How to Can Tomatoes: Water-Bath and Pressure-Canning

How to Can Tomatoes: Water-Bath and Pressure-Canning

Summer is tomato season!  Oh tomatoes, how many ways do I love thee??  Now is the time to capture that fresh flavor in jars for the winter months!  Today, I’m going to show you how with “How to Can Tomatoes: Water-Bath and Pressure Canning”!

YES, that’s right!  You can process tomatoes in either a water-bath or a pressure canner!

First, you’re going to need fresh-picked, fleshy tomatoes from the garden for canning! 

Often times, I’ll pick up a couple of cases to can, long before my own garden tomatoes are ready.  I don’t want to miss a single opportunity to enjoy tomatoes on sandwiches, omelets, pasta or in fresh marinara!

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canning tomatoes from the garden


Here’s what you’re going to need:

Beautiful fresh tomatoes

Water bath canner

Jar lifter

Good knives

Cutting board

Canning jars, lids and rings

Salt (1/2 tsp for pints, 1 tsp. for quarts)

Lemon juice (1 tbsp. for pints, 2 tbsp. for quarts)

Various rubber spatulas to release air bubbles in jars

Wide-mouth funnel

A pan or kettle of hot water

 

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canning tomatoes

The first thing I do is wash my tomatoes in a sink full of cool water, along with a cup or two of vinegar and a few drops of fragrance-free dish soap.  Swish them around for a few minutes and give them a good rinse!  Put in colander to dry.

Now to get started…

Water Bath Canning Tomatoes

Line up your sterilized jars on your work surface.

Ball Canning Book recommends putting 1 tbsp. of lemon juice in the bottom of your pint jars and 2 tbsp. in quart jars.   

Although tomatoes are considered a high-acid food, the exact acidity is inconsistent. 

Adding lemon juice helps to insure that the acid levels are high enough for water-bath canning.

Then add salt (1/2 tsp for pints, 1 tsp. for quarts).

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Canning Diced Tomatoes the Easy Way

You can process your garden-fresh tomatoes in any fashion you prefer:  whole, crushed, quartered, whatever.  But I prefer to can diced tomatoes, it’s just easier for me to work with.

Let me show you the easy way to can diced tomatoes!

After cutting your tomato in half (and taking a whiff of that tomato-awesomeness!), use your thumb to swipe out those seeds.  You don’t have to get every single one, but get most of them.  They make the tomatoes bitter when you cook with them.

canning tomatoes

I keep a small bowl nearby for the seed collection….you can save the seeds to use next year or just put in the compost pile.

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removing seeds from tomatoes

Once the seeds are out, I like to turn my tomato flat on the cutting board and slice like an orange.  Then I turn it and cut it the other way, making nice small cuts.

dicing tomatoes

Using a dough scraper (go figure), I scrape the tomatoes off the cutting board and put them directly into the jars.

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diced tomatoes

Aren’t they pretty?  I love the look of tomatoes in mason jars!

ball jar with tomato pieces and funnel

Keep cutting and filling jars…

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canning tomatoes in mason jars

Gently press your tomatoes down to make a bit more room, I’m using my blender tool. 

Tomatoes tend to hold a lot of juice.  Once canned, you may find an inch or two of head space that you didn’t want.  Packing them in good and tight will help to eliminate that.

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pressing down canned tomatoes

While you’re doing all of this, make sure you have some of the correct sized canning lids on simmer in a saucepan, ready to go.  Do not boil them, please!

heating canning lids

 

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(I forgot to add salt to my jars at the beginning, so I’m adding it now!)  It’s best to add it and the lemon juice at the bottom though!

adding salt to canning tomatoes

Now is the time to release any air bubbles inside the jar, I use the clean end of a rubber spatula for this.  As the bubbles release, add hot water to the jar from your kettle.  Your goal is 1/2″ head space…

pouring hot water into mason canning jar full of tomatoes

Like this…..

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close up of mason jar rim

With a super clean cloth, wipe the mouth of the jars clean.  I like to dip my cloth in the hot lid water for this.  Make sure you don’t leave even the smallest grain of salt or tomato on the lip or the jar will not seal properly.

wiping rim of mason canning jar

Using tongs, lift the hot lids from your saucepan and set them directly on the jar.

Then, with one finger holding the lid down, put the rings on tight.

If you mess up, just dip the lid in the hot water again and start over.  It takes some practice and we all make mistakes.

jars of canned tomatoes

Your water bath canner should be at least half-full with simmering water, about 180 degrees.  If it’s too hot, the jars will break.  (Yep, been there done that!)

If your loaded jars are cold, you could just place them all in water bath canner with tepid water, and let them all heat up together.  (This will not work with pressure canning, but it can work with water bath canning)

Place your full jars into the canner. 

You can use the jar basket to lift them up and down, but I usually just place them in with the jar lifter.  Make sure there is distance between the jars so that water can circulate while cooking.

The water in the canner should cover the jars by 1-2″, add water if needed.

water bath canning tomatoes

Once your jars are placed, turn the burner on high and bring the water to a boil.

water bath canning tomatoes

Once the water begins to boil, turn the heat down slightly to maintain boil and start timer.

Quarts require 45 minute processing time, pints need 40 minutes.

If your canner is like mine, water likes to boil over a bit.  Don’t panic, just keep some clean kitchen towels to sop it up.

water bath canner on stove

DING!

Once the timer goes off, remove the entire canner from the heat and take the lid off.  Wait 5 minutes and then remove jars.

Place a clean kitchen towel nearby and gently lift your jars out of the canner, then place them on the towel.

removing hot jars from water bath canner

What a work of art!!

jars of canned tomatoes

So, there you have it, how to can tomatoes the right way!

How to Pressure-Can Tomatoes

Wait, is that a thing?

Yes, it is!

You CAN pressure-can tomatoes, if you choose to.

What are some reasons you might decide to pressure can your tomatoes?

  1.  It’s a lot faster!  It only takes 10 minutes to process in a pressure-canner as opposed to 45 minutes in a water-bath canner for quarts!
  2.  Pressure-canning preserves more of the nutritional value of the tomatoes.
  3.  If you just have one water-bath canner, you can alternate with your pressure-canner and speed up your canning!

canning tomatoes with water bath canner and pressure canner

How is Pressure-Canning Tomatoes Different than Water-Bath Canning?

The process of preparing tomatoes for pressure-canning is the same as for water-bath canning.

However, the difference is how you prepare and fill the jars.

With pressure-canning, you’re dealing with not only a much higher temperature internally, there’s also a much higher contrast of temperature between the canner and the jars.

So what does that mean?

It means that you must work with HOT jars when filling them for the pressure canner.

The best way I’ve found to do this is to keep the jars, filled about 1/3 with water, inside the open pressure canner that has a few inches of water as well.

canning jars in pressure canner

As you’re ready to fill your jars with tomatoes, simply remove one jar at a time and empty the hot water out in a sink.

You will need to add salt and lemon juice, just as you do with water-bath canning in the bottom of the jar.

Salt:  Pints 1/2 tsp., quarts 1 tsp.

Lemon juice: Pints 1 tbsp., quarts 2 tbsp. 

Then, fill your jars with tomatoes and then new hot water. (Remember, we want the jar to stay hot!)

canning tomatoes

Insert wooden or plastic spoon to eliminate any air bubbles.

releasing bubbles canning tomatoes

Put the jar back into the hot water within the pressure canner, move on to the next jar and finish them all.

Once all of the jars are full and back in the pressure canner’s hot water, then take a clean cloth and wipe the rims clean, then put on a lid and ring.

Resist the temptation to tighten the rings down too hard.

Follow the instructions for your pressure canner.

Process quarts and pints for 10 minutes with 10 PSI.

Super fast processing!

If you get stuck or have other questions, please comment below and I will be in contact with you.

three quarts of canned tomatoes with three tomatoes in front

 

 

 

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This Post Has 23 Comments

  1. JoAnne

    Thank you for all your tips. Canned my garden tomatoes this am using your recipe and suggestions.

    1. Kelly

      HI JoAnne! You are so very welcome, I’m glad that you had success today!

  2. Lori

    Can I do this in a pressure canner if I add peppers onions and basil w salt or should I use lemon juice
    How do I keep seeds for planting next year

    Thank you

    1. Kelly

      Hi Lori!

      When you can various foods together, you always want to process for the longest time required for any of the items. Onions require the longest time pressure canning so although you add other ingredients, like tomatoes and peppers, process by following directions for canning onions.

      Here are instructions from Clemson University: https://www.clemson.edu/extension/food/canning/canning-tips/31preserving-onions-garlic.html

      Also, I’m glad to hear that you want to save your seeds, here’s how to do that!
      https://www.gentlysustainable.com/saving-heirloom-tomato-seeds/

      Thanks for your question, I hope I helped!

  3. Ellis

    I have a question, I am new to canning. We decided to juice the tomatoes instead of dicing them. Did not cook them first but put the juice in sterilized jars after separating in the juicer with lemon juice and salt. We processed the jars for 45 minutes. Can the juice be salvaged or is it ruined?

    1. Kelly

      Hi Ellis!

      Welcome to the exciting world of canning your own food! I’ve been canning for decades and I’m still learning new things and making mistakes now and then. So don’t be too hard on yourself, it happens to the best of us.

      You didn’t mention whether you used a water-bath or pressure canner, however, the processing time wasn’t the problem with your tomato juice.

      According to the “Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving”, it’s important to boil the tomato juice, for 10 minutes, before you put it in the jars. (I highly recommend this book! https://amzn.to/2Wh4IQY )

      Quoting the book “It is very important that you reheat the tomato juice before filling the jars. Processing times are based on hot juice in a hot jar. If the juice is tepid, the processing time won’t be sufficient to vent the excess headspace gases and/or destroy spoilage microorganisms.”

      For safety sake, I would pitch the juice and consider it lesson learned.

      Thanks for the great question!

  4. Ellis

    Thank you so much! Not the answer I was hoping for. Lesson learned

  5. Laurie

    Thank you so much. Dumb question, when you say cover the jars by 1-2”, are you meaning completely under water or 1-2 “ from the bottom?

    Thanks, new to this😀

    1. Kelly

      Hi Laurie!

      Great question! You learn by asking, so never be afraid to as your questions!

      So, the jars should have 1-2″ of water covering them/above them in the canner.

      Once the jars are ready and in the canner (the canner will already have water in it, you’re going to add to that), you’ll add water to the canner until it’s covering the jars with 2″ of water.

      This is so that the hot water can completely circulate around the jar to process the food.

      Does that help? If not, I’ll think of another way to put it.

      1. Tomi

        Hi Kelly, I misread your instructions and processed my 1/2 pint jars with the water not covering over the lids. 10 of the 12 jars sealed. Will they be okay and of not, is it possible to reprocess them all again?

        1. Kelly

          Hi Tomi,

          Don’t feel bad, it happens to all of us.

          However, it’s important that the water cover the jars by 1-2″ so that the hot water surrounds the jar with water hot enough to kill pathogens. Lids sealing doesn’t indicate the food’s safety.

          There are varying opinions about reprocessing food.

          Some will say that you can reprocess safely if discovered within 24 hours, but I don’t think I would.

          I will always lean on the side of safety, a batch of tomatoes just isn’t worth the risk of botulism.

          If it were me, and I discovered the mistake within the 24 hour period, I would just make a recipe with lots of tomatoes and use them up right away.

          They could keep in the frig for 2-3 days, if discovered in the 24 hour period. You could also freeze them within the 24 hours.

          I hope that helps!

          https://nchfp.uga.edu/questions/FAQ_canning.html#1

  6. Natalie Corneau

    Hello Kelly,
    I noticed you didn’t peel the skins off the tomatoes before dicing them. Does it make a difference?
    My cherry tomato plants went nuts this summer so I will be canning those. I really don’t want to peel them! Haha.
    Natalie

    1. Kelly

      Hey Natalie,

      When I first started to can, I was taught to remove the skins from the tomatoes. Frankly, I just didn’t think it was a necessary step, plus it added a lot of work to the process.

      The skin doesn’t bother me, it adds fiber and so I leave it on. But it’s just a matter of preference.

      You could can your cherry tomatoes by just cutting them in half to remove the seeds and then process. You might find that you don’t mind the skin either!

      Great question!

  7. Mike

    Can I use a pressure canner?

    1. Kelly

      Hi Mike! You can absolutely use a pressure canner for tomatoes and the processing time will be much shorter, preserving more nutritional value! Check your canning book for times.

      Great question!

  8. Barb

    I have diced tomatoes that I’m canning and have to go somewhere, so can I leave them until tomorrow and if so, do I need to refrigerate them

    1. Kelly

      Hi Barb!

      You didn’t mention what stage of the process you’re in, however I would empty all of your tomatoes into a bowl, cover it and put in frig.

      When you get back to your canning, make sure that your jars are clean (again) and resume canning.

  9. Sylvia Rossi

    Appreciate your straightforward explanations. I’ve canned with others but this is my first garden and canning on my own. I am reading everything I can get my eyes on!
    I just wanted to relate an experience a friend had while water bath canning, which she’s done for years. She had a glass cooktop, similar to the one pictured and the top cracked and broke while she was processing!! Yikes! I purchased a new canning kettle this past week and it now states on the label not to use it on a glass cooktop. Have you heard this before? Take care!

    1. Kelly

      Hi Sylvia!

      Congrats on your first garden!! That’s so awesome that you’re canning as well!

      Yep, I’ve heard the same thing about glass tops.

      While I’m sure that with enough pressure, any glass top stove could crack and break. And, like you, I’ve heard stories about that happening.

      However, this is the second glass stove I’ve owned and canned on. I’ve never had a problem.

      I’m careful to slide my pots off and on.

      One day, I would love to have a natural gas stove, but for now, it’s just not in the cards. I’m using what I have and committing common sense to my canning.

      I hope that answers your question!

  10. Sylvia

    Kelly, so glad you’ve not had any issue! First I had heard of this was when it happened to my friend, she was so disappointed! I’d be lost if I weren’t cooking with a gas stovetop. I’ve made caramels at Christmas time for decades and the only batch I’ve ever ruined were on an electric stove. Thanks again for your concise directions! Will be doing my sauce tomorrow! Take care!

  11. MARGIE

    DO YOU LEAVE THE RINGS ON THE JARS AFTER THEY HAVE COOLED AND YOU ARE PUTTING THEM IN YOU PANTRY…IF SO WHY?. I RAN OUT AND HAVE BEEN STEALING THEM TO PUT UP MORE TOMATOES 🍅.

    1. Kelly

      Hey Margie!

      Once the lids have sealed, the rings have no further purpose. You can feel comfortable removing them and using them again for other jars that you’re canning.

      That said, if I don’t need the rings for another batch of canning, I just leave them on the jars. It’s just easier than finding a place to store all of the rings.

      I hope that answers your question!

      Kelly

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