The Best Jars for Canning | Which Size to Use by Food Type


The most important thing you need in canning any food or making jelly and jam are good canning jars. They do not have to be since good canning jars can be reused, no matter how old, as long as they are not chipped, cracked, or otherwise damaged.

The best jars for canning are Mason jars. While usually labeled “Mason,” several companies make the jars, including Ball, Golden Harvest, Bernardin, and Kerr. The most important thing is jar size. Larger than 12oz jars are best for fruits and vegetables. Smaller sizes are usually reserved for jams and jellies.

Now let’s take a closer look at the jar types and sizes. I’ll even tell you a kind of jar to completely avoid.

Sizes of Jars

Mason Jar Size and Best Use Chart:

Mason Jar SizeBest Use
Half-GallonUse for canning fruits, vegetables, or meats, but not for jam or jelly as they would not gel properly in that size jar.
QuartUse for canning fruits, vegetables, or meats, but not for jam or jelly. If you put jam or jelly into a quart jar, chances are good it will not gel properly.
PintThis size jar is suitable for anything, fruits, vegetables, meats, jam, or jelly.
12-ounceCan be used for anything, but mainly for jam and jelly.
8-ounceUsed mainly for jam, jelly, and pickles. 8oz jars are made in many different shapes.
4-ounceUsed almost exclusively for jam and jelly. 4oz jars are made in many different shapes.

Pro Tip: If you try using a jar large than a pint, the chances are good that your jelly will not set properly. Even though I have made jelly in pint jars that turned out fine, I recommend sticking to 12-oz or smaller. Besides, anything bigger won’t fit in the fridge very well once opened.

Types of Jars

Various Size Jars For Preserving Food

There are two basic types when it comes to Mason jars:

  1. Regular mouth-The mouth of these jars are 2-3/8 inches for inner diameter and 2-3/4 inches for outer diameter.
  2. Wide mouth- The mouth of these jars are 3 inches inner and 3-3/8 inches outer diameter. These are great for making pickles and canning fruits and vegetables and meats as they are much easier to fill.

Can I Reuse Mason Jars?

You can reuse Mason canning jars as long as they are not chipped, cracked, or otherwise damaged. Before reuse, wash used jars well in hot, soapy water and sterilize them. Always replace the lid, but rings can be reused.

Long story short, age is not a determining factor. As long as there is no damage, the jars will work just fine. So, if you happen to find some 100-year-old jars in your grandpa’s barn, you can often reuse them.

Can You Store Food in Mason Jars in the Freezer?

Mason canning jars can be used in the freezer, but there are a few things that you have to do:

  1. Do not fill as full- Instead of leaving 1/4 inch headspace as you normally do when canning, leave 1 to 2 inches at the top to allow for expansion of the food as it freezes. Most Mason jars have a fill line for frozen foods underneath the top part of the jar that is threaded for the ring.
  2. Do not tighten the lid- Instead of tightening, as usual, leave the lid a little loose.
  3. Let it cool- Either let your food cool before filling the jars, or heat jars before filling with hot liquid. Pouring a hot liquid into a cool jar could result in breakage. Allow food to cool completely before placing it in the freezer.
  4. Wide-mouth jars recommended- Either use wide-mouth jars for freezing or, if using regular-mouth jars which have shoulders, leave 1 to 2 inches below the shoulders unfilled to allow the food to expand.
  5. Do not pack them in Leave a little space between the jars in the freezer so that jars are not touching.

How to Thaw Frozen Jars of Food

To thaw frozen jars of food, let them thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Or, you can thaw them on your kitchen counter if you can keep an eye on them and refrigerate after thawed. To speed up the process, you can set the jar in a pan of tap or warm water.

Warning: Jars of frozen food should never be placed into hot water to thaw, nor should they be thawed in the microwave.

Can You Store Food in Glass Jars in the Freezer?

What about glass jars that are not technically “Mason” jars?

For storing food in jars in the freezer, only use jars that are made of tempered glass and have been recommended by their manufacturer as safe for freezing.

Can You Store Canned Food in Plastic Containers in Freezer?

Plastic containers and jars can be used to store canned food in the freezer. You will want to leave about 2 inches of room above the food in the container to allow for expansion.

Some people use recycled plastic jars, such as the ones that you buy canned fruit and other foods in, to use in the freezer, but I have not personally tried using them. Also, you can place your jars of food in the freezer without lids, and then once frozen, screw on the lids.

Pro Tip: This is a good time to recycle those previously used lids as frozen food does not require sealing, as the food is preserved by freezing. The jars just need to be airtight to keep the flavors in and the air out.

What Should I Do If One of my Jars of Frozen Food Cracks or Breaks?

If you have a jar of food in the freezer that has cracked or broken, set it in a pan or the sink to thaw. When thawed, carefully pick the glass out and place it in a bag or box before putting it in the trash. Place in the regular trash and not the one for recycled items as the recycled stuff is separated by hand, and the broken glass could injure someone.

Important: Discard all food that was in the broken jar. It’s not worth the risk.

Can Mayonnaise Jars Be Used for Canning

Glass mayonnaise or salad dressing jars should not be used for canning. The exception is if the jars are made to fit a 2-piece canning jar lid so that you can get a good seal. In this case, it would be alright to use them for jam or jelly or any product that doesn’t require further processing. 

No pressure canners: They could be used for processing in a boiling water bath, but never use them when processing in a pressure canner. If you do use these jars, expect more seal failures and jar breakage.

History of Mason Jars

The Mason jars were invented at a time when there was no refrigeration and no reliable method of preserving food, including drying and curing. The people now had an affordable and reusable product for keeping food.

Nicolas Appert, a French chef, was actually the inventor of the method of preserving food by placing it in a sealed container and is known as the “Father of Canning.” His approach used a cork and sealing wax to seal the jars.

The molded glass jars that we use for food storage today were invented by John Landis Mason in 1858. Mason was a tinsmith from Philadelphia, and even though the jars were a huge success, Mason’s patent expired in 1879, and he died in New York in 1902, penniless.

Mr. Mason invented the lid before the jar, and the first jars were made of tin. The ones we use today are made of soda-lime glass and are designed with a screw thread on the jar’s mouth that allows a threaded metal ring or band to be screwed down tightly to hold a lid in place until sealed. As with the jars, the rings can be reused many times unless they become damaged, but the lids are designed for one use.

The Mason jars were invented at a time when there was no refrigeration and no reliable method of preserving food, including drying and curing. The people now had an affordable and reusable product for keeping food.

While Mason was the first inventor to create a canning jar in the U.S., other people around the world invented hundreds of similar products in the 1800s. Occasionally, you can still find a jar labeled “Mason’s Patent Nov 30th, 1858.”

Other forerunners to our modern canning jars used different types of jars and various types of lids. Besides the cork and sealing wax of Nicolas Appert, others included tin cans, wax sealers, and the wire bail.

Final Thoughts

It is vital to use good canning or “Mason” jars when making your jam and jelly.

Mason jars can be used and reused repeatedly, as long as they are not chipped, cracked, or otherwise damaged. Should you find some good canning jars at a yard sale or thrift store at a low price, grab them up before someone else does and save yourself some money.

As long as they are undamaged, it doesn’t matter how many times they have been used or how old they are. Just clean them well, sterilize them, and they are ready to go. If your recipe recommends using a specific size jar, be sure to follow those directions and use the correct size or smaller jar. Using a larger jar may cause your jelly not to set correctly. And don’t forget, even though your jars and rings can be recycled, or reused, always use new lids for your canning projects.

I hope this article has been helpful, thanks for stoppin’ by!

For more, check out A Guide to Proper Use of Mason Canning Jars | What Are They Safe For?.

Anne James

Hi, I'm Anne but my grandchildren call me Jelly Grandma. I have over 50 years of experience as a Southern cook and am a retired librarian. I love sharing what I have learned. You can find me on YouTube as well! Just click the link at the bottom of your page. I hope your visit here has been a sweet one.

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