Useful canning tools most likely live in your kitchen. Sharp knives, a cutting board, bowls, a rubber spatula, a peeler, measuring cups and spoons, a ladle, paper and cloth towels, and potholders may all come into play. But a few other items are essential or optional yet helpful when canning foods.
- 6- to 8-quart pot: Food to be canned is either heated or covered with hot liquid before it is sealed in jars. Any kitchen pot will do to heat the food or liquid, but it’s best to avoid uncoated cast iron or aluminum, which can impart a metallic taste.
- Canning kettle with lid: You need a kettle tall enough that the jars can be covered by at least 1 inch of water without boiling over. Most canning-specific kettles hold 7 quarts and up to 9 pints.
- Metal canning rack: You’ll need something between the bottom of your canning kettle and the glass jars; direct heat can cause jars to break. If you purchase a canning-specific kettle, it likely comes with a rack, but you can substitute a metal cake-cooling rack or a layer of extra canning rings. Just be sure to test that your rack fits before you fill the kettle and heat the water.
- Canning jars of various sizes: Glass canning jars can be as small as 1/2 cup and as large as 1/2 gallon, but you’ll generally use 1/2-pint, pint, and quart jars. Be sure they are actual mason jars (the Ball brand has a corner on this market), rather than empty store-bought pasta or mayonnaise jars; the latter won’t hold up to the high heat used in home canning.
- Canning rings and lids: Choose rings and lids that fit your jars (wide mouth or narrow mouth). The latest Ball lids have a sealing compound that doesn’t need to be heated, so both the screwbands and the lids can be at room temperature while you prepare the jars.
- Wide-mouth funnel: Filling jars with hot food can be messy work, but this specialized funnel can reduce both mess and waste. You can find one with the canning supplies in your local hardware or grocery store.
- Jar lifter: Hot jars are hard to handle, particularly when you need to reach into the canner to pull them out at the end of the processing time. Resembling oversized kitchen tongs, a jar lifter allows you to safely transfer jars; just be sure to grab around the jar, rather than by just the canning ring.
- Chopstick: A chopstick is handy for removing air bubbles that form as you fill the jar. It’s small and fits easily, and it won’t scratch the jar like a metal butter knife.
- Timer: Time is of the essence when it comes to canning; it must be monitored to ensure the seal and safety of each jar’s contents. Be sure to set it as indicated in the recipe, and only once the water has reached the required temperature.
- Kitchen scale: You can preserve food without a scale, but it can be a challenge. Depending on how you slice or dice, one apple can be 3/4 cup or 1-1/2 cups. To avoid mismeasurements, it’s easiest to go by weight. Today’s kitchen scales are small, inexpensive, and easy to use. Get one.
- Thermometer: A candy or jelly thermometer makes it easy to ensure preserves have gelled properly, and it becomes essential if you’re pasteurizing.
- Immersion blender: One of my favorite kitchen tools is an immersion blender. Instead painstakingly chopping ingredients to their perfect size or pouring hot food into a standard blender and back, I can simply give produce a rough chop and blend it to the desired chunkiness or smoothness. I grab it more than any other electric tool in my kitchen, but if you don’t have one, use a standard blender or even potato masher, depending on the recipe.
- Mandoline: I made space for this tool in my tiny kitchen because it produces uniform slices safely and efficiently, particularly when you’re processing many pounds of produce. If you get one, I recommend a cut-resistant glove for at least your slicing hand—mandolines are sharp.
- Strainers and cheesecloth: Tools that separate juice from solids make it easy to create Twice as Tasty recipes, such as Rhubarb-Rosemary Syrup and Rhubarb-Orange-Ginger Marmalade. Although specialized jelly strainers are available, I find that standard fine-mesh and larger-holed colanders, when combined with cheesecloth, do the job.
- Pastry brush: When you’re making jam, sugar crystals can form on the side of the pan. It’s easiest to wash them back into the pan with a dampened pastry brush.
- Zester: Marmalades and other recipes use even the peel of a fruit. A zester saves a lot of handwork with a knife
- Slow cooker: While not a standard canning tool, don’t underestimate the power of a slow cooker. It’s ideal for fruit butters, which reduce over low heat for a long period.
- Food mill: A food mill or a Victorio strainer is a specialized tool that removes skins and seeds from produce, producing a puree that’s ready to can. If you do a lot of canning, it might be worth the investment; I often use one a Victorio strainer for applesauce.