How to Water Bath Can Tomatoes

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I love canning tomatoes! There are so many things you can do with them, they are easy and can be done in large or small batches.

Fresh From the Garden

We grow our own tomatoes and I have many different kinds, including Better Boy, Rutgers, Cherry, Plum, Heirloom Yellow, and Early Girl.  The first tomatoes we start indoors in early March and plant when the last frost is over.  They are usually about six inches tall at that time.  These will give us plenty of tomatoes to eat, and can, up until September.  In July we plant seedlings again, for tomatoes that will last until the first frost in November or December.

My first pickings are usually small, so I do what I refer to as small batch canning. This could be as small as 3 pints or up to six quarts. The thing about tomatoes is, that they have to be picked every couple of days. I have noticed that my tomatoes are usually the first thing ready in the garden, so I get plenty of canning practice before my other vegetables and large hauls of tomatoes are ready.

I have also purchased boxes of tomatoes from other gardeners or farmers markets when mine have not done as well and canned consistently for hours until I have cases of jars sealed and ready for storage.


Preparing to Can Tomatoes

It is very important to wash your produce before canning it, and to start with a clean work area, sterilized utensils, new lids, rings without damage or rust spots, and undamaged jars.  Check each jar for cracks, nicks, etc before washing them.

Wash your jars in warm soapy water and rinse thoroughly or run in your dishwasher after checking each for damages or food residue from previous canning.  Also, wash your rings.  Next, sterilize your jars by placing in a water bath canner and fill with a few inches of water..bring to a boil and let them steam for ten minutes.  Leave the jars in the canner on low heat until ready to use and wash your lids

Here is the process I use, step by step: it takes approximately 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 lbs of tomatoes per quart jar.

Packed in water

Raw Pack Method

Wash your tomatoes and place on a clean towel, next bring a large pot of water, about half full, to a boil. Place tomatoes in the pot and bring back to a boil.  Depending on the pot and tomato size, times will differ.


When the tomato skins start to crack, they are ready to remove from the water. With a slotted spoon carefully remove the tomatoes and place them in a large bowl of ice water or very cold water.


Reuse your boiling water until all of your tomatoes have been scalded. Bring it to a boil each time before adding more tomatoes.


The skins will now slip off easily if you cut off the tops of the tomatoes at the blossom end, the skins will just float off.  Some like to can their tomatoes with the skins on, so if that is your preference just cut off the tops and bad spots and go to the next step.


Next, bring a clean pot of water to a boil.  My water has too much chlorine in it, so I either buy or filter my water before boiling it.

Remove a jar from the canner, carefully with tongs, and place on a towel; and begin placing the peeled tomatoes into the jar one at a time.


You can also cut them into chunks or dice them if you prefer.



Pack each one as you go fairly tightly. The tomatoes will cook slightly as you process them so if you do not want a jar of liquid with floating tomatoes you should fill fairly tightly, but be careful not to overstuff or you’ll have the liquid overflow into your canner when you process.

Next, you can add salt, between ½ to 1 tsp depending on your preference, and 2 tbsp of lemon juice or ½ tsp citric acid to each quart and half that for pints. Pour in boiling water to the bottom ring on the jar or ½ inch headspace and remove air bubbles with either a flat knife or tool.

Place your lid on and screw on your clean rings until finger tight.


Finish all the remaining tomatoes the same way until you get to full capacity.  Mine holds nine quarts, but each canner is different.


Fill your canner with warm water and place the jars into the canner, above the rack or into the jar rack spaces. Place the canner on the stove and fill it with water at least two inches above the jar level.  Bring your water to a boil. Place a lid on the pot and process 45 minutes for quarts and 40 minutes for pints.

When they have finished processing, turn off the burner and let sit for a few minutes. Then remove carefully with canning tongs and sit in a draft-free place on a towel. Within a few minutes, that lovely pinging sound will start and you will know they are sealed.  Wait at least 24 hours before you store them to make sure the seal holds.

Process all the tomatoes until you are done.

Hot Pack Method

Another way of processing tomatoes is to remove the skins, cut up into chunks and place the tomatoes in a pot of boiling water until they come to a full boil again, then boil gently for five minutes. Remove the hot tomatoes, and pack into the sterilized jars, add your salt and lemon juice and then more of the boiling liquid, place lids and rings on and water bath.

Packed in its own juice

Add 2 tbsp lemon juice or ½ tsp citric acid in each quart jar, 1 tbsp lemon juice, and ¼ tsp citric acid in pint jar. Pack the skinned tomatoes into jars squeezing each tomato until the spaces fill up with the juice. Add salt if desired and remove the air bubbles. Adjust your rings and lids and process in the water bath for one hour and 25 minutes for both pints and quarts.

Canning Tomato Juice

You can also water bath tomato juice only, and for those that prefer to turn their tomatoes into juice.

Wash tomatoes and drain. Remove the core and blossom end. Cut up the tomatoes and simmer until soft. Stir to prevent sticking or scorching. Press your tomatoes through a food sieve or tomato mill, discard seeds and peels.  I have also used a juicer, and even my food processor, as I like to keep the seeds in my juice.

Heat the juice to 190 degrees, making sure it does not boil. Add 2 tbsp lemon juice or ½ tsp citric acid to each quart.  Ladle into hot jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Adjust lids and rings, process pints 40 minutes and quarts 45 minutes. You may also add fresh herbs the last 5 minutes of cooking, but remove them before pouring into jars, seasoning may also be added such as salt, pepper, sugar, spices and pepper sauce to make a flavored juice.