There’s nothing like the satisfaction you get from canning your own food – especially when it’s food you grew in your garden! Many gardeners would love to can their own food, but are intimidated by all the food canning equipment and supplies that they’ll need to buy in order to get started. It’s true, you will definitely have to buy a few things. But don’t worry, you don’t have to buy a ton of expensive equipment just to get started.
To make it easier for you to figure out what you’ll need, I’ve broken it down into three lists…
- essential food canning equipment
- optional equipment
- other stuff that’s nice to have
Essential food canning equipment
Like I said, you don’t need much to get started with canning your own food, but you will definitely need to buy a few things…
- Glass canning jars – Ok I know, this one is pretty obvious, but the first thing you’ll definitely need to buy in order to start canning your own food is glass canning jars. I highly recommend you buy brand new jars if you’re just getting started. That way you know they are up to the latest canning standards, and you’ll be more successful. Canning standards have changed over the years, so definitely don’t use the old canning jars because they are no longer recommended for canning. You can find canning jars just about anywhere these days, just check your local big box store or your favorite grocery store.
- Lids and bands – Brand new canning jars come with a lid and a band, so you won’t have to spend any extra money on those in order to get started canning. Canning lids are not reusable, so you will have to buy new lids every time you reuse your jars. You definitely want to buy brand new canning lids when need to get more. Canning lids that have been sitting on the shelf for a long time might not hold their seal, and old style canning lids and bands shouldn’t be used. Glass lids with rubber seals are meant to be decorative and should never be used for canning food. The bands can be reused if they are in good condition, so you shouldn’t have to purchase bands for a long time (if ever).
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- Canning recipes – One of the most important things about canning your own food is to make sure you follow a recipe that was developed specifically for canning. When I first started canning, I bought the Ball Blue Book Guide To Preserving and I love it! It’s filled with yummy canning recipes for tons of different foods. This book also has tutorials with lots of photos, which is awesome for newbies! It’s how I learned to can my own food. If you’re just getting started, I highly recommend it.
Optional food canning equipment
Some of the things on my list of the optional stuff might end up being required, depending on the recipe you choose, and the type of food you’re canning. Be sure to read the instructions for each recipe carefully before you start canning. It should tell you if you need any special equipment.
- Boiling water canner or pressure canner – Technically you don’t need a canner to can many types of food. I’ve heard of people using the dishwasher or the oven to sterilize their jars rather than boiling them in hot water (though I’ve never tried those alternate methods myself). But, for many canning recipes you’ll find that you will eventually need a hot water canner and/or a pressure canner. It really depends on what you’re going to be canning.
Boiling water canner – Water bath canning is a great way for beginners to try canning, and build their confidence. If you’re pickling or canning highly acidic foods, then you’ll only need a water bath canner for starters. I also use my water bath canner to sterilize my jars before canning.
Pressure canner – I got by with just my water bath canner for a few years and was able to can lots of food from my garden using only that. Once I got the hang of canning, I wanted to try canning other foods that required the use of a pressure canner. Foods that aren’t naturally acidic, or recipes that don’t call for adding acidic ingredients will require you to process the jars in a pressure canner. A pressure canner is the only way to get the food hot enough to kill any harmful bacteria.
- Canning jar lifter – I have this tool in the “optional” list because technically you could can food without it… but for me, my canning jar lifter has become an essential canning tool. It makes the job of moving jars in and out of hot water a snap, and keeps you from burning yourself in the process.
- Jar funnel – The first few times I tried canning, I used a standard kitchen funnel. It worked ok for liquids – but it was slow, messy and clunky to use for filling my jars. After making a huge mess trying to fill my jars the first time I made salsa, I got a wide jar funnel, and it was a life saver! It fits perfectly into the canning jars, making it a million times easier to fill the jars and prevents spills (and burning yourself!). I highly recommend buying one if you plan to start canning.
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- Lid and band wand – I never even knew I needed a magnetic lid/band wand until I got one. It’s a super handy tool to have (and kinda fun to use too).
Save yourself a few dollars by getting a set of canning utensils, rather than buying each piece individually. The set comes with a canning jar lifter, jar funnel, magnetic lid wand, and a bubble remove/headspace tool. Once you get the hang of canning, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without these tools!
Nice to have food canning equipment and supplies
In this list, you’ll find a few things that I find myself using all the time. They are all things that you don’t need to buy right away. But once you get the hang of canning, and you want to start trying fancier recipes (or just make your life a little easier), then you can start adding these items to your collection.
- Food scale – With canning, your recipes will call for large amounts of food, usually measured by weight. So it’s really nice to have a food scale around. (it’s also fun to use a food scale to keep track of your harvests throughout the summer!)
- Food mill / strainer – You won’t need anything like this until you decide to try canning sauces or juices. The first time I tried canning tomato sauce, it was a disaster. It took me an entire day to chop, peel, seed, juice and strain the tomatoes. (Yah, be glad you weren’t there!) I’m pretty sure that’s the day my husband decided to buy me a food strainer for Christmas. He’s a saint. I can’t believe how much easier it’s made it to can tomatoes and pasta sauces.
- Ladle – This is probably something you already have in your kitchen, so dig it out and dust it off. Trust me. You will use it all the time when you start canning your own food.
- Food chopper – You don’t know how awesome a simple tool like a food chopper is until you decide to can your own salsa for the first time. All that chopping by hand with a knife takes forever!
- Canning labels – Canning labels are nice to have so you can quickly label your jars once they have cooled and are ready for storage. It’s also fun to dress up your jars if you’re planning on giving them away as gifts. I like to use the dissolvable canning labels to make it easier when reusing the jars.
It’s really not that expensive to get started canning your own food. There are only a few essential things you’ll need right away, and you can buy the other stuff once you get the hang of canning.
More posts about food preservation
- Have a bumper crop of tomatillos? Make salsa verde!
- How to freeze berries
- Three things to do with your zucchini harvest
What would you add to the list? Share your favorite food canning equipment in the comments below.