apart on a thick towel and allow them to cool to room temperature undisturbed. 12 hours is suggested.
When the jars are cool, remove the metal bands, check the seals, and store the jars in a cool dark place.
Processing Times for Pressure Canner (Hot Pack)  
Process pints and quarts for 15 minutes, adjusting for altitude. 
Adjustments for Pressure Canner 
Altitude – Weighted Gauge
0-1,000 ft – 10 pounds
1,001-8,000 ft – 15 pounds
Altitude – Dial Gauge
0-2,000 ft – 11 pounds
2,001-4,000 ft – 12 pounds
4,001-6,000 ft – 13 pounds
6,001-8,000 ft – 14 pounds
Adapted from: The National Center for Home Food Preservation 
Servings: 9 pint jars

Related Pages

Tips for Home Canning Tomatoes

It’s tomato season, and you’ve got a counter full of tomatoes beckoning you. Before you start canning, here are 3 things you should know about home canning tomatoes.

Freezing Tomatoes

Freezing tomatoes can be as straightforward or as complicated as you want it to be. With or without skin, cut or whole, with a ‘how to’ video included.

Source: The National Center for Home Food Preservation 

Page Last Updated: 6/24/2021

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1 year ago

I water bathed 14 pints of tomatoe sauce, using a tbsp of lemon juice in each jar, but at the end of the process when i removed the jars, I noticed about an inch of liquid (tomatoe water) in the bottom of almost every jar, and the solid portion of the sauce was floating above it. Is this ok?

Karen Schwarz
Karen Schwarz
1 year ago

hi I used a canning packet for tomato sauce and it had citric acid in it so we did not add lemon juice to our jars will they the jars be ok?

2 years ago

In the latest Ball Blue Book page 33 for the recipe “Basil-Garlic Tomato Sauce” they call for 40 minutes of water bath for quarts. What if one wanted to use a pressure canner instead, what would be the processing time? Why doesn’t Ball list the time for both water bath and pressure canner? Everyone may not have both processes available.

1 year ago
Reply to  Rand

Purchase a pressure canning book and it will tell how to can tomato sauce and the processing time!

3 years ago

I use 25 lbs tomatoes, put in hot water, peeled and quartered and used a food mill. All I got was juice and about a pint of meat. What did I do wrong.

3 years ago

Sharon, thanks for your information! I added carrots to my tomatoes and forgot to add lemon juice before canning. Are the carrots enough to lower ph and prevent botulism or do I have to start over? Or can I just use the jars within a short time? Thanks!

Rachel Abernathy
Rachel Abernathy
3 years ago
Reply to  Linda

Hi, Linda,

Unfortunately, carrots are a low-acid food (like other plain veggies), and thus they are at a higher risk of botulism. With tomatoes in particular, it’s important to use a tested recipe when combining tomatoes and vegetables, such as in this stewed tomatoes recipe: The ratios are very precise. If it’s just been 24 hours, you may store the jars in your fridge for immediate use, but they shouldn’t be stored on the shelf. I hope this helps!

-Rachel (Sharon’s assistant)