Canning Tomato Sauce Step by Step

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Canning tomato sauce is on every homesteader’s to-do list. There is just no comparison between the taste of homemade tomato sauce, made with delicious summer tomatoes, and the one we can get at the store. And… It might be the best way to preserve tomatoes since there are so many ways to use tomato sauce. Let’s learn how to can tomato sauce at home.


I don’t know if there is anything better than a true summer tomato… whether it’s one you grew yourself in your garden or one that you picked up at the farmer’s market. Red, warm, and juicy… I think that tomatoes, more than any fruit or vegetable, bring people out to the garden or to the farmer’s market during the growing season.

And if you ever tasted a true homegrown summer tomato I bet the first thing you thought about was how to preserve the taste so you don’t have to go without it. That’s where canning tomato sauce comes in! It’s a wonderful way to preserve the summer harvest and it gives you the option to use summer tomatoes in so many ways even after the growing season is long gone.

Canning Tomato Sauce…

Canning tomato sauce. A step by step picture tutorial.

If you are a gardener and you grow your own tomatoes, you probably know that it takes a lot of work. We start tomato seeds indoors, then transplant them to the garden (here is a video on how to do that), they need a good support system, a lot of feeding and pruning, and so on… So aside from preserving the taste of summer tomatoes, you probably want to preserve your harvest simply because you worked so hard for it.

Every year, I can stewed tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and tomato sauce from the tomatoes that I harvest from my garden (even though this batch was made from too-ripe tomatoes that I came by at the farmer’s market for a next to nothing price and just couldn’t resist!). Even though there are many ways to can tomatoes, I have to say that canning tomato sauce is always the way that I turn to first simply because I can use tomato sauce later in so so many ways.

A box of ripe tomatoes for sauce.

What Kind of Tomatoes Are Good for Canning Tomato Sauce?

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. Make sure to choose very ripe tomatoes for canning.

However, you can can any type of tomato and you can even make a mix of a few varieties. 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.

The important thing here is that you want to use very ripe tomatoes! If you grow your own tomatoes, make sure to pick them at the Green Mature Stage and let them ripen indoors. 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, it’s literally the trick that saved my summer sanity!  

Washing tomatoes before canning sauce.

Ingredients…

  • Tomatoes – again, very ripe tomatoes preferably canning tomatoes like Amish Paste or Roma (but any kind can be made into sauce and canned). I used 26 pounds of tomatoes here which is what fits in my large stock pot. I’m recommending that you don’t process more than 25 pounds at the time… It gets a bit too much to handle. 25 pounds of medium to large tomatoes should yield about 7 quart jars of tomato sauce (or 14 pints).
  • Seasonings – note that you can season your tomato sauce as you cook it with salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and so on… I usually choose to leave my tomato sauce plain since whatever dish I’m gonna use it in later is going to be seasoned anyway.
  • Bottled lemon juice – in order to safely process the tomato sauce in the water bath canner, we want to increase its acidity just a bit. To get that done, we’ll use two tablespoons of bottled lemon juice (not fresh lemon juice! We use bottled lemon juice because it’s stable and its acidity is known) per quart jar or one tablespoon per pint jar. The acidity of the bottled lemon juice 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 notice a change in taste so I use bottled lemon juice. But if you are concerned about the change in taste you can use citric acid (instead of the bottled lemon juice) which does not affect the taste at all. Add 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid to each quart jar or 1/4 of a teaspoon to each pint jar. Bottled lemon juice is easier to come by so that’s what I usually use.

Kitchen Tools…

How to Can Tomato Sauce…

Blanching tomatoes before peeling them.

Step 1 – prep the tomatoes. Wash the tomatoes well and core them (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), then, cut a little X at the bottom of the tomato to help the skin come off easily.

Tomatoes blanching in boiling water.

Bring a pot of water to a boil, add the tomatoes in batches (not too many of them at a time), and let them cook for two minutes or so in the boiling water…

Cooling tomatoes before peeling.

Use the slotted spoon to take the tomatoes out of the boiling water and set them in a large mixing bowl. Place the mixing bowl in the sink and run cold water on the tomatoes to cool them down so you can handle them.

Tomato skins.

Grab one tomato at a time and peel it. The skins should come off very easily. 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 skin at all. I just threw the tomatoes in the pot and cooked them and mashed them with the immersion blender like you’ll see me doing below. The tiny pieces of skin 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. 
Cooking the tomatoes into sauce.

Once the skins are gone, half or quarter the tomatoes and add them to a large stockpot for cooking the sauce.

Bringing the tomato sauce to a boil.

Step 2 – cook the tomato sauce. Set the stockpot on the stovetop, turn the heat to medium-high and bring the tomatoes to a boil. Turn the heat down a bit to keep the tomatoes gently bubbling for the rest of the cooking time. Remember to stir frequently.

Blending the tomatoes into sauce.

After about an hour of cooking, when the tomatoes are soft, use the immersion blender to blend the tomatoes into a smooth sauce (or you can leave it a bit chunky if you’d like).

Cooking the tomato suce until reduced.

How long it will take to cook your tomato sauce depends on the water content of the tomatoes that you started with and how thick you like your tomato sauce. It took almost three hours for my 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.

Heating up the water in the water bath canner.

Step 3 – prep for canning tomato sauce. Fill the water bath canner with enough water to cover the jars that you are going to use by at least an inch. Set the canner on the stovetop, turn the heat to high, and bring the water to a boil. Wash the jars and lids in hot water and dish soap (since we are going to process the tomato sauce for more than 10 minutes in the water bath canner, there is no need to sanitize the jars and lids).

Packing the jar with tomato sauce.

Step 4 – fill the jars. Add two tablespoons of bottled lemon juice to each quart jar (or one to each pint jar), then use the ladle and the canning funnel to fill the jars with the tomato sauce leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace.

Cleaning the rim of the jar.

Next, use the bubble remover to remove bubbles by moving it along the inside of the jar. Then, clean the rim of each jar with a damp paper towel…

Closing the jar before processing.

Before centering the lid and closing the jar with the band finger-tight.

Jars are processing in the boiling water.

Step 6 – process the tomato sauce. Place the jars on the rack of the canner and lower the rack into the boiling water. Cover the canner and process pint jars for 35 minutes and quart jars for 40 minutes in the boiling water. Remember to adjust processing time according to the table below if you live above 1000 feet in elevation.

Jars are cooling on the counter.

When the processing time is up, turn the stovetop off and uncover the canner. Let the jars stay in the hot water for 5 more minutes before you remove them. Use the jar lifter to remove them from the canner and set them on a kitchen towel on the counter to cool completely (8-12 hours).

Jars of tomato sauce ready for storing.

Storing Canned Tomato Sauce…

Check that your jars have sealed by pressing the center of each lid. If there is no movement there it means that the jar is sealed and ready for storage. I usually wipe the jars and remove the band (it tends to rust and make it hard to open the jar down the road, it’s easier to monitor what’s happening in the jar without the band in the way, and I can reuse it) before storing the jars in a cool and dark place (a pantry, kitchen cabinet, root cellar…).

Canned tomato sauce will last on the shelf for up to 18 months. I find that after that it starts losing its taste.

Using Homemade Canned Tomato Sauce…

  • To make marinara sauce – we eat spaghetti at least once a month. I use this canned tomato sauce to make marinara sauce for the pasta and we usually use the leftovers for a homemade pizza.
  • Add to chili or soups – our favorite is this Southwest chicken chili (or leftover turkey from Thanksgiving!), or the Pioneer Woman beef and bean chili. I use this tomato sauce in both of those.
  • Tomato soup – I mean… Nothing is better than tomato soup made with summer tomatoes in the dead of winter! This recipe is a favorite.
  • Add it to shakes – if you are into vegetable shakes you can use this tomato sauce in your shakes, or you can strain it and just drink the tomato juice, or heck… Use it to make a tall glass of Bloody Mary!

I hope that this tutorial was helpful! Making and canning tomato sauce is not complicated or hard but it does require a bit of work. It’s all worth it, though! Homemade canned tomato sauce is so much better than any tomato sauce you’ve tried before. I guarantee it.

More Canning Tutorials…

Canning Tomato Sauce

Canning Tomato Sauce

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

How to make a simple tomato sauce and canning tomato sauce instructions.

Ingredients

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

Instructions

  1. Prep the tomatoes: wash and core the tomatoes. Cut a small X at the bottom of each tomato.
    Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the tomatoes in batches and let them cook for two minutes. With a large spoon, transfer the tomatoes to a bowl. Set the bowl in the sink and run cold water over the tomatoes for a couple of minutes to cool them.
    Skin the tomatoes and quarter them. Place them in a large stockpot.
  2. Cook the tomato sauce: bring the pot to a boil then lower the heat to medium so the tomato sauce is bubbling gently for the rest of the cooking. Don't forget to stir frequently.
    After about an hour, puree the tomatoes using a stick blender or a food mill.
    When the sauce reaches your desired thickness (it took me a total of about 3 hours) it's ready. If you'd like, you can season your sauce with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and so on. I usually leave it unseasoned.
  3. Prep for canning: Fill the water bath canner with enough water to cover the jars by about an inch. Set it on the stovetop and turn the heat to high. Bring the water in the canner to a boil.
    Wash the jars, lids, and bands well in hot water and dish soap and set aside. Since we are going to process the tomato sauce in the water bath for more than 10 minutes, there is no need to sanitize the jars.
  4. Canning tomato sauce: add two tablespoons of bottled lemon juice to each quart jar (or one tablespoon to each pint), use a ladle and the canning funnel to fill the jar with tomato sauce leaving about 1/2 inch of headspace.
    Use the bubble remover to remove air bubble by scraping it along the inside of the jar. Use a damp paper towel to clean the rim of the jar before centering the lid and closing it with the band.
  5. Process the jars of tomato sauce: place the jars on the rack of the canner and lower the jars into the boiling water. Cover the canner 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. The adjustment table is in the notes below).
    Once processing time is up, turn the heat off and uncover the canner. Let the jars stay in the hot water for 5 minutes before removing them. Use the jar lifters to remove the jars from the canner and set them on a kitchen towel on the counter to cool completely (8-12 hours) before storing them.
  6. Storing the tomato sauce: wipe the jars, remove the bands (cause they rust and make it hard to open the jar down the road), and store in a cool dark place like a pantry or a kitchen cabinet for up to 18 months.

Notes

  1. You can use this process to can any kind of tomatoes but the best kind is canning tomatoes like Amish Paste or Rome since they are less juicy and it takes less time to cook the sauce.
  2. Some people like to run their sauce through a food strainer to get rid of the seeds. You can do that after you boil the tomatoes (the strainer will remove both the skin and the seeds. There is a link to a strainer in the post under "Kitchen Tools"). I personally don't mind the seeds.
  3. Some people say that bottled lemon juice changes the flavor of the tomato sauce. We use bottled lemon juice because we have to add acidity to safely can tomato sauce and the acidity in bottled lemon juice is known and stable. I don't feel that it changes the flavor, however, if you are worried about that you can use citric acid powder instead of the bottled lemon juice. Add 1/2 teaspoon to a quart jar or 1/4 of a teaspoon to a pint jar.
  4. If you live above 1000 feet in elevation, remember to adjust processing time according to the table below...

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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