Water-Bath Canning: A Step-by-Step Guide

This step-by-step guide to Water-Bath Canning has been provided as an excerpt from the brand new The Amish Canning Cookbook by Georgia Varozza.
To learn more about the cookbook, scroll down to the bottom of this post.

Processing times will vary depending on the particular food you are canning,
but the steps you take to end up with safely processed jars will always be
the same. And no matter how much you can, having these instructions before
you each time will ensure that you don’t forget an important step and run the
risk of improperly canned food or jars that fail to seal.

1. Inspect your canner, making sure all parts are in good working condition. There should be no dents or warping of the canner base. If the rack that holds the filled jars has corroded from prior usage, buy a new one. (You’d hate to have it fail when you’re lifting out a heavy load of hot jars.) Wash your canner and lid.

2. Inspect and wash your jars, lids, and screw bands. Make sure your jars aren’t chipped or cracked, the lids have a complete ring of sealing compound around the edge, and the bands aren’t bent or rusted. Wash jars in hot soapy water or put them through a complete regular cycle in your dishwasher, leaving the jars in the closed dishwasher until ready to use. If hand washing them, rinse the jars after washing and place them in a pot with water to cover. Simmer them in the water until ready to use. Alternatively, you can place your jars on a cookie sheet and place them in a 175-degree oven until needed.

Lids need to be washed with hot soapy water, rinsed, and placed in another pot with water to cover. Simmer the lids in the water, but don’t let the water boil, as this could compromise the sealing compound and result in a sealing failure. You want to see tiny bubbles in the pot, but that’s all. Wash the bands in hot soapy water, rinse and dry them, and then set them aside until needed. Or you can put the bands in the pot of water with the lids already nesting in them, ready to lift out when closing up the jars of food.

3. Place canner on stove. Fill your water-bath canner halfway with water, place the canner on your largest burner, and turn on the heat so the water is very hot but not boiling. Place the canner rack into the canner or set the rack handles on the top edge of the canner if you have that type of rack (most water-bath canners come with a rack included).

4. Fill jars. Fill one jar at a time. You will complete the filling process steps below and cap the jar before moving on to the next jar and repeating the process:

a. Fill the jar with food and any liquid used. Pack the jars well, but don’t smash the food.

b. Measure headspace. Headspace is the space between the jar’s top rim and the top of the food or liquid. In general, you will leave 1 inch of headspace for low-acid foods (meat, vegetables, poultry, beans, and fish); ½ inch of headspace for high-acid foods such as tomatoes and fruits; and ⅛–¼ inch of headspace for juices, jams, jellies, and pickles.

c. Remove air bubbles. Run a plastic knife or air bubble tool around the sides of the jar to dislodge bubbles. Don’t neglect this step even if you think there are no air bubbles present. If you forget this step, don’t worry—your food will still be safe, but occasionally bubbles will cause jars to not seal. Generally, I’ll insert the knife along the side of the jar and then gently press toward the middle. I do this about 3 or 4 times, inserting the knife at a new spot each time.

d. Clean jar rims. A wet paper towel works great for cleaning jar rims. Run the wet paper towel or a wet washcloth around the top of the jar. You want to make sure there are no pieces of food or spices clinging to the top edge because the sealing compound must be in contact all the way around the jar top in order for the jar to seal properly.

e. Screw on lids and bands. Place the lid on the jar, sealing side down so it’s in contact with the jar rim, and then screw on the band. You want to screw it on quite snug, but don’t overtighten it—there’s no need to crank down as hard as you can. “Finger-tip tight” is how the tightness rule is often stated. Note regarding use of Tattlers: If you are using Tattlers, refer to chapter 5 for information on how to screw on the Tattler plastic lids—it’s a bit different than when using the more common two-piece system.

f. Place filled jar in canner rack. Using the jar lifter so you don’t burn yourself, place your filled jar into the canner’s rack. As you add jars, remember to keep them balanced by placing jars opposite each other instead of placing them side-by-side and running the risk of the rack toppling. I generally start by placing the first jar in the middle slot of the canner rack as that seems to help with balancing out the weight when I continue adding jars.

5. Prepare the canner for processing. When your entire load is in place, lower the rack with the filled jars into the canner. (You may need to use hot pads for this step.) Add simmering water if needed to cover the jars by 1–2 inches. Turn the heat to medium-high, place the lid on the canner, and bring the water to a full rolling boil.

6. Processing and adjusting for altitude. When the water in the canner has come to a full rolling boil, set the timer according to the recipe’s processing time. However, you’ll need to adjust the processing times depending on what the altitude is where you live. The increased processing times are as follows:


Altitude in Feet Increased Processing Time
0 – 1,000 No adjustment in minutes
1,001 – 3,000 5 minutes
3,001 – 6,000 10 minutes
6,001 – 8,000 15 minutes
8,001 – 10,000 20 minutes

Note: You can determine what your altitude is by going to www.earthtools.org and finding your location anywhere in the world.

During this processing period it is necessary to ensure that the water never stops boiling. Also, the level of the boiling water should never drop below the top of the lids; you can add boiling water if necessary to maintain fully covered jars. When the processing time is complete, turn off the heat and remove the canner lid. (Don’t forget to use hot mitts and lift the lid so the steam releases away from you.) Let the jars sit in the opened canner for about 5 minutes before removing them. Next, place the jars on a dry towel or wooden cutting board with air space between them and let them sit undisturbed until completely cool. Do not push down on the center of the lid and don’t tighten the bands.

Note regarding use of Tattlers: If using Tattler reusable lids, you must tighten down the screw bands immediately upon taking the jars out of the canner. Make sure you use oven mitts because the contents are boiling hot. Give the screw bands a good hard crank.

7. Check jars for proper seal. You know the jars are sealed when the small dome area in the middle of the lid pops down. Th is can happen with a loud popping noise (very gratifying!), or it can be a slower process, but once the dome is pulled down the jar is sealed. If, after several hours, you notice the dome in the middle of a lid is still up (meaning the jar hasn’t sealed), it’s a good idea to put that jar in the refrigerator and use the food within several days. Or you can reprocess the food using a new lid and the same processing time as before.

After about 12 hours, check each jar to make sure it has a good seal: Remove the bands and then press on the lid to make sure the center is tight and concave (curved slightly downward). Carefully lift the jar by the edge of the lid with your fingers. The lid should hold. Next, wipe the jars with a damp cloth to clean them. Write on the lid or attach a label to the jar that indicates what’s inside. It’s also a good idea to add the date so you can eat your older jars of food first.

Note regarding use of Tattlers: Because Tattler lids are made using a hard plastic, the lids won’t pop down so there’s no visual indication that a seal has been made. After about 12 hours, or once the jar of food has thoroughly cooled, you will need to remove the screw band and then gently lift the jar by the rim to check for a proper seal. If the seal has been made, you will be able to lift the jar by the plastic seal without it coming off.

8. Wash your canner and tools so they’re ready for the next time. Make sure everything is bone dry before closing up the canner and storing it.


The Amish Canning Cookbook by Georgia Varozza

The Amish Canning Cookbook

By Georgia Varozza

Available Now

From the author of The Homestyle Amish Kitchen Cookbook comes a great new collection of recipes, hints, and Plain wisdom for everyone who loves the idea of preserving fresh, wholesome foods. Whether instructing a beginning canner or helping a seasoned cook hone her skills, certified Master Food Preserver Georgia Varozza shows people how to get the very best out of their food.

With its expert advice and warm tones, The Amish Canning Cookbook will become a beloved companion to those who love the tradition, frugality, and homestyle flavor of Amish cooking!

Learn more: The Amish Canning Cookbook

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3 Responses to “Water-Bath Canning: A Step-by-Step Guide”

  1. Hello Friend, I am writing from Albury-Wodonga Australia. We have had a lot of bushfires lately and I’ve only just been able to log onto the interwebs Thanks so much for the thoughtful post. It inspired me a lot with my TAFE college research. God Bless the internet !


  2. Thank you for posting this. I’ve been looking for ways to water bath can meats the right way. This was very informative.


    Amber | AmishReader.com Reply:

    So glad you found it helpful, Lavender! Happy canning!


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