Do I need to buy a canner?

When crisis looms, a lot of us look to securing our food supply. I’m hearing a lot of people saying they want to get into canning these days, but are concerned about the cost of equipment, storage space, and availability of materials. And frankly, just buying “one more thing” for an endeavor that might not be lasting.

So this week, I’m bringing you information on “canning with found objects.” You may be able to can with equipment you already have on hand. This is water bath canning, suitable for jam, pickles, tomatoes, and some salsa recipes. Please don’t use this method for any low-acid foods like vegetables, meat, or beans.

Improvising a canner

First off, NO, you don’t need the classic black-with-white-speckles graniteware canner to do canning. Though if you decide to buy, it is probably the most straightforward and least expensive way to go. What you DO need:

A deep pot with a lid. It must be deep enough to hold your jars, a rack, an inch of water over the top of your jars, and at least an inch of space so it doesn’t boil over when it’s full.

Three canning jars in a large pot
This is an 8-qt soup pot. It’s fine for canning half-pints (small jar in top left) and definitely too small to can quart jars (top right). If I’m really careful, I could probably can pints (lower left) without overflowing the pot…but I’d be pushing my luck.

A rack, or “something to keep your jars from touching the bottom of the pot.” This is usually a metal rack, but I’ve had success with canning rings, silicone potholders, and even folded kitchen towels. Look around; there is likely something in your kitchen you can use. This is really important, because without something between the jars and the pot’s bottom, jars will break in the canner.

A jar lifter. Some people manage without them, but this is non-negotiable for me.

A ladle and canning funnel are not 100% required, but they make life a LOT easier.

Bonus: Canning instructions. There are newer books out there, but for straightforward and cheap, it’s hard to beat the Ball Blue Book ($10). It’s refreshed a bit every year, but as long as it was printed this millenium, the info is still good, so check for it used, too. The other definitive guide is the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, which is available as a PDF download.

Canning kits

So you’ve determined you don’t really have the tools you need. What’s the easiest way to get started? Sadly, most “canning starter kits” are drastically overpriced. I just saw the Ball starter kit selling for $150…absolutely ridiculous. Try this instead:

  • Check Freecycle, Facebook Marketplace, and Craigslist.com and just ask if anyone has equipment to give away or sell cheap.
  • Buy a 21-qt graniteware canner with rack. Check “farm and fleet” type stores – they should run about $20-25. Here’s one you can order (not an affiliate link). A full kit like this is OK, too – has pieces you won’t need, but it’s $35…if you can find it in stock.
  • Buy a funnel ($2), a jar lifter ($8), and a good ladle ($5).

You should be able to get set up for around $35, plus your jars. And while we’re talking about jars, I often get asked if you can can in glass jars that held food you bought at the store (mayo, jam, salsa, etc.). The official answer is “no.” However, I know the Amish in my area regularly reuse commercial “lug-top” jars (like salsa or jelly jars, with a pop-up button on top) for water bath canning. As jars will be scarce this year, it’s worth keeping in mind. Be sure the pair the jar with its correct lid and don’t store anything that hasn’t resealed and popped the button “in.”

Published by Emily

I'm an instructional designer and gardener based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Free moments find me in my garden or the forest, hugging trees and all that jazz.

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