Weekend Preserver Series: Selecting Canning Jars

Seemingly beyond easy...pick any jar you like. Well, yes and no.

The Farm Security Administration (FSA) was charged with working on the complex problem of rural poverty and farming. Self-sufficiency thus home food preservation were a part of the program. Library of Congress, Prints and Photography Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34- 029144-D.

Repurposing Glass Mayonnaise, Spaghetti Sauce, Etc. Jars

Some jars are okay to repurpose with two caveats. One, two-piece mason jar lids must fit and the rings (aka bands) must thread on the jars. Two, use repurposed jars only for water bath canning. Understand that breakage may occur when canning with non-canning jars. I don't repurpose jars. Why? Wasted food, wasted time, and now there's a mess to clean up. No thank you.

Yes, there is some conjecture about repurposing jars. I say proceed in the manner your are comfortable while understanding the potential shortcomings.

Most commercial pint- and quart-size mayonnaise or salad dressing jars may be used with new two-piece lids for canning acid foods. However, you should expect more seal failures and jar breakage. These jars have a narrower sealing surface and are tempered less than Mason jars, and may be weakened by repeated contact with metal spoons or knives used in dispensing mayonnaise or salad dressing. Seemingly insignificant scratches in glass may cause cracking and breakage while processing jars in a canner. Mayonnaise-type jars are not recommended for use with foods to be processed in a pressure canner because of excessive jar breakage. Other commercial jars with mouths that cannot be sealed with two-piece canning lids are not recommended for use in canning any food at home.
— National Center for Home Food Preservation

Ball and Kerr Jars

I have a special place in my heart for Kerr jam jars embossed with fruit from the late 80s and early 90s. A friend scored several cases of these jars at an estate sale and I was gleeful when she asked me if I wanted them. Hell yeah!

I recommend sticking to Ball and Kerr (plus Bernardin and Golden Harvest if those are options in your area) for pantry staples as the jars tend to be more reasonably priced. Leifheit jars with two-piece rings are an option as are other jars with two-piece lids but the price can be significantly higher than Ball, et al. 

Reserve the jars you are not familiar with, jars for which you don't have proper lids, vintage jars, and so on for special batches, fresh pickles, or preserves that will be stored in the fridge.

But, I Want all the Canning Jars to be the Same

Sometimes folks get fixated on all the canning jars being the same brand or all wide mouth or all regular mouth or whatever. Here's the thing, over time your collection will expand and contract. The more years that you are a home canner, the more likely that people will offer you the jars found in the garage or basement or you will make a score at a garage sale or there will be a craigslist haul of over a hundred jars for $25--true story. Some gift recipients dutifully return jars and other jars will leave the homestead to never return. The point is your collection of jars will evolve. Your favorite size, shape, or style might change down the road. So, don't fixate!

Wide Mouth v.s. Regular Mouth

  • Consider first how easily the jars can be packed with what you are preserving and how easily can the food be removed. For example, it's much easier and faster to pack fish in wide mouth jars. But, if you have regular mouth jars and you are canning fish, it's okay, it'll take a tad longer to pack the jars but it'll work just the same.
  • Regular mouth jars tend to be a bit less expensive compared to wide mouth jars. 
  • If you are in production mode it is a bit faster to keep your eye on the headspace on wide mouth jars. Or at least that's my fantasy.
  • Wide mouth jars (except half gallon jars) and regular mouth straight-sided jars are freezer safe. Yes, there are cheats to use a jar with shoulders. My friend reports zero breaks but I just make it easy on myself and use straight-sided jars in the freezer.
  • If you are using pint jars in an All American canner, often you can fit more regular mouth jars than wide mouth jars. So, consider the size of your canner and what you are canning. It might make a little difference.
  • It's easier to pour liquids out of regular mouth jars.

Jar Sizes and Recipes

  • All jar sizes have not been tested with all reliable recipes.
  • If you are trying a recipe for the first time, stick with the recommended jar size.
  • Don't size up! In other words if a recipe indicates 1/2 pint or pint, don't use quart jars instead.
  • Processing times for jar sizes not indicated in recipes:
    • Process 1 1/2 pint jars the same as quart jars
    • Process 8 ounce (1/2 pint) and 12 ounce jars the same as pint jars
    • Process 4 ounce  (1/4 pint) the same as 8 ounce (1/2 pint)  

Half Gallon Jars

Only two, exactly two products can be safely home canned in half gallon jars: apple juice and grape juice. Period, end of story. These are terrific for storing dry goods though.

Quart Jars

Quart jars along with pint jars are the workhorses of canning jars. Soups, broths, sauces, tomatoes, vegetables, and whole fruit. Fruit medley in syrup to serve with ice cream! Yay! Consider the recipes you plan to use the canned goods in and how much is needed for a meal. Remember quart jars are not safe for all foods and all reliable recipes! 

1 1/2 Pint Jars

I reserve these jars for pickles and asparagus. I use them occasionally for syrups and sauces. Keep in mind that processing times are the same as the times for quart jars and that could affect quality. 

Pint Jars

The other workhorse of canning jars. Great size for barbecue sauce, salsa, pickles, relishes, fruit, juice, fruit butters, fish, meat, game meat, poultry, and the list goes on.  Berry jam and grape jam are often preserved in pint jars.

12 Ounce Jars

Jams, jellies, and all the fruit preserves. Relish and salsa are nice in 12 ounce jars too.

8 Ounce Jars (1/2 pint)

This size is great for jams, jellies, and all the fruit preserves. Clams and oysters are nice in 1/2 pint jars. Consider pickled jalapeños and other foods that you might only need a small quantity when you pop open the jar. This is a nice size to for freezing pesto.

4 Ounce Jars (1/4 pint)

So unloved is this size. This size jar is terrific for special sauces, fruit preserves, and chutneys. Terrific size for gifts or super special preserves or if you just prefer smaller jars. It's also great for canning that last bit of a batch of sweet preserves. I keep a 1/4 pint jar on standby when I am canning sweet preserves so that last bit of jam is canned along with all the other jars. Consider if each batch of sweet preserves has an extra little wee jar that they make great gifts rather than a dozen bits of jam in the refrigerator during canning season. 

Sexy Shapes & Imported Jars

Keep in mind that the guidelines developed by the National Center for Home Food Preservation, university extensions, and so forth are based on the Ball and Kerr type jars in 1/2 gallon, quart, pint, and 1/2 pint sizes. These are the jars that we (in the U.S.) typically buy and use which do not have sexy shapes other than Ball's Elite Series. Check and double check guidance to be safe!

Be safe and eat well.


Reliable Resources

Please be aware of acceptable modifications (University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension PDF, May 2015) that can be made to a home canning recipe--keep in mind that not all modifications, even popular ones are safe! 

If you are ever in doubt regarding safety, be sure to check a reliable resource. Even recently published books might contain recipes that are not suitable for safe home canning