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: All of Our Tomato Recipes

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 (rims) and test seal. Wash outside jar surface. Store in a dry, dark and cool place.
See Also:  Easter Brunch Recipes for a Spring-Inspired Meal

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,

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup Recipe

Recipes Using Canned Tomatoes

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup
Tamale Pie
Eggplant, Mozzarella and Pesto Gratins
Spicy Sirloin Beef Stew

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.

  5. I canned a batch of tomatoes, when I removed them tomatoes were a top with 1 inch liquid at bottom. Is that normal?

  6. I have 2 questions about the instructions. Step #6 says “Place in a large pot; add enough water to cover tomatoes. Boil gently for 5 minutes.” ….. So do you put the whole or halved tomatoes in a pot and boil them adding water?
    Step #9 says “Pour hot cooking liquid over tomatoes”…. what cooking liquid are you referring to?

  7. Hi Lisa, yes, it sounds like after coring and peeling the tomatoes (and halving or quartering, if desired), you put them back in a pot to cook further. The first round of cooking was mainly just to blanch them so they are easier to peel. I believe the cooking liquid is the extra liquid from the same pot as the tomatoes in step #6. For further questions, you can contact this post’s author, Roben Mounger, directly: Hope this helps!

    Jessy Yancey
    editor, Farm Flavor

  8. Hi Patti, I believe that is OK that the tomatoes were floating, they may not have been cooked long enough to become dense, or you may have put a bit too much liquid. For further questions, you can contact this post’s author, Roben Mounger, directly: Hope this helps!

    Jessy Yancey
    editor, Farm Flavor

  9. After the bath there was a 1 inch gap from the lid to the tomatoes. It appears to have sealed tightly but is it safe to eat?

  10. Space in the jar (i.e. 1″ liquid top or bottom) only means that you didn’t pack the product as tightly as you could have. It’s a benign byproduct that causes no harm as long as the other instructions were followed and the jar seals properly.

  11. I put two quarter pieces in jar and mash other tomatoes in jar using no other liquid but juice from tomatoes and add salt. Put in boiling water bath for 45 minutes. I have been using this method for 70 years and have had no trouble with any of my jars not keeping

  12. I just processed my first batch of tomatoes following directions to a tea. When I removed the jars from the pot and as they were drying there was white marks on the jars and/ or lids… looks like hard water stains….. or something ??? Is this safe? Could it be from the salt added to each jar???

  13. I canned some tomato sauce with Roma tomatoes this past weekend, however I feel I messed up big time. I hoping they will still be good, this is the first year I had great tomatoes, first I only added 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice rather than the 1 tablespoon requested and hot water bath to a continuous hard boiling for 5 minutes rather than the 40 minutes requested. Not sure where I cam up with 5 minutes, but it happened, the water was hot not at an extreme. The tomato sauce cooked all day no other ingredients but tomatoes sauce, salt and lemon juice and was poured into jars hot. Hoping they will be ok. can you tell me if not can I fix them?

  14. My mother always canned her tomatoes like Leah Miller and never had a problem with them spoiling. I used her method today and mine look beautiful….

  15. Doreen, don’t know if i read your sentence right. But i hope u kept your canned tomatoes in the boiling water for 40 min at least

  16. I would not risk eating under processed food. Chalk it up to learning the art of canning. Do another batch and I am sure u will never make that mistake again. Get rid of those under processed and enjoy your progress in canning the new batch.

  17. You should be able to carefully unscrew the rim and still leave the lid secure. If the lid is tightly affixed to the jar (i.e. if the canning process was done correctly), it shouldn’t pop open when you unscrew the rims to test.

  18. Please advise me! I just canned a batch of tomatoes in a hot water bath. I forgot the correct timing, and left them in the hot water for only 20-25 minutes instead of my usual 35 minutes. The jars all sealed properly, but I’m wondering whether they heated long enough to be safe. Can you help me?

  19. My Mother never pressure canned anything and I’m still alive at 57. I would like to ask if anyone has hot water bathed rutabages before. We eat a lot of them and I want to can them this year rather than blanch and freezing. Also, we have never added lemon juice to our tomatoes either. Thank you

  20. I’d recommend checking with your local Extension specialist to ensure food safety. I think if you reheat and place in new, sanitized jars, then you should be fine, but might want to double check with an expert!

  21. My mother canned everything and anything she could. We lived on a farm and ate what was raised. She canned hundreds of quarts of tomatoes, juice ,etc. She sterilized the jars, put the lids and rings in a pan of simmering hot water. The tomatoes were peeled as described, jars packed & sealed as described with one exception. She never put lemon juice or any acidic additive. Never had a jar go bad and never had one that wasn’t “ohh sooo gooooood”!

  22. I just canned tomatoes and salsa like my mom did for 85 yrs Mom only put salt in her tomatoes 1 tsp for qts and 1/2 tsp for pats no citrus She only used the tomato juice no added water and water bathed 45 min Next week pickles

  23. I read with interest about mothers and how they canned. I am 75 and my mother canned many things over the years and never with a pressure canner as they scared her. She canned all beans in water bath and we never had a problem but that does not mean that I would even consider it. I have always water bath canned without lemon or vinegar and until it was explained to me that many of the new varieties of tomato are bred to have lower acid which would include the red ones and therefore we do not get the natural acid that we once did. So I will now start putting vinegar or lemon juice in my jars, after all it does not take much and is easy, so why take the risk? I also give my tomatoes a brief churn in the blender rather than chopping the slippery rascals because I won’t need them whole or in chunks when I go to use them. They don’t have many air bubble problems that way either. I add onions and garlic also.

  24. Hi, I am wanting to water bath my stewed tomatoes. I add onion, celery, green peppers and garlic. Is there a process to use the water bath instead of a pressure cooker. Thanks for your help.

  25. hi there. we recently scored, cored, blanched, and stewed our tomatoes. We sterilzed the jars/rings/lids and added the tomatoes to said jars while they were still hot and the tomatoes were quite near a boil. we totally forgot the processing part once the jars were filled and lidded. They all sealed/popped. Are we all clear??? Thank you!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here