Canning Tomato Sauce Step by Step

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In this post, we will be canning tomato sauce! It’s such a great feeling to be able to preserve your own tomato harvest! But even if you get your tomatoes at the market, it’s still a great idea to can your own tomato sauce because we all know that the taste of fresh tomatoes during the growing season is a million times better than any tomato you’ll get during the winter.


You know what’s the problem with canning? It’s such hard work that when the time comes to open a jar and use it, you just don’t want to do it… You want to keep those precious full jars forever, just let them stand there so you can stare at them all day.

I’ve been canning for a long time and every year it’s the same thing. I harvest my plants or come across beautiful fruit and vegetables at the farmer’s market. I bring the bounty home and can’t wait to preserve it (after eating as much of it fresh as it’s possible, of course).

I spend hours in the kitchen and by the time the jars are done processing and I lay them on the counter to cool, all I can do, literally, is take a seat and just look at them. They are always so beautiful and they represent independence to me. 

I recently got me an open shelving unit and placed it smack dab in the middle of the house. I store my canned goods and fermented vegetables on it. Who needs nicknacks when you have beautiful jars full of canned tomatoes, peaches, and homemade jam.   

Canning Tomato Sauce…

Canning tomato sauce is not complicated! Let me walk you through a step-by-step picture tutorial on how to can tomato sauce... #canningtomatosauce #howtocantomatosauce

Then, months later, when it’s freezing outside and grey, you open a jar and you cook with this awesome sauce that you made from fresh, summer tomatoes you harvested from your garden or that you got from a local farmer, and boy, it’s so good!

It’s so much better than the canned tomato sauce you buy at the store, and just like after you birth a baby, the reward is so great that you forget how hard it was to can it all.

Well, maybe I shouldn’t compare a baby to a can of tomato sauce… But anyway, you get the point. 

Large box of tomatoes for canning tomato sauce.

This year’s batch of tomato sauce started with this box of tomatoes that I found at the farmers market for just a few dollars.

I was sniffing around at the farmer’s market to see which of the large farms had some too-ripe tomatoes they wanted to get rid of when I met a young farm boy by the farm’s truck behind one of the stands. He was sorting the tomatoes that came off the truck and I asked if they have some for canning. He offered to sell me this box for $10. I took it.

There was 26.5lb of tomatoes in the box so I paid a little less than 40 cents per pound if I calculated it right. Not bad.

What Kind of Tomatoes Are Good for Canning?

Paste tomatoes have less water in them and therefore are better for canning tomato sauce simply because it takes less time to cook the sauce. They are thick and meaty.

Some of the famous paste tomato varieties are Amish Paste and Roma. If you grow your own tomatoes and planing on canning tomato sauce it will be a great idea to plant some paste varieties

However, you can can any type of tomato and you can even make a mix of a few varieties (here is how to can stewed tomatoes, how to ferment tomatoes and how to can crushed tomatoes. I crushed a few different varieties together). The flavor will change obviously and the cooking time might change depending on the water content of your tomatoes but you can use this tutorial to can any variety of tomatoes.

If you grow your own tomatoes, make sure to pick them at the Green Mature Stage and let them ripen indoors. More on when to pick tomatoes in this post.

Also, if you grow your own tomatoes and can’t can them right away or you need to wait until enough of them are ready for canning, remember that you can always freeze tomatoes and can them later.  

Preparing Your Tomatoes For Canning…

Washing Tomatoes before processing.

 I couldn’t wait to can them. When I got home I washed the tomatoes.

Tomatoes ready for removing the skin.

Then I removed the core of the tomatoes by inserting a sharp knife in the top of each tomato at an angle and cutting in a circular motion. I also cut a little X at the bottom of the tomato to help the skin come off easy.

Tomatoes in hot water bath.

While I worked on cleaning the tomatoes, I brought a big pot of water to a boil. To the boiling water, I added the tomatoes and I let them cook there for two minutes or so.

I do the cleaning, coring, and boiling in batches since not all of the tomatoes fit in the pot at the same time.

Cooling hot tomatoes.

After two minutes or so, I took the tomatoes out of the pot with a big serving spoon (or you can use a slotted spoon. I kept the boiling water for the next batch of tomatoes) and placed them in a big bowl inside the sink. I then run cold water on them for a couple of minutes to cool them down so I could start working on taking the skins off without burning my fingers.

Tomato skins.

The skins should come off very easy. You can save those and dry them. If you have a food dehydrator it’s easy to dump them in there but you can also dry them in the oven.

Some people eat them like chips and some grind the dry skins to make tomato powder which you then can add to soups or many other dishes as a seasoning.

A couple of notes here before we move on… I will admit that more than once I didn’t bother removing the tomato peel at all. I just threw the tomatoes in the pot and cooked them and mashed them with the stick blender like you’ll see me doing below. 

The tiny pieces of eel didn’t bother me. It’s not ideal, but possible. 

Another thing I’ve learned is that if you want to skip the hot-water-to-remove-the-skins step, you can simply throw your tomatoes in the freezer for a few days. When you thaw them, the skins will just come off easily. 

Lastly, I’ve learned from one of the fabulous ladies that comment below that there is a very cool machine called the VICTORIO Deluxe Food Strainer that removes the seeds and the skin and makes a sauce of your tomatoes all at once. Then you just have to cook it however you want and can. 

So there are a few options here and you can see… let’s move on…

Placing tomatoes in pot for cooking.

Since those tomatoes were pretty big, I quartered them.

Starting to cook the tomatoes.

I kept going in batches until all the tomatoes were in the pot.

Cooking Your Tomato Sauce…

Cooking tomato sauce before canning.

Next, I started cooking the tomatoes. This took a few hours (how long it takes depends on how thick you want your sauce).

At the beginning, I brought the tomatoes to a boil, then I lowered the heat to medium so the sauce was gently bubbling. You don’t have to constantly stand over it but you do have to remember to stir it once in a while.

Pureeing the tomato sauce.

After about an hour of cooking, when the tomatoes were soft I used my stick blender to mash the whole thing. You can go all the way or you can leave some chunks of tomatoes if you like it that way.

I don’t mind that my sauce has seeds in it, but if this is bothering you, you can run it through a food mill instead of using the stick blender.

Tomato sauce is ready for canning tomato sauce.

It took almost three hours for the sauce to reach the thickness I wanted it to. You can choose to season it a little bit with salt and pepper, and maybe some garlic powder or oregano, but I decided to just leave it unseasoned so I can season it when I use it.

How to Can Tomato Sauce…

Now that the tomato sauce is ready, let’s go over the canning process. Canning tomato sauce is not complicated. Honestly, the prep work and the cooking is the hard part. The canning part is much easier. 

Preparing Your Jars and Lids… 

Boiling water in water bath canner

I kept the sauce on low heat so it doesn’t cool down and started boiling water in a water bath stockpot to prepare the jars.

Boiling jars

When the temperature of the water reached 180F I placed the canning rack in the pot and placed the jars in the water by using the jar lifter. Make sure the jars are covered by at least an inch of water.

I left them in the hot water for 10 minutes.

In my canning peach jam post, I also show you how you can prepare jars for canning in the oven which is actually my preferred way so make sure to check that post out too.  

Boiling lids and rings

In a different, smaller pot, I placed my lids and bands. I brought the water to a boil and left it boiling for a few minutes then I turned off the heat but left the lids and bands in the water.

The bands can be reused, but make sure you use new lids every time you can to ensure a successful seal.

Filling the Jars With Tomato Sauce…

Adding lemon juice to the jar

Tomatoes vary in their acidity levels. In order to can them safely for a long period, we need to add acid. This can either be citric acid or as I did here, you can use bottled lemon juice.

The acidity of the bottled lemon juice or the citric acid will prevent the growth of C. Botulinum bacteria; the bacteria that causes Botulism. Some say that the lemon juice changes the taste of the tomato sauce, I personally don’t feel a change in taste so I use bottled lemon juice. But if you are concerned about the change in taste you can go ahead and use citric acid which does not affect the taste at all.

So now that the jars are ready to go, the lids and bands are clean, the tomato sauce is hot and thick… It’s time to put this together.

I usually bring all the canning utensils to one spot on the counter. I set the lemon juice there with a tablespoon to measure, I also get a couple of napkins or paper towels, a soup ladle to handle the sauce, and of course, the pot of tomato sauce.

I grabbed one jar from the water bath using the jar lifter. I emptied it from the hot water and brought it to the counter next to the rest of the stuff. I usually place it on a wooden cutting board but you can use a towel as well.

Filling the jar with tomato sauce

I place the funnel on top of the jar and add the lemon juice.

I used quart jars so I added 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice to the jar, then I filled the jar with the sauce making sure to leave 1/2” headspace.

You should add 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid to a quart jar if you use it instead of the bottled lemon juice.

If you use pint jars, add 1/4 teaspoon citric acid or 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice.

Removing bubbles from a jar of tomato sauce

Next, I used the bubble remover to remove bubbles by moving it along the inside of the jar.

Cleaning the rim of the jar

I cleaned the rim of the jar with a clean paper towel…

Grabbing a lid with the magnetic lid lifter

Lifted a lid from the hot water with the lid lifter…

Placing the lid on a jar of tomato sauce

And centered it on the jar.

It’s very important that you don’t touch the bottom of the lid or the rim of the jar in this process.

A jar of tomato sauce.

Then I grabbed a band from the pot with the lid lifter and closed the jar.

You don’t want to screw it on too tight, just finger-tight.

I usually place the filled jars on the counter next to the oven while filling the rest of the jars in the same way.

Processing Your jars of Tomato Sauce…

Processing tomato sauce in water bath canner

Now, the last step is to process the jars in the water bath. I use the jar lifters to place them in the stockpot and usually need to scoop some water out because the water level rises too much. You want the jars to be covered by an inch of water.

My water here is so hard, this is why it’s not clear in the picture. Your water is hopefully better than mine.

I covered the canner and brought the water to a rolling boil. You should process pint jars for 35 minutes and quart jars for 40 minutes considering you live in altitude no greater than 1000 feet above sea level.

If you do live higher than 1000, make sure to read this information and change your processing time accordingly. 

When the time was up, I turned off the heat, removed the cover, and allowed the jars to stand in the water for 5 minutes.

7 jars or homemade tomato sauce

After 5 minutes, I used the jar lifter to remove the jars from the canner and placed them on a kitchen towel. Then listen good… Within a couple of minutes, you should hear the magical “pop” sound that indicates the jars have sealed. Hallelujah!

Leave the jars undisturbed for 12 hours. Then remove bands, test seal, wipe with a wet cloth and store in a cool dark place for up to a year.

People often ask me why I remove the rings before I store my jars. The reason is that if anything funky is developing inside of the jar it’s usually developing on the top of the food at the 1/2” headspace we left. If I remove the rings, I am able to monitor better what is happening at the top of the jar. 

If I see mold or anything else, I usually don’t throw away the whole thing, I open the jar, scoop the mold out and refrigerate the jar or use it right away. This is a personal choice, I feel safe doing this but you might not. 

Another reason to remove the rings is that you can re-use them when you can something else. You always want to buy new lids to ensure that the rubber seal is in perfect condition, but you can certainly reuse the rings.

This box of tomatoes that I canned here yielded 7 glorious quart jars that all sealed successfully.

Quart jars of tomato sauce ready.

Was it a lot of work? You bet. Canning takes some learning and a lot of kitchen time.

Safety is an important issue since you have to handle both the sauce and the jars while they’re still hot. Everything is boiling all around the kitchen!

But believe me, it’s all worth it! This process preserves both the nutrition and the flavor of all those delicious summer tomatoes and you can taste the difference when you use this sauce to make pizza sauce or pasta sauce later. 

I hope you liked this tutorial! If you did, you might also like…

How to Can Pumpkin

How to Can Milk

How to Can Meat

How to Can Peppers

and How to Preserve Lemon Peel

If you are looking for a seasoned tomato sauce for canning, check out this post from Rachel at Grow a Good Life. 

Here is the handy printable…

How to Can Tomato Sauce

How to Can Tomato Sauce

Yield: 7 quart jars
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Canning Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 4 hours 30 minutes

Step-by-step instructions for canning tomato sauce. This is a basic sauce that you can use later to make pizza sauce or pasta sauce or to cook with.

Ingredients

  • 26 lb Ripe tomatoes
  • 14 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Wash and core the tomatoes.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the tomatoes in batches and let them cook for two minutes.
  3. With a large spoon, transfer the tomatoes to a bowl that is placed in the sink. Run cold water over the tomatoes for a couple of minutes to cool them.
  4. Skin the tomatoes and quarter them. Place them in a large pot.
  5. Cook the tomatoes. Bring the pot to a boil then lower the heat to medium. After about an hour, puree the tomatoes using a stick blender or a food mill.
  6. When the sauce reaches your desired thickness (it took me a total of about 3 hours), lower the temperature to low just to keep the sauce from cooling.
  7. Heat water in a water bath canner. When the temperature of the water reaches 180F, lower the canning rack into the pot and place the jars in the hot water. Process the jars for 10 minutes to sanitize them.
  8. In a smaller pot, place the lids and bands and bring the water to a boil. Boil the lids and bands for a couple of minutes, then turn the heat off but leave the bands and lids in the water.
  9. Grab a jar, empty it from water and add bottled lemon juice (one tablespoon to a pint jar, 2 tablespoons to a quart jar).
  10. Fill the jar with tomato sauce leaving 1/2'' headspace.
  11. Remove air bubbles.
  12. Use a paper towel to clean jar rim of the jar.
  13. Grab a lid from the hot water and center it on the jar.
  14. Screw the band on finger-tight.
  15. Repeat with all your jars.
  16. Place filled jars back in the canner, on the rack, making sure the jars are covered by at least 1'' of water and do not touch each other. Cover the canner, bring water to a rolling boil and process pint jars for 35 minutes and quart jars for 40 minutes (if you live above 1000 feet in elevation you'll have to adjust processing time).
  17. Turn off the heat, uncover the pot and let jars rest in the canner for 5 minutes.
  18. Use the jar lifter to remove jars from the canner. Place them on a paper towel to seal and cool for 12 hours.
  19. Wipe jars, remove bands, and store in a cool dark place for up to a year.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 7 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 308Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 92mgCarbohydrates: 67gFiber: 20gSugar: 45gProtein: 15g

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25 thoughts on “Canning Tomato Sauce Step by Step”

  1. Wonderful tutorial Lee! I have yet to put-up tomatoes because I can’t grow them good here, not enough heat and I don’t know of any local growers who can grow them. Ours are brought down from the B.C. Canada hot-house growers. My first attempt was a nice green tomato harvest. I’m waiting for that day when I have a greenhouse. I do get some good prices at the local market from time-to-time then I splurge, slice, drizzle with olive oil & herbs, bake and eat my heart out. I can down 7 pounds a week this way. (Note) Instead of buying lemon juice could you save & freeze lemon peels and use those instead?

    1. I think that the thing with the bottled lemon juice is that it’s acidity level is always the same and is known. This is why you supposed to use it. Using fresh lemon juice or peels… It might work but when you work so hard to can you want to make sure you are going to have a 100% success.

  2. Will the citric acid or lemon juice change the taste of my sauce. Also, I make my sauce with canned tomatoes from the store which already have citric acid I believe. Would I still affordable the same amount of acid?

    1. Sorry it took me so long to answer Christine! I never used canned tomatoes for canning sauce so I had to ask some friends. They all confirmed what I thought… Commercial canning is VERY different than home canning, go ahead and add the acid to make sure your food doesn’t go bad. It will not change the taste of your sauce.

  3. Does it matter what type of tomato is used for canning? My husband planted 4 types (Brandywine, Pink Boar, Golden Rave and a Beefsteak) of tomatoes outside of the three types I have for canning (San Marzano, John Baer and Jaune Flamme) and I don’t know if all tomatoes can be canned, or just certain types. This is my first garden so I’m learning a lot really fast! Thanks for any info you can give me!

    1. Hi Amber!
      Yes, any tomato can be canned but the final result might have a different taste for each kind of tomato you use because some tomatoes are low in acid some tomatoes are high, some tomatoes have high sugar content and some low. So it all depends on what you like and in order to know that you have to try.
      Or in other cases you can throw a mix of all the tomatoes that you have into the pot and see what happens, this is what I did this year since I didn’t have enough of just one kind.
      So this year, since you have many kinds it will be a good idea to just experiment, and yes, you can can all of them. If you see that you like this and want to plan for next year it might be a good idea to ask your husband to grow a variety that is known to be really good for canning like the Amish Paste tomato, for example.
      I am really excited that you are trying this! During the winter, use your sauce to make tomato soup and you’ll see how much easier and better it is than what you buy at the store!

  4. Greetings, just wanted to save you a step. I bought a Victrio strainer years ago. It clamps on a counter or we do ours on the picnic table and keep the mess out side. It had a big plastic hopper for thw tomatoes. Your size i would cute in 1/2. Cut any bad stuff off. You just crank the handle and the sauce comes out the center and the skin and seeds out the side. I put my big sauce pan on a bench and let the sauce come out. We rerun the skin and seeds 2 more xs. Then just cook it to the consistancy you like with lemon juice and can/jar.i also add salt and sugarat this time. No bitter seeds in your sauce. Then you can do whatever you like with it when you open the jar. I have been freezing my tomatoes as i get them and have 3 big bags just waiting for me. Love your site. Kathy

    1. Sounds easy, I’ll have to google this strainer so I can see how it looks. But I have to say that this year I was just completely overwhelmed by a number of things I had to do (we ran a one acre garden for the market) that I decided to just throw the tomatoes in the pot and skip the peeling. The sauce came out great, and both the seeds and the peels don’t bother us at all.

  5. Thank you for your concise post on canning tomatoes. I realized I need to let my jars sit in the water for a bit before I lift them out. As for the seeds, I de-seed the tomatoes when I am peeling them. OH! And, what a great idea to save the skins and dry them!

  6. I absolutely love your extremely detailed tutorial. I myself do best in small simple steps. I’m waiting on my tomatoes to finish off as I started them a little late. I have observed canning but have never personally done it myself. So Im studying up as I wait. :). Thanks for the great tutorial!

  7. Pamela M. Perkins-Zirbel

    Hello!! I was searching how to can tomato sauce and found you!!! I am doing my first ever tomato sauce canning!! Yayyy! Your tutorial is amazing!! My husband bought me the add on to my kitchenaid to take seeds and skin off as I have Divertuculitis and dont want seeds! We have a ton more tomatoes to ripen, but wanted to get this batch before they went bad. I cant wait! A lot of places said you dont have to hot water bath, but I wanted to so I could save them in our root cellar area. Thank you again!!

    1. I’m so glad that you like that tutorial. I remember that the process was a bit overwhelming for me too at the beginning. Once you do it a couple of times I a piece of cake. And it’s so very satisfying to eat your own tomatoes in the middle of the winter. Have fun canning and thanks for stopping by!

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