Canning Over An Open Fire

Has anyone tried canning over an open fire? How did you set it up and are there any recommendations or thing to avoid?


My grandmother used to can over an open fire in a metal 55 gallon drum that had been cut in half down the center with supporting legs welded underneath. She would build a fire under it and bring the water to a boil, I can still remember the rumbling of those Mason jars as the water churned around them.

Today, I use an old metal wash tub (not galvanized) that I found at a dump. I raise it off the ground with concrete blocks and build a fire under it to boil the water.

I built a rack out of  heavy gauge wire that fits inside the tub this keep jars from being directly on the bottom surface of the tub and a few inches away from the heat source. 

You can safely can high-acid products, such as fruit, tomatoes or pickles, this way, but low-acid foods, such as beans requires a pressure canner. The temperature for killing bacteria in low-acid foods must reach about 240 degrees, far above the temperature of boiling water.

If you are new to canning, I suggest you get a copy of Ball’s  Blue Book Guide to Canning it has detailed but easy to follow information.

– M.D. Creekmore

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. Lake Lili says:

    We still have an electric stove so this is of real interest. Can you use a pressure canner on an open fire? Will it work on a wood stove?

    • Schatzie Ohio says:

      As I understand it you can not pressure can on an open fire but you can pressure can on a wood stove. Jackie Clay on her blog has done this.

      • OhioPrepper says:

        I think I agree with Schatzie Ohio’s assessment. Even pressure canning on a wood stove would require some really close attention for fire managment. Once the canner is up to pressure you need to keep the heat pretty constant for up to 90+ minutes.
        You might be able to do this on an open fire with a good bed of coals, but I think it would be herd to do and very time consuming, and probably rather tricky to mamage.

      • Thank you for commenting on my question. We live on a small farm in southern ohio and are interested in putting together a group to share ideas and resources in our area. Are you close to Portsmouth?

        • OhioPrepper says:

          I am not near Portsmouth; however, one of the members of our prepping group currently lives in the Portsmouth area.

      • Thank you for responding to my question. We live in southern ohio and are interested in starting or joining a group in our area to share ideas and resources. Do you live close to Portsmouth?Thank you again…

    • Lake Lili says:

      Thanks for the advice!

  2. I never heard my mother mention canning over an open fire. I do know that her dad had a tin can sealer, but what the processing was I have no idea.
    My mother-in-law said they had a summer or out kitchen where they did everything. It was supose to keep the house cooler, yeah right. Doesn’t matter what you do when a house gets hot it stays hot.
    My dad’s mom canned but I think she did it on the ol’ wood cook stove. She still had some of those jars with the rubber gasket seal.
    And it seems that they had to have some way of doing low acid foods.
    But I imagine as far as water bath canning go’s, as long as that water is boiling it can be done. And that ol’ drum would have held a lot of jars. Don’t know if I could manage doing the stuff in the house then carrying it out to a wood fire. My circus juggling routine is very rusty.
    You have to admire our foremothers, they were indeed a hearty bunch.

    • OhioPrepper says:

      I think a lot of the low acid foods were converted to high acid foods or high salt foods by pickling or brining. I know some of the old salted meats had to be soaked not only to rehydrate them, but to leech out as much of the salt as possible to make them edible.

  3. Pressure canning on a wood stove can be done. I don’t think you’d be able to keep the pressure steady over an open fire. If the pressure fluctuates often or too much, you could end up with under-processed food, which can have major food safety problems. Water bath can be done on an open fire because you only need to keep the water boiling.

    As a Master Food Preserver, I encourage people to learn about old methods of food preservation for emergency situations. Low acid foods can safely be dehydrated or fermented. In a SHTF situation, we can’t expect to eat the same as we do now.

    God bless,
    Opportunity Farm
    NE WA

    • Bonnie,
      I have never heard of a Master Food Preserver before. I gave it a quick google and see that our state (Wisconsin) offers this class. How exciting! Thank you for the tip. I am signing up today!

      • You’ll love it! I’ve taken the class 3 times in the last 15 or so years just to keep on top of things. It’s wonderful to meet all those like-minded people.
        I would recommend that anyone who can take the class do so. WSU stopped funding our classes so unless the economy picks up, there won’t be any more new Master Food Preservers in eastern WA. That’s happening in more states as budgets get tight.

        God bless,
        Opportunity Farm
        NE WA

  4. Lake Lili –

    I forgot to say you might want to get a propane 2-burner camp stove. It comes in real handy during power outages & anything you can do on an electric stove you can do on a propane stove. I’ve done both water bath & pressure canning on a propane stove.

    God bless,
    Opportunity Farm
    NE WA

    • Lint Picker (Northern California) says:

      Off topic briefly, please excuse me.

      Bonnie, or anybody else, do you have a good (simple) recipe for homemade mayonnaise? I eat a lot of sandwiches and think that without Best Foods/Hellmann’s mayonnaise, I would be up a creek without a sandwich. Got any recipes or ideas should mayo become missing in action? Thanks.

      • OhioPrepper says:

        There are a lot of recipes on the net and I’ve tried numerous ones over the past years (before the cholesterol problems) and all were pretty tasty, but I could never duplicate the thick creamy texture of the real thing. It’s basically oil, eggs, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, & sugar, but although I could get pretty good flavor, mine was always a bit thin and runny. Perhaps others here has some suggestions. Good luck, and I truly do miss Mayonnaise.

      • When I bought my last jar of Spectrum mayo at over $8, I decided it would be my last jar. I do have some recipes but have not tried them. You could be our guinea pig!

        Cooked Mayonnaise
        1/2 cup milk
        1 teaspoon cornstarch or arrowroot flour
        1 egg
        1/4 cup vinegar
        1/3 cup honey

        Stir milk slowly into cornstarch or arrowroot. Beat egg and mix all ingredients together in saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring steadily, until it thickens.
        Makes about 2/3 pint.
        From Root Cellaring by Mike & Nancy Bubel

        2 egg yolks
        1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
        1 tablespoon honey
        2 tablespoons vinegar
        1 tablespoon lemon juice
        1 cup salad oil

        Blend all ingredients except oil in blender until well combined. then add oil very, very slowly, while running blender constantly. Keep ingredients as cold as possible.
        Makes about 1- 1/2 cups.
        From Root Cellaring by Mike & Nancy Bubel

        Easy Homemade Mayonnaise

        In a blender or with an electric mixer put in 1 egg and whirl.  Slowly add 1 cup oil while machine is running.  When it becomes creamy, add 1 tsp or to taste of lemon juice and 1 tsp. or to taste salt.

        Also important is the history of mayonnaise.
        Most people don’t know that back in 1912, Hellmann’s mayonnaise was manufactured in England. In fact, the Titanic was carrying 12,000 jars of the condiment scheduled for delivery in Vera Cruz, Mexico, which was to be the next port of call for the great ship after its stop in New York. This would have been the largest single shipment of mayonnaise ever delivered to Mexico.
        But as we know, the great ship did not make it to New York. The ship hit an iceberg and sank, and the cargo was forever lost.

        The people of Mexico, who were crazy about mayonnaise, and were eagerly awaiting its delivery, were disconsolate at the loss. Their anguish was so great, that they declared a National Day of Mourning, which they still observe to this day.

        The National Day of Mourning occurs each year on May 5th and is known, of course, as Sinko de Mayo. :~D

        God bless,
        Opportunity Farm
        NE WA


        Hi Lint, I did a little post on my most basic mayo recipe and then how it can be made fancy, I find mine quite thick, it a very old reciepe, but it does seem to work well for me, and the ladies in my family.

        Basic Mayo

        2 egg yorks
        1/2 cup of your best oil, I tend to use olive oil but any will do
        2 tablespoons of any kind of wine vinegar
        Salt/Pepper to taste
        I also like a pinch of dry keens mustard.

        In a bowl beat the egg yolks and spices till thick with a whisk if you want to do it by hand, which I typically do, you can use your mixer or food processer.

        Then add drop by drop of your oil, by the time you add 2 tbsp of oil, it will be quite thick, then add one tbsp of vinager and then add a little more oil, it will be quite a bit thicker then store bought.

        When you go to use it for dressing in salads, you can thin it out a little with either hot water, milk or cream, your choice.

        Don’t overbeat or it can pull apart, there is a way to bring it back together if that happens while you are learning, which is to take another egg yolk, beat it well, add part of the mix into it, till its come’s together and then add the rest and slowly start the oil drop by drop back in till you get it to come together.

        • opps, let clear that up, by the time you get to the last two tbsp of oil, it tends to be quite thick.. Sorry about missing that word, its kinda important.

      • Lint Picker (Northern California) says:

        Thank you all for the replies to my question. This is why I think MD’s blog is so great – everybody helping each other.

        I don’t mind being a guinea pig, so I’ll try each one of the recipes and see how they turn out. I didn’t realize there were so many ingredients in plain old mayo, but I should have guessed it wouldn’t be simple. LOL

        Thanks again, and happy prepping to you all.

  5. I have done pressure cooker canning on an open fire. It did work but pressure management is precarious at best. You can’t just lower the heat whem it starts heading for 20PSI. The heat is either on or off high on the fire. This makes the whole thing extremely dangerous. I only tried once to see if I could and won’t again. The “bathtub” method works fine.

    • stevesmitty79 says:

      I suppose, if one were to consider doing this regularly, if an apparatus of some sort to lower or raise the cooker over the fire would enhance heat management. I’ve seen circular grills with spinning grate to change elevation and more common grills with crank handles to effect the same. Just my .02

  6. I have never tried over an open fire but I guess it is a skill I should learn. If SHTF then our resources are going to be limited when it comes to boiling water. I guess they did it this way when the pioneers moved out west here. Its a great post M.D. your always making us think outside the box. I like it.

  7. Hi

    I have done water bath canning over fire a few times but alot more on a cast iron wood stove, never used a pressure canner in either format, but had not issues with the waterbath canning.

    I do have a summer kitchen with a propane stove for outside canning, it makes a huge differnce on how hot our house gets, we don’t use AC, just have tree’s and lots of ability to catch any breezes. I do all my cooking outside as much as possable during the worst of the summer heat in our local area.

    Plus in the fall, its wonderful to have two full stoves able to be going when I am in middle of a heavy harvest/processing time.

  8. hello..this is a question more than a comment. my mother, grandmother,and great grandmother….and i suspect you could continue to go back in “greats”, but i wasn’t there, canned everthing in a “water bath” canner….i doubt they even knew there was such a thing as a pressure canner. they even canned meats without a pressure canner. therefore, since i’m still alive, i tend to believe that it is a myth that low acid foods must be canned in a pressure canner. can someone elaborate…….

    • I have wondered about this too. I know my Granny even sealed her canned goods with wax.

    • I have wondered about that myself. And I do know she canned meat. I do know my dad’s mom had a pressure cooker after he was a young adult, probably close to 1940. He and his brother blew chicken or something up all over the kitchen.
      But doubt his mother had an actual pressure canner.
      I do know that my aunt Jaunita used a bath canner for all the garden stuff. I now have hers.
      Wish my mom was still around to ask.

    • I went looking for the history of the pressure canner , kinda not much out there but found this site and according to the sidebar the pressure canner was okayed in 1917 for home use.

      But we have to remember that not all homes would have had them instantly, maybe because of expense and such.
      So that leads me to believe that they canned water bath till 1917. I don’t think the old ways would have been given up suddenly.

    • OhioPrepper says:

      It’s not a myth, but comes down to statistics and safety. There are many potentially dangerous things we all do every day that could get us injured or killed, bit generally don’t. You could run around in a thunder storm holding a golf club in the air and never get struck by lightning, but it’s not a good practice and should be avoided. You can water bath can everything your entire life, and never have a problem, or have a problem the very first time you do so. What it comes down to is risk management. Water bath can and you roll the dice and there a good chance you’ll be OK, but if you’re not, the effects of botulism toxin are devastating. It’s a neurotoxin that can kill and or seriously maim. Some problems we cannot avoid, but in this case we can absolutely eliminate the botulism problem by proper pressure canning.
      Prepping doesn’t make us immune from bad things happening, but does help mitigate the effects of bad things, so I would assume that going from a very tiny chance of a food safety issue to a zero chance of the problem, would be in every preppers interest.

  9. mt – the danger of botulism from improper canning is not a myth. You can read my Feb 9 2011 article that MD so kindly published – Safe Survival Canning.

    When people canned everything – including low acid foods – in the water bath canner, most of them weren’t dumb enough to eat the food straight out of the jar. If low acid food that has not been canned correctly is brought to a boil and boiled for 10 minutes (at sea level – longer for higher altitudes) the botulism toxin is destroyed.

    Botulism poisoning is rare, partly because so few people can their own foods. But it has occurred in recent years – & yes – some of those were commercially canned foods. Others were home canned.

    Canning is a modern method of preserving food & has contributed to modern health problems. While I do a lot of canning (and believe me – I’m careful!), I’m learning the old methods.

    God bless,
    Opportunity Farm
    NE WA

  10. Here is a history of home canning and mention’s when the pressure canner was okayed for home use. Interesting.

  11. blindshooter says:

    My grandmother added vinegar (how much I don’t know) to things like string beans and waterbath canned. When she opened the jar later she would add more water and warm them then pour off the water to get rid of some of the vinegar. They still turned out tangy but I guess it was one way to up the acid content of some foods so you could use a regular water can method. My Dad told me she had a pressure cooker pop the plug and it scared her so bad she would not use one again.

    For the people here that know canning, would it be safe to water bath can like she did it? It didn’t kill us but I know we could have just been lucky.

    • OhioPrepper says:

      It COULD be safe. You need either a known recipe or a pH meter to make sure the pH of the solution is 4.6 or lower (meaning more acidic). It’s one of those things you don’t want to guess. This is essentially what pickling is about, or the reasom you add acid to some varieties of tomotoe.
      Also, if she added water after opening and boiled for at least 10 minutes, it would deactivate any botulism toxin that might be present.
      IMO it’s simply not a good idea to water bath can low acid items, unless you have a solid recipe for acidifying them.

  12. OhioPrepper says:

    I did no formal prepping for myself this past week, but other than working my normal job I prepared for a Rifle course we taught this past weekend. We had 15 kids, aged 11-19, spend 2 full days in the classroom and on the range. This is the core of our gun clubs new youth rifle league. This was a really enthusiastic, energetic, and safety conscious bunch of kids.
    I tend to sometimes be more optimistic than some others in this forum, and perhaps it’s because I sometimes get to skip the news for a weekend and spend it with kids like these. It gives me a sense that there are some still great kids out there, and that the future will be in good hands.
    BTW, for anyone interested in youth shooting, there are a ton of college scholarships that go wanting every year. I know that locally here at Ohio State University, shooting is a collegiate sport, with scholarships on par with other sports like football.
    All in all a long and tiring but great & uplifting weekend.

    • Lint Picker (Northern California) says:

      OP, thank you for teaching the kids how to shoot and to shoot safely. You are doing a great service to them AND to our country. Kudos to you.

    • blindshooter says:

      OP, I understand the feeling you get when coaching the youngsters. I helped for years with our state association JR high power rifle team. It does give hope when you see some of the younger people that “get it” and get a chance to help them. By the way, it always tickled me to get to help a young lady. They worked and paid attention a lot better than most of the boys(sometimes they were too busy trying to impress the girl). Some of them went on to college shooting teams and some went into the services. It seems that all of them have done well for themselves. I miss it and hope to get my act together and do it again one day.

      • OhioPrepper says:

        blindshooter & Lint,
        First if all – Oops. Posted this to the wrong thread, but what the heck.
        This group is essentially the beginning of a Jr. Small Bore Rifle team, who may eventually go on to High Power. We did bring an old M1 Garand (in .30-06) and even the smaller kids shot it with glee. We did have one young lady whose brother and father shoot competitively and whose father will be helping coach the league. She’s already quite a shooter.
        I’ve been training shooters for more than 20 years, and the sad fact (for the men at least) is that all things being equal, women outshoot us, period. Part of it is their physical attributes which are different and more suited to absorbing recoil, and then there’s the ego issue. I’ve often told a guy that I’ll have his wife or girlfriend on paper before I break his bad habits, and generally it’s true.
        blindshooter , hope you can get back into it, because it is rewarding and more than a little uplifting.

  13. Really Old Man says:

    I usually lurk But the canning discussion prompted to add my 1 cent. My family back to my great grandmother and aunt, Grandmother and my mother (just a little) If it grew in the spring summer and fall we canned the excess. Including hog sausage in the fall.

    The basement shelves contained the usual easy stuff tomatoes, pickles, sauerkraut, apples, Fruits of all sorts, apple butter, wild bkackberies, jams, jelly; but also okra, green beans, potatoes, corn, peppers, pumpkin, squash (ugh, I hate canned squash) almost as mush as homemade canned sausage 

    2 large cast iron pots on legs near the well (these were LARGE pots and also used on wash day) were filled with water at dawn and a roaring fire built underneath. My uncle was in charge of this and keeping the fire large and hot till stream came off the water.

    The women folk in the house kitchen were packing quart jars with the canning of the day, say green beans; picked strung and broken the day/night before. My grandfather mean while fired up the wood cook stove in the “wash house” for it was used also for weekly laundry. He was responsible for the wood and keeping the stove to the right temperature per my aunts instustions, “Willard, just at the stove. Needs more wood.”

    Green beans were packed…I mean packed …… a pre teen my “packing” was never “tight enough”. The number varied but 48 to 96 quarts were packed. Lined up on the kitchen counters. A pinch of salt was added to each jar. One of the men then carried in from the outside heated pots buckets of near boiling water. The jars were filled to ½ /3/4 inch of head space. This is somehow important and Roxie, ny aunt supervised this. Then
    Caps with rubber rings and later the new types what we see today was placed on the jars.

    My grandmother had placed on the wood stove 2 Large canners; they were oval and the 2 of them covered the top of a large wood stove. The men had carried hot water into the wash house and filled almost half full the 2 canners from the outside fire pots. The jars were loaded into the canner and the canners then filled to a couple of inches over the jat tops. The lids were left off the canners until the water began to boil. Then the lads were placed on and the fire continually stoked to keep the water CONSTANLY boiling for many hours. Sorry the time is lost to me but it was fro most of the day.

    It was a labor intensive operation as you can tell, and all day job and required the kids, women and the men folk. An was done almost weekly during the summer; the man the rewards….during the depression, the 30’s the 40’s we ate like kings winter and summer; shared much with many friends and neightbors. No one was ever made sick and no one was ever in anyway hungry and we went to town or the mill for flour and corn meal.

    THIS NOT A HOW TO…..this how I remember it thru my pre and teenage years until I packed of to college.

  14. We do our pressure-canning outside in the Summer months to reduce the heat in the kitchen. We set up a propane tank, burner, and a metal tripod cooking-ring where we place the canner. Pressure-canning requires that we watch the gauge closely to monitor any pressure fluctuations. We do this when pressure-canning inside or outside. The only disadvantage to doing this outside is the wind and how it can affect the burning flame. We never attempt this if the wind is strong. So far so good — never had any problems and we can always get the canner up to the proper pressure.

    This same set up could also work for water bath canning but I tend to do that in the kitchen.

  15. I’ve been trying to pressure can on an open fire also. It’s very time consuming and dangerous.

    I still haven’t given up on the idea yet, I’m thinking of using a pulley system of some sort so I can manipulate the distance between the pressure canner and the coals to maintain a certain pressure. Will it work? Who knows, but if it fails I can use the pulley for cooking or some other task.

    Personally, I’d rather use a propane burner outdoors & shielded from the wind but I would like to figure out a somewhat safer way to do it on an open flame as well in case I run out of propane.

  16. I don’t know if anyone is going to read this or not, but I will put it down. I recently discovered that you can preserve eggs and that there are several methods to do this. The preservation time is 9 months up to 2 years and the eggs are suppose to be as good as the first day. I’ll not cover the proceedure, but if you type into your search engine “Preserving eggs” you will get a pile of sites that discuss the issue.

  17. Vicki of Frugal Canning talks about issues with canning equipment. I need some help on the pressure cooker. I have never been able to get my weight to jiggle correctly. It jiggles too fast or not at all and I have gone through every heat setting to try and get the right temprature to make that damned thing jiggle slowly. Can someone tip me of on how to get my jiggler to jiggle correctly.

    • GardenMom says:

      The instruction booklet that came with my canner says to try it first with just a quart of water in it. Put the lid on like you are canning, and bring the heat up, then turn the heat down just a little bit, let it be for 2-3 minutes to see how often it jiggles, then go a little lower for 2-3 minutes and keep doing that until it jiggles for 4-5 times per minute, note that mark on your stove. Then when you can food, just turn the stove to that mark. For me, this is about the halfway point on my burner. It seems like it jiggles more than 4-5 times per minute when I first start the timing, but it settles into the 4-5 rhythm after 5 minutes or so. Hope this helps.

  18. Two things I’m trying under my canners this year:

    Rocket stove, made from 3″ flue pipe, a popcorn tin and vermiculite with a chinois stand as a pot support. More efficient than an open fire by far, but unsure if the output will be sufficient. I may build a larger one based on how this one works.

    Coleman Handy Gas Plant, a gasoline fired burner similar to the camp stoves but much larger. I’m confident in its capacity, as it’s rated at 35,000 BTU, but unsure of the convenience. At least it won’t heat up the house.

  19. Another way meat (pork) was put up was ground like sausage, then formed in balls & fried down. Then we heated Lard & put the hot ball in a crock or tin pail & pour hot lard over them. I have seen it done in caning jars also. Lard was used to seal them. You used them by digging them out of the lard & fry the excess lard off. The crocked was resealed by pouring hot lard back over them.

  20. R9 Les Paul says:

    I have pressure canned over a homemade “Rocket Stove”. You save on a bunch of wood for fuel, and you can adjust your temperature quite nicely. You do have to stay on top of the entire process, but in a SHTHS, it is better than an open fire.

  21. Putting food by. I like eggs and I have not seen many methods of preserving eggs. I did punch into my search engine with “Preserving eggs” and got a pile of methods. Eggs can be stored for 9 months up to as long as one year. One of the most critical factors about storing eggs is that they must be fresh. I won’t bore you with the details. You can do the same as I and get into the search engine and find the recepes as I did.

  22. This is off thread, but does anyone know of a reliable place to buy #10 cans,(603×700)?

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