Tomatoes are a special case. They can be safely water bath canned only if they are acidified by adding bottled lemon juice.
These are general food canning instructions for the water bath method. Each water bath canning recipe will be a bit different in how the food is prepared for processing. Links to canning recipes are included at the bottom of this page.
Definition of Water Bath Canning
This kind of canning is when you process jars in a "bath" of hot water, instead of under pressure like in a pressure canner.
Gather Your Canning Supplies:
Remember when pressure or water bath canning that using fresh, high-quality food makes better end product.
Fill your canner about one third full of water. Heat water until hot, not boiling.
Wash your jars and keep warm. (When preparing jars for canning, jars can be washed by hand or in the dishwasher.)
If processing time is less than 10 minutes, you will need to sterilize your jars. Most water bath food canning recipes call for at least 10 minutes processing time.
Keep jars hot until ready to be filled. For keeping jars hot, I have two options for you.
I also like to warm the canning seals.
Remember, even in water bath canning, the lids do NOT need to be boiled for sterilization.
They just need to be warmed. I like to have them in a small bowl on my counter. Just before I place them on my jars, I take a scoop of hot water from my canner and pour it over the lids. This warms and rinses them for placement on the jars.
Prepare and pack food according to food canning instructions in your recipe.
Fill jar, leaving the recommended head space
Remove air bubbles by running a non-metallic spatula around the inside of the jar. I like to use a plastic orange peeler for this step. It is small and easily slides down. A small rubber spatula will also work.
Wipe the rim of the jar clean with a damp tea towel or paper towel.
Place seals and rings on jars. Tighten finger tight. You really don’t have to crank down hard; snug is fine.
Place jars on the rack in the canner. The rack will keep your jars off the bottom and will also keep them from hitting each other.
The rack should be built so that it rests on the sides of the canner, keeping the jars above the water until you have it loaded and then can lower it down. The picture shows the jars lowered into the canner.
Lower the rack gently to the bottom. The jars must not sit directly on the bottom of the canner or touch each other.
Water needs to flow freely around each jar. Add hot water if needed until the jars are covered by 2 inches of water.
You can also process jars in any pot deep enough to have jars fully covered in boiling water. You will need to put something under the jars to keep them off the bottom. A neighbor of mine uses a small piece of board. I've also heard of using a hand towel. Water bath canners are not too expensive, so it may be worth it to just get one.
When you are water bath canning, you don't start your time until the canner comes back to a boil.
Cover and return to a full boil. NOW start your timer, being sure to adjust for altitude.
Check occasionally to be sure that the canner is maintaining a full boil. You may also need to add boiling water to keep the water level up.
When your time is up, turn off the heat.
Carefully raise the rack and jars up. Wait a minute or two before you take your jars out of the canner
Using a jar lifter, carefully remove the jars and set upright on a wooden board or a thick towel to cool. Be sure they are in a draft-free area and leave 1 to 2 inches of space in between so air can circulate.
I have butcher block in my kitchen so I simply set them there to cool.
Resist the temptation to press the lids at this point. If your kids are like mine, keep them away too! :) Leave the jars alone until cool, preferably allowing them to sit for 12-24 hours.
After jars have cooled, NOW you may press on the lid to check the seal. The seal should be sucked down and not pop up. If you find a jar that did not seal, simply put the jar in the fridge and plan on using the food within a few days.
Remove the screw cap and wash the jar. The outsides will often be sticky. It is a good idea (but not essential) to store without the screw cap.
Sometimes the caps will rust if you leave them on. If you have one that is stuck, don't force it--you may break the seal. Just go ahead and store it with the screw cap in place.
Label the jar with the food type and date.
You may think that labeling the type of food isn't necessary if you can obviously see it is canned pears. However, what if you are canning applesauce using different types of apples for each batch? You will want to know which is which when you open them later. You can then decide which you like better for next time.
For example, from experience, my family knows that Jona-gold apples are the our favorites for the BEST applesauce (in our humble opinion).
Always record a date, at least the year. That way, when you find a jar waaaay back in your cupboard, you will know how old it is. You think you will keep them straight, but it is so easy to forget and so easy to label them now. Trust me. Just do it.
Store your jars in a cool, dark, dry environment. Usually a pantry is fine. Don't store in a utility room where there are hot pipes or high humidity. Direct sunlight is a no-no as well.
Now stand back and admire the colorful, gleaming jars of nutritious foods ready for your family.
Water bath canning is so easy!
What? You are tired?! Yes, but it is a satisfying tired, is it not?
Question: I recently was water bath canning and processed pickles and jalapenos. When I did the water bath I did everything by the book, ball blue book. But, i didnt cover the canner when i processed them. I processed them an extra 5-10 minutes and am wondering if you think they are ok. I found the top now and will be using it in the future.
Answer: Yes, they should be fine. Really, the extra processing time was not needed as long as the water was boiling for the entire processing time. Having the lid will just make heating the water to boiling easier and more fuel efficient. Glad you found your lid.
Question: Why did my canning jar break in my water bath canner? How do I handle a broken jar?
Answer: Occasionally, a canning jar may break during processing. If this is discovered when you take the jars out of the water bath canner after processing, carefully remove the broken jar and its contents. It is less likely, but if you suddenly see fruit (or whatever food you are canning at the time) floating around in your canner during the processing time, you'll know a jar broke. You can go ahead and fish out any big pieces that you can get at and still let the processing time finish for your other jars. Careful! It is hot!
Either way, be sure you are careful when you empty your canner of the water. Usually a jar simply cracks and there are no small pieces, but...just in case, be watchful for small glass pieces.
Being careful to not expose the jars to extreme temperature changes during canning is the best preventative for jars breaking, as is using a proper rack or something on the bottom of the canner to prevent jars from bouncing around in the water.
Page last updated: 7/15/2019.