Canning 101

Mama Kat here–Some History- After dating for months, I decided to surprise Nick with his favorite meal, Chicken Parmesan. I remember going food shopping and getting all of my ingredients excited to provide him with a home cooked meal. So here I am, dressed up and preparing dinner. I pre-heated the oven, rinsed my chicken, started boiling some water for the pasta and put a jar of tomato sauce on the stove top. STOP THE PRESSES!!!!! DID YOU JUST READ TOMATO SAUCE IN A JAR??? Ummmm yea, you did (head hung low, ashamed, embarrassed) I didn’t grow up in a house where homemade sauce was made, I wouldn’t even know where to begin to attempt it. All I knew was sauce in a jar and heck, I thought it tasted pretty damn good. Continuing…. Dinner went great. We had a wonderful night and I was proud of myself. We woke up and went to work together the next morning. (Yes, we worked together. We met at work in 2006 but didn’t date until years later.) Nick’s best friend and now the Godfather to our son, came up to me and said “Heard you made dinner last night.” Again, feeling proud of myself I replied, “yes, it was good,” but my positive feeling and excitement was completely shot down when he replied, “I heard you served him canned sauce. Why wouldn’t you make sauce? Don’t you know that he grew up with fresh sauce?” — he’ll probably deny this but I’ve been carrying that conversation for years and still bring it up to Nick every so often because we all know women never forget a thing, we only store it in our heads for later use 😉 So there I was, deflated. I thought Nick had complained that he was given sauce in a jar to his friend and his friend then wanted to ruffle my feathers about it. At the time I remember feeling upset and embarrassed about the whole thing but now I’m so happy that it happened that way. Had he not said something to me about the jarred sauce, making fun of me, I wouldn’t have made it my life mission to make my own sauce and now I not only make my sauce, but I jar it and everyone loves it–including my father-in-law who has been married to his wife for over 33 years and has always loved her sauce, (until he had mine, shhhh don’t tell her I said that)


Glass canning jars are the only jars you should ever use for canning. There are several brands – Kerr, Mason, and Ball. There is really no notable difference between these three brands and either of them will work fine for any food you plan to can.

To begin, lets start with the different parts of a canning jar (also called pickling jars) to get familiar with them.


The parts of a canning jar

When you are ready to can, fill your glass canning jars with food, leaving at least a 1/4 inch headspace. Headspace is a way to measure how full you fill your jars. It’s pretty important, because if you fill your jars all the way to the top, the food will interfere with the lid sealing. If your jar does not seal properly, air will seep in and spoil the food. Most canning recipes will tell you how much headspace to leave, so don’t stress out about this. When you fill your jars, make sure you use a canning funnel to make this job easier and less messy.

The Metal lid is small, thin, and disposable. Don’t ever try to re-use a lid. There is some controversy on this issue; but it is most commonly accepted that re-using canning lids is pretty dangerous. The compound seal on the lid is designed to soften when it is heated and provide an air-tight seal – once. Some claim to have had 100% success in re-using their lids, but it is better to be safe than sorry. If you want to play it safe, do not re-use your lids!

Because the compound seals on new lids are designed to soften under heat, it is sometimes helpful to run your new lids under warm water before placing them on your jars. This will help it seal most effectively. But only for a few seconds; you don’t want to ruin your lid.

The Metal Screw band (also called the Ring, screw-cap, band, or rims) is what you screw onto the jar after placing the lid on top. When screwing on your band, they should be “finger tight”; not too loose, and not too tight. The job of the band is to hold the lid in place while the jar is being processed. Once your jars are processed, and have cooled for 24 hours, you can remove the rings for storage.

Where do you buy canning jars?

Many local supermarkets carry canning jars and I know places like Target, Walmart and K-mart also sell them. You can also purchase them from our Amazon Store.

For me the best instructions for canning go to the National Center for Home Food Preservation. On this site it will explain the best way to can sauce, meat, vegetables, pickling and jams.

After you have canned: Wait 24 hours, check your lids to make sure that they are properly sealed. I can not stress how important it is to have a properly sealed jar. If not sealed correctly bacteria can grow and be very harmful.

You can check 3 ways…

1) When you press down on the center of the lid, it shouldn’t pop back up.

2) If you take the back of a spoon and tap the center of the lid it should sound like a “ting” and not a dull thud.

3) If you take the metal screw band of the jar off you should be able to lift the jar off of your table or counter, holding just the lid, without having the metal lid or sealing compound pop off.

If you find that your jar is not properly sealed, you have to completely re-can. Meaning, take all of the ingredients out of the jar, reboil the jar and band, get a new lid (once a lid is used they cannot be re-used) and re-process the filled jar.

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