Canning tomatoes that I’ve grown in my garden is one of the summer’s most satisfying chores. I use canned tomatoes all year long to make marinara sauce, soups and chili, so I process as many as possible each year!
Tomatoes are generally processed with a water bath canner, however, what many people don’t realize is that you can process them with a pressure canner as well. The preparation of the fruit is very similar, but the methods are different, I’ll discuss all of that with you.
What Will I Need for Canning Tomatoes?
First, you’re going to need fresh-picked, fleshy tomatoes from the garden for canning!
Oftentimes, I’ll pick up a couple of cases of tomatoes 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.
Here’s what you’re going to need:
Beautiful fresh tomatoes
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
A pan or kettle of hot water
The first thing I do before canning tomatoes is to 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.
Most folks choose to remove the skins of their tomatoes before canning. This is because the skins often come off during the processing in the canner. However, I leave my skins on, it’s just a personal choice.
Removing the skin of the tomatoes is done simply by placing your tomatoes in a wire basket and dipping them into boiling water for 30-60 seconds, you’ll see the skins begin to crack. Then remove from boiling water and plunge right away into ice water in your sink. The skins will slip off easily now.
Now to get started…
Preparing Your Canning Equipment and Jars
Begin by examining your canning jars to make sure they are free from knicks and chips, especially around the mouth, that could inhibit your seal.
Wash your jars, lids and rings in hot, soapy water and then rinse well. Set your rings aside and then place your lids in a pan of water on low heat (do not boil!)
Place your jars into the water bath canner, filling the jars and the canner (about 70% full) with water and heat on the stove. The water should be hot, but not boiling. Keep the jars in the canner until you are ready to use them.
Water Bath Canning Tomatoes
Remove one or two jars at a time from your canner, emptying the water from the jar back into the canner. Line your jars up so that you can work and easily fill them, adding a funnel now.
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 ensure that the acid levels are high enough for water-bath canning.
Then add salt (1/2 tsp for pints, 1 tsp. for quarts).
Canning Tomatoes: Raw Pack
You can slice your tomatoes in any fashion you prefer: whole, crushed or quartered. Once you’ve removed the skins, you are ready to remove the seeds and cut your 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.
I keep a small bowl nearby for the seed collection….you can save the seeds to use next year!
Once the seeds are out, I like to turn my tomatoes flat on the cutting board and slice them.
Remove one or two jars from the hot water, pour the water back into the canner, and line up to fill with tomatoes.
Using a dough scraper (go figure), I scrape the tomatoes off the cutting board and put them directly into the jars.
Aren’t they pretty? I love the look of tomatoes in mason jars!
Keep cutting and filling jars…
Gently press your tomatoes down to make a bit more room, I’m using my blender tool. However, leave room for the hot water to flow between the tomato pieces.
Tomatoes tend to hold a lot of juice. Once canned, you may find an inch or two of head space that you didn’t expect, it’s ok. You didn’t do anything wrong.
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!
(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!
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 when canning tomatoes.
With a clean, wet 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.
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 finger tight.
Place your full jars into the canner as soon as you finish filling them with your jar lifter, and then take another jar or two out to fill. This keeps the jars hot and less likely to break.
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 a distance between the jars so that water can circulate while cooking.
The water in the canner should cover the canning jars by 2″, add water if needed, before you begin processing.
Once your jars are placed, put the canner lid on and turn the burner on high to bring the water to a boil.
Once the water begins to boil, turn the heat down slightly to maintain a boil and start the 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.
Once the timer goes off, remove the entire canner from the heat and take the lid off. Wait 5 minutes and then remove the jars.
Place a clean kitchen towel nearby and gently lift your jars out of the canner, then place them on the towel.
What a work of art!!
So, there you have it, how to can tomatoes in a water bath canner!
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?
- 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!
- Pressure-canning preserves more of the nutritional value of the tomatoes.
- If you just have one water-bath canner, you can alternate with your pressure canner and speed up your canning!
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, you will heat your jars a bit differently in the pressure canner.
The best way I’ve found to do this is to fill the jars with water and set them in the pressure canner, which should be filled to the suggested water line inside the 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. (Not back in the canner this time).
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!)
Insert a wooden or plastic spoon to eliminate any air bubbles.
Once a jar is full, take a clean cloth and wipe the rims clean, then put on a lid and ring.
Put the jar back into the hot water within the pressure canner, move on to the next jar and finish them all.
Resist the temptation to tighten the rings down too hard when canning tomatoes, finger tight is sufficient.
Follow the instructions for your pressure canner.
Process quarts and pints for 10 minutes with 10 PSI.
Super fast processing!
Tell us how your canned tomatoes turned out and share in the comments!