The glass jars used for home canning purposes come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. Choosing the right size will depend on a variety of factors.
Here’s a look at the canning equipment necessary to get started with home canning.
Understanding Canning Jars
The canning jars most commonly used for home preservation these days go by two recognizable brand names: Ball mason jars and Kerr jars. These are both made by Jarden Corporation. (You might also hear a canning jar referred to as a Mason jar, after a vintage brand.) There are others, of course, but to keep it simple we’ll focus on these commonly available options.
These glass jars are endlessly reusable. Once you have a stash of jars, you can continue to refill them with new canned goods from year to year as long as they are free of flaws.
The flat lids that seal the jars are a one-time use only item; you must use new lids every time you process jars. The rings or screw bands are tightened onto the jar threads to hold the lid in place during processing in a hot water bath or pressure canner. Rings can be reused repeatedly.
Two-part canning jar lids come in only two sizes and fit the corresponding jar opening.
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Wide-mouth jars have an opening of about 3-1/2 inches in diameter; narrow mouth jars are about 2-3/4 inches across.
For pourable foods like salsa or sauces, I usually use the regular mouth option coupled with a canning funnel. For larger fruits and pickles that require me to hand pack the food, wide mouth mason jars are the best choice.
The jars themselves come in a variety of sizes, from small four-ounce jars to half-gallon sized.
How each home canner uses the different sized jars depends on what it’s being used for and the size of the household. If there is an option to use either pint or quart jars, my smaller household might do best with a pint jar, while a larger family might easily go through a quart. Pretty much the only thing I can in quart jars these days is broth.
Home-canning jars are sold in cases that hold a dozen jars. They are also endlessly reusable so it’s perfectly acceptable to pick them up second hand at garage sales or thrift stores. In fact, that’s where most of my collection comes from.
The 4 oz jar or quarter pint jar is a smaller jar; in fact, it’s the smallest canning jar available. These are available as regular-mouth canning jars only. They don’t come in a wide mouth.
These little cuties are good for making jam and jelly for small households and they’re my size of choice for gift giving. Because these jars are so small, you wouldn’t ever use them for pressure canning. The required headspace — there’s more required for this type of canning — would mean that you’d be processing half-full jars.
One bonus of using small jars is that you can process them in a standard stock pot; no need for a special canner.
Foods for canning in quarter-pints:
These glass mason jars come in both wide mouth and regular mouth options. The straight-sided regular mouth jars are often referred to as jelly jars. They hold 8 ounces (one cup) and are commonly called for in jam and jelly recipes.
It’s a reasonable size for most households to use before the contents go bad, whether fruit spreads, relishes, or syrups. Smaller quantities often means less waste.
Foods for canning in half-pints:
This is arguably the size canning jar I use most frequently. They come as wide mouth or regular mouth jars. They hold 16 ounces (two cups). These are my preferred size for making pickles, canning fruit, or preserving salsa. I also use a wide mouth pint jar for making my family’s favorite salad dressing.
Foods for canning in pints:
With a 32 ounce (four cups) capacity, these jars are safe for canning many fruits, crushed tomatoes, and applesauce. They come as wide mouth or regular mouth jars.
Foods for canning in quarts:
These larger jars are only approved by the National Center for Home Food Preservation for canning two things: Apple juice and grape juice.
Modern day half gallon jars are wide mouth, but some vintage jars come in a regular mouth size. In addition to canning, this mason jar size is ideal for food storage. I use them regularly for dry beans, grains, and oatmeal. For food storage, I like the leak proof wide mouth lids from Ball. They keep the foods inside fresher than the other options.
Oddly Sized Jars
Occasionally, manufacturers will produce jars in shapes and sizes that are sometimes labeled “special.” (You can see this on the third jar if you look closely.)
They work just as their more common counterparts do, utilizing the standard canning lids. The capacity for the jars below are, from left to right, 3 cups, 1-1/2 cups, 2 cups (one pint), 1 cup (1/2 pint). The half-pint and pint jars hold the same amount as the standard jars, but they’re shaped differently.
Choosing Jar Sizes
Always use the size jar recommended in safe recipes and follow the recommended processing time for each jar. Recipes have been tested based on jar size and how the product inside is impacted during the canning process.
Using the right jar size is important. That’s how we know that the food inside will reach the necessary temperatures for safe canning. Some recipes work with a range of jar sizes; those should be listed on the recipe.
Unique Canning Jars
While the standard Ball and Kerr jars mentioned above are commonly used for canning, there are some differently shaped and sized options, too. Some of these tend to be prettier, making them good for gift giving.
They still use the standard two-part canning lid, but the jars themselves are unique.
These jars tend to be a bit (or a lot!) more expensive than the common canning jars.
Weck Jars: I covet a collection of these beautiful jars. With their clamp-on reusable glass lids, they’re good for canning but pretty on an open shelf unit, too. They are more common in Europe, but available in America via online stores and some boutique shopping spots. So far I’ve yet to find any near me.
Bormiolo Rocco: Their Quattro Stagioni canning jars come in some unique shapes including bottles that use their own one-piece canning lid as well as some that allow for use of the standard canning lids you probably have in your pantry.
Ball Jars: In addition to the basic ball jars you see above, the folks at Ball offer up some colored jars, reminiscent of the blue vintage jars that collectors covet. The flute jar is another nice option that seems to be more readily available this year than it has been in past years.