Canning 101: A Tutorial

After I posted my Canning Tools 101 post, I got a ton of comments and emails about people looking for some guidance as they embark on their first canning adventures. I know canning sounds intimidating, but luckily, once you know the process, it is pretty straightforward! Here’s what you’ll need to do, step-by-step:

Canning 101

1. Pick a recipe. Make sure you’re using recipes from trusted sources, and following them exactly. There are some changes you can make safely – tweaking the dried spices or increasing the amount of acid, for instance, but until you know what you’re doing and understand the process and workings of a canning recipe, stick to following every single step and ingredient amount. Some of my favorite places to find canning recipes are:

National Center for Food Preservation

Canning for a New Generation

Ball Complete Book of Home Preservation (Ball’s website)

Food in Jars

Local Kitchen

Simple Bites

Well Preserved

(And I recommend my recipes as well, of course!)


2. Wash your jars in hot, soapy water and place them on the rack in your canning pot.

Canning 101: A Tutorial

3. Fill the canning pot with hot water so that the jars are covered by at least 1″ of water. To keep the jars from floating up, fill the jars at least part-way with water first.

4. Put the lid on the canning pot and bring to a boil on the stovetop.

5. Put the flat lids in a small, heat-proof bowl. You MUST use brand new flat lids every single time you do any canning. Some people recommend simmering the flat lids on the stovetop, but quite frankly, I don’t usually have the space. Don’t worry, we’ll still get them heated and taken care of later!

Edited September 2014 to note: Ball says that preheating the lids is no longer necessary. The rest of the post has been edited to reflect this change.

6. Make your recipe.

7. When your jam or preserves are done, and your jars have been boiling for at least 10 minutes, take the jars out of the canning pot and place them on a clean dishtowel. When you take the first jar out, carefully pour the water from the jar into the bowl with the flat lids. This will help clean the lids, and the heat will soften the rubber so that a proper seal can form.  For the rest of the jars, pour the water into the canning pot before moving them to the dishtowel. Replace the lid on the canning pot so the water stays nice and hot.

Canning 101: A Tutorial -- Headspace // Savvy Eats

8. Fill the jars with your preserve, making sure to leave the amount of headspace that the recipe asks for. Headspace is the distance between the top of the preserve and the bottom of the flat lid. Too much headspace, and you’ll leave room for bacteria and other nasties to grow.  Leave too little headspace, and your jars won’t seal properly or your jam will overflow!

Canning 101: A Tutorial  - Remove Air Bubbles // Savvy Eats

9. If you are making preserves that use big pieces of fruit, slide a plastic/wooden chopstick or thin plastic spatula around the edges of the jar to release any air bubbles. This is not necessary when it comes to jam or jelly.

Canning 101: A Tutorial - Clean the Rims // Savvy Eats

10. Using a damp paper towel or clean dishtowel, wipe off the rims of the jars. Any preserves stuck to the edges will prevent a good seal from forming!

Canning 101: A Tutorial - Put on the Lids! // Savvy Eats

11. By now, your flat lids should have been sitting in the hot water for plenty of time. Center one flat lid on each jar, and screw a ring onto each jar so that it is finger-tight. You may re-use the rings between canning sessions, as long as they aren’t dented or rusted.

12. Put the full jars of preserves back in the canning pot and replace the lid. Process for the time instructed in the recipe, starting from when the water comes back to a boil (so you may need to add a minute or two).

Canning 101: A Tutorial -- Finished Jars // Savvy Eats

13. Transfer the processed preserves to a clean, dry towel to cool, keeping the jars upright at all times.

14. Allow to rest for at least an hour, then test the seals by pressing down on the center of each lid. If the lid doesn’t budge, you’ve got a seal! If it flexes down, the jar didn’t seal properly. You’ll either need to store it in the fridge and use it within a few weeks, or reprocess it in a fresh, clean jar.

15. Allow the jars to rest, undisturbed, for at least 24 hours. Label your jars, and store without the rings on.

Ready to get started? Make sure you have all the tools you need!

Psst: Some of these links are affiliate links. I truly love these books and use them regularly.


  1. says

    Such a good summary of the canning process! I’m looking forward to sharing this post with my followers (and thanks for the reminder to make some serious canning planning).

    • Julie says

      Don’t be scared – as long as you use a trusted recipe and follow all of the canning steps, you’ll be fine 🙂

  2. says

    I’m starting to come around to the idea that I can handle canning. My grandmother used to do it when I was little and I’m thinking of continuing on her traditions.

  3. says

    I’ve never actually “canned”. I make loads of refrigerator jam, though. I don’t know, I guess I’m just afraid of being the one responsible for sending a family member to the hospital. They’ll never let me live it down.

    This year I think I’m going to take my chances. There’s nothing like opening a jar of blueberry jam in the dead of winter. Thank you for these amazing tips!

    • Julie says

      Don’t be intimidated! As long as you follow a recipe exactly and follow all the canning steps/make sure your jars and tools are sanitized/etc, you will be fine. And if any of the jars end up with bent or burst lids, or are leaking, or otherwise look a little funny a few months down the road, then just skip eating those. But that rarely happens if you do everything right!

  4. says

    I’m heading to Whole Foods tonight to pick up a ton of cherries – was planning on making some cherry almond jam but now I’m thinking of making a few other things too after this tutorial. Thank you for giving us the straight talk on canning 🙂

  5. says

    This is a great tutorial! Canning freaks me out though. I’ve been to so many demonstrations and I know it isn’t actually that hard or dangerous to do anymore but something about it still scares me!

  6. Billie Jo Knapp says

    I am curious as to why you store the jars without the rings on? Thanks for the tutorial, you have made it seem so easy. I can’t wait to try canning!

    • Julie says

      It is mostly a precaution in case anything goes wrong. If the preserves spoil, the seal on the jars with likely break. If the rings are still on the jars, you either may not see that the seal is broken, or it might hold the flat lid on so that it looks like the seal is fine. I haven’t had a preserve spoil on me yet, but it is just in case!!

      Good luck with the canning! What do you think you’ll try first?

      • Billie Jo Knapp says

        Thanks for the info! I might try apple butter or pumpkin butter, if it goes well, I’ll make both!

        • Billie Jo Knapp says

          After reading about the low pH in pumpkin. I might just wait till next summer and try my first canning with Salsa.

          • Julie says

            Yep, pumpkin butter is not safe for canning, as its density and low pH doesn’t allow for it. However, apple butter is easy!

            Be careful with salsa and make sure you are using an approved, tested recipe (I have a roasted tomato and garlic one here, or Ball has quite a few options!). Many of the ingredients in salsa, such as peppers and onions, are low acid, so you need to make sure you have the right amount of acidic ingredients to counteract that!