Canning for Beginners: 10 Things To Know Before You Start

canning jars with toolsMy dear friend, Sarah, is new to the homestead life and there is a lot she wants to learn. Canning tops the list. She asked me recently what the most important things were for her to consider before she begins. I came up with this list.

1. Start with the best equipment.
You can reuse canning jars if they have no cracks or chips but you need new lids for each canner load. I prefer a stainless steel funnel over plastic and the jar lifter must be up to the job. The most important thing to concentrate on is the canner itself. Pressure canners should not be acquired second-hand. There is seldom a place that has the capacity for checking the pressure gauge and this is not something to be cavalier about. I have three AA canners and they are worth every dime.

pressure canner

High-quality pressure canners are available at

2. Begin with the best food.
No food is ever improved by processing. If you start with aging, limp, decayed or bug infested produce, you will end up with a subpar product.

3. Get an up-to-date instruction book.
I love vintage cookbooks but the instructions are not always accurate. For safe canning, you need to get the best, up-to-date information. The Ball Blue Book is a good one. A new edition is released each year.

The Ball Blue Book has been a trusted guide since 1909. You’ll find over 500 recipes!

4. Assemble everything you need before you begin.
You want to be a prepared and not frantically searing for your timer while your canner exhausts.

5. Follow the directions.
This is not the place to get sloppy. 90 minutes means 90 minutes, not 88 minutes. If you are over 1000 feet in elevation then add the extra five-pound weight, even if you are at 1001 feet.

6. Check each step and check again.
Did you check the jars for nicks? Did you exhaust for 10 minutes?

7. Work with a mentor the first few times.
You will be more at ease and less likely to miss an important step.

canning jars filled

Preserving delicious food is so much easier when you find someone to help teach you the ropes.

8. Practice patience.
You really need to let the pressure drop to zero without interference. Open the canner carefully with the lid pointed away from you so you don’t get burned by escaping steam. Remove the jars and let them cool. The contents will continue to boil for a long time. When they cool, test the seals. Try to lift them with your fingers to be sure they are sealed tightly.

9. Label the jars with the contents and date.
You think you will remember which jars are mulled cider and which are beef broth. You won’t. They are not interchangeable. Ask me how I learned this lesson.

10. Eat the food.
The first few times I prepared spaghetti with my home-canned sauce I had a panic attack, sure I had just killed my family with hubris. I didn’t. If you follow the directions, use the right equipment and started with good food, you will be fine.

The sauce, by-the-way, was delicious.

Editor’s Note: Always follow USDA recommendations when canning. High-acid foods and low-acid foods have different requirements, like what type of canner you need, so make sure you do your research first. To help you get started, check out our canning videos.

Kathy Harrison

About Kathy Harrison

Kathy Harrison is the author of Just in Case, Another Place at the Table, and One Small Boat. She is a national spokesperson for both foster parenting and family preparedness and has appeared on The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and National Public Radio. She lives with her family in western Massachusetts.