When I first started canning years ago, I had just a few basic supplies: a water-bath canner, a jar lifter, a funnel, and some jars. In general, I prefer simplicity, and I don’t have room to store a lot of equipment that I only use a few times each year.
But, as my canning repertoire has grown, I’ve slowly accumulated a few more things. I tend to agonize over each purchasing decision, but I’ve never regretted buying canning equipment. In every case, the purchase saves me time and adds to my canning enjoyment. Before I buy any piece of canning equipment, I ask myself these questions:
1) Can I use this equipment for more than one thing?
2) Do its potential benefits justify the expense or room it takes up in my storage room?
3) How often will I use it, and where will I store it?
Whether you’re a beginner canner or an old veteran, you may wonder what’s available and what you really need. Read on to learn everything you need to know about canning equipment.
Water-Bath Canner or Steam Canner
The very first piece of equipment you’ll buy is probably a water-bath canner or a steam canner for processing acidic foods like peaches, jams, and applesauce. A water-bath canner is basically just a very large pot with a rack for the jars to sit on. Look for a stainless steel or aluminum model at hardware stores, thrift stores, and most large retail stores. Buy one large enough to hold at least six quart-size bottles. You’ll also find canners at thrift stores or yard sales. Just make sure it comes with a lid and has handles to carry it from the sink to the stove.
Steam canners are surrounded by controversy because the USDA has deemed them unsafe. However, several other studies contradict this position. I own a water-bath canner and for years, I believed steam canners were unsafe. Recently, though, I’ve started doing some research into steam canners, and I just might have one in my future. My current home has a glass-top stove—a problem with most water-bath canners. Steam canners are a lot lighter, use less water, and heat up more quickly.
Once the canning bug bites you, you’ll probably want a pressure canner. Low acid foods, including most vegetables, meats, and soups, must be cooked in a pressure canner, which cooks the foods at high enough temperatures to destroy all bacteria. Pressure canners have either a dial gauge or a weighted gauge to measure pressure.
Buy a stainless-steel canner that comes with at least a one-year warranty. This will most likely be the most expensive piece of canning equipment you purchase. If you do a bit of scrounging, you might find an old one at a yard sale or thrift store, but make sure the lid fits securely and the dial gauge is accurate. There should also be no pitting or gouges in the metal, as this can weaken the canner and make it prone to failure.
Jars and Lids
Your mom might have used old commercial spaghetti sauce or mayonnaise jars for canning, but this is a big no-no. These jars aren’t designed for multiple uses and may crack or even explode in a steam pressure canner or water bath. Buy jars made specifically for canning and check them every time you use them for nicks and cracks. Check at yard sales or ask around. My elderly neighbor gave me boxes and boxes of canning jars she no longer used.
You’ll also need some lids and rings. Traditional rings can be used over and over. I’ve got some that are probably at least twenty years old. Unfortunately, lids can only be used reliably once—a fact that irks me every year. You can find both rings and lids at grocery stores, hardware stores, or online retailers.
Recently, I discovered reusable lids from a company called Tattler. At first, I thought it was a gimmick, but they really do work and come with a lifetime guarantee. They cost more, but I love the idea that I can use them forever. Now that’s true self-sufficiency. You can get the regular mouth size here and the wide mouth size here.
I balked at buying this one for a long time, but now it’s one of my favorite pieces of canning equipment. Put any fruit in the top chamber and the steam softens it so the juices flow easily from a surgical tube right into your clean jars. I use this to extract juice quickly and cleanly from chokecherries, grapes, berries, and even my neighbor’s crab apples.
Early on, I bought a small food mill at my local hardware store. It turned out to be a huge disappointment. It held only a small amount of food at a time, and the work was arduous and slow. Since then, I’ve upgraded to a larger food mill that attaches to the tabletop. These mills have adjustable sieves to control how fine the puree is. They work wonderfully for making applesauce and jams or processing tomatoes and pumpkin. I also use my large food processor for making batches of salsa and spaghetti sauce.
Of course, you don’t need every canning accessory you might see online or in hardware stores, but there are a few that are indispensable. First, of course, are a funnel and a jar lifter. You’ll also want a heavy-duty oven mitt for lifting jars out of hot water. I like the non-stick silicone mitts for this job.
I have a friend who swears by her apple peeler-corer-slicer, but I’m unconvinced. I’ve borrowed it once or twice to make applesauce, but I feel like it takes away an awful lot of the fruit along with the peel. Besides, it’s messy and cumbersome. I prefer a plain old paring knife for this job. I do love my cherry pitter for processing cherries. And of course, a few large bowls, hefty cutting boards, measuring cups, wooden spoons, and a good set of knives are indispensible.
©2012 Off the Grid News