To be successful at anything, it helps to have the right tools. Using the right jars for canning can be critical to your food preservation victory. Keep reading to learn all about jars, plus jar rings and lids!
You’re ready to start canning your jams and jellies (and maybe even meat!), but then you realize…
Your kitchen cabinets are void of any jars or lids or these mysterious things called jar rings!
So you hop on that handy dandy Google and find out there are not only different sizes of jars but also different mouth sizes.
“What the heck does that even mean?!” You mumble under your breath.
And all of the sudden it’s back at square one.
Don’t worry – all is not lost!
Luckily for you, I adore canning and could probably talk about it all day long.
And one of the most important tools in this self-sufficiency hobby is the vessel in which you hold all your delicious canned goodies!
So, if you feel lost when it comes to jars, lids, and rings, keep reading for your ultimate guide!
A brief history of canning jars
You can’t start canning without the can.
What is the “can” in home canned foods today? The answer is mason jars!
You are more than likely familiar with these glass jars.
At the very least, you’ve probably seen the common mason jar brand Ball used as a decoration or even for drinkware at your favorite BBQ restaurant.
- Bleached glass
These jars are made with bleached glass. So, for the first time, people could see their canned goods inside.
- The engineering genius of the top
Mason jars have a lid with a rubber ring (to seal the jars) and a ring or band that has screw threads, allowing it to fit perfectly on the top of the glass jar.
Before this, people were using wax and a flat lid to seal their preserved food. Talk about a mess!
Most common canning jar brands
Golden Harvest jars are unique in that they come in liter sizes, and are most widely available in Canada. So if our non-metric jar sizes confuse you, there are metric-sized options!
Canning jars: What size should you use?
Not all jars are usable for canning.
Let’s tour the sizes that are available, and which you can use for canning food at home.
Gallon and half-gallon sized jars
You can find very large jars that feature the same lid and ring styles as other mason jars (more on rings and lids in a moment!)
And for homesteaders, these jumbo jars can be very useful.
I use a half-gallon jar when I water glass eggs. These also come in handy for storing dry goods.
However, these are NOT suitable for any kind of canning.
Pint and quart sized jars
There are two main jar sizes we use for canning – pint and quart.
Pints are smaller (two pints go into a quart – there is your math lesson for the day!). These jars hold 16 liquid ounces, or 2 cups.
I prefer pints because it is a more manageable amount of food, and you’ll frequently see people using pint jars for nearly everything.
For example, if you were to can chicken in a quart jar, that would be about 2 pounds of meat inside – way more than I personally need at a time.
Quarts are twice as large as pints. They are one quarter of a gallon, or a total of 32 ounces or 4 cups in volume.
Because quarts are twice as large as pints, they are frequently used in pressure canning or for large quantities. If you have a bigger family, a quart of meat, broth, or even jam may make good sense for you.
Pints and quarts are the only sizes of jars used in pressure canning. But you can use other sizes for water bath canning.
Smaller jars for jams and jellies
There are a few other sizes of jars that you’ll see in common use in water bath canning. These are popular for small quantities of jams, jellies, pickles, and other preserves.
Three quarter pint
The three quarter pint is a 12 ounce jar. This holds a cup and a half of food. These jars are available in quilted and smooth-sided varieties.
The half pint is an 8 ounce jar. This holds a cup of food. These jars are available in quilted and smooth-sided varieties.
The quarter pint is a 4 ounce jar. This holds a half a cup of food. These jars are available in quilted and smooth-sided varieties.
What’s fun about smaller jam and jelly jars is that you can usually find some really fun sizes and shapes, which look cute on your shelves and make great gifts.
As long as they have a standard lid size, you can use them!
Wide-mouth or regular? Finding the right lid size
When you go shopping for your jars, you’ll notice there are two different lid/ring sizes for both pint and quart jars – wide-mouth or regular.
There is no real functional difference between these two sizes. The main reason you may want to choose a wide-mouth jar is when you have something that is challenging to get out. For me, that is pie filling.
However, I can fit more regular mouth jars in my canner (my treasured All-American) than wide-mouth. So, I tend to mix and match.
The great thing about glass jars (and their rings – more on that later!) is that as long as they do not have cracks or chips, they are reusable.
What is not reusable is the lid…
Canning Jar Lids
Once you use a lid following either canning method, it can’t be used again in the canning process.
Why can’t canning lids be used multiple times for home-canning?
Short answer: the lids will not be able to properly seal after multiple uses.
Canning lids have a rubber seal on the side that sits on top of the jar.
When heat is applied through your canning method of choice and then the jars are cooled, these lids will create an air-tight seal.
After a canning lid has been sealed once, it generally can’t be sealed again (or if it does seal a second time, the contact will be much weaker and likely to allow contamination of the food inside).
If you can’t imagine what I mean, think of how your store bought jars are sucked-down when you first buy them, but once opened, they can’t be resealed. It’s the same premise with home-canned jars.
How do you know if your jar is sealed?
It’s critical that your jars seal properly. If they do not, you risk your food going bad and becoming unsafe to eat.
After processing, when the jars are cooling, you should hear a pop when they have sealed. It’s one of the most cheerful noises you’ll hear coming from your kitchen!
Visually, you’ll notice the little button in the middle of the lid is flat and won’t pop back up when you press on it. If the lid flexes when pressed, the lid did not seal.
You can also tap on the top of your jars to listen for a more solid sound (an unsealed jar will sound hollow).
I like to double check my canned goods after they have cooled for 24 hours by holding the jar by the lid. If it holds, you know you have a great seal!
Can you use other lids with your mason jars?
In addition to flat, sealing lids, I also have plastic lids on hand that I use after I’ve opened up something I’ve canned.
These are NOT suitable for canning, but are great for jars that are opened that you need to store.
So for example, if I open up some jam, I’ll put a plastic lid on it to store in the fridge for the next week while I use it up.
I also use my plastic lids on my waterglass egg jars.
Canning Jar Rings
When you first place your lid on top of your jar, it won’t stay on by itself (until it vacuum seals during the canning process).
And that is why jar rings are so important.
Before you place your jars in a canner, you’ll need to secure the lids with the rings. Rings simply screw on the top of the jar. No need to crank down on them! Fingertip-tight is fine for going into the canner.
Jar rings can be used over and over again (just like the jars). But just because you can reuse them, doesn’t mean you need to keep ALL of your canning rings!
Why take the rings off of your canned goods for storage?
Once your canned goods have cooled, I recommend taking the jar rings off for storage.
There is a slight chance that if your canned goods were to lose their seal, a tight ring could make your lids appear closed, or even seem to reseal. This creates a false seal, meaning your food may not be safe.
So, I always recommend playing it safe and removing the rings for storage!
Should you keep your canning rings?
I recommend that you keep only a few rings on hand.
You really don’t need any more than you can fit into your canner at one time, and maybe a few extras in case your current stash get rusty or misshapen.
Though you probably get another dozen rings with every box of jars that you purchase, you really don’t need to keep more than a few in order to can successfully.
What do you do with them? I used to save them “just in case” on a string in my barn. When that grew to 12 feet long, I gave up and threw them away!
Some people like to make festive pumpkins out of their spare canning rings. In fact, there are lots of handy crafts you can make from canning jar rings!
So really it’s up to you, to keep, to toss, or to repurpose.
Ready to learn how to can?
Now, maybe you want to can, but you feel like you need a little extra guideance.
Then, my canning course may be a perfect fit for you!
When you join How To Can Food: The Beginner’s Home Canning Course, you will:
- Hit the books (and the country store shelves) to load up on reading material, resources, and, of course, so many jars.
- Discover all about the different kinds of canners – water bath or pressure canning, you’ll be ready to roll!
- Whip up some delicious, basic recipes that anyone can tackle. Can we say amazing jelly??
- Process fresh meats (yes! meat!) and make them shelf-stable and safe for years.
- Learn how to store your filled jars properly so you can enjoy your canning efforts for months to come.
And this is not just for beginners. This is for the canner who has only canned pickles and wants to try new things and for the experienced canner who knows there is always something new to learn!
I am so grateful to share this hobby of mine with all of you. It truly gave me peace of mind when I needed it the most, and I think it can do the same for you.
Click here to learn even more about jars, jar rings and lids (and all you ever wanted to know about canning)!