How to Can: Boiling Water Bath Method


Pictured: Apples, raisins, and dried cherries in syrup.

Step-by-step directions for home canning using a hot water bath! There is nothing better than a cellar or pantry stocked with home-canned food. It’s frugal, it’s easy, and it makes for great gifts with the addition of decorative canning lids, labels, and a bit of tied raffia or ribbon.

*Hot water bath canning is for high-acid foods only, which generally includes fruits and soft spreads. Figs and tomatoes may be canned in a hot water bath with the addition of a sufficient amount of acid (bottled lemon juice, citric acid, or vinegar). Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and pickles may also be preserved by this method. Standard canning recipes are calculated for altitudes of 1000 feet above sea level or lower. Always consult expert resources for canning method recommendations for the type of food you are canning as well as for altitude adjustments. To can low-acid foods, use a pressure canner. See suggested resources at the bottom of this post.

Supplies you will need: A large canning pot with a rack, a wide-mouth funnel, a jar lifter, and canning jars, lids, and bands. Lids are one-time use items. Jars and bands can be washed and re-used.

Jars must be well washed and hot when you begin filling them. Jars do NOT need to be pre-sterilized as long as the filled jars will be processed at least 10 minutes in a boiling water bath or pressure canner.

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How to Can Using a Hot Water Bath:

1. Before you begin the final preparation stage of the food to be canned, fill the pot half full of water and heat to a simmer (180 degrees).
I can outside on my grill burner. My cats like to hang with me.

Set the pot on the stove to boil. Use a rack that fits the bottom of the pot and the size jars you are using. (The jars must not be in direct contact with the bottom of the pot. Normally, a rack will come with your canning pot. Canning pots are available at most large stores such as Wal-Mart and also at hardware and other specialty stores.) Meanwhile, in a small pan, prepare jar lids. Lids come in regular and wide-mouth sizes, as do jars. Use “real” canning jars ONLY. Lids should be heated for 10 minutes prior to using. Lids can be heated in a small pan on the stove or in a small slow-cooker that can maintain a temperature of around 180 degrees. (Do NOT overheat. Do NOT boil. Overheating lids by boiling can result in seal failure.) Remove as needed.

2. Using a wide-mouth funnel, spoon food into jars, filling to the recommended headspace per your recipe.
Pictured: Honeyed-Yellow Tomato Butter.

Use a plastic or wooden instrument to press mixture and remove air bubbles. (Always remove air bubbles, even if you think there aren’t any. THERE ARE.)
Never use metal in a glass jar. The slightest knock of metal against a glass jar could cause an invisible fracture that might cause the jar to break in the canning pot.

Wipe jar rims with a damp towel to clean any spillage. This is important because any particles of food remaining on the jar rim can prevent a vacuum seal.

3. Take lids one at a time from simmering water with tongs. They do not need to be dried–put them right on the jar.
You can also buy what is called a magnetic wand to use for removing lids from simmering water to place on jars. Tongs do just fine, too.

Place lid immediately on each jar as it is prepared. Screw on bands. Use a towel to hold the hot jars as you tighten the bands. Tighten the bands only fingertip tight–meaning stop when there is resistance. Firm and snug –not as tight as you can make it.

Over-tightening can interfere with the vacuum seal and even cause buckled lids.
4. Slowly lower each jar as you fill it into the simmering pot of water using a jar lifter.
Make sure jars remain upright as they are moved. Once all the jars are loaded into the pot, check that water is at least two inches over the tops of the jars. If necessary, add boiling water to reach the required level. Place lid on pot.

5. Time boil according to directions for the recipe you are using. After placing the lid on the pot, increase the heat to medium-high and bring the water in the canner to a rolling boil. Begin counting the processing time when the rolling boil begins. Keep the water boiling during the entire processing time.

When the processing time has expired, turn off the heat, remove the lid, and let the canner cool for 5 minutes.

6. Remove jars one at a time with a jar lifter and place the jars, not touching and at least one inch apart, on a dry surface covered with toweling or layers of newspaper to prevent thermal shock. Keep cooling jars out of drafts. Do not move jars or adjust rings during the resting period.
Pictured: Hot Pepper Butter.

Allow jars to rest undisturbed for 12-24 hours. You will hear the lids “pop” as they cool and form the vacuum sealing the jars. Store jars in a cool, dry location after removing rings from jars and thoroughly washing jars in warm soapy water.
Do not store jars with the rings on. Rings may rust onto jars and become difficult to remove. Rings may also mask a bad seal and result in jar explosion. Always remove rings on stored jars. (You may want to return rings to jars when transporting or gift-giving, but longterm storage with rings on is not a good idea.)
Pictured: my pantry.

Recipes and Resources:

For low-acid foods such as vegetables, meats, poultry and seafood as well as soups, stews, and sauces containing those foods, see How to Can: Pressure Method.

I highly recommend the “bible” of canning, the Ball Blue Book of Preserving. (Want to win one? Check out my Ball Blue Book Project page for information about this ongoing giveaway.) Please read expert canning instructions. Do not take anyone’s advice on the internet, including mine, without also consulting an expert source. The Ball Blue Book is EXCELLENT. I use it endlessly. Visit the Ball site here.

Another expert source of canning knowledge: The University of Georgia.

Read: The Joy of Canning.

See: All my home-canning recipes and ideas.

Find even more canning recipes at Farm Bell Recipes.

Got questions about canning? Just want to chat about canning with other like-minded canning souls? Join us in the special canning forum on Chickens in the Road!

*Special thanks to Dede for her assistance with this post. Visit the Yahoo canning group here.

See All My Recipes
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  1. RDT says:

    You boil the jam again in a water bath after you’ve made it?

    I’ve noticed this post-jar boiling on a couple of US websites, but never for jam before (usually for other preserves, eg peaches in brandy). It’s not something you find in UK recipes for making jam, and I’ve never done it with mine. What is the purpose of doing it?

  2. Shiyiya says:

    As she mentions, the lids pop and vacuum seal. Things keep better when they’re properly sealed so bacteria and mold and other nasty things can’t get in.

  3. monica says:

    Oh, but I AM a brave soul to ask about it again. . .

    The chicken soup disaster. . .The jars sealed, so I put them away in the pantry. Like 3 or 4 days later, the tops popped 😥 :hole: . I did the hot jars (brand new ones even, but through the dishwasher because they get hot and stay hotter longer than washing by hand), I heated the lids and the mouths were all wiped off. I don’t get it. I do hate wasting food! Most of my carrots and all of the celery were in there! :hissyfit:

    • Suzanne says:

      Chicken MUST be processed in a pressure canner! Always! You need to get the Ball Blue Book of Preserving so you will have the guidelines. A hot water bath is only for high-acid foods. Vegetables, meats, poultry, and seafood are low-acid. Combinations of these foods with high-acid foods in soups and stews doesn’t change the overall classification as low-acid, so they must be canned in a pressure canner.

  4. monica says:

    😆 Oh I get it. I don’t have anybody to bounce my questions off to, except you guys. I have want one of those books–on my birthday wish list. :snoopy: Pretty soon, I’ll have a pantry FULL of food like you and wvhomecanner.

  5. Bryanne says:

    Why do low-acid foods have to be processed in a pressure canner? What happens if they are processed in a hot water bath?

    • Suzanne says:

      If low-acid foods are processed in a hot water bath, they will spoil and cause food poisoning such as botulism. Because of bacterial spores and toxins produced by low-acid foods, they have to be canned in a pressure canner, which allows for processing at a higher temperature than the boiling point.

  6. Lydia says:

    I have fresh plumbs that I want to preserve. I am thinking about washing them, packing them in jars, pouring boiling syrupy water with cinnamon sticks over them while standing them on a rack in hot water in a large saucepan and bringing the water to the boil, then lidding them as they get hot. once boiled, turning off the heat and leaving to cool. what do you think? will this be sufficient to preserve them? :fairy:

    • Suzanne McMinn says:

      Lydia, no, according to Ball, plums should be preserved using a medium syrup and processed in a hot water bath (20 minutes for pints, 25 minutes for quarts). Come over to the canning section on the Chickens in the Road forum–it’s a great place to ask questions and talk about canning!

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