How to Can Tomatoes (Without A Canner)


Have you wondered about canning, but then been overwhelmed by all the stuff it seems to require and crazy little details you are worried you might get wrong? I feel you. Please allow me to show you how to can tomatoes, without a canner, in the simplest way possible. So maybe you have a garden full of these babies…

Or maybe not. Either way, I would like you to give canning some fresh tomatoes a try this year. Because it’s easy and so very rewarding, but mostly because everyone knows that out-of-season tomatoes (while still full of healthy lycopene and therefore worthwhile to eat) are bland, sad, oddly-textured shadows of their ripe summer selves. Industrial tomatoes in general have almost no similarity to a fresh tomato in texture, flavor, and even appearance. Look at these guys from my backyard – they’re soft and lumpy, with lots of funny crags and edges and places I cut off because a worm was in there. My husband even asked me “what’s wrong with them?” Dude, this is what a real tomato looks like!

A tomato like this doesn’t make it to the store, simply because we don’t buy it – we choose an unblemished veggie every time (myself included, it’s just habit), so we end up with a tomato that has made it through a cross country truck ride without a bruise – that’s a hard tomato! It may surprise you to know that tomato was usually picked while still green, then artifically ripened with ethylene gas. Eew! Oh geez, I could go on, I’ll stop, I just find it so interesting. Anyway, I totally buy these tomatoes too, but this year let’s try something new. If you don’t have a plant, you can still go to the farmers market or co-op or organic food store and gather some fresh summer tomatoes and put them away for a rainy or snowy day. Let’s can them so we are fortified for winter deliciousness.

Canning tomatoes is a wonderful first canning project as it is simple and it doesn’t require a pressure canner or even a water bath canner. Let me show you how to can tomatoes without a canner…


First, pick!

I canned roma tomatoes (they are the best for canning) and this variety which is some kind of beefsteak I can’t recall. They are HUGE, averaging 9″ in diameter. Yum.

Also get lemon juice. Fresh squeezed is always great, but the bottled variety works too. You don’t need any other ingredients.

You’ll need mason jars and lids. I had pint and liter jars.

And some sparkly nail polish.

Wait no, you don’t need that. But it was Scarlet’s reward for not breaking anything at the narrow-aisled, over-packed fragile-zone that is my local kitchen supply shop that also conveniently sells nail polish.

Now get out your big big stock pot (or canner if you have one). Two stockpots are even better if you have them. And a little pot. Start some water boiling in them as soon as you get ’em out.

And you’ll need jar lifters. There’s really no other safe way to lift the jars without burning yourself.

Some mason jars have lids that separate from the rings, some just have regular old lids. Put the lid (no need to add the ring) in boiling water for 3-5 minutes to sterilize. Leave them in the pot with the lid on until you’re ready to use them.

Theoretically you don’t need to sterilize the jars, because they will sterilize during the canning process, but I do it anyway. You can boil them (put them in the water while it’s cold, then boil so they don’t break) or you can just run them through the dishwasher with no soap. Leave them in there until you need them and time it so they are still warm when you add the tomatoes to them.

So I am going to can them whole for two reasons. One, this allows me to use them for whatever I want to make this winter – I can just dice or crush when I open the jar. 2 – it’s easier to can them whole. The pectin in the tomatoes does chemical stuff to their texture once you start messing with them. I don’t have a chemistry degree to explain it well, but suffice it to say this recipe is only for whole tomatoes – if you want to crush or finely dice them before canning, it would have to be handled a little differently to ensure the texture is right. So I’ll show you how to can whole tomatoes, starting with my romas.

Peeling tomatoes is a breeze. Boil your pot of water and next to it place a big bowl with cold water and ice. Wash your tomatoes, just to get dirt off, don’t go nuts with it cause you’re going to peel them anyway.

Remove the stem. On the bottom, score the tomatoes with an X.

For my super giant tomatoes, I actually used an apple corer, this made it easy!

Boil for a minute (the larger ones took slighty longer, two minutes max)

Remove with a slotted spoon to the ice bath for a few seconds. See how the skins are starting to fall off?

They are split for you.

So just gently wipe/tug them off.

Easy as pie.

Get your giant pot/s boiling again with clean water ASAP.

Place the tomatoes in your warm jars up to 1/2 an inch below the rim.

Give them a squish with a spoon to compact.

Big tomatoes I quartered to fit. Before smoosh:

After smoosh:

Add more tomatoes to within 1/2″ of the top.

Now add lemon juice. They need the extra acidity to keep. For the pints add a tablespoon, for the liters/quarts add 2 tablespoons.

Run your spoon around the edge to loosen up any bubbles and bring them to the surface. If you need to, add boiled water to fill the jars within 1/2″ of the rim.

Wipe the rim of the jar with a paper towel or clean kitchen towel to remove any tomato, juice, or anything else on there. Anything left on the rim could spoil your tomatoes. Place the lid on top, and screw the rings in place.

Or just wipe and screw the lid on if you have plain lids.

Ready for canning!

You’ll notice the seal on the lid is up, you can push it up and down with your finger. Now we need to process the jars so they are safe to store for up to a year. When we are done, the lid will suck in and we will know they sealed correctly. Then when you go to eat them later, if the seal is popped – toss those babies. It’s a sign bacteria are growing in there and releasing gasses.

We don’t want the jars rattling against each other in our pot and we want some water to get under the jars while they process. You can add a rack if you have one, or use a canner which has an insert for this purpose, but I use a kitchen towel and it works great. You don’t need to put it in until after the water, I just wanted to show you…

So place your still-warm jars in the heating water. Submerge the jars entirely with water 2-3″ above the lids and bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, remove the lid of the pot and start your timer for 85 minutes. 85 minutes is processing time between 0-1000 ft altitude. If you are at a higher altitude you will need to increase processing time, see these USDA guidelines for canning tomatoes for processing time at different altitudes. If you hear any jars rattling against each other, add a kitchen towel in between. Check periodically to see that the water level is still above the tops of the jars and add water if necessary.

Remove the jars after 85 minutes (or your increased processing time if you are at higher altitudes) using your jar lifter. Place them somewhere no one will bump or touch them and let them sit to cool, overnight is good. You may hear hissing when you take them out of the water – that’s totally fine. The jars’ seals will still be up at this point, they will suck in as the jars cool.

The next morning, check your jars. Are the seals down? Any leaks? If not, you’re all clear. If you still hear hissing, have jars with the lids still up, or see any leaks, stick them in the refrigerator and use them within a couple of days. Do not try to can them again. If you want to be extra sure your jars are sealed, you can remove the ring from the jar and hold the jar by the lid and it should stay on. You can even reuse the rings and store the jars without rings.

Lady! You just canned your own tomatoes! How good do you feel?

I had planned to give these all away as gifts, but now I feel strangely hoard-y about them. Like I don’t even want to use them. I want the be sure I have them on hand for thanksgiving and christmas. But I should make some cute labels and bring them as hostess gifts, how lovely would that be?

Think you might give canning tomatoes without a canner a shot?

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112 Comments

Jennifer

I just finished the process.!! Excited to see how they turn out the jars are cooling……I followed the directions exactly…I did 6 pints jars…..I’m new to canning and freezing… Just moved to the south and just trying things to get ready for the winter and maybe fine some new hobbies. So far I pickled cucumbers, canned green beans and now tomatoes next week I’ll try pear preserves ….pray for me!!!!

Jen

Reply
staci

can you use vinegar instead of lemon juice? or would that make soups/recipes taste funny?
also, boiling for so long, do you have to add water?? to make sure over the cans….

Reply
pam

Hopefully the green beans were in a pressure canner? :) Unless they were pickled.

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Nancy

Probably a dumb question, but does “processing” mean to let them continue to boil for 85 minutes? Also new to this whole canning thing. Thanks

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phan nhuom toc

Nice This is amazing .
I love the way you write,I really like this.
These are excellent tips. this stuff is amazing.
Thank for sharing this awesome post. This will help me so much. im a fan of your blog :>

Reply
Juan

Jaime,
I also used 1 oz. of fresh squeezed lime juice on top of 16 oz. jars, will that not work?
I know that you should use a pressure canner for anything that is not acidy.
Thank you for this wonderful post!

Juan.

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Meagan

My jars have 30 more minutes of boil time. Not only is this the first year my husband and I have put out a garden, but it is also our first time canning. Needless to day we are very excited. Thank you so much for the detailed instructions. Fingers crossed they seal :)

Reply
Jessi

Thank you so much for taking the time to share this info! It was my first time canning like so many others and when the lids sealed I did my happy dance. Homegrown tomatoes have been my favorite since I was about 2 so I can’t wait to have them available throughout the winter! Thanks again!

Reply
Jaime

You are welcome!! I love hearing from people who tried it for the first time. it’s addicting! Wait until you try our jam recipes. You might not leave the kitchen until Halloween!

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Nellie

Hi! Great site and awesome instructions! I canned a 1L jar of tomatoes, cold-packed (into a warm jar), and the liquid separated hugely. I’m wondering, were your tomatoes cold when you put them into the jar? It doesn’t look like they separated very much, and I’m wondering what your trick is? I have a large amount of tomatoes to can now that more of them are ripening. I don’t have a pressure canner, so I’m not going to be able to stew the tomatoes, I’ll have to can them whole or halved. Any advice? Thanks!

Reply
Phyllis

I just finished my first batach, waiting to see if they seal. What if they are more than 2 inches from the top, will it still work anf if not can I use these tomatoes right away?

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Jaime

IF they are more than two inches from the top that is not ideal, but if they seal you are okay (unless the seal breaks before you use them). And yes, if they don’t seal, you can throw them in the refrigerator and use them within a couple days. Good luck!

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Leslie

Hi! I loved your recipe but I do have one question: after boiling the jars and lids to sterilize, is it really necessary to start with fresh water and re-boil for the 85 minute processing? It was time consuming and I was concerned about the jars cooling down in between filling them up and placing them into the pot again. Couldn’t I have just placed the jars into the hot water each time I filled one up with the tomatoes and then start the processing of getting up to a boil again with nice hot water? Thank you!

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Leslie

Thank you! I didn’t see your reply in time so I went ahead and tried it over the next two weekends and it worked perfectly and much more quickly.

I am now the proud owner (consumer) of 9 quarts of very yummy Jersey tomatoes- love them as much as Mike!

Reply
mike

Ok, The Jersey Tomatoes this year are UN BELIEVABLE!!! They are thick, big and very meaty. So I decided to can some for the 1st time. followed your recipe to the letter. I think everything worked out well, however, I have two questions.
1. Unlike your pictures of the final result, I have about an inch or more of clear liquid at the bottom of my jars. Is this normal, especially since I did not use Roma Tomatoes?
2. Is it normal to have some air in the can? I turned one upside down and saw that the can still had some air in it. The seal is very tight and the lids are not popping up.

Thanks!

MIke

Reply
mike

Thank You!
I certainly don’t wan to ruin these PERFECT Jersey Tomatoes!
It is interesting how we leave only a half inch at the top before the lid goes on, and after the 85 minutes and cooling time, there is about an inch of air, especially when you turn it upside down!

When putting the lids on, we installed them “finger tight” per the instructions on the box. Is this what you do as well?

But thank you for getting back to me. I think I am going to do some more this weekend.

Reply
Perpetua

Thank you for the wonderful and well documented information. Do you refrigerate after canning or you leave them outside?

Reply
Jaime

No need to refrigerate after proper canning and getting a good seal. You can just put them on the shelf in the pantry until you open them. Refrigerate after opening.

Reply
Jaime

As long as you sterilize it and have a fresh new lid that fits it. (you need the new lid for it to properly seal)

Reply
D Duncan

I see you used fresh lemon when in fact you should have used RealLemon because it is tested to always have the correct acidity whereas you don’t really know with fresh.

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jill

Hi, thanks for all the info. Can you please tell me if the same process works for pasta sauce and tomato soup? Thanks
Jill

Reply
pam

Just a note, it’s not okay to use fresh lemon juice in place of the bottled lemon, as the acidity in lemons varies quite a bit. :)

Reply
Jodi Owens

I just want to say thank you for this canning tomato recipe. I canned my first time ever with this information. It was very helpful to me. I canned 30lbs of tomatoes. Which gave me 6 quarts & 5 pints. It felt great learning how to do this. Thank you again.

Reply
Lori

i tried canning tomatoes for the first time today! they have been cooling for about 3 1/2 hours. I put the extra boiling hot water because i was concerned they weren’t full enough and now the water is on the bottom and tomatoes on top. will they settle out?

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Monica

Thank you for this canning info. I also have lots of tomatoes I want to can. I will be following your blog!

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Debbie

Can this be done with store bought ones? I just started a veggie garden and tomatoes but would like to know about storebought will be trying this way

Reply
Rebecca Morsching

Hello! Thanks for sharing such detailed information. I am new at canning. I am a little confused about the following:

“Run your spoon around the edge to loosen up any bubbles and bring them to the surface. If you need to, add boiled water to fill the jars within 1/2″ of the rim.”

Do you not add the boiling water unless you don’t have enough tomatoes to fill the jar? Or, do you add the boiling water to every jar no matter what?

Kind regards, Rebecca.

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Joie

Hi! I think I’ve messed mine up…..
I don’t know what I was thinking, but I was so stuck on that 1/2″ of space thing that I didn’t fill my jars all the way. They sealed properly but there’s a lot of air space in them. Are they still good?

Reply
Sharon Reed

You’re not supposed to boil the lids, you boil the water, turn off the heat and put the lids in. Also, you need to make sure you cut out all the green or the tomatoes will spoil.

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Sandy

Just made my first batch of tomatoe sauce… A little confused about covering the water bath canning pot. The instruction that came with the canning pot says bring to boil and cover for recommended time but your instructions say uncovered…. Which is the proper way or does it matter?

Reply

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