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Home canning is closer to baking than cooking: You need the use the right ingredients and follow specific steps to be successful. Failing to do this when baking can leave you with a flat cake or rock-hard cookie, but preserving food in jars takes the “follow the rules” mantra to a higher level. When you set jars on a shelf for many months, you want to make sure that the food inside is safe to eat when you decide to open them.
Fortunately, canning rules exist and are easy to follow. Food scientists and researchers have tested and standardized the processes across a range of food types. High-acid and pickled foods can be canned in a boiling water bath. Low-acid foods require pressure canning. Once you have the right tools for the job and know how to use them, you’ll be canning everything from apricots to tomatoes.
The best cookbooks approach canning with safety and science as their primary focus. They may lack the stunning photos and wildly creative combinations of the latest meal-focused cookbooks, but they’re packed with details that will let you relax and enjoy canning. First-time canners will want to start with tested, authoritative sources before venturing to other canning cookbooks that require the ability to judge the author’s commitment to food safety. Experienced canners will want the latest editions of the canning canon to keep on top of developments in food science.
As you build your canning library, here are the best canning cookbooks.
Best Overall: So Easy To Preserve, 6th Edition
Lots of recipes, all lab tested
Explains the reasoning behind canning rules
Not available at many retailers
Many canners call "So Easy To Preserve" the bible of home canning. It’s packed with how-to details, lab-tested recipes, and answers to common canning questions from experts in the science behind home canning.
The authors have been involved in researching and writing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s preserving recommendations, so this book often overlaps with the USDA guide. You may find its layout easier to follow: Some recipes have more in-depth instructions, and some details are gathered into tables. The book also has far more recipes, including more than 270 for canning, although only a handful are low in sodium or sugar. It includes freezing and dehydrating recipes and charts, too.
The best place to buy this book is its University of Georgia webpage, but delivery takes a couple of weeks. Other extension services may sell the book in person or online. It’s sometimes available through other online retailers, as well, but check that they’re selling the current, complete edition.
Recipes: More than 380 | Pages: 388 | Date Published: 2020 reprint (2014 edition)
Best Authoritative: Complete Guide to Home Canning: Revised 2015
Takes the risk out of home canning
Gives complete, detailed processing steps
Only includes lab-tested recipes and processes
Lack of funding has limited updates
The USDA is the leading expert in home canning, and its guidelines are a must-read. Other trustworthy sources for home canning recipes defer to the USDA, but smart canners ensure they are following safe practices and recipes by reading this manual.
Like most manuals, it’s not the most compelling or beautiful book. Many recipes are geared toward 1940s’ tastes—the last time significant government money was directed toward canning research. What the guide lacks in catchy lines it makes up for in direct, safe instructions. Follow them, and you’ll know your canned goods are safe to eat and share.
The USDA guide is easy to find if you know where to look. It’s available for free as eight downloadable PDFs from the National Center for Home Food Preservation. A spiral-bound version has been released through Purdue Extension. It may be sold through other online retailers, but be sure you’re buying the full current edition.
Recipes: 146 | Pages: 196 | Date Published: 2020 reprint (2015 edition)
Best for Beginners: Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, 37th Edition
Succinct processing steps
In-house, lab-tested recipes
Suggests tips and tweaks for recipes
Few low-sugar or low-sodium options
Ball, the dominant brand for home canning jars and lids, has been publishing its "Blue Book" since 1909. The 37th edition continues to be a well-thumbed volume for first-time and experienced canners alike. Ball tests all of its recipes for safety, and over the years it has added ingredients and flavors beyond the USDA’s test list.
The Blue Book crams the basic info you need to can safely and more than 500 recipes into just 200 pages. Most recipes are for water-bath canning with smaller collections for pressure canning, freezing, and dehydrating. They tend to be simple with just a handful of ingredients and often quite a bit of salt and refined sugar. Where this edition moves forward in the eyes of curious cooks is its brief options for safely tweaking canning recipes. The book promotes Ball-branded products, but you don’t need to invest in them to use the recipes.
Recipes: More than 500 | Pages: 200 | Date Published: 2020 reprint (2014 edition)
"When canning, you need to be aware, and you need to be a little bit of a scientist, but you don’t need to have a PhD." — Renee Pottle, author of "Profitable Preserves" and the Forthcoming "Creative Water-Bath Canning" Cookbook
Best Water-Bath: Ball Canning Back to Basics
Straightforward instructions in recipes
Photos show canning steps
Geared toward beginners
Emphasizes Ball-branded spice blends and additives
In recent years, Ball has branched into volumes beyond its classic "Blue Book," including this collection dedicated to water-bath canning and aimed at those just starting or getting back into canning. The book opens with details on the what and how of water-bath processing with lots of emphasis on safe practices. Unlike many canning books, it features step-by-step photos of the canning process.
The recipes include many simple ones familiar from other Ball books, such as applesauce and bread and butter pickles, but Ball throws in a few fun flavors, like strawberry-balsamic jelly, for canners looking for fresh ideas. You won’t find any low-acid recipes here—the book focuses on foods that can be safely canned in a boiling water bath, including most fruits and pickled vegetables.
Recipes: 100 | Pages: 192 | Date Published: 2017
Best Pressure Canning: The All New Ball Book of Canning and Preserving
Big on flavor
Recipes inspired by different cuisines
Gives multiple twists on basic canned vegetables
Beginners may want more instruction
Low-acid pressure canning gets less attention than its water-bath counterpart for high-acid foods, and recipes tend to focus more on process than taste. Ball set out to change that in the "All New Ball Book," throwing plenty of flavor into each jar. If you’re bored with creamed corn and sliced carrots, this book brings curry and other spices into the mix.
Pressure canning fills just one section; the book has many water-bath recipes and touches on fermenting and curing, freezing, and dehydrating. Each section has short, detailed steps of the basic process, including helpful photos. Simple recipes are given in charts. Complex recipes have start-to-finish instructions and often appetizing photos and serving suggestions. Novice canners may find the overviews too brief, but more experienced canners may welcome the quick refresher before they move on to more advanced flavors.
Recipes: More than 350 | Pages: 368 | Date Published: 2016
Best for Jams: Preserving With Pomona’s Pectin
Low-sugar, fruit-forward recipes
Easy to make large batches
Focused just on preserves
Challenging to adjust to other pectin brands
Pomona’s Universal Pectin puts a different spin on jams and preserves, relying on calcium rather than sugar to get a jam to jell. The company partnered with Master Food Preserver Allison Carroll Duffy to release a flavor-packed cookbook of recipes for jams, jellies, and other preserves that rely on its pectin.
The book’s opening chapter gives must-read information for new and experienced jam makers, since the process of using Pomona’s pectin differs from other brands. The canning process in the recipes follows USDA guidelines, although the book is outdated when adding time for altitude. It’s all about the jam: The 75 recipes range from classic single-fruit flavors with or without refined sugar to blends of all sorts of fruits and spices.
Recipes: 75 | Pages: 176 | Date Published: 2013
"Canning is very accessible, but a sealed jar is not necessarily a safe jar. Follow the recipe. Follow the correct processing. Water-bath foods that are high-acid, and pressure-can foods that are low acid." — Renee Pottle, Author of "Profitable Preserves" and the Forthcoming "Creative Water-Bath Canning" Cookbook
Best for Pickles: The Joy of Pickling, 3rd Edition
Wide range of recipes from many cultures
Detailed processing instructions
Thoughtful explanations of the science behind pickling
Master Food Preserver Linda Ziedrich has a long history as an expert in making jams and pickles, with her pickling cookbook in its third edition. The book shows her passion for pickled foods, incorporating history, literary quotes, and the science behind safe pickling. The opening “primer” chapter is worth a full read as it delves into everything from cucumber varieties to pickling processes.
Canned pickles form just one segment of the book. Ziedrich’s favorite ferments and brines get considerable space, and there are chapters with quick, freezer, and fruit pickle recipes. Relishes, salsas, and other acid-preserved blends have their own chapter, and the book even includes 20 recipes for pickled meats, fish, and eggs.
Recipes: 300 | Pages: 480 | Date Published: 2016
Best for Small Batches: The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving, 2nd Edition
Written for small batches
Good variety of recipes and ingredients
Explains safety concerns with canning
No pressure canning recipes
Many canning books assume you have a large garden and want to put up boxes of produce at a time. This book scales those recipes down to sizes suitable for many modern canners who are purchasing a range of local produce in smaller volumes. Most of the recipes fill a handful of half-pint or pint-size jars with jams, jellies, pickles, and sauces. Best of all, the small-batch math has been done for you.
Authors Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard have food science and research backgrounds, and their recipes and easily understandable explanations reflect their science-based approach to canning. The two main sections focus on canned spreads and condiments. A third section reaches beyond canning to flavored oils and vinegars, frozen foods, and recipes that use home-canned goods.
Recipes: More than 300 | Pages: 408 | Date Published: 2007
"My all-time favorite canning tip is this: Take a stick of butter and run it along the inside lip of the saucepan, all the way around the rim. That way, when your jam gets up to there, it will not boil over." — Renee Pottle, Author of "Profitable Preserves" and the Forthcoming "Creative Water-Bath Canning" Cookbook
Best for Beyond Canning: Batch: Over 200 Recipes, Tips and Techniques for a Well Preserved Kitchen
Nose-to-tail approach to preservation
Easy-to-follow instructions for batching recipes
Enticing design and photos
Skips some crops, like corn, squash, and tropical fruits
Writer and designer duo Joel MacCharles and Dana Harrison have an all-encompassing approach to food preservation: Instead of single-ingredient canning, they prepare several recipes at once, using every part of a strawberry or beet. The book is arranged by key ingredient, showing you just how to make the most of each fruit, vegetable, and even herbs and meat.
Water-bath and pressure canning are just two of the techniques in the book. Every food type has one or more canning recipes aligned with authoritative guidelines. From there, you can learn to dehydrate, ferment, cellar, salt or smoke, and infuse whatever’s left of your harvest. The authors close each ingredient section with recipes that use your creations.
Recipes: More than 200 | Pages: 352 | Date Published: 2016
Every home canner should have the current edition of "So Easy To Preserve" (view at the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension) or the "Complete Guide to Home Canning" (view at Amazon) within reach. First-time canners may find the current "Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving" (view at Amazon) easy to follow for water-bath and pressure canning, and experienced canners may want one or more books that emphasize specific techniques.
What to Look for When Buying Canning Cookbooks
Canning books tend to be updated infrequently, but any changes could be based on new information about food safety. Even if you have a beloved copy enhanced with handwritten notes, it’s safest to compare it with the most recent edition and follow any changes. Some publishers and authors list changes on their website, including corrections and additions to the most up-to-date edition, so it’s worth checking to make sure you have the most recent information before each canning season.
Safe Canning Recipes
Lab testing for home canning is expensive and time consuming, and only the most well-funded researchers and corporate-backed test kitchens can afford it. Processing times and pressures, altitude adjustments, head space, acidity, food density, and more all come into play. The resulting tested recipes have wide safety margins, so you can follow them and be worry-free.
Outside lab testing, conscientious canning cookbook authors do their homework and stick to minor adjustments they know they can safely make. They keep their ratios and calculations well within USDA safety margins and follow current USDA processes and steps. So if you compare the author’s recipe to the lab-tested one, you should see all the same safe ratios, processes, and times. If you’re uncertain about a recipe’s safety, freeze it or use it fresh instead.
How do you prepare jars for canning?
All canning equipment, including jars, lids, and rings, should be washed in hot, soapy water before use, either by hand or in a dishwasher. Jars need to stay hot until you’re ready to fill them with food, which is easy to do by submerging the cleaned jars in a water-bath canner full of simmering water or, depending on your dishwasher’s settings, by keeping them in the closed dishwasher after the wash and rinse cycles are complete. Empty jars only need to be sterilized if the processing time for your recipe is less than 10 minutes.
How do you sterilize canning jars?
You need to sterilize canning jars only if the recipe says to process them for under 10 minutes—before your altitude adjustment. Put the empty jars in your water-bath canner like you would when processing them. Add enough warm water to cover the jars by 1 inch, bring it to a boil, and let it boil for 10 minutes, plus one minute for every 1,000 feet of altitude. Then simply lower the heat and remove and fill each jar, processing them in the same hot water.
Can you reuse canning lids?
Canning jars and rings can be reused, but the lids that look like flat tin-plated discs are designed to seal only once. They will not reliably seal or stay sealed if processed a second time. They’re still useful if you’re storing unprocessed food in glass jars, from rice to dried beans to herbs to refrigerated condiments.
What is canning salt?
Canning salt lacks additives like iodine or anticaking agents. It’s sometimes sold as pickling or kosher salt, so the key thing to look for is a single listed ingredient: salt. Some salts used for canning weigh more than others, which can make them taste saltier. It’s best to use the type or brand specified in your canning recipe.
How do you seal canning jars and know they have properly sealed?
A lid seals to a canning jar as it cools naturally after processing. In the canner, oxygen escapes the jar. As it cools at room temperature, a vacuum is created that sucks the lid tightly onto the jar.
To check that each jar has sealed, wait 12 to 24 hours, remove the ring, and then press in the middle of the lid with a finger. If the lid stays slightly concave, then the jar has sealed properly. If it springs back, then the jar didn’t seal. You can double check by holding the jar at eye level and looking across it for a slightly concave center.
What is the difference between pressure and water-bath canning?
Pressure canning preserves low-acid foods, like vegetables and meats, by combining ultrahigh heat and pressure. Water-bath canning preserves high-acid foods, including most fruits and pickles, in boiling water thanks to acid that neutralizes unwanted microorganisms and bacteria. Each processing method is safe only if the proper steps are followed.
Can you overprocess while canning?
If you follow the proper steps and times for pressure or water-bath canning, including adjustments for altitude, you never have to worry about overprocessing. If you forget to set a timer, you risk more than overprocessing jams into taffy, vegetables into mush, or boiling the liquid out of jars: You also risk not sealing jars safely and allowing unwanted bacteria to flourish. Just check your processing time for your altitude, set your timer once the canner comes to full pressure or a rolling boil, and you’ll be fine.
Can you use an Instant Pot for canning?
The short answer is no. No electric pressure cookers or multicookers, including Instant Pots, have passed safety tests for home canning by the NCHFP, the U.S. government authority on safety when preserving food at home. A Utah State University study found that processing food in electric pressure cookers led to a high risk of developing the botulism toxin.
Since that study, Presto, a trusted brand in stovetop pressure canners, has released an electric model that it says meets USDA guidelines, but the canner has not been tested independently. The NCHFP says, “We are not able to independently verify their marketing statements for you at this time. If someone wants to use this canner, they have to be willing to trust the manufacturer.”
What is dry canning?
Dry canning is an unsafe practice of heat-sealing dried food, like rice, beans, or nuts, into canning jars. Even though the food is in jars, it is not properly canned. If vacuum-sealing in jars is important to you, the best bet would be a vacuum sealer with an adapter for jars, but keep in mind that rice and beans can last for decades in an enclosed container in a cool, dark space.
What other tools do you need for canning?
Jars designed for home canning, flat canning lids, and rings to hold them together until they seal are essential for canning. A wide-mouth funnel, ladle, and jar lifter make it easy to move and fill jars. A second jar rack can help when stacking smaller jars in a large pressure canner. A marker or labels help you identify jar contents weeks after they’ve sat on your shelves.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Julie Laing has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years and published her first cookbook, “The Complete Guide to Pickling,” in 2020. Besides canning pickles, she has been preserving homegrown food as jams, sauces, and more for decades and likes to dive deep into the science behind the processes. Julie also teaches workshops on canning, pickling, and generally making good food from scratch year-round.
National Institute of Food Agriculture. USDA's Complete Guide to Home Canning.
Utah State University. Why electric pressure cookers are not pressure canners.