Canning is where it’s at. This time-honored preservation method can keep food fresh for up to a year. Bonus: It’s tons of fun.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you kick off your canning practice. We also have a rundown of all the essential gear.

Here are a few reasons why you might want to consider getting into canning.

  • It’s good for the environment. Canning cuts down on food waste and limits the use of plastics. So, all in all, it’s an eco-friendly way to make and store food.
  • You know what’s in it. Commercial canned foods can be less predictable than what you make yourself, including the use of BPA (bisphenol A) liners that may have adverse health effects. But when you can at home, you know exactly what’s going into your food.
  • Canning keeps food fresh. Generally, home-canned foods can last up to a year when stored correctly. That means you can enjoy seasonal produce year-round. It’s also a great way to preserve produce from your garden or the local farmers market.
  • You can get creative. Canning isn’t just about preserving. It’s also a super fun hobby that offers limitless creative opportunities. You can jar homemade puddings, sauces, salsas, meat, broths, marmalades, and jams.

Before you put your canning gloves on, here’s a list of eight supplies you should buy.

1. Canner

These large pots are used to preserve food. The heating process kills microorganisms and pushes air from the jar. This vacuum seals your food as it cools. The two main types are pressure canners and boiling-water canners. BTW, most folks say boiling water baths are best for beginners.

Small canners hold about four 1-quart jars, and larger canners can hold up to 18 pint-size jars. You might want to start small if you’re new to canning, since the big ones can get pricey and take up a lot more space.

2. Jar lifter tongs

These tongs help you pick up the jars from the hot water once they’re done in the canner.

3. Ladle

A ladle isn’t necessary, but it can be helpful. You can use it to scoop your food into the jars.

4. Wide-mouth funnel

This type of funnel has a wider opening that makes it easier to decant liquids.

5. Food processor

This is totally optional. But a food processor or blender can come in handy if you want to preserve homemade sauces or chutneys. Psst. You can also use a stick blender. They’re affordable and don’t take up any counter space.

6. Canning jars

Get a variety of sizes for different types of food. Quarts are great for marinara sauce, pint jars are sweet for salsa or beans, and half-pints are nice for nut butter.

7. Canning lids

Make sure your lids match your jars. You’ll prob be fine with an array of wide-mouth and regular-mouth lids. Just keep in mind, the lids aren’t reusable. Used lids might not fully seal a jar, which can lead to unsafe food.

8. Canning rack

You need to place a canning rack on the bottom of your canner. This elevates the jars from the bottom of the pot, removing them from direct heat. This also helps the boiling water or steam evenly circulate around the jars.

Ready to get your can on? Here’s a step-by-step guide to canning via the boiling water bath method.

1. Sterilize

  • Wash your canning jars and equipment in hot, soapy water. Make sure you rinse them well.
  • Place the clean jars in simmering water that’s at least 180°F (82°C) for 10 minutes.
  • Set the jars aside to cool. They shouldn’t be hot when you fill them with food.

2. Fill the jars

  • Pour your food into your jars.
  • If you’re canning whole foods — like fruits or veggies — fill the jars with boiled water. As for sauces, you can use a funnel or ladle to decant into the jars.
  • Leave a 1/2-inch air gap at the top.
  • Release any air bubbles by gently tapping the sides of the jars with a sanitized wooden spoon.

3. Heat the jars

  • Make sure there’s no food on the outside of the jars.
  • Screw on the lids.
  • Use jar tongs to lower each jar into the canner and set them on top of the canning rack. Pour water into the canner until the water level is at least 1 inch over the tops of the jars.
  • Heat the water to a rolling boil.
  • Follow the specific instructions for the food you’re canning. Most foods need a minimum of 10 minutes.

Pro tip: Make sure the jars don’t touch each other. This allows the boiling water to heat the jars evenly.

4. Remove from heat

  • Remove the jars from the canner using the tongs.
  • Place them on a flat, stable surface like the counter or table. Just be sure to line the surface with towels, so the heat doesn’t leave a mark.
  • The center of the lids should be concave, which means there’s a successful airtight seal.

FYI: You should hear a “ping” sound right when you remove the jars from the pot. This sound means that the seal has formed.

5. Storage

  • Let the jars cool completely.
  • Test the seal by pressing a finger into the center of the lid. It shouldn’t pop up or down.
  • Store the jars in a dry, dark, and cool place for up to a year. Just keep in mind, some foods have different lifespans, so be sure to check out guidelines from the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP).

PSA: If the jars didn’t can correctly, you can store them in the fridge for up to a week. Or, you can try to can the jar again within 24 hours of the original canning process.

Some foods don’t make the canning cut. Here’s a helpful chart to let you know what you can and can’t can. While certain foods on this list (e.g. more tender foods like zucchini, cauliflower, and squash) live in the no-no column, they often can be canned if pickled or mixed with vinegar in the right amounts.

You can canYou can’t can
green beansbroccoli
spinachmilk or dairy
bone broth or stockgrains
salsalard (aka pig fat)
marinara saucewhole eggs
jamrefried beans
dairy-free puddingcornstarch
sliced fruits like lemons, mango, pears, apples, oranges, apricots, kiwi, pineapple, or clementinesnuts
whole fruits like cherries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, or grapespasta

Canning is an eco-friendly and fun way to store fresh food for up to a year. You can do it safely at home, but it’s important to follow the guidelines. When in doubt, check out the NCHFP website. They have some top-notch tips on keeping your canning safe.