Guide To Canning Methods

Water Bath, Pressure or Freezer Canning?

Our brief Guide To Canning Methods will introduce you to 3 food preservation/canning methods that are the most popular. There are all kinds of methods and recipes for canning foods. Our brief guide to canning methods will help you to gain an understanding of which method works best with which food. It seems a simple thing but canning the wrong way results in inedible, unattractive food that can also be highly dangerous because of botulism.

Before you start your home canning make sure you have a clear understanding of which method you need to use.  This is an important consideration, because incorrect methods can result in spoilage, unsafe foods, and/or wasted time and money. 

Botulism cannot be seen but is deadly. Read these instructions.

Guide To Canning Methods

Our Guide To Canning Methods is a sampling of canning methods for various foods.

1. Pressure Canning:

Your great-grandparents didn't use pressure canners, you may be thinking. Why should you? Well, we've learned a lot about microbes and food spoilage since our great-grandparents' day. One of the things we've learned is that you need really high temperatures for a certain amount of time to kill bacteria, especially if those foods are low-acid.

Low acid foods have a pH of higher than 4.6. Pressure canning is the method to use to  ensure food safety. See the following list on our guide to canning methods to learn more about the foods that must be pressure canned.

Foods that should be canned using a pressure canner include:

Low Acid Foods: all vegetables, meats & fish, dried beans, for example:

  • Asparagus
  • Corn
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Cabbage
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Green beans
  • Peas
  • Beans (such as pinto or kidney)
  • Possible: Asian Pears are low acid 
  • Possible: Tomatoes

These are just some of the low-acid foods for which you'll need a pressure canner.

Note: Most mixtures of low-acid and acid foods also have pH values above 4.6 unless their recipes include enough lemon juice, citric acid, or vinegar to make them acid foods.That includes most soups, tomato sauces, stewed tomatoes, spaghetti sauces and anything similar to which you have added even a few vegetables, like onions or celery, for flavoring.

If you add vegetables to anything you must always use a pressure canner. Adding acid to these types of recipes won't change that.  Anything with added vegetables, meat, or cheese MUST be pressure canned.  

2. Hot Water Bath Method:

Some foods do fine in a hot water bath, that is, placing the filled jars in a deep kettle of rapidly boiling water over heat that will bring it to a boil as quickly as possible for anywhere from 10 minutes up to 55 minutes or as directed. (canning recipes give exact times).

High-acid foods are less hospitable to bacteria, so not quite as high a temperature is needed to prevent bacteria from growing. They can be canned using a water bath method.

High acid foods have a pH of 4.6 or lower. Water bath canning works okay for these high-acid foods, such as in the following list.

Foods that can be canned using a Hot Water Bath Method include:

  • Berries
  • Tomatoes
  • Fruits
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Asian Pears are low acid  (must add 1 Tablespoon bottled lemon juice per pint/2 Tablespoon per quart)
  • Plums
  • Rhubarb
  • Citrus fruits
  • Pineapple
  • Cucumber pickles (the vinegar in the recipe makes the food very acidic)
  • Sauerkraut

Note: Due to plant breeding for consumers preference, many tomatoes today are low acid, much lower than they used to be when Grandma canned them. To be safe, adding lemon juice or citric acid will help to raise the level of acidity. This won’t alter the flavor, in fact, I have added citric acid to all my canning (fruits included) for years just to be safe. Add 2 Tablespoons bottled lemon juice per quart jar, half that amount or 1 Tablespoon per pint jar. Or, use ¼ teaspoon citric acid for every 1 Tablespoon bottled lemon juice. Then you can use the water bath method.

3. Freezer Canning:

This is one of the fastest ways to preserve foods in freezer-safe jars. You can put the whole food into the jar, pour sugar syrup, broth or water around it, and freeze. You can also puree the food, cook it down into a sauce or jam, and freeze it that way. Make sure you leave a good inch and a quarter of air space between the food and the top of the jar.

Foods that can be canned using a Freezer Canning Method include:

  •  Meats
  •  Berries
  •  Strawberries
  •  Citrus fruits
  •  Tomatoes
  •  Corn
  •  Homemade salsa
  • Vinegars and Oils

While it isn't canning in the strictest sense, vinegars and oils are a great way to preserve herbs and spices. You pour oil or vinegar around lightly packed foods such as these:

  • Raspberries (vinegar)
  • Herbs such as basil, sage, mint, lemon balm and rosemary (vinegar)
  • Garlic (oil or vinegar)


Surplus apples, pears, and tomatoes can be made into sauces like salsa, spaghetti sauce, straight tomato sauce, and apple/pear sauce or butter.

Follow your favorite recipe for making the sauce of your choice, then freeze, pressure can, or place in a hot water bath.  If you have added vegetables to any sauce, it must then be pressure canned.

No matter method you choose to use, remember proper preparation will make your preserving session flow smoothly and, more importantly, remember to practice absolute cleanliness whenever preparing and preserving any foods.

Guide To Canning Methods: Cautions

  1. Do not use damaged, bruised or moldy produce.
  2. Wash all vegetables and fruits well.
  3. Use only jars that are specifically made for canning. Most jars from food you purchase at the store are not strong enough for canning. Use “Mason” type jars with no nicks or chips on the rim or cracks anywhere. Remember if the jar breaks or doesn’t seal  you lose all the food, too.
  4. Use new lids.
  5. Sterilize the jars, rings and lids. Follow the manufacturer  instructions for your canners and lids at all times.
  6. Make sure your equipment is in perfect working order. Check seals and gauges on pressure canners; replace if needed.
  7. Follow guidelines for accurate timing when canning. Adjust for altitude. Keep temperatures constant through timed session.
  8. If in doubt about food safety, do not eat or even taste it. Botulism cannot be seen, does not smell, but it is deadly.

Guide To Canning Methods: FAQs

Why not fresh lemon juice?

Bottled lemon juice has a controlled amount of acid. It is becoming easier to find small jars or cans of citric acid where canning supplies are sold.

Vinegar is seldom used because it may cause undesirable flavor changes. Many people like the complimentary flavor.

Can you can fruit without sugar?

Sugar is not an "essential" ingredient... Many foods can be safely preserved with little or no added sugar. The absence of sugar...may alter the flavour, texture and colour...especially when compared to similar foods that contain higher quantities of sugar.

To preserve fruit without sugar, select only fully ripe fruit at its peak flavour. Water or unsweetened fruit juice (such as white grape or apple juice) may be used in place of sugar syrup.

Or, if you choose, make a Very Light Syrup: combine 1/2 cup (125 ml) granulated sugar with 5 cups (1250 ml) water. This approximates the natural sugar level in most fruits and adds few calories. This small quantity of sugar also helps canned fruit retain their natural colour and texture.

Guide To Canning Methods: Notes

Most local governments have instructions for canning and preserving; read thoroughly or get an up-to-date book from your library or bookstore. No matter what you read here or any other website, it is still your responsibility to check for the latest updates or more complete instructions.  Contacting your local government or Health Unit (here in Canada) can get you the latest and best information. They should be happy to answer all your questions.

I have attempted to share safe and up to date preserving methods. However, I make no promises. You alone are responsible for your health.

Always follow current USDA safety recommendations.

For instructions on how to choose the best varieties and ripeness times of fruit for canning or other food preservation methods, like freezing or dehydration, click through to Penn State Extension Services here. They include full instructions, lots of excellent recipes and how to directions and it is possible to download the pdfs.


We hope our brief Guide to Canning Methods has helped and encouraged you to add food preserving to your list of skills.
Please feel free to share out page. Thanks if you do! we appreciate it!

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