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Updated May 2022
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Buying guide for best canning jars

If you have a garden you’re proud of, you probably wind up with more produce than you can handle from time to time. Even after giving some to friends and family, you may waste those prize tomatoes and berries — unless you start canning your extra fruits and veggies. But you won’t get very far in the canning process if you don’t have the right canning jars.

The jars must be heat-resistant and able to withstand high pressure without breaking. They also need to create an airtight seal with their lids to preserve the food inside. You can reuse canning jars, but it helps to build a large collection so you have enough no matter how much food you need to preserve.

If you’re looking for high-quality canning jars, you should start by identifying the type and size of jars that will work best for your food, determining what to look for in the jars’ material, and deciding on other features that can come in handy. This shopping guide and its product recommendations will give you all the information to choose the best canning jars for your projects.

canning jars
If you store your jars of canned food in a cool, dark location, they typically have a shelf life of about a year from the date of canning.

How to buy the best canning jars

How does canning work?

Before you shop for canning jars, it helps to understand the canning process. You can use one of two canning methods: water-bath canning or pressure canning.

Water-bath canning is the most popular method. You fill clean, sanitized jars with the food you want to preserve, place the lids and threaded rings on the jars, and then place them in a pot of boiling water for a specific period based on the type of food. When you take the jars out of the hot water, they release the heat, which removes any remaining air from inside. As the air leaves the jars, it locks the lids in place and creates an airtight seal for the jars.

Pressure canning requires a pressure canner, which consists of a pot with a rack, a vented lid, a pressure gauge, and a safety valve. While water-bath canning heats the food to 212°F, pressure canning can heat them to 240°F to 250°F.

A water-bath canner works best for highly acidic foods such as tomatoes, jams, jellies, and pickles, because a temperature of 212°F is enough to kill any bacteria or other microorganisms in your food. On the other hand, pressure canners are needed for low acid foods, such as non-pickled vegetables, soups, and stocks, because they require higher temperatures to kill bacteria.

Jar types

Canning jars, also known as mason jars, are available in regular-mouth and wide-mouth styles.

  • Regular-mouth jars taper at the top, so the opening is slightly smaller than its bottom. The opening usually measures 2 3/8 inches wide. This design helps keep the food below the liquid level and works well for small and pourable foods, such as pickles, chilies, salsas, jams, and jellies. Larger fruits and vegetables may not fit inside the narrower opening. Regular-mouth jars shouldn’t be frozen, because they don’t have enough space for the liquid to expand when it freezes.
  • Wide-mouth jars have the same width at the top and bottom of the jar; the sides are straight. The opening is typically three inches wide. They can fit larger fruits and vegetables and are suitable for freezing because they have enough space for the liquid inside to expand when it freezes. Wide-mouth jars are also easier to clean than regular-mouth jars, but they’re sometimes difficult to seal.

Jar material

Canning jars should be made of thick, tempered glass. This type of glass won’t break when exposed to the high temperatures and pressure that canning requires. Also make sure that any jars you consider are food-grade so they don’t contain any lead or other toxins that could leach into your food.

If you’re following a canning recipe, stick to the jar size in the instructions. It ensures you’ll get the processing time right and wind up with the best results.

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What features do canning jars have?

Jar size

You can find jars in various sizes — there’s an option for any food or recipe you’re canning. If you’re following a recipe, it usually provides a recommended size. Using the right size jar is essential because the size affects how long you need to heat the food for proper preservation.

The most common jar sizes for regular-mouth and wide-mouth styles are:

  • Half-pint (eight ounces): These jars work well for small batches of jellies, jams, conserves, and preserves, as well as sauces, chutneys, and syrups. You can also can small or cut fruits or veggies in this jar size if it has a wide mouth.
  • Pint (16 ounces): These jars are ideal for chunkier foods, such as relish, salsa, pie filling, or preserves. They also work well for small pickles and small or cut fruit and veggies.
  • Quart (32 ounces): These are the most-used jars for canning. They work well for most fruits and vegetables, but you can use them for larger batches of salsa, sauces, relish, and preserves as well.

Regular-mouth jars are often available in four-ounce and 12-ounce sizes, which you can use for jellies, jams, preserves, marmalades, and small fruits and vegetables. Wide-mouth jars may also come in a 64-ounce size suitable for large-batch canning of fruits and veggies and juices.

Sets

While you can purchase individual jars, most are sold in sets. Some sets contain as few as three jars, while others include as many as 30. While larger sets cost more, the price per jar is generally lower. If you know you’re going to do a lot of canning, you’re better off buying a larger set to get the best value.

Stackability

When you can food, it’s to preserve it and extend its shelf life, meaning you’ll probably have many jars you need to store in your pantry or cabinet. Some canning jars are designed for stacking, which allows you to place the jars on top of one another and maximize space on your shelves.

Accessories

Nearly all canning jars come with lids and ring bands to secure them for canning. However, some jars include other accessories that can help with the canning process. For example, you can find jars that include waterproof labels you stick on the jars after canning to indicate what they contain and the date canned. Some jar sets also include a pen or marker to help with labeling.

canning jars
DID YOU KNOW?
Don’t use any jars with cracks or chips, no matter how small they might be. They’re more likely to shatter during the canning process if there are weak areas in the glass.
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How do you accessorize a canning jar?

Canning pots

For water-bath canning, you need a good-sized canning pot to get the job done. You can find stainless steel or porcelain pots. Those designed specifically for canning often include a rack to set your jars on.

Pressure canners

If you prefer pressure canning, you need a pressure canner to safely and effectively preserve your food. Some models have a dial gauge that displays the pressure reading, in which case you must monitor it carefully. Other canners use a weighted gauge that lets you turn the canner on and walk away without having to watch it.

Canning jar lifters

A canning jar lifter, which resembles a pair of tongs, makes it much easier to safely remove your jars from the canning pot or pressure canner when they’re ready. You can also use it when you’re sterilizing jars before you start canning.

How much do canning jars cost?

Inexpensive

The most affordable canning jars are sets of small jars that hold eight ounces or less. Most of these sets contain between three and 12 jars and cost $12 to $22.

Mid-range

Mid-range canning jars are sets of midsize jars that hold eight to 16 ounces. Most of these sets contain four to 12 jars and cost $22 to $35.

Expensive

The most expensive canning jars are midsize to large jars that hold 12 to 32 ounces. Most of these sets contain between six and 30 jars and cost $30 to $50.

If you have extra jars you aren’t using for canning, they can also make excellent storage containers in your pantry for items such as flour, sugar, or rolled oats.

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Tips

  • Sterilize your jars before canning. Even if they’re brand new, they aren’t necessarily sterile, which means they may contaminate the food you put in them. If you’re processing the jars in a water bath canner for less than 10 minutes, sterilizing them is essential. It’s good practice to do it for all canning, regardless of the processing time.
  • Heat the jars before canning. Preheating them helps prevent them from breaking when you add hot food to them. You can quickly heat the jars by filling them with hot water. If you clean the jars in the dishwasher, you can also leave them inside with the door closed after the cycle ends so they stay warm.
  • Don’t overfill your jars. You generally need to leave between 1/4- and 1/2-inch of space between the food and the top of the jar so it can seal properly.
  • Label all your jars after canning. Write the date that you canned the food to keep track of your inventory and make sure you eat your canned goods before they go bad.
canning jars
Before canning, stick a spoon or spatula into the jar of food and move it around to remove any trapped air. If there are air bubbles in the jar during processing, it may not seal properly.

FAQ

Q. What’s the best way to sterilize canning jars?

A. Start by washing the jars with hot water and dish detergent. Next, set the jars right-side up on a rack inside a water bath canner or another large pot. Add enough water to fill the container up to one inch above the top of the jars. Then, boil the jars in the water for 10 minutes to get rid of any contaminants.

When the jars are sterilized, you don’t need to dry them. Instead, leave them in the pot until you’re ready to fill them, and just dump out the water when you’re ready. Make sure you place them on a towel to fill them; they may shatter if you set them out on a countertop or table.

Q. Can I recycle jars from my kitchen for canning?

A. While you may be tempted to rinse out mayonnaise, pickle, or pasta sauce jars for canning, they may not be made of tempered glass. This means these jars can’t withstand the heat necessary for the canning process and may break. They may not be able to form an airtight seal, either. It’s best to stick to jars meant specifically for canning.

Q. Can I reuse canning jars?

A. You can use canning jars multiple times as long as they’re not cracked or chipped. However, you shouldn’t reuse metal canning lids. They’re meant for one-time use and may not seal fully if you use them again, putting your food at risk for contamination.

 

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