Get Off The Rack: A DIY Alternative To The Canning Rack

Most beginner food preservers (and I count myself as an advanced beginner) start with the standard issue water bath canner. It’s usually blue or green with funny speckles on it and can be found pretty cheaply new or really cheaply used.

My ginormous canning kettle came from the thrift store and cost, as I recall, $10. These big kettle things are great for preserving high-acid jams, fruits, and pickles, the gateway drugs of food preservation.

They usually come complete with a canning rack, and it is here that everything falls apart. If you are new to this water bath canning thing, please allow me to share my none-too-subtle opinion: these canning racks are total crap.

You think, because these racks often come with the canner that they are somehow supposed to make your canning process more efficient, easier or safer. Certainly using the rack seems to be the “official” way to can. Well, hogwash.

The idea seems to be that you can load or unload all your filled jars from a huge pot of boiling water with grace and ease by using the flimsy wire handles of the rack. That’s a total joke. The racks really only fit huge quart jars, and even those don’t exactly seem locked in place. And little half-pint jars? Forget about it – they fall right through. All my attempts to streamline the process of setting in or removing jars en mass have resulted in tipped or toppled jars and scalds from splashed water.

Thankfully, there is another way – a DIY way. First, it’s good to know that the legitimate reason that people use canning racks is to keep the jars off the floor of the canning pot and allow the boiling water to circulate all around. This is important – you don’t want crazy heat spots scorching your jam, breaking your glass jars, or otherwise ruining your jamming day.

With a bunch of old, no-longer-canning worthy jar rings and a few plastic zip ties, you can have a custom-sized DIY Canning Rack alternative in about 3 minutes.

This rack was so simple to make, it hardly needs instructions. Basically, you just use zip-ties to hold the old rusty rings together in a size and configuration that fits your canning kettle. There are a few tips I’ll pass on:

  • Use regular, not wide mouth rings. If you use the wide mouth, your regular jars might slip through.
  • Use your old rings that are a bit dented or have some rust spots on them. Reuse beats recycle!
  • Use the little zip-ties that aren’t much good for anything else. They are perfect for this.
  • Do not zip-tie the rings super tight. It’s good for there to be a little wiggle-room in the rings to allow the rack to better conform to the shape of the kettle bottom. Besides, if you pull the rings together snuggly, they tend to make a shallow dome shape.
  • When everything looks right, trim the zip ties so their little tails aren’t poking up.
  • Use the rack top-side up to avoid narrow jars slipping through.

So far I love my DIY Canning Rack. What’s your best punk canning tip?


  1. says

    Zip ties! Of course! I rigged something like this years ago, except I used twist ties, which rusted immediately. I agree that the racks that come with canners are crap-ola. You are a genius! I'm going to make one of these post haste.

  2. says

    I used the canning rings – but without tying them together – just set in place.

    However – I prefer the flat circular hole-filled bottom of the pressure canner now…

    I don't even remember why I was using the rings now – as I've never water-bathed… pressure canned, hot pack pickles and relish, dried, or froze… that's all I do.

  3. says

    Tell it, sister – those racks are useless! My current preferred method is a dish towel in the bottom of the pan. Nestles the jars nicely, distributes the air bubbles so they don't disturb your jars and the jars don't slide around as you're loading. Takes some practice but it's fantastic once you get it down.

  4. says

    Agreed those racks are totally useless. Clearly the people who put these things together are not themselves canners.
    I made one of these a while back, but used kitchen twine instead of the zip-ties since that's what I had handy at the time. I've also used a cake rack that just fit the bottome of the canning kettle with a couple of old rings tied to the bottom to give it needed support in the middle of the rack. That has been my favorite solution thus far. My only complaint with all of these racks has been that no matter how quickly I dry off the rack, it always ends up rusting. So just be aware that that will probably happen. Still, they are pretty cheap to replace and a vast improvement over the crappola ones that come with the kettles.

  5. says

    I only water bath can at the moment, and I found that using a big 22 qt seafood/tamale steamer pot works great and is deep enough for quarts. It has a rack a couple inches off the bottom with round holes in it, and I just use a hand jar lifter to get the jars out. I never thought those wire racks looked very sturdy, so I never had one.

  6. Saskia says

    Thanks for explaining! I canned my first ever batch of fruit last week and stared at that rack for a long time wondering how on earth THAT was supposed to work without me landing in burn unit. I decided to use it only to set the jars on and removed them with the jar gripper tool, but like you said, the little jars tipped over anyway. Now I know what to do instead! Thank you, thank you!

  7. says

    This is exactly what I do too! Except I do use wide-mouth rings, and now I completely want to switch to regular-mouth ones. I attached mine to each other with those green-paper-covered twist ties, which have now mostly disintegrated. I had to rig this up because I don't actually have a canner pot. I was borrowing one for a while, but I almost always do pint or half-pint containers, and I hate having to heat up the huge pot of water for such a small volume.

    This post made my morning, so hard.

  8. says

    We have a small wooden platform we made for the bottom of our canner. It's just small pieces of I think 1/2" x1/2" wood in the basket weave pattern nailed together. Works great and we just use the canning tongs to get the jars out of the canner.

  9. Gail says

    Have you read the Blue Chair Jam book? She actually puts her jars in the oven, rather than stove. I tried it and LOVED the process. I will never go back to a steam bath.

  10. Debbie M. says

    You hit it on the nose with your assessment of the racks that come with the pots. There are replacement racks that have 3 bottom wires that work great, however, I’m all about DIY. I have found salad spinner baskets in a variety of sizes to fit a number of my pots and they usually only cost about a quarter.

  11. Angela S. says

    FAbulous idea!!!! I made one this morning as I was just doing a small batch of jam and wanted to use a smaller pot! They are sterilizing on the stove as I type and working like a charm. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Dianne says

    Nice MacGyver-ing job!

    I’m a beginner beginner, but didn’t start with the requisite canning pot and rack. However, I was concerned about the jars resting on the bottom of the pot I was using. After a few batches I bought a round cake/baking cooling rack to raise the jars off the bottom. The rack fits perfectly, but it is elevated and my pot is relatively short (great for pints without a rack) so I plan to test it out flipped over for reduced height and see if that works better. Make sure you measure the inner diameter of the pot, especially at the bottom before purchasing/repurposing.

  13. Jill Appenzeller says

    So happy I’m not the only one who hates those things! You know the little jog in the handles that’s supposed to let you hang the handles on the side of the pot, with the jars out of the water? Well, it’s actually there just to tip your jars over and make you crazy trying to get them standing up again. Last week when making strawberry-rhubarb jam I used a wooden spoon, a jar lifter, a silicon mitt (elbow length, great for canning. get two) and a second wooden spoon in my teeth, and I still couldn’t get the damned jars to stand up. Off to look for zip ties…

  14. martina says

    I don’t water bath can, I use the oven, for both sterilizing the empty jars and the filled jars afterwards. It is WAY easier and finding out about this method (in the Blue Chair Jam book), was what finally convinced me to give jamming a go. You wash and rinse your jars and lids, put them on a clean sheet pan, then in the oven at 250 (some sources say 225 is ok) for 15 min or so (I leave them in there the whole time the jam cooks). You can also sterilize the ladle and funnel in this manner, just be careful when you pull them out to use them.
    Fill the jars, seal, then back in the oven for 10-15 min (depending on oven heat). This method is a life saver for me!

  15. says

    This is a great idea! I am new to canning and wondered about the whole “canning pot” thing. I found it a colossal waste of water to fill this huge pot only to can four or five pint jars. Now I can can in a smaller pot and custom fit the rack. Thanks! <3

  16. Karen says

    Love this. Just got a canner & rack! What a mess! BUT, I am a well experienced canner. Canned for about 35 years to supply my families pantries. Did not can the past 25 years. Wanted to now just for the fun and pleasure. All I’m saying, is I’m old, BUT they made good strong welll constructed racks in the old days! I’m going to use you plan! Love your thinking!

  17. Mary says

    Thank you! One of the reasons I’ve put off taking on canning on my own is the fact that while I have a perfect 5 gallon stock pot that I can use for the water bath method, the canning rack I bought doesn’t fit it! I used to assist my mom in canning while growing up so I’ve at least helped with both the water bath and the pressure canning. Of course we also used to just pour a little wax on top of the jelly too. Makes me gag a bit now to think of that! For the last decade or so I’ve just stuck to freezing produce and making freezer jams. I’m so glad I found your site for both this DIY canning rack and your low sugar/no pectin recipe for preserves. Just bought a flat of strawberries at the farmers market today that will be jammed by this weekend. Of course I’ll be cooking about 20+ pounds of apples down into applesauce as well. I think I need to call my mom to have her come help me can it!

  18. Leslie says

    Well this is genius. A lifesaver really, since I opened up a new canner today after mixing up brown bread only to find I own no rack to fit it. Thank you!

  19. Lori says

    Its my 1st attempt at canning so I’ve been trying to find all basics..i couldn’t find the rack anywhere local and then I found this tip!!!!!! I’m so excited to try this..thank you for a great and cheap idea .

  20. Dorothy Dunlap says

    Thank you Erica: I just asked to borrow someone’s bath canner. Came across your idea and it is perfect for me. So thank you again.

  21. Anna says

    Thank you! Picked some apples yesterday morning for applesauce, realized yesterday afternoon I didn’t have a rack and couldn’t find one anywhere in my small town. You saved me!

  22. ohsnapiam63 says

    When I started canning 3 years ago I never had a rack. I did have a big pan, deep enough for quart jars (I can tomatoes). Only thing I bought was the utensil to left the jars with. Never had a problem and all my efforts were successful. I am sure, a long time ago, canners did without all the so called necessary acoutrement.


  1. […] reducing and acting the way I wanted so I lost faith. I did make one of these handy dandy fellas which simplified matters this time round. There was some bubbling over so I scooped some out of […]

  2. […] I was too cheap to get the $15 Canning Utensil set at Shaws, which I guess is $7.49 at Target… but was rewarded with a stop at Goodwill which found me the funnel and jar lifter for a grand total of $3. Instead of buying a canner, I used my big pot and made my own canning rack from this webpage. […]

  3. […] A big black Water-Bath Canning pot can now be found at any place that sells kitchen appliances. Check the local Wal-Mart, Target, or hardware store. Most any place that sells canning jars will have the pots too. Don’t forget to check around garage and estate sales as well. You can easily cheap score one for cheap or free, that’s how I got mine. If the one you find does not come with a rack, you can put a towel underneath the jars or try this creative idea from NW Edible. […]

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