How To Water Bath Can

By Ann Fulton

Shelf-stable jams, jellies, and more are within easy reach with these easy-to-follow instructions and helpful hints. 
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Shelf-stable jams, jellies, and more are within easy reach with these easy-to-follow instructions and helpful hints. 


Canning or “putting up” jams and jellies is an economical way to preserve the fresh taste of seasonal produce for enjoyment all year round. 

Though it may seem like a daunting process, safely sealing food into jars is quite easy, and the following step-by-step instructions will walk you through the process. 

Concerned about not having the proper equipment? Aside from the jars, which are available at most large grocery and discount stores, there are substitutions for the actual canner (a big soup pot) and other gadgets, which I’ve noted below.

As always, if questions arise, I am happy to answer them.

But first… is canning the only way? If you don’t wish to process your jam or jelly in a water bath canner and you have the space, you can freeze the jam. Simply leave ½″ of headspace in freezer-safe containers (canning jars may be used) and freeze once the jam is cool. Frozen jams and jellies are best enjoyed within 1 year of freezing.

Easy, step-by-step instructions for the best tasting strawberry jam!

Classic Strawberry Jam is a perennial favorite.

Did you know? Frozen fruit works well for jam. In fact, farming families have long frozen fruit after picking so they can make jam when the busy harvest season comes to a close. 

A few recipes to try: 

Easy-to-make tomato jam is savory and tangy with a hint of spicy sweetness. An ideal way to use a bumper crop of tomatoes, the rustic jam is a delightful alternative to ketchup on a burger or chutney on grilled chicken, fish, or pork.

For a twist on the traditional sweet fruit jam, this Tomato Jam is savory and tangy with a hint of spicy sweetness. A lovely alternative to ketchup, it’s equally delicious in place of salsa on chicken, fish, or pork.

Step-by-Step Directions for Water Bath Canning

1. Gather your supplies:

Jars, lids, and pectin are sold in most large grocery and discount stores. Other tools are usually available in the aisle with kitchen gadgets or in a specific canning aisle as well as online. I’ve noted readily available alternatives below. 

  • Canning jars (4-ounce up to 16-ounce) 
  • Flat lids and screw-on bands 
  • Large canning pot and lid*
  • Rack*
  • Pectin (like Sure-Jell) and directions if making jam or jelly
  • Headspace measuring tool or ruler
  • Jar lifter**
  • Magnetic lid lifter**
  • Canning funnel**

*No canning pot? Use a large stock pot with a rack that lays flat on the bottom. No rack? Improvise with a cake rack, pressure cooker insert, metal trivet, steaming rack, or even a folded dish towel.

**Don’t have a magnetic lid lifter, jar lifter, or funnel? I made do with tongs for years, but they will make the task at hand easier and can be purchased in a set like this

2. Wash the jars, lids, and bands. It’s important for them to be clean and sterile. 

3. Place the rack in the canner or large pot. Fill the pot with enough water to cover the jars by at least 1 to 2 inches. Depending on how big your pot is, you may wish to use a pitcher or tea kettle to finish filling it on the stove. Bring the water up to a boil so that it is ready when your jam or jelly is done cooking. 

4. Place the lids in a small sauce pan, cover with water, and then bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat and place the lid on the pan to keep the water warm. This softens the sealing compound on the lids to ensure a good seal. Keep the bands nearby. (I often add them to the pot to make sure they are clean and sterile too.)

5. When your jam or jelly is done cooking, use a funnel and a ladle or one-cup measure to fill your jars. Leave ¼″ of head space in each jar, and wipe the rim of each jar with a damp cloth or paper towel.

6. Use a magnetic lid lifter to remove one lid at a time from the warm water, and place on top of each filled jar. Using your fingertips, screw a band onto each jar until you meet resistance, and then a little bit more. This is called “fingertip tight.” A hot pad, wash cloth, or tea towel may be helpful to hold the hot jars.

7. Meanwhile, make sure the water in the canner is boiling. 

8. When all the jars are filled and the lids are finger tight, place them (at the same time) on the rack in the canner. Again, the water in the canner should be boiling when you add the jars. (This is important because if it takes too long to bring the water back to a boil, the pectin may become de-activated from too much heat exposure.)

9. The jars should be upright, with space between them, and covered by 1 to 2 inches of water. The water will likely stop boiling when the jars are added. Immediately place the lid on the canner and bring the water back to a boil over high heat.

10. Once the water returns to a rolling boil, set a timer, and boil:

  • 4-ounce jars for 5 minutes at sea level
  • 8- to 16-ounce jars for 10 minutes at sea level
  • Altitude adjustment for all jar sizes: Add 1 minute for every 1,000 feet above sea level. (For example, if you are between 1,000 and 2,000 feet, boil for 1 extra minute. Boil for 2 extra minutes at 2,000 to 3,000 feet, and so on. Don’t know your elevation? Find it by typing your your city and state name at this website.

11. Remove the jars with the tongs when the time is up. 

12. Place the hot jars on a mat or tea towel. Let the jars cool, undisturbed. You will likely hear some pops (this happens when the lids seal).

13. When jars are completely cool (or within 12 to 24 hours), remove the bands and check seals. The lids should be sucked down and not come off when gently pulled with your fingertips. Jam sets as it cools, and some jams (like peach) will continue to jell over the first week or so. 

14. Label and store jars, preferably in a dark location. Darkness can help preserve color, especially in low-sweetener jams. Sealed jars should be stored without the rings. 

15. Properly canned jam is best eaten within one year. That said, it’s always wise to examine the contents of a jar when opened. You want to make sure that the seal pops and that there’s no mold, “off” smell, or fizziness that could be a sign of fermentation. If this should happen, discard the contents of the jar. 

16. Once opened, a jar of jam or jelly typically lasts at least one month in the refrigerator.


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