Canned tomatoes using waterbath method

Last year I began my quest for expert canning processes. Not that there was a lack of expertise, it’s just the experts were fewer and farther between.

The county fair reined. Two names were synonymous with canning: a mother-and-son team, whose canned tomato sauce, salsa, relish and ketchup were racking up accolades at county fairs.

Junette Young and her son, Tracy, appreciated the beauty of a preserved tomato in all its incarnations. For them, a righteously canned tomato in winter promised a taste of summer in stew, chili and spaghetti.

SEE MORE: 12 Recipes with Tomatoes

They confided that the secret to canning was not in the technique. The winning ticket was labeled with a straightforward directive for anyone with a water bath canner. Grow your own favorite varieties, and then pick a few to preserve. For best flavor, process only a few jars at a time. (Note: The number of tomatoes is not specified, as it varies depending upon the size of the water bath canner.)

What You’ll Need for Canning Tomatoes

• a boiling water bath canner
• 2 large saucepans
• quart jars, lids and sealing surfaces (flats and rims)
• fresh tomatoes
• bottled lemon juice (optional)
• canning salt

Water Bath Method Instructions

  1. Fill a large saucepan two-thirds full of hot water to boil.
  2. Fill boiling water bath canner half-full of hot water. Put canner on to heat.
  3. Examine jars and sealing surfaces to make sure that all surfaces are smooth. Wash jars and sealers (rims) in hot, soapy water. Rinse well. Leave jars in hot water until needed.
  4. Put lids (flats) in saucepan filled with water, and place on stove to simmer until needed.
  5. Select just enough tomatoes for one canner load. Make sure tomatoes are fresh, firm and red ripe. Wash tomatoes and drain. Put in wire basket, and lower into boiling water in the second large saucepan. Remove after about 60 to 90 seconds, or when skin begins to crack. This depends upon the size of tomatoes – smaller varieties may only take 30 seconds.
  6. Dip tomatoes into cold water. Cut out cores and remove skins. You can leave the tomatoes whole or cut them in half. Place in a large pot; add enough water to cover tomatoes. Boil gently for 5 minutes.
  7. Remove 1 jar from hot water and drain.
  8. Add 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice to each quart jar. If using pint jars, use 1 tablespoon lemon juice. (This step is optional.)
  9. Pack hot tomatoes into jar, leaving ½-inch headspace. Pour hot cooking liquid over tomatoes, leaving ½-inch headspace. Add 1 teaspoon canning salt to each quart jar (½ teaspoon for pint jars).
  10. Run a nonmetallic spatula between tomatoes and jar to release any trapped air bubbles. Wipe top and threads (the screw threads at the rim) of the jar with clean, damp cloth.
  11. Using tongs, remove 1 lid from simmering water and place it flat on top of jar so sealing compound is against jar. Screw band down evenly and firmly.
  12. Repeat steps 10 and 11 with all jars. As each jar is filled, stand it on rack in canner of hot, not boiling, water, which should cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. (Add additional water if necessary.) Put cover on canner, and bring water to a boil.
  13. Process quarts for up to 45 minutes (40 minutes for pints) at a gentle but steady boil.
  14. Using tongs, carefully remove jars from canner and set on a wood or cloth surface, placing jars several inches apart and out of drafts. Do not retighten bands. Allow jars to cool about 12 hours.
  15. Remove bands and test seal. Wash outside jar surface. Store in a dry, dark and cool place.
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This recipe has been adapted from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. For more detailed instructions, please refer to the book or its website,

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About Our Guest Author: Roben Mounger has a penchant for searching out locally produced ingredients for her family’s meals. For some 15 years, she has eaten year round by way of CSAs and farmers markets. Roben writes a weekly column about food for The Columbia Daily Herald and blogs about eating locally at Ms. Cook’s Table.


  1. You need to wipe off the rim of jar before you put the lid on and screw it down. It will not seal properly and can give you food poisining

  2. You are absolutely right. The original instructions said, “Wipe top and threads of jar with clean, damp cloth.” We have expanded that sentence to explain that the threads of the jar refer to the screw threads at the rim of the jar. Hope that helps to clarify! We also always recommend contacting your local agricultural university extension agent with any questions about canning, as they are experts. You can more details at

    Jessy Yancey
    Farm Flavor

  3. You list the lemon juice as optional-however-to use a water bath for tomatoes you must use some type of citric acid or lemon/lime juice to keep the acid at appropriate levels for water bath canning.

  4. The salt is an optional flavoring ingredient. The idea behind using canning salt (also known as Pickling salt) is to avoid the anti caking additives (see Wikipedia) that help most salts flow freely. The anti caking agents can settle out and look imperfect.
    The other possible difference is the fineness of the salt grains. We add salt but volume rather than by weight. The actual quantity of salt (by weight) will vary a little because of the spaces between the grains. Since the salt is optional, it doesn’t really matter. Your home canned tomatoes will still taste great.


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