If you’re new to canning (and ’tis the season), you may not know what you will need. Or maybe, like me, you’ve looked up all the equipment and it seems expensive…and you’re wondering what you really need, what you don’t, and what you might be able to re-purpose to use instead of buying new.
That’s how I felt too: I didn’t want to run out and buy a lot of special equipment when I’d never done this and, frankly, aren’t sure I’d stick with it. Right?
Of course I ended up loving it and I’m doing way more this year than I did last year. But now I really know what I need and what I don’t, and I know that some of my re-purposed items did really work. So here’s what you really need, what you can “make work” that you probably already have around the house:
Jars — These you’ll have to buy, unless you get lucky and are gifted some from a friend or relative who no longer cans. I got some from my mother-in-law, but also bought several dozen. Make sure they are canning jars, because some people save old mayonnaise or other glass jars from the store. These aren’t as strong and could break.
Lids — You will need lids to seal your jars. There are reusable lids out there (which I haven’t tried), and there are the usual lids. Those are lined with BPA but it really doesn’t touch the food. Reusable lids are such an investment that I haven’t made the leap yet. Unless you buy the special reusable ones, you will need to buy new ones each year. But don’t throw out those old ones! Those are great to use if you fill a jar with spices, dry beans, or other foods that don’t need to be sealed. I’ve used old lids quite a lot for these purposes.
Rings — These should come with your jars, although they may not if you find used jars. They can be reused for several years, until they begin to rust. It’s my understanding they can be used with the reusable lids, so you don’t need new rings if you choose to go that route (assuming you already have some supplies). You can also purchase boxes of “lids and rings” if you get jars without any.
Big pot — You will need a large pot to can in. There are designated “canning pots” out there, which can cost up to $60, but you don’t necessarily need to buy them. I use my 16-quart stock pot (which holds 5 quarts or 7 pints) to can and haven’t found a need for anything else. I have an 8-quart stock pot that I occasionally use for pints or half-pints, but it isn’t big enough for quarts.
Funnel — This is technically *optional* but I wouldn’t go without it. There are wide mouth funnels that fit right inside the jars so that you don’t splash food all over the rims as you’re filling them. I love mine and always use it.
Pot bottom protector — You must have something to protect the bottom of your pot. If your jars rest directly on the bottom, the heat can break them, wasting all your food and work. Some like to use a “jar rack” that you can buy, but I don’t see the point. I use a flat, quilted hot pad instead. It fits nicely on the bottom of my pot and I’ve never had a jar break. You can also use a folded dish towel, which I’ve also done.
Jar lifter — You will need this handy little tool to get your hot jars out of the pot after canning them. They can also put jars into hot water when you are ready to can the next batch (but be careful! I got burned pretty badly doing this. More on how that happened and what not to do next week).
What about other tools? Some people swear by a “lid lifter,” a magnetic tool that lifts lids out of hot or boiling water. However, boiling the lids is no longer recommended. I simply put mine in hot tap water and I don’t need any special tool to get them out, although I have one of these. I don’t use it though, I’m not even sure where it is.
Some people use a little tool to stick down the sides of the jar to release air bubbles. It’s true that if you don’t, you’ll occasionally have a jar that doesn’t seal properly, especially if you cold-pack (more on that in a couple weeks). But I rarely do this, and a butter knife works just fine anyway.
Most of my equipment comes from the Ball Discover Canning kit (which is pretty cheap and a good way to start). There are much nicer versions available but at least for your first couple years you don’t really need to spend the money. And you might just get lucky and find some of these items at thrift stores! They’re hard to come by so if you find one for cheap just snatch it up. Canning’s become much more popular again (most of my friends do it, and around here, many more people want to buy jars and supplies than are selling them) so if you don’t need it, someone will!
If you’re freezing food instead, you will want to have cookie sheets (to freeze food individually) and freezer bags — pretty simple!