Tomato season is finally at an end, and we’ve harvested more tomatoes than I thought we would, given the weather and pest pressure this year. But we did end up with a few hundred pounds of tomatoes, mainly in the form of San Marzanos (our favorite paste tomatoes when they don’t rot on the vine!). Our paste tomatoes get turned into everything from ketchup to sauce, but when I am short on time and have boxes and boxes to sort, clean, peel, and process, my go-to storage method is to make simple canned whole tomatoes. This recipe is quick and easy, and our tips will make canning tomatoes whole not feel like such a daunting task.
Our process is laid out in our water bath method below in an easy-to-follow step-by-step approach.
Processing whole tomatoes for a later date is a great way to preserve a tomato harvest quickly.
Step one: Start By Gathering Your Fresh Paste Tomatoes, Bottled Lemon Juice, and Salt
A few simple ingredients will yield the freshest canned tomatoes for your pantry. Once you try fresh, you may never return to commercially canned tomatoes.
Helpful Tip: We have a complete guide on safe canning practices that you should read if you are new to canning.
It is best to start with freshly picked tomatoes for canning whole tomatoes. You don’t need to grow your own, although I can say that if you do, they taste better and have a better texture.
But you can buy your canning tomatoes. Usually, this time of year, you can pick up half bushels (25 pounds) or a whole bushel of tomatoes for cheaper than it costs to grow them. I saw half bushels on sale last week for $10, which were BEAUTIFUL! Knowing how to preserve whole tomatoes can save you time and money.
Beyond fresh tomatoes, you will want to can paste tomatoes. Paste tomatoes like Romas will hold up best during the canning process.
You will need about 3 pounds of paste-style tomatoes per quart jar.
Lemon juice is required to acidify tomatoes to make them safe for consumption after processing. Bottled lemon juice has a consistent pH level, whereas fresh lemon juice will vary significantly in its pH levels.
Freshly squeezed lemon juice can be super acidic or super sweet, and different types of lemons have different pH levels. A Meyers lemon, for instance, has far less acidity.
Bottled lemon juice will ensure that your pH levels are adequate for safe canning.
Can I use Citric Acid in Place of Lemon Juice?
You can use citric acid instead of lemon juice for canning whole tomatoes. If you use citric acid, use 1/4 the amount of lemon juice. For example, if a recipe calls for one teaspoon of juice, use only 1/4 teaspoon of citric acid. The citric acid should be added directly to the jars before adding the whole tomatoes.
Is the Process for Canning Yellow Tomatoes The Same?
Yes, you can process yellow tomatoes with the same method listed below.
Can you use this canning method for stewed tomatoes?
Nope, there is a different recipe and canning method for stewed tomatoes, be sure to use a recipe specifically for that type of cooking process.
I use canning salt, which I recommend for this recipe. If you use iodized salt, use HALF as recommended in this recipe.
But if you are watching your sodium, you can skip the canning salt. Salt is not required for safety in this recipe and only adds flavor.
I can say that the tomatoes canned with salt taste far superior to the unsalted tomatoes.
What are the best types of tomatoes for canning?
The best varieties of tomatoes for caning are paste-style or Roma-type tomatoes. Roma tomatoes or plum-style tomatoes have the perfect blend of sweetness and texture.
Paste tomatoes also generally have fewer seeds.
Four paste tomatoes that we have grown in our garden over the years that taste great are the following:
San Marzano – By far the best-tasting paste tomato we have grown. They make lovely sauces and canned whole tomatoes. But growing them can be an adventure, and they are exceptionally susceptible to blossom end rot and blight. (They are the BEST tasting but challenging to grow.)
Roma Tomatoes – Easy to grow, also easily found at markets and grocery stores in bulk this time of year. Romas are not as sweet as San Marzano.
Amish paste tomatoes are medium-sized and deep red, with few seeds and thick skin. They are an excellent choice to make tomato paste or sauce and add to a fresh salad.
Plum Regal – Has high yields and is disease-resistant. Two words we like when talking about potential additions to the garden. Plum regal has a good texture with a meaty texture and smoky flavor.
- Related: Do you have issues with cracking and splitting tomatoes?
Over-watering and under-watering are both causes of splitting in tomatoes, but there are various other reasons. If your harvests are cracking, check out our troubleshooting guide to help you prevent tomato splitting in the future.
Step 2: Next, gather all the required canning tools.
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For this recipe, you will need:
- A large water bath canner or large pot
- Canning tools such as lifter, magnetic lid lifter, and funnel
- Clean tea towels
- Cooling rack
- Large stock pot
- Sink or large bowl filled with ice cold water (If you are using the sink, be sure to clean and sanitize the whole thing very, very well)
- Slotted spoon or strainer (we like to use a pasta pot, see our TIP below)
- Canning jars (quart size or pint jars) ** find these local on-sale
- Sharp paring knife
- Cutting board
Step 3: Set up your canner and the second pot of water and get them on the stove Post haste!
Set up your water bath canner and canning rack and set the pot to boil.
Place the water bath canner and a second large pot on the stove and set the heat to high. You will need the canner and the pot of water at a rolling boil. Getting a whole pot of water up to a rolling boil takes some time, so do this while prepping your tomatoes.
Step 4: Wash tomatoes with cool water
Wash your tomatoes with cool water, pick over any rotten fruits, and remove any debris.
You can use tomatoes with soft bruises for sauces, but I recommend avoiding them for canning whole tomatoes. When bruised or soft, the tomatoes will not keep their structure.
Step 5: Slice off the blossom end of the paste tomatoes with a sharp knife
The usual recommendation for peeling tomatoes is to carve an X in the blossom end of the tomato before adding it to boiling water. However, we have a much easier way to save time.
Don’t bother with the X unless your tomatoes are destined for the county fair and you want perfection. The trick: Cut the bottom blossom end off with a sharp knife.
Use your sharp paring knife to cut the core out of the top of the tomato. I usually skip this step because I rarely eat whole tomatoes, and they typically get blenderized later into something else like sauce or soup.
If you enjoy eating whole tomatoes as they are, I recommend removing the core, as they do not have a pleasant texture.
Do you have to remove the skins from tomatoes for canning?
You need to remove the skins from your tomatoes before canning. Removing the skins is not a recommendation but a requirement to keep your canned tomatoes safe. Peeled tomatoes have different densities than adding whole unpeeled tomatoes, and water bath canning with the skins on can prevent the required heat from reaching the center of the jar to avoid spoilage.
TIP: Don’t toss your skins. Save the tomato skins to dehydrate and turn them into tomato powder.
Step 6: Place Cleaned and Cut Fresh Tomatoes into Boiling Water for 2 minutes.
Place your prepped tomatoes into boiling water in your stock pot and wait two whole minutes before removing them from the water. Use a slotted spoon or strainer to get them out of the hot water quickly, but be careful not to splash hot water on your hands.
TIP: We like to use a simple pasta pot for this process. It makes it easy to drop the tomatoes into the water and take them out. Just be sure not to add too much water to the pot, or it will overflow when you sink the tomatoes and pasta strainer into the hot water.
Step 7: Remove the tomatoes from the pot of boiling water and Place them in a Sink of Cold Ice Water for 1 minute.
You will want to cool down the hot tomatoes before peeling them. The ice water will also stop the cooking process immediately and help retain the firmer texture required for whole canned tomatoes.
Use a slotted spoon or sieve to lift the tomatoes from the hot water and place them in a sink or large bowl of ice-cold water.
Step 8: Peel Tomatoes By placing a small amount of pressure on the noncut end of the tomato
To peel tomatoes the easy way, you only need to add a bit of pressure to the top of the tomato. Then, the peels will slip right off like magic.
The peels will come off quickly and in a single piece, but be warned; they sometimes come out of the skins very quickly – Peeled tomatoes are slippery little suckers!
You can decide if you want whole or halved tomatoes at this point. Next, use a sharp paring knife for half the tomatoes and slice down the middle lengthwise.
Step 9: Clean lids and twist caps with hot soapy water and set aside
You will want to ensure that your lids are new. Never reuse lids! Reused lids may not seal and may deteriorate in storage, leaving your jars of tomatoes open to air and spoilage.
Give the lids and twist caps a good cleaning in hot soapy water to ensure any dust or debris has been rinsed off. Set them aside on a clean tea towel to dry. Do not put lids in the dishwasher.
Step 10: Place your clean quart jars into the boiling canner for 3 minutes.
You need to sterilize your jars before adding your whole tomatoes. To do this, place the open jars into the canner that has been heated to a rolling boil. Then, process the jars in the hot water bath for 3 minutes.
Work carefully and pull your sterilized jars with tongs from the water bath canner. Pour excess water inside the jar and allow the jars to rest on a heat-safe surface.
Step 11: Add lemon juice (or citric acid) and salt to all canning jars.
In each jar, add two tablespoons of bottled lemon juice (it has to be bottled lemon juice!) and 1 tsp of salt.
Adding salt and lemon juice to the jar and not directly to the tomatoes is essential. We want to ensure that each jar’s pH and salt levels are exact.
Step 12: Press Peeled tomatoes into the sterilized canning jars.
What does cold-packing tomatoes mean?
Cold packing tomatoes means the raw tomatoes are packed and peeled into a hot jar without cooking the tomatoes prior. No added liquid is required (usually) as the juices from the tomatoes, when pressed, release their juices.
To cold pack for this recipe, press down on each peeled tomato to release juice into the hot jars and pack tightly. We want the juices to be released from the whole tomatoes to fill in the gaps between each fruit. Fill hot jars as tightly as you can.
Step 13: Remove air bubbles from the canning jars and wipe the rim with a clean cloth.
After you’ve packed your jar with tomatoes, use the bubble-removing tool from your canning kit and insert it into the jar along the outside edges.
Slowly move the bubble stick along the inside glass of the jar to release any trapped air bubbles.
If an air bubble does pop and lowers the liquid level in your canning jars, add more liquid to ensure proper headspace.
Be sure to wipe the rim well with a clean towel to remove any sticky residue.
Step 14: Place the lid on top of the canning jars, twist the cover on, and turn until finger tight.
Use the magnet lid tool to place your lids on each jar. Next, add the twist rings until finger-tight.
The twist cap needs to be on firmly but not too firm. The twist ring must be loose enough to allow air to escape but not so loose that liquid can get in.
Step 15: Place quarts of whole tomatoes in a water bath canner and process for 85 minutes
Once your canner is at a rolling boil, gently place the lidded jars into the water and process for 85 minutes.
To guarantee safety, you must process tomatoes packed in their juices for 85 minutes. You may find recipes online that indicate 40 minutes, but that is an outdated recommended time, or the tomatoes have been processed in water, not their juices.
Once the jars have been processed, remove them from the hot water with your canning tongs and place them on a heat-safe surface to cool down for 24 hours.
During this time:
- Do not poke the lids or twist the caps.
- Please do not move the jars; allow them to rest for 24 hours.
FAQ Trouble Shooting For Canning Whole Tomatoes
Canned tomatoes are one of the easier canning recipes, but occasionally, you will hit a snag, and something won’t quite go as planned.
My Jars Didn’t Seal Properly. Can I Reprocess them?
Sometimes a lid will fail to seal due to the rims not being cleaned well enough or a small crack in the jar rim. Remove the cover and check the perimeter for debris or nicks. You can transfer your tomatoes to a fresh jar and reseal them with a new lid (do not use the same lid). If you need to reprocess, it is recommended that you do so within the first 24 hours. After that, reprocess for the same duration.
My Processed Jars Have Small Air Bubbles. Are they Safe?
So long as the bubbles are inactive, they will not cause any harm, and your tomatoes are safe to consume. However, if the bubbles are moving, bubbling up, or fizzing, the product should be disposed of as it may be contaminated.
What Can you Do With Whole Canned Tomatoes?
The great thing about whole canned tomatoes is that you can use them for almost any recipe that requires tomatoes! You can use them whole, crush them, or blend them for soups or sauces. There is simply no end to the amount of tomato canning recipe ideas.
Canned tomatoes work incredibly well in stews, chili, and recipes like Shahasuka or cooked down into sauces, tomato ketchup, tomato jam, marinara sauce, etc. The list is endless.
Looking For More Canning Recipes? We Have You Covered!
We grow a lot of produce in our backyard, and now that we’ve moved and have 3 acres, we’re growing even more. Finding ways to preserve the harvest stretches that summer effort to the following spring and helps save on the cost of groceries.
If this guide to canning tomatoes for beginners interests you, check out some of our favorite preserving methods:
- Jalapeno Pepper Jelly Recipe
- Copy Cat Cowboy Candy (Candied Jalapenos)
- Pickled Jalapenos
- Crispy Dill Pickles – The Trick To Making Crisp and Not Soggy Pickles
- Sweet Pickled Beets (my FAVORITE!)
- Carrot Cake Jam
- Dehydrated Jalapenos
- How to Freeze Green Beans To Preserve Texture and Flavor!
- Wonderful Peach Preserves Recipe (no pectin!)
- Jalapeno Scoville Rating: How Hot ARE Jalapenos??
- Homemade Smoked Salt
- 18 pounds of paste tomatoes
- 6 tsp of canning salt (pickling salt)
- 12 Tbsp bottled lemon juice
- Set the water bath canner and an additional pot of water on the stove to boil. Fill the sink or a large bowl with ice cold water.
- Clean lids and caps with hot soapy water, rinse, and set aside to dry.
- Wash tomatoes under cool water and remove any debris. Bruised or damaged tomatoes should be set aside.
- With a sharp paring knife remove the bottom blossom end of the tomato.
- Place cut tomatoes into the stock pot of boiling water for two minutes, remove and place the tomatoes into the sink or a large bowl filled with ice cold water for 1 minute and remove.
- Peel the tomatoes by putting a small amount of pressure on the uncut end of the tomato. The flesh should slip right out.
- Place quart jars into the water bath canner for 3 minutes to sanitize. Pull the hot jars from the water bath canner with tongs and set them on a heat-safe surface.
- Add 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice to each jar, along with 1 teaspoon of salt.
- Place peeled tomatoes into the hot jar and squish them tightly to release their juices. Fill the jar leaving 1-inch head space.
- Use a bubble-removing tool and run it around the perimeter of the jar to release bubbles. If lots of bubbles are released and the jars fall below 1-inch headspace add another tomato or top up the liquid line with additional water.
- Clean the rim with a clean cloth and place the lids on the top of the jar with the magnetic lid lifter. Place the twist caps on the top and twist until finger-tight.
- Add the jars to the water bath canner and process for 85 minutes adjusting for altitude.
- Remove the jars from the canner and allow them to rest undisturbed for 24 hours on a heat-safe surface.
- After 24 hours test the lids to ensure the jars are sealed. You can reprocess jars that failed to seal (see notes in the post).
- Store your canned whole tomatoes in a cool dark room for up to 12 months.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 24 Serving Size: 1 cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 63Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 155mgCarbohydrates: 14gNet Carbohydrates: 10gFiber: 4gSugar: 9gProtein: 3g