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How to Sterilize Canning Jars & A Space Saving Tip

Getting started canning? The first thing you need to know, is how to properly sterilize your jars.

Spiced Peach Jam

Many people are afraid to start canning because they hear all sorts of horror stories about exploding pressure cookers (something I’ll address in a future post), or they find the idea of sterilizing things to be intimidating.

I started canning foods over a decade ago. The first time I did it, I was honestly nervous. But, when I heard the sound of the jar lids’ “ping!” as they sealed shut, I was hooked. There’s nothing like homemade jellies and jams, fruits and vegetables. And nothing more comforting that seeing shelves lined with all of your garden harvest there for your family to enjoy all year.

The first thing you need to know when getting started canning, is how to prepare your equipment for the process.

Clean It

It should go without saying, that they first thing you need to do is wash all of your jars. You can do this by hand with hot water and dish soap, or you can run them through the dishwasher. Make sure that the jars are rinsed well, because if there is any soap residue, this could taint the foods that you are canning – making off flavors and weird colors.

While you wash your jars, look over them very carefully. Run your fingers around the edge of the opening, looking for flaws, cracks or chips. If your jar is damaged or defective, do not use it for canning. The lid will not properly seal and the food inside can be lost.

If you have jars that you are reusing and they have any hard water residue built up, soak them in a solution of 1 gallon of water : 1 cup standard white vinegar. Make as much as you need to cover all of your jars. Soak them for several hours, and then the film should come right off with washing.

Tip: To prevent hard water build-up on your canning jars, add two tablespoons of standard distilled white vinegar to the processing water when canning.

Secondly, wash all of the equipment that you are going to use, particularly if it will come into contact with the food being preserved. I do this every time I pull out my canning equipment, even though it was washed before it was put away.

Sterilizing the Jars

  1. Place your jar rack in the hot water bath canner. Position the jars you will be using in the rack.
  2. Fill the canner with hot (not boiling) water. There should be enough water to come at least one inch above the tops of the jars.
  3. Bring the water to a boil (100°C, 212°F.) Once it starts boiling, set your timer for 10 minutes. If you live at an elevation higher than 1,00 ft, add an additional minute for each additional 1,000 ft of elevation.
  4. After the jars have boiled for 10 minutes, they are sterile, hot and ready for canning.

Carefully lift the jar rack from the water and hook it on the edge of the canner. Keep the water in the canner, and use it for the canning process. Fill the jars for canning within an hour. If you wait longer, then the jars will need to be re-sterilized.

To fill your jars, use your jar tongs to lift a jar, pour out the water, and place the jar on your work surface. Always work on a surface that is lined with a folded towel. This will insulate the jar from the counter. If your counter is cold, placing the hot jar on the counter can cause a sudden temperature shock and the jar could break. For the record, I’ve never had a jar break in any stages of canning.

Please know, that there are many articles out there that say your dishwasher will sterilize the jars. According to the USDA, this information is not accurate. It really isn’t hard to sterilize your jars, so just take the few minutes to do it.

Do I Even Need to Sterilize?

Cleaned and prepared empty jars that are going to be used for pressure canning, don’t need to be pre-sterilized. Additionally, if what you are canning in a standard hot water bath canner is an acidic food that will be processes for 10 minutes or longer in the hot water bath canner, they do not need to be sterilized either.

That said, when it comes to the hot water bath, I do sterilize every time. It’s not hard to do, and the jars need to be hot anyways.

Space Saving Tip

Now if you are like me, and you don’t have a special canning kitchen, then space may be an issue on your stove top – with the canner the pot of what you are canning, etc. My grandmother had a second kitchen for canning. How I wish I could take her house and just teleport it to my property! Because your lids also need to be hot, you may find yourself cramped for space.

Here’s what I do: I take one of my slow cookers, fill it with very hot (not quite boiling) water, turn the cooker on high and place my jar lids inside. Lids should never be boiled, because the seals can be damaged. The jar lids stay hot, but have freed up space on my stove top.

When I am pressure canning, nothing needs to be sterilized, but everything still needs to be hot. I have a large electric roaster (think of it as a giant slow cooker.) I fill it with the very hot water, and place my clean jars inside. The jars are hot and again, I am not crowding my stove top.

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Fireweed Jelly

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