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Canning Jars 101 – Everything You Need To Know and More!

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: November 24, 2020
Canning Jars 101 – Everything You Need To Know and More!

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When I recently did some organizing of my supplies, I was a bit surprised at the sheer number of canning jars I had placed into boxes.  By the time I got to the 20th box, I admitted to myself that I am clearly a canning jar hoarder.  That said, I don’t think I am in need of an intervention. Yet.  On the contrary, I think everyone should own more versatile and beautiful canning jars.

Canning jars, also commonly referred to as Mason Jars, have a long and colorful history.

Canning Jars 101 - Everything You Need To Know and More! | via

The History of Canning and Canning Jars

Canning as a method of preservation was first created during the time that Napoleon was in charge of the French Army. The army wanted a way to preserve food so that soldiers could be better nourished.  The military offered a prize of 12,000 francs to the person who could come up with a solution to this issue.

It took 15 years for the prize to be awarded. After years of experimentation, Nicholas Appert, a Parisian candy maker, and chef won the prize in 1810 for his invention.  The same year, he published the first book of food preservation, called  L’Art de conserver les substances animales et végétales (or, in English, The Art of Preserving Animal and Vegetable Substances which you can view and download for free).

In the early 1800s, however, most people could not afford glass jars for food preservation, so they continued with their traditional methods until the Civil War, when John Mason invented the “Mason jar” with a reusable lid. Because of his ingenuity, to this day, many of us still refer to canning jars as “Mason jars” regardless of the brand.

Canning reached an all-time high during the 1940s when the government declared canning the contents of your victory garden to be a wartime obligation. At that time, over 75% of American families preserved food by canning it, and over 12 million gardens had been planted across the country.

Canning Jars 101 - Backdoor Survival


Once the war was over, however, people returned to shopping at the grocery store, and the number of people who canned dropped and has continued to do so. Recently, though, as more people seek self-reliance due to climbing prices and terrible selections at the store, canning has experienced a bit of a renaissance and jars are back in style.

The Different Types of Canning Jars

The thing that makes jars so darned addictive is that they are as useful as they are lovely. Some antique jars come in shades of aqua, and some modern jars are available in blue, green, and purple.

Of course, one of the most frequent uses for jars is home preservation.  Not only can you preserve pickles, jams, and jellies, but you can branch out into pressure canning to preserve low-acid foods like meats, vegetables, and entire meals. (If you are like me and have not yet gotten up the nerve to try pressure canning, read this! I guarantee you’ll be ready to take the plunge.)

Whatever you’re preserving, you need to choose the right jar for the job. Not only do jars come in different colors, but they also come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. This handy infographic can help.

Canning Jars 101 - Everything You Need To Know and More! | via

How else can you use canning jars?

Canning jars are good for a lot more than just food preservation, though. They can also be used in some of the following ways:

Straight shouldered jars can be used to freeze food – just be sure to leave room for expansion.

Store leftovers in them instead of BPA-laden plastic containers.

They make charming, country-style vases for flowers from the garden.

Wide mouth jars make quirky drinking glasses.

Fill a half pint jar with water for a floating candle. You can add food color to the water to make it match your decor.

Store dried foods in them. Use a Foodsaver Vacuum Sealer Jar Attachment to remove the air for long term storage.

Store cutlery in them on the counter – tie some ribbon around the jars to coordinate with your kitchen.

Paint a square on them with chalkboard paint so you can write the name of the food you are storing in them.  You can also purchase chalkboard labels for the lids.

If you purchase herbs in bulk (or harvest them from your garden) you can store the dried herbs in a canning jar.

Use smaller jars for sewing notions or small craft supplies.

Pour your own jar candles in them.

Store candy in them for an old-fashioned, decorative holiday display.

Glue coarse sandpaper to the lid and store matches in it for a water resistant container with a strikeable top.

And a bunch of other stuff!

Change up the lids and do neat stuff with your canning jars.

Of course, the nifty lids that are now available take the versatility of canning jars to a whole new level. Check out some of these tops you can get to make your jars serve different purposes:

These lids have a hole in them for straws, making this the perfect beverage container for outdoors:  Ball Wide Mouth Mason Jar with Sip and Straw Lids

These lids have a pour spout for easy dispensing of whatever dry item you’ve stored in the jars:  reCAP Mason Jars Pour Cap

And these lids have a spout for dispensing liquids:  Magnuson mason jar pouring spout, regular size.

These lids have cutouts. You can use them to hold scented items like potpourri, or you can use them to hold a homemade baking soda-based cleaning powder:  Pewter Daisy Cut Out Lid for Mason Jars

These chalkboard lids can be used for labeling the contents of the jar: Chalk Tops – Reusable Chalkboard Lids for Mason Jars

These lids turn your jars into fermenting units: FARMcurious – Mason Jar Fermenting Kit

This lid is a soap or lotion dispenser. Mason Jar Soap/Lotion Dispenser Lid black

This converter top turns a mason jar into an oil lamp:  Mason Jar Oil Lamp Burner Chimney Holders Turn Mason Jars Into Nostalgic Oil Lamps

And finally, these lids turn your jars into adorable and useful little solar lanterns, either hanging or tabletop:  Hanging Solar Lid Light or Hanging Solar Lid Light

How do you use your canning jars?

I am a total canning jar addict and other than finding a 12 step program, will probably continue to hoard them as I see them on sale.  Finding additional uses is not an issue plus, later this summer when there is an abundance of fresh produce available, I plan to do some real canning and pickle making.

Are you a canning jar addict too? How do you use your jars other than canning in them?

The Final Word

A special shout out goes to Tiffany at who gave me permission to share her infographic.  In her own words, her blog is about her “personal experiment to thrive in all areas of life (physically, mentally, spiritually).”  You might want to pay her a visit.

Thanks, Tiffany!

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

Below you will find the items related to today’s article.

reCAP Mason Jars Pour Cap: Of all of the various types of lids you can get for canning jars, this is my favorite.  I use one for laundry soap and another for syrup. These are great.

Mason Jar Storage Caps Set of 8: These are fantastic!  These plastic lids screw onto a mason jar and are perfect in the pantry or to cap you homemade salves.  There is both a regular and a wide mouth version.  I add chalk labels to the top and am all set.

Chalky Talky 40 Regular or 36 Wide Mouth Mason Jar Lid Reusable Chalkboard Canning Labels:  These are terrific and are totally reusable.  Don’t forget the chalk markers if you do not already have some.

Ball Jar Heritage Collection Pint Jars in Blue, Set of 6:  2013 marked the 100th anniversary of the first series of jars designed by Ball brothers, each jar intended to be better than the one before. These limited edition jars are a celebration of the heritage featuring period-correct blue color and embossed logos on the front and back. Gorgeous.

Ball Heritage Collection Pint Jars in Green, Set of 6: Same as above but in green.  Note that these colored jars also come in quart sizes.

Ball Jar Ball Heritage Collection Pint Jars in Purple, Set of 6:  Because I personally consider purple to be the new black, this is my favorite!

FoodSaver Wide-Mouth Jar Sealer: Have a FoodSaver? If so, check out this jar sealer which can be used to vacuum seal your Mason jars. This is a great option for short to mid term storage of items such as beans, rice, sugar, and salt. Store your jars in a cool, dark place and you are set with the added advantage of removing a small amount for current use without having to disrupt your large Mylar bag or bucket of food.  There is also a version for regular sized jars.  See Fast Track Tip #4: How to Use a FoodSaver for Vacuum Canning.

FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer: As long as the unit has an accessory port (and this one does), an inexpensive FoodSaver will work just as well as the fancier models. That is my two cents, at least.


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20 Responses to “Canning Jars 101 – Everything You Need To Know and More!”

  1. Canning is on my list of skills to learn. I’ve been obtaining jars and the various equipment. I have a water bath canner. I found a pressure canner at a flea market a couple of weeks ago. I have a good book on canning. And I’m petrified to try it!! A keeper article, Gaye – thanks!

  2. Hi. My name is Dee and I’m somewhere between a hoarder, a jaraholic and a collector. I don’t can that much anymore. I still collect glass jars. Canning jars with metal rings and lids, those with plastic lids, jars with metal catches that need the rubber rings, those odd cute jars people buy jams, jellies and all manner of glass jars. I have enablers too. I was recently given 20 glass ‘Folgers’ jars, the kind with the indentation so a hand fits around them so well. 🙂 I have plastic lids, rings w/lids, even some ceramic covered metal lids.
    I rarely can with quart sized jars. I do a little with pint sized and smaller. I also trade empty jars for those filled with canned goodies. I also trade filled jars with my homemade herb and spice blends since I started learning about culinary herbs. Mine don’t have the fillers and preservatives which come with those store bought. Besides I grow many of my own herbs now. O and I make sleeves for those on the shelf so none get broke from hitting each other. I also make cozies with handles for serving iced drinks. I can’t speak to how many jars I have at one time since it varies. I will say I’m having to become more selective in my choices when I visit those thrift stores though. 😉

  3. I read many, many online sites and watched a lot of YouTube videos to teach myself to pressure can. The past 2 years I’ve bought whole turkeys on sale around Thanksgiving (59-79 cents per pound) and used them to can some soup starter and chunked meat. Nothing better than opening up a pint of chunked meat all ready to make a chicken salad meal in the heat of summer. I also can chicken breasts when I find them on sale. With all the poultry diseases this year, I’m not anticipating too many good prices now but as I have a full year of poultry meat already on hand, I can afford to be choosy on prices. I also can up things like bean soup, always using the ingredient with the longest processing time as a ‘how long to process’ guide. I am now experimenting with drying herbs, cooked beans and rice, and developing my own black beans & rice recipe, to put into jars that are a self-contained meal. What a time saver home canning has been for me!

  4. I too prefer the wide mouth jars for everything. You don’t have to mess around with different size lids and I like to be able to use them for freezing a lot. If I am at the tail end of canning and don’t have enough stuff left for a full load in the canner I just freeze it instead and put that on my use first list. I use mostly pint size jars and couldn’t tell you how many boxes we have, lost count some time ago. So I guess that makes me a jar-aholic too. Besides the pint jars we do have several boxes of the half pint for jams and jellies as well as several boxes of the half gallon ones. Those work great for storing dry items in with the food saver jar attachment. Especially if it’s stuff I plan on using within a couple years. Don’t waste mylar bags and the jar lids are re-usable with the food saver.

  5. oh, I was gonna add. Canning meals in jars is a great tool to have for those of us with spouse that cant/don’t/wont cook, and the cook of the house is too ill to cook supper. its also great to have on hot summer evenings. boil some egg noodles, pour over them a jar of canned beef….mmmmmmmm.

  6. Hi, My name is learner and I am a jaraholic. I cannot get my hands on enough. Definitely one item to not skip on a no name brand. I have bought the cheap ones before and have had many burst in the pressure canner. No I am not a newbie, I follow the same proper steps everytime. I have never had a Ball or Kerr jar break, only the generic. I keep wanting to make the leap and buy the reusable tattler lids but it just cant seem to make it to the top of my $$ priority list. Someday soon I hope though.

  7. Hi, My name is Tara and I am a Canning Jar Addict!

    I love your site but rarely comment. I, too, am an addict 😉 I started canning a few years ago and just cant stop. I knew no one who canned and had to learn thru the internet (lots of youtube!). Since then, I have shown a few friends how and I am even considering putting on a class at my house. My favorite is canning chicken breast! SOOOOOOO easy!
    Beside just canning, I use my jars here and there for flowers or a craft project/science experiment. Always good for leftovers in the fridge, and such. I do a lot of dehydrating also, so I store them in jars also. There are not many things that are as beautiful as a row of your own harvested bounty (or store-bought at a bargain), all lined up in shiny glass jars, just waiting for you.

  8. I found that I prefer to use the wide mouth jars for most things. With only two of us, I use the pint size for many things – just the right amount for 2 people. Also they are good single servings for chili or soup.

    • This article may be informative for Americans, but it totally ignores canning jars in Canada which are measured in millilitres (ml), not ounces. How about posting a comparision and information on substitution.

  9. If you buy any new jars, spend a bit more and be sure it’s the Ball brand. All Ball brand jars and lids are made in America so you can be sure there is no lead in the jars.

    My favorite thing to can is chicken chunks in broth. For an easy dinner, open a jar, heat in a pot, add a bit of flour & water, and serve over rice or mashed potatoes. Yummy!

    • You guys have to try Le Parfait! Even wider mouths than Ball (4″ vs 3″) and they use less recycled glass content (which means less lead). All glass has lead content in it, but some companies regulate it and some don’t.

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