Monday, September 5, 2011

Gear for Canning and Preserving

I am working on a few new posts about canning jam and peaches so I thought now would be a good time to post about the equipment you need to start canning your own food at home!

Now that you’ve learned when you should stock up on food, you’re going to need to preserve it—those peaches aren’t going to last forever. We’re going to talk about gear for all aspects of canning and preserving in this post, so if you already have something mentioned here, feel free to skip over that section and/or tell us what equipment you use, in the comments section.

Pressure Canners. You’re going to want a pressure canner if you want to process meat, vegetables, or legumes. Pressure canners double as hot water bath canners, so this is what I would recommend.  You can also use them as large capacity pressure cookers, which is nice, too.  I have the Presto 1755 16-quart pressure canner, which works just fine for my needs. It fits 10 pint jars or 7 quart jars at once.  It is about $70 at Wal-Mart or on Amazon.  However, if I were to buy a new canner today I would probably spend the extra $10 and buy the Presto 1781 23-quart pressure canner.  It is taller than the one I have so you can fit up to 20 pint jars or 7 quart jars in there at once.  All canners work on normal size stove-tops, whether you have a smooth-top or a standard electric range.

Water Bath Canners. If you don’t want to do pressure canning, you may consider a water bath canner. Keep in mind that you can only process jams and fruits with a water bath canner.  I don’t use one of these, but it seems to me that if you’re getting a water bath canner, you’re going to want the cheapest one out there—they’re just big pots with racks. Granite Ware makes a little one that’s inexpensive and seems to have good reviews.  It holds up to 7 pint jars.  If you want something bigger, Columbian Home makes a canner that hold up to 7 quart jars at once.  (Remember quart jars are twice as big as pint jars.)

Cans and Lids. If you talk to people about canning for long enough, they’ll invariably tell you that Ball or Kerr canning jars and lids are better the other brands, but I’ve found that Ball, Kerr, and the Wal-Mart brand are pretty much the same. Experiment a little if you want, but I advise just buying whatever is cheapest.  When you buy new jars they come with lids and rings.  You can reuse the jars and rings over and over again, but you need to buy new lids every time.

Keep in mind that jar mouths come in two sizes:  wide-mouth and regular-mouth.  As you can probably guess, the wide-mouth jars have bigger openings at the top.  I don't know why it matters how big the mouth is so I always buy the regular-mouth jars because they are slightly cheaper and the extra lids are cheaper, too.  Jars also hold different volumes:  half-pint, pint, and quart.  Half-pint jars are great for jam.  I use pint jars most of the time for just about everything.  Quart jars are useful for things like potatoes or peaches or anything you will eat quickly.  My Wal-Mart sells a dozen pint jars for about $7 and a box of a dozen lids for about $2.  I have posted links to Amazon in case you can't find jars and lids in your area, but if you can, they are guaranteed to be cheaper than what Amazon sells them for. 

Utensils. I have the set of Ball canning utensils pictured on the left that have worked great for me (and which I seem to remember getting for about $7 at Wal-Mart). You might want to check out the canning aisle of your local Wal-Mart, Target, or other store to see if there’s a deal before buying online. There’s a Back to Basics brand kit on Amazon for $12, and if you buy from a third party on Amazon, you can get them for around $8. They all look like they get the job done.

Once you get your gear ready, you’re ready to can! We’ll be posting more about canning, but I already have a video on how to can chicken here and one on how to can ground meat (beef or turkey) here.

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